Article by Zella Pirello
GreenHomeNYC held its monthly Green Careers meeting on Tuesday, April 9 at the NYC ACRE’s Urban Future Lab. For April, the GHNYC Green Careers group organized another “Sustainable Career Tracks” discussion, where professionals from various facets of the sustainability field were invited to tell their individual stories about how they got to where they are in their careers. Guests often speak candidly about the twists and turn of their career paths, which creates an open, relaxed dialogue with the attendees – a feature unique to the networking community. GHNYC volunteer, Katie Schwamb began the meeting by welcoming the guests and featured speakers and explaining that the session would be treated as an open discussion.
First to speak was Emily Wheeler, the Deputy Director of the New York City Accelerator for a Clean & Renewable Economy (NYC ACRE). A day for Ms. Wheeler is anything but typical and involves tackling tasks such as fundraising, program development and coaching the tenants of the incubator. Ms. Wheeler began her professional career path by studying Chemical Engineering for her undergraduate degree and attending graduate school for Business.
For Ms. Wheeler, the path to a career was always direct. When asked how she chose her career, she stated that she’s been an environmentalist from a very young age, as evidenced by the recycling program she launched at her elementary school. Since then she’s held various positions with the Department of Energy and General Electric.
Ms. Wheeler recommended that people actively searching for jobs should attend networking opportunities and to participate in industry events, such as those put on by NYC ACRE. Additionally, people should find ways to make themselves indispensable. “When you do find something you’re interested in, write your own job description, look at what the company’s working on, what you’re good at and how you can get involved. Work as an intern and prove that the company can’t survive without you.”
Next to speak was Emily Bjorklund, Co-founder of Energy Solutions Forum (ESF) and head of Marketing and Business Development for the energy policy and research data company. Ms. Bjorkland describes ESF as a “one-stop shop for all US energy regulatory information.” She also heads their biggest marketing initiative, NY Energy Week, which she touts as a smart way for those who want to get involved and meet everyone who touches the energy sector.
Ms. Bjorkland studied Political Science and English in college, noting that her school ran on renewable energy. After college she ventured into emerging markets at UBS, enjoying the “marriage between geopolitics and commodities.” From there she accepted a position with a power company called Viridian Energy. When describing her career path, Ms. Bjorkland stated that the path chose her. “When opportunities present themselves, you just go after them.”
Ms. Bjorkland’s advice on job searching: “Loving the environment is not enough. Tell a company what you can do for them. Make yourselves invaluable.” Other tips included the need for proper follow-up throughout the job application process.
Next, the group heard from Lauren Salz, Director of Sales Operations at Sealed, an NYC-based start-up company. Ms. Salz explained that people can be wary of the savings estimated to them at the end of an energy audit. Sealed is trying to solve this by conducting home energy assessments and then guaranteeing energy bill savings. Sealed’s business model is less risky to homeowners because they pool a collection of homes together.
Ms. Salz career path was extremely varied and included roles such as interest rate derivative trader and organic farmer. She studied Economics in school and brought up the concept of “playing the long game” when accepting positions. Ms. Salz further explained that “sometimes you have to build the perfect skills first before you get the ideal position.” Take advantage of job experience along the way that will help you become savvy and well rounded.
Her advice on breaking into sustainability industry included keeping current on energy issues, doing side work for a nonprofit or start up to build your skill set, and of course, networking. Last but not least, she provided some comfort for those seeking to transition fields. “Sometimes you take a role that is beyond your skill level and grow into it.”
The final speaker of the evening was Nihar J. Shah, In-house Counsel for United Wind, a small wind energy leasing company. Mr. Shah described small wind as anything producing less than 100kW of energy. Before going to law school, Mr. Shah studied Economics and Political Science and discussed how his career path as anything but direct. “Failure is a big part of success,” stated Mr. Shah. He also recognized that there is tremendous pressure to make money in NYC. However, “if you hate your boss and hate what you’re doing, you should leave your company.”
Mr. Shah’s advice for job hunting? “It’s important to have a pitch, important to make some sacrifice.” He advised thoroughly researching a prospective company, then finding a way to present a solution to a problem that the company might have. He further stated, “You have to have a skill set. You can’t just say you love renewable energy. Show me why your specific skill fixes a problem we have.” Finally, Mr. Shah concluded by stating, “Your path might go all over the place, but if you really focus on learning and evolving, it will work.”
The evening ended with a brief question and answer session. Some key take-aways were:
-Use LinkedIn as a research tool and for making connections to companies and potential openings.
-When cold calling, try to find the contact whose skill set most closely resembles yours or the position that you’re seeking.
-Do not give up if you don’t receive a response right away. Following up is very important, all the while keeping in mind those you’re contacting are likely very busy.
-Never miss an opportunity to show what value you provide and what you can do for the company. Demonstrate this through examples.
Stay informed of the amazing things the speakers and their organizations are doing within the sustainability and energy efficiency fields. Be sure to check out NYC ACRE, Energy Solutions Forum, Sealed and United Wind.
By Zella Pirello
The GHNYC Green Careers group provides informational resources and networking opportunities for individuals looking to break into the sustainability and energy-efficiency field. Our meetings occur on the first Tuesday of each month.