I recently had a conversation with a former student about her lack of success finding a relevant environmental position after finishing her degree. As we talked, it occurred to me that she had likely been selling herself short. Her experience had been at the entry level, but she had not considered the impact her graduate degree had on her eligibility for jobs. Not realizing it, she had been aiming too low in her job hunt, and I had some thoughts I want to share with you about it – how do you know if you’re aiming to low?
In the case of my recent graduate that was looking for federal employment, she was definitely aiming too low. It's fairly easy to know the level to aim for, but that is if you're familiar with the federal system. A recent graduate of a M.S. program would qualify, based on education alone, at the GS-9 level (roughly $42K/YR) in the general science series. Most graduates I speak with don' t realize this and apply for GS-5 ($27.7K/YR) positions. While I don't discourage applying at multiple levels, aiming higher means there are fewer applicants with advanced degrees and possibly less competition. With a B.S. degree, generally a GS-5 is entry level, if no experience has been gained by that point. However, superior academic achievement (see http://www.usgs.gov/ohr/oars/quals/saa.html) can qualify you to enter at the GS-7 ($34K/YR) level. One year of graduate coursework can also qualify you at the GS-7 level. Of course, experience increases the entry level as well. Best to speak with an HR specialist if you keep applying and not making the eligibility rolls. It could be you don't meet the requirements, OR it could be that your resume is not telling the whole story.
Do an Honest Assessment. You are marketing yourself. What are your unique skills and experience? Strengths and weaknesses? Doing such an assessment can help you avoid applying for jobs below your current skill level. When you do this, you will have a job, but it will be difficult to stay motivated and what is worse than not having a job? Having a job from which you won’t get a good recommendation. Boredom can be hard to disguise as is desperation. Here’s a great site that allows you to use a skills assessment two ways: 1) identifying the job and then seeing the skills needed, and 2) selecting your skills with the skill profiler. Either way, the skills list is really helpful to allow you to recognize your skills and then build them into your resume. Skills Profiler
Don’t Target Jobs for Which You’re 100% Qualified. Smart HR managers and hiring officials are not looking for someone that fits exactly in the job they’ve advertised. They’re looking for about an 80% match. Why? First, someone that is a perfect a fit will soon be bored with the job. With no room for growth or development, they’ll soon be looking to move on. Someone with an 80% fit, but with the motivation and desire to prove themselves will be a much happier and productive employee. Why Managers Don’t Hire Overqualified Candidates
Create a Strategic Plan. How do you know where you’re going, if you don’t have a plan to get there. Simply hoping for a job isn’t the best strategy. Instead, develop a roadmap to lay out your strategy to target your skills and abilities for the right job. Where to start? This is a very comprehensive example that includes several exercises I found valuable: Strategic Career Plan
Find a Mentor. An essential part of any career exploration is finding a mentor in the environmental field. Choose someone you admire and that can give you honest feedback on jobs for which you wish to apply. They’ll be able to provide you feedback, suggest ways to fill gaps in your resume, and give you the occasional “reality check.” 13 Tips for Finding a Mentor
Network! Networking is critical to every job search. If you find that you should be aiming higher than the entry level, you’ll soon find that higher level jobs are not advertised as often as entry level jobs. Without a network of career contacts and mentors, it may be difficult to get interviewed at all. Join professional groups or organizations, keep in contact with professors, invest some time creating your profile and “connecting” to others in the environmental field on www.linkedin.com, and attend job fairs and networking events. Even if unemployed, go out in the world everyday with professionally printed contact cards to hand out when you meet people that can connect you to others in the environmental field. Every contact you make has the potential to turn into a job!
I hope these ideas help you avoid the pitfall of aiming too low in your job search. Let me know your thoughts below!
Dr. Carol A. Pollio
12 Months to Launch Your Environmental Career:
“Green” Career Advice from a Seasoned Veteran