Is the green job search making you feel downtrodden? Do you have application burnout? Do you lie awake at night wondering: Should I follow up — again? On this Degrees hotline episode with sustainability job coach Shannon Houde, we answer these questions and more. Through Shannon’s company Walk of Life coaching, she has helped more than a thousand changemakers from around the world unlock their passions, change their careers, and make an impact. In this episode, she tackles your job-seeking challenges and guides you through the frustrating and exhausting parts of the search, whether you’re just starting your career journey or making a mid-career change. She’ll help you translate your skills to a field you want. She’ll help you celebrate every win (even if it’s not THE job) and teach you which job-hunting tactics will actually get you results. Don’t miss the insights she shares with Degrees host Yesh Pavlik Slenk, a green careers expert in her own right.
Shannon Houde is the multi-lingual International Coaching Federation (ICF)-certified coach and talent strategist behind Walk of Life Coaching, where she has mentored and trained 1000+ change leaders to maximize their personal brands to advance their impact careers. After working as a financial analyst, eco-tour guide, recruiter, and then ESG consultant for clients like Adobe, BlackRock, and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Shannon has learned all the ins and outs of the green job search. She’s also the author of a step-by-step book called Good Work: How to Build a Career that Makes a Difference in the World.
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Who makes Degrees?
Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers is presented by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Yesh Pavlik Slenk is our host. Amy Morse is EDF’s producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Tressa Versteeg produced this episode. Mia Lobel is our story editor. Ayo Oti is our researcher. Engineering by Kevin Kline. Editing assistance from executive producer Elaine Appleton Grant. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from Yesh’s favorite band, Lake Street Dive. Other music in this episode is from Epidemic Sound.
YESH PAVLIK SLENK:
Welcome to Degrees! Let’s play a game…called Real-Talk About Planet Saving Careers! Fill in the blank. The green job search is….
LISTENER VOICE 1:
Incredibly fulfilling. [BUZZER]
LISTENER VOICE 2:
The opportunities are really infinite. [BUZZER]
LISTENER VOICE 3:
Really exciting time. [BUZZER]
LISTENER VOICE 4:
Hmm…Let’s try that again!
LISTENER VOICE 5:
A total mess. [DING]
LISTENER VOICE 6:
To be frank…ugly. [DING]
LISTENER VOICE 2:
LISTENER VOICE 7:
Not an easy road at all. [DING]
Y’all the green job search is many things, and fun is not one of them. I know… it’s not a game. Your career and the planet are on the line!
Take a deep breath. [DEEP BREATH] You’ve got this. And to help you get through it, I’ve brought in someone to help.
I think that's where a lot of job seekers struggle is they're like, well, should I call that person and then ask them to introduce me to someone? Or should I follow up after the interview? Or should I ask for more salary? Or, you know, we're always kind of second guessing ourselves as job seekers.
Today on the show, Sustainability job coach Shannon Houde will answer your career questions. Together, we’ll navigate the murky, dizzying, and exasperating parts of the green job search.
I’m Yesh Pavlik Slenk. And this is Degrees: real talk about planet-saving careers from Environmental Defense Fund. And this is Season 6: How to Green Your Job.
Change is coming, oh yeah
Ain’t no holding it back
Ain't no running
Change is coming, oh yeah!
Today’s guest, Shannon Houde, is highly qualified to offer career advice. She runs the job coaching business Walk of Life, and has over 20 years of experience in the field. Shannon is also the author of a step-by-step book called Good Work: How to Build a Career that Makes a Difference in the World. I’ve read it - it is excellent.
But before all that…Shannon was actually an accountant! She loved crunching numbers and figured finance would be a great career path for her. Then, after only a few years, she had what she called a mid-life crisis…at 29 years old.
I left my job at Barclays Global Investors in San Francisco, sold my Saab convertible, got rid of my beautiful little apartment in Noe Valley, and ended up calling off my engagement. And moved to the middle of nowhere, Patagonia, Chile because I realized on a trip down there, when I was sitting on top of a volcano that: I wanted to really save this planet. So I think that was probably, I don’t know if it was lost, but it was that pivotal moment where I was like, I've gotta reinvent myself 'cause my values aren't aligned. I'm not really doing what I really wanna be doing. And had to do a little exploration to figure that out.
Not all of us will take such extreme measures in trying to find the right career path, but I know many of us can relate to the need to make a big change. So how did Shannon get from the top of a volcano in Patagonia to starting her own sustainability job coaching business? Well, her exploration included a variety of jobs - from eco tourism in Chile, to World Wide Fund for Nature in Switzerland, to sustainability consulting in London. All the while asking an important question…
Well, what is it I love to do? And one of my colleagues turned to me and said, “Well, you love writing resumes, why don't you just do that?” And I was like, “Well, that's not a job.” [laughs] And he was spot on. I mean, that was like almost 16 years ago, and to this day, I could write resumes all day, every day. It is my favorite thing to do. And most people don't like doing it, right?
Oh my word. [laughs]
So I was like, maybe there is a niche in there.
Today, Shannon helps thousands of people all over the globe change their careers to make an impact. So what better person to answer YOUR burning career questions.
Earlier this year, Degrees put a call out for y’all to share your questions and experiences about the green jobs search. And we heard from so many of you - thank you for reaching out! Truly. We’re going to dive into some of those questions now.
Our first question is from Adam. After four and a half years in the Army as a field artillery officer, Adam wanted to work in sustainability. Though he actually just started a green job as a program analyst - congratulations Adam - his job search was frustrating. Here’s what Adam wrote:
[reading Adam]: “The difficulty I faced was being told I was both overqualified and under qualified. I have years of experience and many transferable skills, but they're not directly sustainability related. I found it difficult to show how they apply to positions that require a certain number of years in the field. And instead, I would look for more junior roles to get the experience I needed…but then was told that I was overqualified.”
Shannon, what do you think?
That is a very, very common challenge for most of us in this space, wanting to make a career change of any sort at any stage - could be your three years into your career, it could be your 30 years into your career. My answer is the same no matter where you are along that career journey, which is, never undersell yourself.
So a lot of us think: “Oh, I wanna make a change, so I'm just gonna take a step back into a more junior role. Or I don't mind taking a salary cut. I don't mind, you know, managing fewer people.” But actually the market minds that because the managers don't wanna manage you if you're overqualified. You're gonna leave too quickly. You're gonna be chomping at the bit for more responsibility. You're gonna want our job, you know, if we're the hiring manager. So taking the step back is a big no-no.
So that leaves us with, How do we then prove that we've got the skills and the knowledge that we need to be able to step into the role we want? And that is the art. That is all about rebranding, repositioning, and thinking about your personal brand offering through a different lens. So everything we do in resume writing, cover letter, bio, LinkedIn, and then later hopefully in interviews and networking in verbal format, it's all gonna be written through the lens of the reader or your audience.
And this is where most people fall short because we're like, well, I did this and I did that and I worked for this organization, I worked for that and, you know, aren't I amazing enough? And I'll just tell them everything and I'll just hope that they can read between the lines and figure out how I fit. But actually the recruiter's only gonna give you a six second read initially of your documents. So you really have to do that translating for them, and get it into language that's gonna really resonate for them.
Yesterday actually, I spoke to one of my clients who was a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps, and we helped her get a new job combating plastics at a company called Green Blue. And you would think, well, wait, like how do you translate being a helicopter pilot, right, in the Marine Corps into running a multi-stakeholder NGO and developing recycling programs? But we figured out: what were the skills that were still gonna be relevant? And we then translated that into the language of the new context. So what you're really leading with and what the themes are, are your skills, what you can do for that next organization.
It’s such a hard position to be in as a job seeker. I personally have applied for jobs I'm overqualified for. That being said, I am also a hiring manager at my job at EDF. And Shannon is right, I rarely consider someone for a role when I think they're overqualified because I want to see them grow. I see that growth opportunity as a reason for them to stay longer versus someone who might get bored quickly and move on.
So when applying, try to avoid junior roles because YOU DO have the skills and expertise for roles at your level. The challenge is to translate your skills into the language of the new field.
OK. Our next question comes from Marilyn. Let’s hear from her.
What career advice would you give young green job seekers that can't seem to get a call back? And that life situation is telling them to go back to just any job?
Thanks for that question Marilyn. So many people we heard from apply, apply, apply…and they get radio silence. Shannon, at what point should a job seeker just take any job, simply because they need one? Is this giving up on their green dream?
It depends. That's a personal question, right? We all have personal circumstances and responsibilities that vary. I think a lot of us throw in the towel a little too early. I was just speaking to a client today, and he'd been about six months into interviewing and he reached out a few weeks ago saying, “I'm done with this. I'm just gonna sell out. I'm just gonna take the next job.” And I said, “Don't do it. Just hang in there. It's a numbers game. Stick with it. Just pull yourself back up and keep talking to people. Keep making relationships.” So it's not just about the numbers of applications, it's about sticking with the process of connecting and making conversation with people that you wanna work with or for.
So I think a lot of job seekers hide behind the laptop, you know, the job boards and they think, “Oh, I'm pushing all these applications out the door, so why aren't I getting any of them to stick? Why aren't I getting any results?” And the reason is probably because you're not focused enough about the niche of where you wanna work. You might have cast your net too wide. And you're looking at: private sector, government sector, NGO sector. I'm willing to work anywhere, I'm willing to work for anything that's gonna make a difference. And all of that is just too vague for a hiring manager or recruiter. We wanna see that what you want is what we're looking for and we wanna see that match. So narrowing down your target and who you wanna work for, what sector, what issues you wanna be shaping change around and what kinds of skills you wanna be using, are super crucial to doing that groundwork and that kind of deep dive into yourself and who are you and what do you want next, before you do the spray gun approach of applying to as many jobs as possible through job boards.
And then the second piece is really networking and picking up the phone and talking to people because you increase your chances by 60% if you can talk to someone on the inside before you apply. There's an 80/20 rule for this. So of your job seeker time, 80% of that should be talking to real people and 20% on job boards doing applications. So if you look at a given week, how much you're investing in the process, how many people are you reaching out to and connecting with?
So I think all of those things can greatly improve your chances and also your own confidence and momentum. The good result of the client I was just giving you as an example, even though he was down and out and done with the process and sick of interviewing, he's now just landed an amazing job, leading human rights, for a big US retailer. He said, “You know, I really didn't think I'd get here, but you just kept telling me I gotta keep going, gotta stay resilient, gotta keep talking to people.” And it worked. But it does take time and it takes a lot of personal resilience.
That is so true. It’s not easy but you have to be resilient! Also, if you are taking the spray-gun approach to applying to every job you find, pause that. Focus your search as narrow as possible. Then spend the majority of your time talking to actual people at the places you want to work. Those connections will get you further - so much further - than applying to every position on a job board.
OK. Up next, we’ve got a job seeker who’s gotten the call back! Great. BUT, the interview rounds are taking a major toll. This question comes from Raechel. They live in a rural area and are working on a master's degree in environmental policy. She writes this:
[reading Raechel]: “I'm very qualified for jobs in the environmental organizing space, but I keep getting passed over for other candidates, even after very successful final round interviews. I'm extremely burnt out from going through a very rigorous interview process, only to not get the job in the final round. I don't know what to do or how to continue to stay motivated to apply for jobs.”
OK, Shannon. What do you think about this one?
It’s a lot of effort isn’t it? It's a lot of work getting all the way to the final stage and then not getting it because it is exhausting. And a lot of these organizations really put you through the ringer. Some of them are even having you do real world projects as part of your application and your interview process. So, it's time intensive, it's emotional, it's exhausting.
We as the job seeker, we're doing the best we can and why isn't that enough? And we start to question that and then our confidence goes down. But someone is going to see you as that shining star. Someone is going to need you as much as you need or want them. It's about the matchmaking process. And that just takes the numbers. You've gotta get out there and get in front of enough people through the interview stages to be able to find the match for both sides. So it's like kissing frogs, right? You've got to just keep getting out there.
It's a very personal process for us, right, as the job seeker. We take it personally, as we should in some ways, but it's not always personal. So as a recruiter, I see people coming through and I've got two candidates, three candidates at the end. I'm like, I would have any three of those. They're all amazing! How do I pick? And we have to just make that call, right? It's not that you're not good enough or it's not that we don't want you. It's not actually personal. Sometimes it's quite logistical. In fact, I just did a recruitment for Universal Music Group and we had three amazing top candidates and we picked the one that could start the soonest. I mean, it was that logistical. So I think we take these things quite personally and if we can try to keep the bigger perspective that: there is the job out there for us, there is an organization that is gonna want us, we are gonna get the right thing, it will come.
So in applications, it’s about focus, not numbers. But when you find your focus, the more interviews… the better. So keep getting out there.
Shannon, what about Raechel’s other question - what about application burnout? We know how, ugh, exhausting and painful that can be.
I would say a way to stay motivated is, find a way to celebrate each stage that you're getting to. So the fact that you're even getting a first interview is a huge accomplishment. The fact you're getting second, third, fourth rounds, final interviews - that is telling you that the market wants you, the market likes you, the market thinks you're valuable. So that is positive news. Yes, of course you want the job in the end, but you need to celebrate all those baby steps 'cause they're all giving you positive feedback. And we need to use that to boost our morale and boost our confidence.
I think the other thing would be if you're getting to the final rounds, keep those people in your network, 'cause every interview you're meeting four or five people, they're all gonna become part of your wider network. So make sure you stay in touch with them even if you don't get the job. And then, if you really connected with anyone on that hiring panel, I always say well reach out to them a week or so later and say, look, I'm really disappointed I didn't get the job. Hope you found someone fantastic, but do you know anyone in X, Y, Z organization that I could reach out to? So you can even start using them as your leverage point for networking. So trying to turn everything into the positive spin, I think is really important. It's very easy for our brains to go and, and hover over the negative but try to go into that abundance mentality. And you will find something. It's just a matter of time.
Celebrate every win: a call back, getting an interview, making a new connection. Even though it’s not the job, those wins count too.
When we come back, we’ll hear more of your questions about the job search. That’s after the break.
You're listening to Degrees. I’m Yesh Pavlik Slenk. Today we have a hotline episode with all of your pressing career questions. And, the amazing career coach Shannon Houde, is here to help.
Our next question comes from Jonathan. He has 18 years of design experience in everything from graphic to web to packaging, and wants to switch from his current field - in the sweepstakes and entertainment industry - to something in regenerative agriculture or food waste space. Jonathan sent in a voice memo:
I consider myself a design generalist. However, I spent the past nine years at one company doing one specific type of design style. So the majority of my portfolio reflects that. While the work was heavily tested and outperformed more modern designs, it was, to be frank, uh, ugly [laughs]. That leads me to: how do I communicate the value of my design skills and expertise to potential employers given that my previous work does not align with current design trends? Thanks.
So, Shannon…how and what work examples to use is a very common dilemma in fields that require a portfolio - especially something like design. What do you think?
What I start everybody off doing is what's called a skills-based or functional resume. Because I want to be thinking about what's the story we're gonna tell, again, through the lens of what that audience wants us to do for them. Well, what are my skills that make me a good designer? Because then I can apply those skills to any other future context. It doesn't matter that the context I was in more recently isn't that relevant because the skills are gonna be the same and I'm bringing those skills with me. So I think that's one piece, is making sure you're translating what you're good at to the next audience by showing them through accomplishment statements what you've achieved.
However, in design, because you're gonna need a portfolio, you're gonna have to get creative about which things you're gonna include in that portfolio. They're gonna wanna see your actual work. So if the more recent portfolio is less relevant or resonating for that future audience, I would go back in time to other parts of your career that were before that one company that you've worked for most recently.
Rather than just saying, here's what I did for the last eight years at Company X, that isn't gonna resonate. You're gonna actually need to go back and find some other things. Maybe you've done some volunteer work, maybe you've done things for family and friends. You're gonna have to pull from other parts that are gonna show your design portfolio as diverse and relevant for that new audience.
Right. So figure out what in your experience is most relevant to the job you want - maybe it’s not the most recent thing you’ve done, maybe it’s even a side project or a volunteer position. It all counts. And if you don’t have what you need in your portfolio, start creating relevant examples now!
OK, our final question today is from Sara. She’s a Gen Z-er who feels the urgency of the climate crisis but she worries that following her artistic passions in her career is self-indulgent. Can she do her art and make a difference too? She left us a voice memo.
Hi, my name is Sara and I'm a writer and audio producer. In an ideal world, I'd be working on only beautiful poetic projects that connect us to our environments and instigate change. But I am early in my career and I feel I have to take what I can get. So I'm often stuck wondering: Should I be channeling my writing skills into writing policy? Or how can I be a responsible artist in the chaos of the 21st century?
I love that question. And in fact, I've never received that question, so it's very refreshing. The first thing I thought of when you started saying what you love doing, I thought, ooh, she's a storyteller. For those of us that are in the sustainability or impact space, we realize how crucial storytelling is to every single thing we do.
Whether it's writing a report for regulatory purposes or for our investors, or it's trying to bring a volunteer day to life that our employees did, or trying to shift mindsets of our board. I mean, everything we do is communicating to help others change behavior. And so, I actually think you're at the perfect intersection of helping to shift this agenda forward and accelerate it because we need compelling communication that's going to reach people's hearts and help them to put that into action.
So yes, policy might be one way we need to affect change, but actually if you think about it, it really starts from an emotional level for most of us. What will help each of us as consumers or help us as government leaders or just employees? We're all humans and we're all driven by our emotions and our ability to connect.
I think some of us do just have to build our portfolios early on in our careers. So if you're building your skillset in some of those projects, for example, that aren't maybe green enough for you, it might still be okay 'cause you're building your skill credentials. But - and, I suspect that even at this stage in your career, you could easily be out there writing for a lot of us that are looking for good writers. So I'd say, go for it. You're doing exactly what you should be doing.
There’s so much great advice in there, like, even if you don’t love the project you’re working on right now, you’re building your connections and your portfolio. That’s so important. And for those creatives out there, every sector needs compelling storytellers to forward climate solutions.
We received so many great questions and while we don’t have time to get to all of them, Shannon did have this last bit of advice that I think applies to all job seekers.
I think what holds us back the most as change leaders or aspiring, you know, climate champions - the one thing that holds us back the most is ourselves. And that's a hard truth to face when we are unemployed, you know, students, whatever it is, we're already in a vulnerable position in being job seekers. But if we can shift that mindset from being, you know, downtrodden by getting ghosted or downtrodden by getting rejected, to using that as fuel to keep going.
If you take some of those things that feel negative or feel like a judgment or feel uncomfortable and turn them around and use them as fuel to get out there and fight for it, that's the kind of people we actually need in this climate agenda. We need the people that are resilient, that are gonna pop back up when they're pushed down, that are gonna keep the conversation going when someone doesn't agree with them, that are going to believe in their ideologies no matter what negative things are coming at them.
So I think if you can keep that resilience level up through this process, there will be an end to this process and you will get a job. Just keep at it. Keep at it.
I could not agree more. Just keep at it.
As we end this episode, I wanted to share something with you. When we asked you to call in with your questions, we also got a bunch of great comments from people who’ve been through the career search and have come out stronger on the other side. So to close things out today, here’s some encouragement from real job seekers, like YOU, who got the job!
Hi, I'm Daniela, the campaigns and advertising associate over at Natural Resources Defense Council. It was a huge pivot from starting out my career in book publishing. And it's amazing to have been able to go from marketing books to now helping citizens be more aware of what's going on in their area and help their voices be heard.
Hello, my name Yejide Olutosin. As with any career change, I faced a few negative comments from some colleagues who didn't understand my decision to leave a lucrative job in banking to return to the nonprofit sector. Now, roughly five months into my role, this career transition was one of the best decisions I've made.
When I was in third year of my Customs Administration and Foreign Trade bachelor's degree, I was really unhappy with my career choice. And then, I had the opportunity of taking scuba diving lessons. And I decided to make a change and focus in blue economy. Even though sometimes I have my doubts, just feeling very alone as an entrepreneur and female Latin American founder, I really feel like I would be losing time if I was not dedicating my work for ocean conservation in some way.
Hello, my name is Kaliegh Potter and I work for the EU's leading carbon management platform, we are called Sweep. And I spent about three years trying to make my climate tech dream job become a reality. Um, anybody who is excited about the space, I wish you the best of luck. It might take a little while to get there. But um, when you do, I promise you it is worth it.
And that's our show. An enormous thank you to all of you that submitted voice memos and questions. Even if your question didn’t make it on the air today, I hear you, and your experience helped shape this episode and my work going forward.
Don’t forget, for even more of Shannon’s wisdom, check out her book Good Work: How to Build a Career That Makes a Difference in the World. And visit Walk of Life coaching dot com for a list of hot sustainability jobs, coaching services and more.
Next time on Degrees…
Lots of people come to me going, how do I get a career in sustainability? I'm like, well, do you have a job? And if the answer is yes, then you have a career in sustainability. There you go.
Be sure to check out the rest of Season Six on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening now. Share this podcast with a friend so you can both learn where the jobs are and how you can make a difference.
Don’t forget, check out our Green Jobs Hub to find all the resources to jumpstart your green job career search.
Degrees is presented by Environmental Defense Fund. Amy Morse is our producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Tressa Versteeg produced this episode. Mia Lobel is our story editor. Ayo Oti is our researcher. Engineering by Kevin Kline. Editing assistance on this episode from executive producer Elaine Appleton Grant.
Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from Lake Street Dive. And additional Music in this episode from Epidemic Sound.
And I’m your host, Yesh Pavlik Slenk. Stay fired up y’all.
Change is coming, oh yeah
Ain’t no holding it back
Ain't no running
Change is coming, oh yeah!
Y’all, the green jerb -- uh, the green jerb search. [laughs]
The green jerbs… [laughs]