Initial Publication Date: March 5, 2015

Explore Careers for a Sustainable World

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Learning what the workforce looks like is a great first step in preparing yourself to enter the job market. Also important is to seek out and utilize opportunities to hone skills employers are looking for, including communication skills, data analysis, and problem solving. You can do this in your course work, volunteer opportunities, internships, and, the best way: get hands-on experience in the workforce. This not only allows you to hone your skills and build your resume, it also starts building a network of contacts that may be your foot in the door to a longer career. Check with your advisor, instructors, or alumni network about how to obtain internships and other pre-professional opportunities. These opportunities may also be available through local schools, museums, outreach, extensions, non-profits, government agencies and more.

Learn about the Workforce of the Future

The workforce of the future offers exciting opportunities for addressing the complex issues our society faces as the world's population grows, climate changes, and our commitment to sustainability is put to the test.

Build a Skill Set Employers Are Looking For

There is not a single answer to the question 'What skills make me employable?' However, employers at the 2013 Geoscience and the 21st Century Workforce workshop emphasized the value of data analysis, quantitative, and problem solving skills over broad awareness of policy issues. Employers also value the ability to articulate an appropriate, effective, and creative next step, and they are looking for enthusiasm and drive.

Communication skills play a pivotal role in obtaining a job and succeeding in the workforce. These skills include the ability to customize information for an audience, to present information at appropriate levels, to effectively communicate in oral, written and visual forms, and to scale the information to the time and format that is requested or appropriate. Learn more about professional communication and how to strengthen these skills.

Skills such as those involving teamwork, leadership, organization, creative thinking, problem solving, and adaptability are also important (Gordon, 2014, Buhl, 2014). Taking part in extracurricular activities or service work that incorporate civic engagement, social justice, entrepreneurship, event planning, and/or sustainability are also generally seen as desirable attributes in new hires (Barnds, 2014).

Demonstrate your Professional Persona

Developing your 'professional attitude'

Your attitude and the way you conduct yourself influence both your personal and professional spheres. Developing a good professional attitude is a critical part of not only getting a job, but succeeding in that job. A positive professional attitude helps in building workplace relationships, stimulating productivity, and can lead to increased chances of getting promotions or pay raises. Acting professionally includes strong interpersonal skills, including communication that incorporates both active listening and competency in writing and speaking, attention to detail, creativity, taking personal responsibility for your work, being punctual, and dressing appropriately for the workplace (Anderson-Smith, 2014).

Recommendation Letters

The attributes mentioned above are also important in getting favorable recommendation letters from your mentors, bosses, and advisors. Having a good work ethic and positive attitude while in school or at your current job demonstrates to those around you that you are capable of the same in your future career. Some general tips for getting good recommendations include:

  • Pick someone you know well and who can describe specific examples of your professional and interpersonal skills;
  • Provide your referrer plenty of time to write the letter
  • Talk with the referrer or otherwise highlight your strengths or specific experiences and how they will help you with the job you are applying for
  • Ask to ensure the referrer will provide you a good recommendation - if not, look elsewhere!

Strengthen Skills and Make Connections: Internships, pre-professional opportunities, and more

A great way to hone your skills, get experience, build your network is through internships or other pre-professional opportunities. Ask your advisor about internships and other pre-professional opportunities that might count as upper-level course credits as an independent study opportunity. These experiences provide an 'in' to helping you make connections between course work and the real world, utilize skills learned in courses, and preparing for the workforce through actual experience. The experience may even pave the way for you to attain employment either at the institution they worked with or with the network you build with the experience. The American Geosciences Institute offers tips and advice for networking that may be helpful during this process.

You can also explore strategies for building connections between your department and potential employers and industry to illuminate the careers that are out there and to build a network through internships, pre-professional or professional opportunities. A simple way to start is to ask faculty in your department about inviting guest speakers to your class who can talk about their experiences and describe their career.

In addition, you can build your resume with professional organization memberships, presentations and publications. This could be through presenting your research to the community, writing an article for a local newspaper or magazine, or giving a presentation at a conference or professional meeting. Participation in local, regional, or national professional organizations is generally also a resume booster. Many organizations offer student membership rates and discounts on attending professional meetings. Your school may also be able to provide supplemental funding to help pay for travel to conferences if you present your research. If you aren't able to attend a conference in person, see if a virtual alternative is available such as the American Geophysical Union's virtual poster session. If you opt for a poster presentation, learn about some strategies for creating a memorable poster presentation. Continue on to reading about
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