Be More Prepared For Your Next Environmental Job Interview

interviews standing out Sep 12, 2019

You’ve got an interview coming up for an environmental position. How do you prepare? What will they ask you? How can you stand out?

90% of the mastering an interview is standard issue, meaning it would apply to any job in any industry.

Things like dressing appropriately, making eye contact, and following up. What you need to know is the kind of info you can’t just find by searching “how to prepare for an interview?” You need to know that other 10%, the 10% that relates directly to environmental positions.

Here are some environmental interview specific example cases and recommendations for how to handle them: 

❝Stop waiting for the experience to fall in your lap and go out and get it.❞

Past experience

It’s common to think your college didn’t prepare you for that first job because the reality is that they didn’t. You know what permitting is but you haven’t done it. You understand the concept of water monitoring and sampling but you haven’t done it. So when they ask you to describe your experience with them you start to sweat and the I’m-not-good-enough mindset creeps into the back of your mind and in an instant you feel your chances slipping away. 

The key here is to understand that 90% of students leave college unprepared to do the actual work so if you want to stand out it is up to you to connect the dots. If you know they are going to ask you if you know how to use Hydrolab or YSI equipment research it, watch videos, contact your local environmental government office and ask to shadow for a day. Same thing with permitting. Contact the local agencies, tell them your situation, and ask to spend some time with someone learning more about what they do. Even if this is all you can bring to the interview, it will help you to stand out because no one else at your level will have done this. 

Progressive companies want to know what you CAN do not what you have done. That said, you should really prepare for both. I’m just out of school so I don’t have that but I can do it, really isn’t good enough. I’m just out of school and here’s what I’ve done to try to learn that skill shows that you are self-aware and self-motivated. That’s the person a company wants to hire. 

❝A little common sense goes a long way.❞

Problem-solving questions

From my experience on the interviewing side of the table, one of the hardest questions for people to appropriately answer was “when was a time you ran into a problem and what did you do?” This is a perfect opportunity to use the STAR method in your response. Explain the Situation, describe the Task (what was the purpose of what you were doing), what Action did you take, and then what was the Result. I like to add that, how in hind-sight you see that the problem could have been avoided in the first place. 

Put yourself in the interviewer’s seat. There is a reason they are asking you this question not just to watch you squirm. They want to know if you’re in the field and you come across angry citizens how would you handle it? How will you handle it when you’re on their payroll. First, your response should tell them you can recognize a problem situation. I’ve seen people fired for leaving a buddy in a stream during sampling because it was time for lunch with no clue that what they were doing was a problem. It also should tell me something about your problem solving process, that’s where using STAR helps. Someone once answered this question with having to change a flat tire. While that is a problem, it doesn’t show me who you are, what your work ethic is, how you follow protocol, or how you might realistically handle one the job problems. 

Having potentially not had an environmental job you might not be able to envision the types of problems you might face on the job. Here are some of the problems I saw in real-life. Think about what you’ve experienced that would show how you’d handle one of these instances. 

  • I dropped a jar with a loose lid full of preserved specimens in formaldehyde and got it all over my clothes. 
  • Our boat came un-anchored while we were in the water sampling and it quickly was blown out into deep water.
  • A boat came off the trailer in downtown traffic.
  • Citizens arrived in droves to complain about a restoration project, now a major benefit and property enhancer to their community, at a public notice meeting. 
  • I seriously sprained my ankle while sampling off a bridge. 
  • A co-worker wanted to do something illegal while we should have been on a sampling run. 
  • Permittees filed complaints about employees who wrote their permit requirements. 
  • Equipment was lost to wind, tides, rain, theft, clumsiness, etc. 
  • The list is endless...

❝The best thing you can do is be confident with what you have and what you are doing.❞ 

Help them hire you

Consider these two responses to the question: “Why should we hire you?” 

Response 1 - “because I have the degree and I worked hard to get good grades and also participate in volunteering and leadership activities. Although I haven’t had a full-time job yet, I am doing all that I can to be prepared to hit the ground running and I will continue to learn and put my best foot forward….

Response 2 -  “I don’t think I have the experience you’re looking for but I know I can do it.”

Which would you choose?

If you’re looking for practice questions, here are some resources: 


Contact us for more info regarding pricing and availability for mock interviews. 

Are there other specific questions you struggled with in an interview? Share in the comments.


You might also be interested in the Mastering your Next Interview Webinar: 

Students might also like: Job Search Action Plan course: 

Stay gold, 

-Laura, the Environmental Career Coach


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