Saturday, January 12, 2013

Making the Most of Your Education

You’ve probably invested a lot in your education – not only the money for tuition and books, but the effort you put into your classwork and the time away from family and friends – and you definitely want to make sure that your resume highlights it in the best way possible! Here is some advice to help you do just that:
  • Put the Focus on Your Coursework
  • Address Required Educational Qualifications Directly
  • GPA Issues and Some Solutions
  • Noting Major Papers and Projects 
Focus on Your Coursework. Not all job advertisements require transcripts, but even those that do leave the reviewer in the position of translating them or worse, guessing if you have the coursework needed to be successful in that job.  Why risk it? Instead, add a section to your resume entitled, “Relevant Coursework.” Under that heading, list in paragraph form the courses that you want to highlight. This might change, depending on the job for which you are applying. For example, you may want to highlight more science courses if you are applying for an Environmental Technician position, or focus more on GIS and planning courses if you are applying for a Community Planner position. You can even highlight the same courses, but change the order of them to tailor your resume to different job titles. In listing the courses, I would not recommend including credits taken after each, just titles of the courses. If you need specific coursework for a job, see the next section for suggestions on how to present that information.

Address Required Educational Qualifications Directly.  Quite often, environmental jobs have very specific educational requirements. I have found that not addressing them directly can result in failing to make the first “cut” made by Human Resources staff.  The method I recommend to address this is to develop a “Special Qualifications Statement” that I attach to my resume or upload to the hiring website.  This statement should break out each area where credits are required as a heading and then have the specific courses listed under each one. 

For example, to qualify for a GS-486 (Wildlife Biologist) position in the federal government, a degree in wildlife management or a related field is required. Within that degree, at least 9 semester hours in such wildlife subjects as mammalogy, ornithology, animal ecology, wildlife management, or research course in the field of wildlife biology; and at least 12 semester hours in zoology in such subjects as general zoology, invertebrate zoology, vertebrate zoology, comparative anatomy, physiology, genetics, ecology, cellular biology, parasitology, entomology, or research courses in such subjects (Excess courses in wildlife biology may be used to meet the zoology requirements where appropriate.); and at least 9 semester hours in botany or the related plant sciences.
In this case, I would create the following headings: Wildlife Management (9 Credits Required), Zoology (12 Credits Required), and Botany/Plant Science (9 Credits Required).  Under each heading, I would list the Course Number and Name, University Attended and Dates of completion, and then Number of Credits.

Special Qualifications Statement – GS-0486 Wildlife Management Series

Jane Q. Willd                                    Position Applied for:  #123xyz                              
Wildlife Management (9 Credits Required)
Wildlife Management-BIOL611, George Mason Univ (9/2001), 3 credits
Fish and Wildlife Policy-BIOL543, American Public Univ (5/2002), 3 credits
Mammalogy-BIOL568, George Mason Univ (12/2002), 4 credits

In this way, you eliminate the need for someone to search your resume and/or transcripts to find the information, and are able to categorize the coursework appropriately. Keep in mind that a Human Resources Specialist may not have any idea that your course in Herpetology or Ichthyology is a qualifying course(s) for this series. It would be a shame to not qualify for a position because you didn’t make every effort to clarify your qualifications!

GPA Issues and Some Solutions. Although many strive to have a 4.0 GPA, in the science field, it is often difficult to do. Not having such a GPA is not the end of the world, however. If your GPA is less than a 3.0, though, it may be difficult to demonstrate your knowledge, motivation to succeed, and dedication to the field. Another approach may be to calculate your GPA in several different ways to see if you can find a way to better highlight your academic accomplishments. One way to do this is to calculate your GPA using only courses in your chosen field. A lot of us had that course or two in French Literature that didn’t go well.  As a hiring official, do I really care if you received a “D” in that subject? Not likely. So, if all of your courses in environmental science, for example, calculate to a much higher GPA, then feel free to use that one. Obviously, you must state that on your resume, but that is easy enough.  “Overall GPA: 2.75. GPA in Major Courses: 3.68.” Another calculation is to count only the courses taken in the last 2 years of a 4 year program (years meaning the last 50% of your coursework). In this case, you would note, “Overall GPA: 2.75. GPA in Junior/Senior Level Courses:  4.0.”  If asked about it, you can certainly explain why you chose to do this. Whatever you do, be honest. I am merely suggesting that you can demonstrate that at some point you took your coursework seriously and want to highlight it.  We all make mistakes or do poorly in something. I learned about this concept as a federal employee, where these alternate ways of calculating GPAs were used in the past to qualify recent graduates for Student Honor Appointments. I didn’t invent this! 

Noting Major Papers and Projects. One great idea that may set you apart from all of the rest is to include significant research papers and class projects on your resume. When you lack on-the-job experience, it’s often a challenge to put much down on your resume, so this method is a nice way to demonstrate that you have done some interesting papers and projects and are capable of more in-depth research of relevant environmental topics or issues.  I recommend creating a heading under the “Education” heading and inserting “Major Papers and Projects” under your degree. If you completed a Masters’ degree, then your thesis definitely should be included.  

       M.S., Environmental Science, George Mason University, 12/2011.
          -Major Papers and Projects: 
           =The Endangered Species Act: Recommendations for the Future, (9/08) 
           =Cap and Trade in the United States, (12/09) 
           =Community Recycling Program Adaptive Management Plan, (6/11) 
           Thesis: Red Knot Restoration: Approaches for Species Success (12/11) 

I hope that this advice is helpful in highlighting your education - best of luck on your job search!

Dr. Carol A. Pollio

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Environmental Career!

Amazing that it’s already 2013! I thought this would be a great time to make New Year’s Resolutions to jump-start your environmental career.  Here they are! 
  • Join a new professional group
  • Attend at least one local networking event
  • Make business cards and set a measurable goal to distribute them
  • Find at least one new mentor in your chosen field
  • Commit to a career strategy in writing

Join a New Professional Group. Seems like this would be an easy resolution, but often these groups can cost forty or more dollars to join. If you can afford it, do join them. Suggestions are the National Association of Environmental Professionals ($40/yr -  student rate), National Environmental Health Association ($25/yr student rate), The Wildlife Society ($41/yr), North American Association for Environmental Education ($35/yr), and the Air and Waste Management  Association ($35/yr). Some free options if your budget is limited: National Military Fish and Wildlife Association, local watershed associations (Google “watershed associations PA”, for example), and national or local environmental organizations (email subscriptions are free, membership fees vary – see for a comprehensive list).

Attend at Least One Local Networking Event.  Once you’ve found a new organization to join, comb their schedule of events to find either a networking event or a volunteer activity to participate in that puts you in contact with other members. Use these contacts to learn more about job opportunities and as mentors to help you further your environmental career. You need to put yourself “out there” and this is a very positive and professional way to do it!

Make Business Cards and Set a Measurable Goal to Distribute Them. Consider how important networking can be – and how much more leverage you gain from networking by leaving a contact/business card as you go. Even if you have a limited budget, business cards can be a close as your printer or low cost online. In addition to your contact information (email, phone number), carefully consider if you want to include a title or position under your name. One rule of thumb is to not use a title for which you are not fully qualified or one you have held. Instead, consider the following titles (if used at all on your card): Independent Environmental Researcher, Independent Environmental Consultant, Recent Environmental Graduate, or similar. In addition to or instead of a home address, you might also consider including “Willing to Relocate” on your card. Set a weekly or monthly number of cards you will distribute – the best way to accomplish something is to make it measurable and achievable. A professional card that you can leave with those you meet on a daily basis gets your name out there and certainly cannot hurt your chances of finding your dream job!

Find at Least One New Mentor in Your Chosen Field. Sometimes you find a mentor in the most surprising places. Talk to relatives and friends about your career aspirations. Engage current or past instructors from college, high school, or other training and ask their advice on getting into a new field. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help and advice – they’ve been there and have a lot to offer and often they don’t need to be in environmental careers to assist. If they are, of course, you can get more focused advice. I think you’d be surprised at how many people you will meet that are willing to help you!

Commit to a Career Strategy in Writing.  Finally, I highly recommend following the first rule of keeping resolutions – make a plan and stick to it! This one takes some thought and a bit of time, but is a key step in entering a new career. It may be hard to get started, but take some of the suggestions here and go from there. Make sure your plan is written, contains clear goals and objectives, and includes outcomes that are measurable. Include regularly scheduled reviews of your accomplishments so that you can modify your plan as you go.  

Here is a template of a career plan that will help you get started: 
Sample Career Plan

Best Wishes for the New Year!
Dr. Carol A. Pollio