How to answer a hiring manager’s questions before they are asked for a new job in sustainability

by Shannon Houde

In this practical how-to guide based on my recent Net Impact webinar, I’m sharing with you some of the interactive techniques that I use to help my clients break in to the sustainability sector.

Having spent many years in HR and management, I know exactly what a hiring manager is looking for when they post a job description for a new role in sustainability. In today’s blog, I’m going to help you decipher the jargon to help you figure out what they really want and demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for the role.

Skills the market requires

So how do you do it? Effectively communicating your skills and matching them to the role’s requirements is key to spark the recruiter’s interest. But first, it helps to know which skills the market wants. Right now, the top six – as inspired by Mike Barry, of Marks and Spencer’s Plan A sustainability project – are:


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  1. The ability to lead change – find a direction to lead your company out of uncertainty
  2. Commercial credibility – if you’re going to change it, you need to understand it in order to have integrity
  3. Sustainability – be a translator of science, not a specialist
  4. People skills – negotiate, be diplomatic, tell a story that will bring people along with you
  5. Partnership – be able to create shared value
  6. Innovation – notice, translate and respond to trends

Skills, Values and Traits – what they are, and why you need them

I frame all the work I do with clients around four key concepts to answer the questions of a hiring manager before they are asked.

The first is defining your values – “do you fit the culture, team and mission?” Values are crucial, because they underline everything else. In the context of a job search, they tell the hiring manager whether or not you fit in to the team dynamic and the company culture. Come up with your own top five values – the things that truly motivate you to do what you do – and keep them in mind when reading the job spec. Do the company’s values echo yours?

Second are your traits or characteristics – “do I want to work with you?” These words are how someone else would describe your style, or the words you’d use to describe your approach. They tell the hiring manager how you’ll deliver on your skillset, and whether or not you’re someone they want to manage, share an office with, or go for a drink with after work.

The third point to address is skills – “can you do the job?” I link this to tasks – the specific things you’ll be doing every day to deliver on KPIs.  Essentially, your skills are what you’ll be paid to do. These are the most important as skills relate to delivery and achieving specific, tangible results for the company.

Lastly, we have knowledge. This is your specialist area and niche issues you know in-depth such as waste, human rights, renewable energy, poverty alleviation, etc. They cut across your skillset. Try to describe and narrow down the two or three that are your specialism.  The sector is becoming more specialised and less generalist so the more you can build your own personal brand of expertise, the better you stand out and can position as a thought leader.

Mapping your skills to the job description

Job descriptions are often poorly written and deconstructing them requires some strategic analysis before you can begin to compose your CV or cover letter.

Now that you’ve defined your values, skills, traits and knowledge, it’s time to re-map the job description. Take 45 minutes to do this before launching into a CV or cover letter.

  1. Open a new Word Document and copy and paste each of their requirements into it under the heading skills, values or traits.
  2. Then, under each heading, try to collapse their criteria and identify the main themes, for example: communications, strategy, administration, fundraising, etc.
  3. Look at the key words that re-occur most often. These are likely to be the most important, so if they mention project management six times, that will give you a major hint!
  4. Once you’ve collated all this information in the Word Document, you can begin to map your skills to the role and translate them to meet their hiring manager’s requirements bullet point by bullet point.

Tailoring your CV and cover letter based on this “newly designed” job spec will help the hiring manager to see quickly that you are someone who understands what they need and can deliver it. Stay tuned for future blogs on functional vs chronological CVs for success.


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