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How to appeal to a company with sustainable values

by Shannon Houde

With competition tough, what training, skills and experience should you highlight when applying for a job that appeals to your sustainability values?

study conducted by the global management consultancy Hay Group, which surveyed 600 graduates and managers at 40 of the UK’s largest graduate employers, found that more graduates are prioritising career progression and the ability to make a difference over bonuses and benefits. But it’s not only graduates who are changing their priorities. Neil King, HR director at the London Early Years Foundation also reports an increase in applications from the private sector.

These findings are echoed by Lydia Langford of Acre Resources, a specialist sustainability recruitment consultancy, who has seen an increase in numbers of applicants wanting to get into the sector, mirroring a corresponding rise in vacancies. A second wave of companies has begun to join those who already have a sustainability agenda, while the number of FTSE 100 companies employing a sustainability executive has increased more than fourfold since 2005, she explains.

However, competition for vacancies is tough, and employers are selective. What does a candidate need to do to appeal to a company with sustainable values?

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Values alignment

Ed Shepherd credits the On Purpose leadership programme with helping him examine his own values so he could then identify a company where those values were aligned. Clarity in how your values match helps you build your proposition as a candidate, he says. Shannon Houde, executive and career coach at Acre, suggests mapping your language and values to the organisation’s, through “creating a story around your values, skills and character traits” in your application.

Researching the organisation’s website should reveal important information about its values and skills requirements. However, demonstrating awareness of the business model and strategy and an interest in the organisation’s culture and mission at assessment or interview stage, will impress much further, says King.

Training, skills and mindset

Although values-led companies expect candidates to share the same values, they are also as specific in their skills and experience requirements. Candidates need to show they can deliver results on projects or programmes. At senior level, strong engagement and relationship management skills are vital to get stakeholder buy-in, says Langford; while in other organisations assessment activities are also used to determine an applicant’s suitability.

For Procter & Gamble the importance of leadership potential goes beyond an assumed skillset, says Niall de Lacy, HR director for UK and Ireland. To stand out, candidates need to show examples of their ability to engage and energise – whether these are gained from education, extra-curricular activities or community work.

A commitment to developing skills (both technical and soft) makes you more desirable as a candidate. Jack Scriven, an On Purpose fellow, received training in structured problem-solving, influencing techniques and story-telling to complement his technical skills in finance, while Candice Motran developed her social impact measurement and multi-agency programme management skills, both highly desired areas of expertise. Organisations also value strong teamwork skills – especially evidence of working to achieve shared values and outcomes. Houde also underlines policy and legislation understanding, commercial understanding and strategic thinking as important skills to build.

Coaching and mentoring demonstrate a commitment to your professional development and an “ongoing professional development” section can be effective in highlighting your goals and motivations, as well as demonstrating personal ownership of your career – a key trait, advises P&G’s de Lacy. Displaying an interest in your future with the organisation is also important. Sustainability-focused companies see “the future” as their people, explains Houde, and mutual investment is crucial to attract and retain top talent. Applicants therefore need to portray themselves as having the potential to be managed and developed.

Experience

Analyse previous experience to uncover your main strengths and value to an employer, then frame these in terms of the problems you solved and the impact you had. Both paid and voluntary experience are useful: a variety of environments and challenges not only widens your understanding of business operations, but enables you to improve problem-solving skills and flexibility in applying solutions across sectors. Experience in values-led organisations is particularly important for the insights into how values are applied in decision-making and operations, while any experience you have which clearly matches the company’s sustainability agenda should be prominent, advises Langford.

Jack Scriven emphasises the importance of voluntary work or acting as a trustee to demonstrate commitment as well as to gain practical experience – particularly valuable for those changing career into the sustainability sector.

Networking

Networking (such as attending events) is key for building and maintaining contacts with likeminded professionals, and for finding out more about potential employers and the sector.

This article was originally published on The Guardian.

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