“Get a climate job. It will be easy,” they said. With all the hype around working on climate solutions—and given the urgency of the climate crisis—you’d think that getting a job in the climate space would be smooth sailing. Not quite.
At Work On Climate, we aim to bring together a workforce that can combat the climate crisis. We know that this means getting hundreds of millions of people to work on climate solutions in every industry: from dirty to clean energy, from animal to plant protein, and so on. Given our ambitions, it’s vital that we understand all the barriers to getting a climate job, then work together to remove them.
At Work on Climate’s Ecosystem Research Team, our mission is to research the talent ecosystem to find the best ways to get more people into planet-positive careers. In this piece, we start with job seekers.
Our shared mission is ambitious, and we all have a role to play in getting as many people as possible to work on climate solutions. While employers and job seekers are key players in this effort, we particularly hope to reach talent ecosystem change-makers with this report. These are the organizations, institutions, and communities that shape the workforce and affect people’s career paths.
We believe these system-level change-makers are essential to breaking down the barriers to climate work sooner and at scale. That said, we’ve included suggested interventions that people at any level can try.
The Work on Climate Ecosystem Research Team conducted 19 deep-dive interviews with climate job seekers between June and July 2022. We found these participants from 34 responses to this survey sent out in the Work On Climate and Terra.do Slack groups. We also gathered supporting evidence from previous job seeker interviews conducted in 2021 and interviews with experts on the climate talent ecosystem.
Before we dive into the insights, it’s important to call out who was included and not included in the research. We sourced participants from our own and Terra.do’s community as a starting point, and while we believe our insights cover a lot of the high-level challenges job seekers face, we realize there’s more work to do to make sure we represent the full diversity of the workforce. At a high level, our sample is skewed most heavily towards white, US-based, white-collar workers.
If you have done similar studies with other demographics, let’s collaborate and build on our combined research—send us an email at email@example.com.
Here’s the full breakdown of who we interviewed:
You can review the recruitment survey we sent out to find participants for the study and the questions we asked.
Now that we’ve covered the process, let’s dig into the insights!
From what we observed, the climate job search typically goes through 5 key stages:
Alternative pathways emerge after the exploration phase. For example, workers may choose to influence their current job to make it climate-oriented, pursue freelance or contract opportunities, or start their own initiative like a side project or founding a company. These are perfectly worthwhile pursuits too, but for the purposes of this research and report, we focused primarily on the process of finding a new full-time job in climate.
Climate jobs involve many of the hallmarks of a regular job search—lots of networking, reflection on the type of job you want, learning about companies and the space you want to be in, and the (often broken and frustrating) application process. However, there are some key differences that climate job seekers highlighted in interviews:
In this section:
Job-seeking can often be a draining process. Job seekers send application after application and go through several interview rounds, only to be rejected in many cases. If they’re lucky, they’ll get some constructive feedback about why they weren’t selected, but this is less common, as attorneys often advise employers not to due to the risk of discrimination lawsuits.
Instead, many will receive a generic line like, “After carefully reviewing your application, we regret to inform you that we have decided to pursue other candidates whom we feel more closely meet our needs at this time.” Job seekers learn nothing from this about what they can do better next time. Worst case, they don’t get any response at all.
There are low points, you occasionally get what was set up to be a great networking call with a good opportunity, and you get ghosted on it.Adam W. Barney, Independent Growth Coach
Alongside this, imposter syndrome and self-doubt are prolific in climate job-seeking. Job seekers need to reach a high bar for technical and people skills. With the added layer of climate knowledge and experience on top, it’s no wonder job seekers can feel like they don’t belong. We’ll go into more depth about this in the next section on the skills/experience gap.
I’m an anxious person and will doubt my skills every step of the way.Zoe Karp, Carbon Data Analyst
With every rejection and ghosting, the inner voice telling job seekers, “There aren’t any jobs out there for me” grows.
There are so many aspects to climate, and it’s so time-consuming to apply that it can quickly become overwhelming. Also, climate job seekers deeply want to make a big impact, so every job needs to be evaluated as to whether it’s actually making a difference in addressing climate change or if it’s just more greenwashing.
I was worried about finding companies that are basically claiming to do better work than they are, sort of greenwashing. They say they’re in the climate space but are not doing as impactful work as I would like, and I wasn’t sure I had the skills to figure out which those companies were.Zoe Karp, Carbon Data Analyst
Lastly, these job seekers are acutely aware of the present and growing impacts of climate change, and many have experienced climate disasters already. With every news story and extreme weather event, their anxiety builds, and the urgency to find a job can feel overwhelming.
I don’t think I appreciated how long it would take to find a new role…I didn’t anticipate how things like anxiety and other elements might be stumbling blocks in the process.Jennifer Anderson, Carbon Removal Geologist
I am admittedly a little lost and possible deflated. I hoped it would have been easier to find a climate role that was a fit for me. I haven’t, and that’s okay. I’m not going to stop looking, but given the urgency of the problem and how much effort, time, and money the industry is putting behind it, I wanted it to go faster.Jay Tilak, Product Manager
There was a climate event [in my hometown]…it destroyed the city in a way that I’ve never seen before. The volume of rain was higher than ever registered in more than 100 years, 300 people lost their lives, 1,000 people lost their homes…Thankfully, my family was okay, but many people I know lost their loved ones and material things that are not easily replaceable. We are just coming out of a pandemic, so the effect on the business side of things is catastrophic.
One month later I revisited my hometown, and I witnessed an even bigger rainstorm. I’ve never seen anything like that. After this experience, I was never more sure that in my next job, I need to be able to change the way things are going right now—change the future.Anonymous Climate Job Seeker, Research Scientist & Project Manager
For many, finding a job in climate takes resilience, how can we help job seekers persevere through this emotional roller coaster?
The most common barrier that people mentioned in interviews was a perception they didn’t have the right skills or experience to get a job in climate.
Please note: Given the lack of feedback after applications or interviews, job seekers can often only assume a lack of skills and experience was the primary reason for being rejected or ghosted. To fully assess the extent of this issue, further quantitative research is needed.
There are three different areas where people saw gaps on their resume and felt it was holding them back:
First of all, many job seekers believe that they need climate-specific skills, experience, or education to land a job in climate:
I started to think that even in data analysis, they would, instead of requiring the technical skills, also require the context of whatever part of climate that company would be working on.Zoe Karp, Carbon Data Analyst
I was hesitant to start looking for a climate job because I don’t have a lot of domain knowledge about climate tech (my background is in food CPG) and because climate tech seems a lot more scientific/technical than typical tech domains.Anonymous Climate Job Seeker, Senior Product Manager
The increase in climate education programs like Terra.do, Climatebase fellowship, and OnDeck Climate Tech fellowship are also strong indicators of this demand.
While it’s true that some roles need climate-specific skills, many others like marketing, accounting, and software engineering don’t demand them. More research is needed to quantify which types of jobs specifically require climate expertise.
Sometimes it was the lack of experience in the type of organization, like startups or corporate business, that seemed to be holding job seekers back:
I saw a gap in my skills. I would apply for positions in CSR and sustainability, trying to make the move to a corporate or for-profit company [from non-profit], and I just wasn’t getting a lot of traction.Anonymous Climate Job Seeker, Senior Director at a Consulting Firm
There are a lot [of positions] that are looking for product managers only, who’ve had experience in startups.Shalini Gupta, Project Manager at an IT company
Many others reported a lack of hard skills and experience for specific roles—like data analysis, marketing, or design—as the key blocker for them:
As I’ve been looking at job descriptions over the last year I got the sense that most roles require some awareness of Python, or some element of data analytics, so I felt if I want to make myself competitive, I need to at least check some boxes there.Jennifer Anderson, Carbon Removal Geologist
It was very discouraging, especially in 2018, when really all of the roles were tech or engineering related, or visual and graphic design, which is cool but also not actually aligned with my skill set. It’s gotten better, fortunately, in these intervening two years.Aidan Hudson-Lapore, Service and Strategic Designer
Lastly, when job seekers try to jump across multiple gaps at once, it’s naturally more difficult and time-consuming to find a job:
I don’t want to jump to something that’s in the same field, I want to transition to something in the climate space. But that’s hard, right?… It’s both a difference in skills and it’s a new industry, that makes the leap hard.Peter Khoury, Principal Wireless Engineer
While these gaps are not unique to climate job seeking, it seems that many individuals are expanding their search more broadly and taking bigger leaps because:
Perceived or not, bridging these gaps and selling your transferable skills and experience can be challenging, time-consuming, and present a significant hurdle for people making the transition to the climate sector. So what can we do about it?
Conduct or sponsor a climate job skills and experience report, quantifying:
Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if this is something you’d like to support.
We’ll be writing another dedicated post on the topic of skills, but here are a few key tips we’ve curated from the community.
Brainstorm different uses for your generalist skills— If you’re a hardware engineer, think about what climate solutions need hardware. What companies are implementing them? Do they have openings? Can you talk to a recruiter at a huge company (like Google) and tell them you’re only interested in climate projects?Eugene Kirpichov, co-founder of Work on Climate
Embrace an experimental mindset. Use every application, reach out, and conversation as a chance to experiment and learn what’s effective and what isn’t. For example, try different versions of your resume—how many interviews did each get you? Try different outreach messages—which gets you the most conversions?Radhika Bhatt, Social Impact & Climate Career Coach and Course Co-Creator & Instructor at Terra.do
Have informational interviews to get feedback on your skills and experience. Chat with people in the field and industries you want to work in. Share your materials with them and get their input on what you should leverage and what you’re missing. Use the market to drive your behavior and inform what skills and experience you really need and where the gaps are.Eric Li, Product Leader at Afresh and Founder of Green Career Coach
Many job seekers we spoke to believe that networking is even more essential when seeking a climate job than in general job-seeking—and they might be right. The field is advancing so rapidly, that much of the latest information and job opportunities are scattered and hard to find without knowing where to look—if they’re documented at all. The fastest way to learn is often through networking. However, this can be daunting for many job seekers who feel like they don’t know how to do it effectively.
I don’t think that I networked really well, which is why I’ve sort of forced myself into these communities to just engage. I’m a little lost on that path.Jay Tilak, Product Manager
I think the ideal thing to do, and I knew that going in, was going to be to network more, but I also just really hate doing that. So I did it, but not a ton. I probably reached out to 10–15 people cold. I should have done more, and that probably would have helped me find a position sooner.Anonymous Climate Job Seeker
Networking is a vital skill that climate job seekers need to prioritize, and employers and talent system players need to support it if they want more talent in their pipelines.
So let’s get specific about what job seekers struggle with when it comes to networking. Here are a few questions and problems that came up in interviews that we’ve paraphrased for clarity:
Due to the vastness and complexity of the climate space, many job seekers also use networking as a way to learn and find out what’s interesting for them. But they are often hesitant to reach out because they feel like they need to know more about the topic to have a productive conversation, and not waste the other person’s time.
The need to network is clearly not going away. So how can we help?
Here are a few quick tips from Work on Climate’s co-founder, Eugene Kirpichov:
For more tips check out this blog on how to break into the climate field with effective networking by Terra.do.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: money. It’s a common anxiety that climate jobs have lower salaries than non-climate jobs.
Please note: More quantitative research is needed to measure salaries across comparable jobs, controlling for other variables, and ensuring that the key differentiating factor is whether the job is climate-focused. This will help us understand the reality of pay differentials and which demographics, roles, domains, and organization types are most affected.
Even if it turns out to be more perception than reality, it’s measurably holding job seekers back:
I think after that initial couple of weeks, I started getting anxious because I realized I might have to change my expectations about the pay scale.Nilofar Haja, Independent Communication Specialist
In 2021, I did over 50 interviews and found that a majority of companies are looking for unicorns with years of experience, highly developed skills, and driving solutions for a niche field. Those companies were offering half of the market rate for an equivalent position (compared to other startups), with no equity or other levers of compensation. It feels that our motivations for moving to climate work are often leveraged against us.Adam Boyd, Electrical Engineer & Project Manager
It’s worth mentioning that we spoke to many people with over 10 years of experience, and with a family to look after or big expenses like mortgages to worry about. These are clear constraints:
I’m trying to figure out how I get paid and how I still make the money that I need to survive and provide for my family, but bring it to a better place that’s focused on that climate fight.Adam W. Barney, Independent Growth Coach
In the context of startups, a transition from a senior role at a large company into any startup can often result in a reduction in salary—this isn’t unique to climate startups. As most startups in climate are currently early-stage, it’s not suitable for everyone. However, while startups can’t always offer high salaries, they can often compensate with equity and other benefits instead, and every year more of them mature and are able to pay more.
Take a look at “The state of startup compensation, H1 2022” report by Carta for more insights into salary and equity trends (US only), also broken down by job function, geography, valuation.
Let’s look at some ideas for how we can tackle the money problem!
Conduct / Sponsor a Climate Jobs Salary Report that investigates the compensation of climate jobs compared to non-climate jobs and where needs more investment. Get in touch with email@example.com if you’d like to support this initiative.
This sums it up: Nicole Kelner, Artist-in-Residence at MCJ Collective, put together this Google Sheet, “So You Want to Work in Climate,” to crowdsource resources for an art piece she was working on… It exploded! As of writing this post, there are 508 resources and that includes:
While it’s amazing that all these resources exist, it’s impossible for any job seeker to sift through all of them to find relevant opportunities. Likewise, it’s equally challenging for employers to stand out and be visible to the right people given the competition for high-demand skill sets.
You’ve got LinkedIn, Ladders, Indeed…it’s quite a noisy space. I would love to see some kind of headhunter firm to help me find the roles that I want.Adam Wynne, Director of Innovation Accelerator
And for those seeking more specific roles, it can be even more challenging.
It’s very hard to sort through and figure out what’s the relevant stuff. If I could find a job that overlapped wireless and climate, I would have totally jumped on that.Peter Khoury, Principal Wireless Engineer
The jobs usually fall into design or engineering or something technical. The functions don’t exactly align with my background, so I find it hard to know where to engage.Anonymous Climate Job Seeker, Senior Director at a Consulting Firm
For what it’s worth, in Nicole’s resource list, there are also 18 climate-focused recruiting firms. We need more of that!
An essential part of building a bright future involves making climate work mainstream. It’s key to accelerating climate solutions and creating a healthier and fairer world for us all.
But it won’t happen quickly enough organically. It requires high-leverage interventions from multiple players in the talent ecosystem. We must work together—the planet needs you!
So if you have the decision-making power and resources to take action—or if you know someone who does—remember these areas to focus on:
Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in: