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How to make a master’s in sustainability work for you

by Shannon Houde

Are you considering going back to school for a master’s in sustainability but feeling uncertain about whether an advanced degree is worth the investment? This is important to consider. Master’s degrees are expensive, intense and time consuming, and not – I repeat, NOT – guaranteed to get you a job. Not only that, but practical, tangible work experience is worth its weight in gold in the sustainability space.

The belief that you can walk out of your master’s graduation ceremony and into a great role is outdated. Besides, most university career centers don’t understand the sustainability jobs market and only give generic advice. If you decide to go for it, it’s up to you to make the most of your master’s degree and squeeze out every last drop of opportunity. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

Before you start your master’s…

A master’s helps you to build your networks and your knowledge, but it doesn’t automatically convert into a career change. You have to own that process and make it happen – that’s why it’s important to have realistic expectations of what your master’s will do for you.

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In her recent GreenBiz article, Nikki Gloudeman highlighted a few key questions to help prospective students determine what type of sustainability program is right for them, and pointed out some of the top programs in the US.

The point is, owning the process involves taking the bull by the horns and developing a career positioning strategy, of which the program itself will only be one aspect. Map out:

  1. the reasons why you chose the program,
  2. the key people you want to network with during it,
  3. what tangible takeaways you want to leave with, and
  4. how you plan to achieve them.

Pin it up somewhere prominent in your study space.

During your master’s…

Sustainability is a broad topic with branches that reach into all aspects of business so you’ll need an overview of the entire agenda. The jobs market tends to value specialists now more than generalists so to get a job, you also need to have detailed knowledge in one or two particular areas and sectors.

Pick your specialism now and plan to focus all your coursework and networking on this one area. It could be energy, climate change, natural capital, poverty, sustainable supply chains or women’s empowerment, for example.

Leverage your dissertation, a consulting class or practical project to show hands-on corporate sustainability experience on your CV with an accomplishment statement like this:

“Led an MBA team of four to develop and propose new business models for client, Unilever, to bring distributed energy solutions to emerging markets and align with its Sustainable Living Plan.”

Then give yourself a head start by kicking off your personal branding and job search 6 to 9 months before graduation. Personal branding involves writing a compelling CV with 12 tangible accomplishment statements, designing a 2000 character bio that translates into a LinkedIn summary and also building your online presence through blogging your thought leadership on Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s important to allow plenty of time for the job search process and with the tight competition 6 months is a minimum to start building your networks. Remember most roles are landed via word of mouth referrals and getting the word out about what you are looking to do next is a crucial first step.

After your master’s…

Make the most of your alumni network by getting active on social media. LinkedIn is particularly good for this – there may already be an alumnus group for your program, so join it and reach out to others who are already doing your dream job by sharing relevant articles or asking career questions. Always good to ask others about their career journeys and how they got where they are, lessons learnt, advice they may have for you. People love talking about themselves.

Lastly, make sure to stay connected to your university and give back where you can. Offering to speak at events and conferences to engage future students is a great way of building your personal brand while maintaining that link with your old lecturers, some of who might have professional contacts of value to you. This also allows you to build credibility and show leadership abilities. And don’t forget to put this on your CV. It’s a two way street and you get what you give, so be as generous as you can.

Good luck embarking on this next stage of your education. University is a fantastic opportunity to look beyond your day-to-day horizon and take the baby steps to get you where you want to be in three to five years. Let me know how you get on! And in the meantime, if you’d like some one-on-one support on aligning your educational opportunities to your future career, get in touch with me for a free 15-minute consultation.

Photo by DariuszSankowski via Flickr

This article originally appeared on GreenBiz.com.

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