Finding a Job with Purpose Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

by Shannon Houde

Finding a job in sustainability or social impact wasn’t easy even before COVID-19 blindsided and bludgeoned the global economy. This will only get harder as the world economy continues to struggle, but be confident that it will eventually rebound. In spite of the pandemic, now is still a great time to get yourself familiar with the landscape and begin to position yourself and start to make plan for your career in the impact space.

Policymakers are calling for the COVID-19 economic recovery to champion sustainable development. The World Bank writes:

“The choices that governments make to restart their economic engine — including the long-term social, economic, and environmental co-benefits they seek to achieve through their stimulus investments — will be extraordinarily consequential in ensuring that they can build back stronger and better.”


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And with the right policies, over the next decade, 24 million new jobs could be created in the energy sector alone, says the UN. Countless more purpose-driven jobs will be created across sectors as the world bounces back from the pandemic.

Changing our systems for a healthy, post-COVID world

Hear insights from Janine Benyus, Lynne Twist and Andrew Winston on how we got here — and what nature tells us about how to build a global economy that better, and more sustainably, serves the needs of humanity for today, and for the future — at the SB Leadership Summit, SB’s first virtual event, June 1-2.

Tell me more!

Still, achieving your goal of securing a job in sustainability or social impact isn’t going to be easy. You will face rejection and failure. Everyone who has “made it” in this space has. But you will get there; and when you do, it will all have been worth it. Here’s some advice to help you along the way.

Identify your ‘superpower’

There are few direct paths to sustainability or social impact careers. Many leaders in this space started out in roles that had nothing to do with it — such as in engineering, marketing or operations, among others. Before you determine which route to take, you should identify your “superpower” skills, which can help set you apart. This can be everything from strategy to communication to project management, among others.

To identify your sustainability “superpower,” a good place to start is asking yourself the following questions:

  • What sustainability issues am I most passionate about? What kind of work do I want to do?
  • Does the job I want exist? Or do I need to create it?
  • What am I qualified for? If I’m not currently qualified, what education and skills do I need to acquire to get there?
  • What best suits my innate and learned skills?

With these questions answered, take some time to self-reflect. A few things to think about are:

  • Personality type
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Innate skills
  • Learned skills
  • Interests

With your “superpower” clearly identified, you’ll have an easier time both finding the right role and convincing potential employers that you’re a fit. At thinkPARALLAX, for example, we require every candidate to take a personality test, perform an exercise specific for the role, and participate in individual and group interviews. This helps us get a more well-rounded picture of a candidate’s skills, experience and interests.

What kind of job do you want?

What exactly does it mean to work in sustainability or social impact? As this is an ever-evolving field, there isn’t always a clear definition. However, below are some potential categories to consider.

Image credit: thinkPARALLAX

Where to begin

Your sustainability job search likely will be a long game, so it’s important to know all of the tools at your disposal. Monitoring traditional careers websites such as Indeed, Glassdoor and Linkedin can be a good way to identify opportunities. On LinkedIn, for example, you can set keywords relevant to your job search and receive updates when relevant jobs appear.

It’s also good to seek out sustainability-focused resources. Sustainable Career Pathways, for example, provides all around resources for those looking to get a career in sustainability. BSR, a global sustainability consultancy and membership organization, posts jobs from all of its member companies. Check sustainability-focused job boards such as Shirley Parsons and Environmental CareerIdealist gives you the chance to find organizations, events and blogs on all things sustainable. And Sustainable Business has jobs in everything from renewable energy to green building, organic industry, policy, planning and scientific jobs that restore our natural resources.

Get in the know, now

Start getting yourself up to speed with the space and all of the players, from the brands to the NGOs that could fit your interest. Subscribe to newsletters from Sustainable Brands™3BLAbove the Bottom Line (and don’t forget about thinkPARALLAX); and attend conferences that are leading the movement (even if you’re only able to do so virtually right now). We made a list here, but there are plenty out there. Often you can volunteer to get a discounted rate and begin your networking journey. Granted, with COVID-19, most of this year’s conferences have been postponed or canceled. Many organizations are switching to digital conference channels, so keep an eye out for those.

Get a specific degree, training or certifications

While getting a degree in sustainability is not necessary for having a career in the field, sometimes it can be useful to pursue additional education to shore up high demand skills. Both ASU and Presidio Graduate School have established, well-known sustainability programs that also have a good alumni network. Most business schools have sustainability curricula. If you are interested in something specific, such as sustainability reporting, a certification with GRI or CDP could be a good addition; training can be completed online with the ISOS Group. Look at the people in the roles you are applying for and see what certifications and training they have.

Find a recruiter or a coach

Having an outside recruiter or coach could be the push you need — especially the folks listed below that are specific to the impact space.

Learn by doing

Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door of an organization. While these usually are open only to students, sometimes organizations offer paid fellowships for career-stage workers. At thinkPARALLAX, we have a regular intern program which gives newcomers to sustainability a chance to get their hands dirty. Often, we end up hiring our interns full-time.

Create a personal brand

In this time of constant change, it’s more important now than ever to cultivate a strong personal brand. As part of your new, purpose-driven, personal brand, the way you present yourself via your resume, cover letter, social media and in person should all be consistent. Try to answer the questions, what problem in the world am I solving, and what makes me different?

Build your network

One of the most important things you can do to advance your career is build a strong and widespread network. This will help you throughout your career as relationships help you find and secure opportunities, both when you’re job hunting and working in a role.

Find ways to meet new people. If you are a recent graduate, sending cold messages via Linkedin work more often than you’d think. People are often willing to take the time for a coffee or a call to share insight. Volunteer with a national group such as Net Impact; or find a local group such as Leaders 2020 here in San Diego. Find a group to be part of in your area — plan to volunteer and give back; and don’t expect anything in return as your new, like-minded friends will become your best allies during your journey. Continuing to have an open mind will allow you to begin to connect the dots and see the opportunities; and before you know it, you’ll be part of the team working to make an impact in the world.

Keep it up

Your sustainability and social impact job search is going to be challenging, but if you stay motivated and keep trying, you will eventually find a good fit.

As we’ve seen a big interest in impact careers, we are in the process of developing a system to help those searching get direction and guidance to find the right role. Sign up here to be part of the journey.

And if you’re a professional who is already in the impact space, please take our 10-minute survey on your strengths, personality and career to help us help the next generation of leaders.


This article was written by Jonathan Hanwitt, Co-Founder of thinkPARRALAX and featured on


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