The current environmental disaster on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, along with an unfulfilling brown job, may have some job hunters thinking green. I spoke with Bright Green Talent founder and managing partner Nick Ellis to discuss what makes an ideal green candidate. We also talked about President Obama’s role in the environment movement, and the biggest myth surrounding the industry. Bright Green Talent is based in San Francisco and places full-time employees, contractors, and researchers in green jobs worldwide.
Q: Is your business model different from other recruiting/staffing agencies?
A: We’ve really focused on candidate cultivation more than our competitors. A lot placement companies out there hope people walk in the door, and then they try to send them around and place them as fast as possible. We really believe in cultivating a long-term relationship with both employers and job seekers, and building our business around that basic precept of partnership and trust.
Q: Is it a slower process in placing a candidate?
A: It is a slower process and our volume reflects that. We’re very high touch. We move slowly and methodically as opposed to a lot of recruiters out there trying to make as much noise as possible. We’re not a high volume, churn and burn chop shop. We’re very different by design because we don’t see the existing recruitment model as a sustainable business model for anybody involved—recruiters, employers, or job seekers.
Q: What kind of candidates do you look for?
A: Right now we’re primarily focused on executive management positions. Our candidates come from different backgrounds. Some folks are really heavy on the legal side and other folks have really great operations experience. The common denominator is having a motivated candidate with skills and expertise that can easily transition into a new, emerging sector—green jobs. It’s ultimately the experience that’s most valued by our clients. The difficulty for most recruiting firms, job seekers, and employers is understanding how to reposition and translate those past experiences while instilling new meaning and substance to the overall work experience.
Q: I imagine another quality you look for in a candidate is someone who’s hungry to do good work and better the world.
A: I think that’s the thing I find so rewarding about this job. The people that are out there coming to our door are genuinely fed up about what’s been going on or are generally motivated to do something better and different. A lot of these folks are risk takers. If you look at the lifecycle of where we are (the green movement) we’re still very early on. It has yet to become mainstream and my guess is that it will take another five or ten years before everybody looks at their job and sees some sort of environmental component, or feels some pull towards this topic. But it is happening and that’s really encouraging.
Q: How’s the green movement faring?
A: The green movement has benefited because it has survived. What I mean by that is it’s consistently been written off as a fringe movement. Instead, these companies continue to move more mainstream. They are producing better financial returns, better employee compensation packages, better products and services, and that’s being recognized by the market place. I think the real weakness in the green movement right now remains one of political leadership. The regulatory environment as a whole is still very favorable towards brown and dirty industries. Until we get that fixed it’s always going to be a bit of an uphill battle with a lot of green businesses. We’re holding our own but we have a long way to go.
Q: How do you think Obama is doing regarding the movement?
A: That’s a “politically volatile” question and make sure you include that in the quote! My personal read on what Obama’s done is that he has given equal weight for the first time to a lot of environmentalists concerns. I think the majority of the environment movement has been disappointed by his stance on nuclear power and offshore drilling. That said, the president is still very early in his first term. When you look at the types of people he’s put in place as far as policy makers and leaders, and his long-term goals, my hope is that he moves the needle further over the next couple of years than most anyone before him. We just need to manage our own expectations as environmentalists, do what we can to support him, and ultimately not be such “fair weather friends” because the truth is, he has to make tough decisions, and we’re not always going to get what we want.
Q: What’s the biggest myth regarding green jobs and the industry?
A: The compensation issue for green jobs was always perceived as one of “you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” Historically, if you were going to take a green job you were going to take a pay cut. The reality nowadays is that you’re actually not taking a pay cut, but getting a pay increase. I think that reality still hasn’t settled into most people’s minds.
Q: What are the crucial mistakes that job hunters are making today?
A: One is that they refuse to see themselves in a different light. They will take their same existing resume and skill set and put it in front of a green employer and assume that what’s worked once will work again. The difficulty there is twofold: one is that you’re selling yourself short, and two, that you’re refusing to change. That’s a bad sign from the get-go because this industry is about finding new and innovative ways to do things. I really encourage job seekers to get out there and take a big red pen to their resume and rewrite that cover letter with a little more character, try to really say what they mean, and get away from the jargon stuff. The second big mistake that people make right now—and this partly because of the economy uncertainty—is that they typically tip their toe into the green job market, and they’re not willing to lay out the long term commitment that may require three to six months to find a job in this space. As a consequence they’ll have a couple of conversations and then they’ll either abandon the effort entirely, or get offered a job that’s not green and take it just for security. But if you’re really committed to doing the “right thing”—however you define it–then it’s never the right answer to settle for something less than what you know to be the right thing.