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How Jennifer Woofter Became a Sustainability Consultant

The SSC Team May 5, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we field hundreds of requests a year from people wanting informational interviews. One of the most popular questions we get is: "How did you get into sustainability consulting?" In this short video, SSC President Jennifer Woofter tells her story about becoming a sustainability consultant. 

Need more help with your new career in sustainability?  Register for our online course, Sustainability Consulting Masterclass or sign up for some one-on-one coaching. 

How Jennifer Woofter Became a Sustainability Consultant

The SSC Team May 5, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we field hundreds of requests a year from people wanting informational interviews. One of the most popular questions we get is: "How did you get into sustainability consulting?" In this short video, SSC President Jennifer Woofter tells her story about becoming a sustainability consultant. 

Need more help with your new career in sustainability?  Register for our online course, Sustainability Consulting Masterclass or sign up for some one-on-one coaching. 

Trying to win sustainability consulting work? Referrals, referrals, referrals

The SSC Team December 24, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Earlier this year we wrote about how to broaden your professional network in the small world of sustainability consulting. As you build your peer relationships, you might be thinking you’re ready to start approaching clients.

Maybe not.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review pushes back on the idea of a direct approach.

“Persuasion researchers know that decision-makers will often place their faith less in what is being said, and more in who is saying it,” said Steve Martin, an consultant and expert in persuasion research.

Essentially, having someone else toot your horn is the ideal way to win over someone who doesn’t know or is skeptical of your expertise and value.

It truly pays to ask for client testimonials on LinkedIn, use case study examples, provide references, and in some extreme cases, have someone else approach a decision maker on your behalf before you make a direct pitch.

When you finally do make the direct pitch, list references and high-value contacts and clients up front in your proposals.

“Avoid making the mistake of squirreling away you and your team’s credentials towards the end of an already full document. Instead, make sure they are prominently positioned up front,” said Martin.

What if you don’t have any real on-the-job experience yet? Martin says all hope is not lost. Craft your referral statements in terms of your potential – ask a trusted mentor to write about your bright future, sharp mind, and potential for being one of the best sustainability consultants in the field.

Ready to hone your consulting skills and build your sustainability network? Check out our junior consultant training programs.

Growing Your Sustainability Consulting Business: Making the Business Case for Hiring YOU

The SSC Team December 22, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Check out this blog from the SSC archives. 

This just in: Nearly 80 percent of global CEOs affirmed in a recent survey  that sustainability has become a part of corporate operations (survey conducted by Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact of 800 global CEOs).

This is great news! As sustainability continues to move mainstream, there should be plenty of new clients crawling out of the FSC-certified woodwork in the coming years.

But that doesn’t mean that getting work is going to be easy. According to a different survey done in partnership with the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Boston Consulting Group just last year, many companies had “not developed a business case for sustainability” and are investing many of their sustainability dollars in maintaining regulatory compliance.

What? That doesn’t make sense, does it?

It sort of does from a business-logic perspective. First, basic environmental protection laws help ensure regulators are pushing companies to clean up or be fined. Second, PR and marketing teams are spending sustainability dollars, as “going green” can help increase sales and reputational value. Then, as some efficiency cost-savings become apparent, the operations team moves in. These elements separately can all be counted toward “sustainability investment,” but that doesn’t mean the company is strategically tackling its move into sustainability by developing a true “business case.”

Why not? According to Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic, most people are still “seeing ‘sustainability’ only as a cost, not an investment.” So, naturally they are only doing the obvious low-cost, high return on investment (ROI) sustainability things. This can be especially true for small- to medium-sized enterprises without any real knowledge of sustainability or the resources to tackle the issue strategically (i.e. your potential clients. Hint, hint.).

So the path is clear. Now that you know everything there is to know (See Part 1) about your prospective client, it’s time to develop a tailored “business case for sustainability” that will help you win business by opening client’s eyes to the opportunity that a real sustainability strategy provides. 

In Part 3 of this series, we discuss how to communicate the business case to your prospective client in terms that they will understand (read: shareholder value), but for now let’s just find the business case.

Don’t even think about hugging trees or saving rainforests. According to David Bent, head of business strategies at Forum for the Future, a nonprofit sustainable development organization based in the UK, “the ‘societal case’ does not automatically make a business case.” Yes, there is a lot of societal pressure to address social and environmental problems, but that doesn’t mean that the societal case is going to sell sustainability to a client. Generally, you should focus on what will help the client be a better, more profitable business, and present the societal and environmental benefits as icing on the sustainability cake (unless you’re really lucky and land a socially conscious client!).

Use what you know about the prospective client and pick what you think the strongest business case or cases are. The best news here is that the Forum for the Future has done the hard work for us. In early January, the organization created a table combining key elements of the most commonly used business cases for sustainability. The table, called Pathways to Value, will help you identify how to make direct links between the business strategy of the prospective client and sustainability initiative that will tie in with the client’s strategic goals. To access the chart, click here or type in http://www.forumforthefuture.org/projects/pathways-to-value.

For example, if your prospective client is in a highly regulated industry, like mining, and you learned from research that they’ve just won a contract to open a mine in an area with a large Native American population, they would have a high risk of damaging their reputation, high regulatory costs, and concerns about the license to operate. Hence, you should focus your sustainability pitch heavily on “risk reduction” elements. Yes, the company may also benefit from staff motivation and retention programs, but the biggest payoff in investing in sustainability is probably the area with the strongest business case. And the strongest business case is going to be most interesting to the client; therefore, you should concentrate your pitch on that business case.

By pitching the right product to the client, you will probably have a better chance of earning their business (and, hopefully, when your programs maximize ROI, you’ll look like a genius).

Once you have identified the key business case or cases, it is time to prepare your presentation. In order to make sure you get the most out of every minute of face time, make sure you are speaking to your client in a language that he or she understands. For more about being on the same page, check out Growing your sustainability consultancy business, Part 3: Speak your client’s language.

Enjoyed this blog post? You might want to consider the Strategic Sustainability Masterclass Series. For more information, visit our online training section.

What you know AND who you know are important for aspiring sustainability consultants

The SSC Team October 27, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

If you’ve been on our website and really want to become part of our consultant network, you know that there is one thing you should never, ever say. Ever.

Don’t know what it is?

Then you haven’t done your homework.

Sustainability consulting is a small world

If you’re trying to break into the world of sustainability consulting, then you need to truly strategize about how to engage with industry leaders, consultants, and firms who are hiring.

A recent article in Entrepreneur gives a round-up of the 10 strategies for making friends with important people in your networking plan.

The first five steps are all about research, reading, and making an effort to truly understand your potential contact’s business strategy and hot buttons. Next, activate your network, stay in touch, and add value to your potential contact’s day-to-day through meaningful communication.

Have the skills (or grow them)

While you’re “working the room” to build your professional network, make sure you fully understand what it takes to be a sustainability consultant. Know your own skill set and be able to describe how those skills will apply in a sustainability consulting roles.

Know your strengths, and your shortcomings

Don’t oversell yourself to a high-profile potential contact, or you might ruin your reputation before you gain a foothold. Be honest about where you are in your career, what your areas of interest are, and make efforts to improve your skills through practice and education.

Learn more about specific sustainability consulting training courses we offer, and opportunities to work with us

3 Stupid Mistakes that Sustainability Job Seekers Make

The SSC Team March 10, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In 2011, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series focusing on some mistake people make when looking for a sustainability job. We thought that her article had so much good information that it was worth another share! Enjoy:

In the course of running a boutique sustainability consulting firm, I get a lot of inquiries about jobs in sustainability. Some people want to know if I’m hiring, others want an informational interview to understand the sustainability job market in general, and yet others want to hear all about how I started my company in hopes that they will walk away with an idea of how to blaze an entrepreneurial trail through the industry.

After seeing the same blunders again and again and again, I thought it might be helpful to put together a short list of common mistakes that will blow your chances of getting a job in the sustainability profession.

Mistake #1: Leading with Your Passion

In the piles of emails and letters that I get every week from sustainability job seekers, more than half of them use some form of the word “passion”. Here are a couple of excerpts from cover letters/bios I’ve received in the last week:

“My passions for renewable energy and sustainable development have driven my success…”

“I am passionate about helping companies create cultures that support and inspire their employees and community.”

“In my last corporate role I initiated corporate sustainability initiatives, mostly fueled by my own passion…”

Here is a hint: passion isn’t a selling point, it’s the minimum requirement to ride this sustainability roller coaster. We are ALL passionate about sustainability, and we’ll assume you are too. (Because honestly, who applying for a job in sustainability isn’t passionate about it?)

Yes, it’s great to be enthusiastic – but when EVERYONE is passionate about a topic, it no longer becomes something that makes you stand out. When I see a cover letter with the word “passion” in the first paragraph, it automatically gets put into the “no thanks” pile. Why?

Here is what leading with your “passion” says to me:

  • You have mostly enthusiasm, rather than experience.
  • You don’t have any hard skills to bring to the table.
  • You are emotional, not practical

If you are one of those people with “passion” in your cover letter, you might be arguing with me right now—insisting that you do have practical skills, that you are results-oriented, and that you have the right kind of experience to excel in a sustainability job. And you might be right—but I’ll never know because you are hiding those elements (the ones that will REALLY get you the job) under a obfuscating cloud of enthusiasm.

Solution: be enthusiastic—but let that excitement show through your discussion of your skills, your experience, and your approach to working on sustainability projects.

Mistake #2: Trying a Buckshot Approach

Don’t just shoot off a resume and cover letter to every sustainability job that comes across your computer screen. Please, please, please show a little restraint. For one thing, you will forever be on my hiring blacklist if you send me a cover letter addressed to the WRONG COMPANY because in your hurry the copy-and-paste job got a little sloppy. (I wish I could say that this happens only rarely.)

Even if you don’t make an obvious mistake like that one, let me assure you that it is easy to spot a “buckshot” approach to sustainability job seeking. The same generic resume, the same boring cover letter. It’s a waste of your time. You need to switch from shotgun to sniper mode.

The individuals that have gotten my attention are able to instantly demonstrate that they know my company, understand how they fit into the larger sustainability industry, and are familiar enough with me to avoid my hot button issues. (For example, on the “about Jennifer” page of my website, I clearly state that I hate when people use the term “passion” when talking about sustainability.)

DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU APPLY. I know this is a no-brainer, but I’m pretty sure that every job-hunting advice column continues to include this recommendation because people just don’t get it. You need to be able to demonstrate, at a minimum, the following things:

  • You understand the organization’s approach to sustainability (treehugger vs. techie geek, antagonistic advocate vs. industry partner, “right thing to do” vs. “drives innovation”, environmental sustainability vs. triple bottom line, etc.)
  • You have skills that meet their needs (e.g. don’t spout off about your experience in renewable energy when talking to a sustainable forestry outfit unless you have a stellar reason for doing so, but don’t make the opposite mistake of leaving your skill set vague.)
  • You fit in their organizational culture (you love that it’s a small company, or you thrive in teams, or you love the challenge of working with big, bad companies facing a swatch of sustainability issues)

If you can’t answer those questions, then you haven’t done enough homework. If this information isn’t readily available, you’re going to have to do some digging. Check out their executives LinkedIn profiles, stalk their Facebook page, follow their Twitter stream (be a dear and RT once in a while—it flatters the ego and shows that you can contribute to spreading the word). Exhaust your network until you find someone who can tell you about what it’s really like to work there, what kind of projects have been keeping people busy, and what the internal atmosphere is like.

I hope that it goes without saying that you need to do this research BEFORE you make an official inquiry about a job there…you need to come to the table totally prepared. The executives on the receiving end of your attention need to feel like you already belong there, that you are ready to come onboard immediately, and that you’ll fit right in with the team. The best way to do this is to be so knowledgeable about the organization that you really DO seem like one of the team before you walk in the door.

Yeah, it’s going to take a LOT more time than you may want to spend. But if you can narrow down the number of potential organizations that you want to work for (by avoiding that buckshot approach), you’ll have more time to spend on your short-list of the most relevant and exciting prospects.

Mistake #3: Not Following Directions

This is an easy one, with an easy solution. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. If the website says no phone calls, then don’t call. If they say only the applicants selected for an interview will be contacted, then don’t harass the poor HR manager about whether or not you have been chosen. I know, it’s so tempting to just break all the rules and go after the job you want (and I’m ashamed to see other job advice and career counselors recommending breaking the rules) but I promise, it doesn’t work.

(You probably know someone, or have heard a story about someone who broke the rules and by showing persistence got the job. This is the exception to the rule, and it has the unfortunate effect of making lots of people think that they too can be the exception to the rule.)

By not following directions in the job seeking process, you are essentially telling me that you won’t respect my organization’s rules, policies, and procedures. In effect, you place your own desires above the success of my company. And yikes, that is not a person I want to spend my time talking to—let alone a person I want to hire.

However, that doesn’t mean that you are powerless. Here are three examples of how people successfully got around my company’s rules for contacting us about informational interviews, internships, and full time positions.

  • Use someone in my network as an “in”. If you can get introduced to me through one of my colleagues, there is a MUCH better chance that I’ll agree to have coffee with you. Even if I’m not at all interested, I feel a sense of obligation to my network—and once you have me in your grasp, you can unleash your sustainability magnetism and make me forget all about my reluctance.
  • Run into me at an event. Through my company’s blog, e-newsletter, my Twitter account, and our Facebook group, you can pretty much figure out where I’m going to be. And since I hate standing awkwardly alone, a public event is a great place to corner me and chat me up about your sustainability goals.
  • Offer to do me a favor. Can you introduce me to someone that I might want to meet? Connect me to an organization that might want my services? Get my company free publicity? The sad truth is that the job seeking process is very one-sided. You take, and I give (or at least, that’s the way it feels on this side of the equation). If you can help even that balance, I’ll be more amenable to seeing how I can help you.

I’m sure there are other common mistakes, but these three are the ones that push my buttons the most frequently. Talking to other organizations, I fear I’m not alone. So do us all a favor (including yourself) and take a harsh look at your job-search process and see if you are committing any of these mistakes. They are easy to rectify, and will drastically improve your chance of landing your next position in the sustainability industry.

What do you think about the "mistakes" Jennifer mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!