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How to Get Green Experience

Breaking into the green building world can be difficult if you don’t have the proper background. Here’s some tips for getting your foot in the door.

By Holley Henderson

Breaking into the green building world can be difficult if you don’t have the proper background. Here’s some tips for getting your foot in the door.

"Becoming a Green Building Professional" by Holly Henderson (2012)

The following is an excerpt from Henderson’s 2012 book, Becoming a Green Building Professional.

After you have completed your academic and educational training to become a green building professional—whether from a college with a specialized environmental degree, post-college with a series of training programs and additional classes, or simply through a strong desire and personal mission to fulfill a professionally green path—there is a necessary first step when starting down the path to becoming a full-fledged green building professional: acquiring hands-on skills through volunteering, mentoring or internships. Once experience is gained through either study or hands-on training, accreditation can be sought as recognition for this achievement.

hands-on experience
A wonderful way to develop real-world skills in the green building field is to gain some hands-on experience. It comes in many forms, from formal training programs that typically offer milestone skills testing and perhaps a certificate of completion once the training concludes, to mentoring programs with renowned leaders in the field, to more formal internships with a company or individual.

The milestone skills testing could be considered similar to school test scores on individual tests, and the certificate of completion is based on the cumulative analysis of all the individual tests, final exam, attendance, and other criteria. When gaining hands-on experience there are varying degrees of formality to consider, from volunteering to a slightly more structured arrangement of mentoring, up to the more formal internship. In order to determine what kind of experiential program would best suit your needs, it is useful to request a series of informational interviews.

The purpose of informational interviews is to gain firsthand knowledge from someone in the field and to begin building a network. These interviews can also provide forecasting into the changes that may occur in the industry, as well as where the new opportunities may be. The purpose of an informational interview is not to request a job, although it could eventually lead to one.

volunteer—get involved!

Informational Interview

How to find a potential informational interview candidate?

Try one of the following methodologies:

  • Tap into your existing network and inquire if they know anyone in the green building field.
  • Contact your alumni association or other professional organizations.
  • Target your dream job and contact someone who is currently doing it.

Prior to the informational interview:

  • Research the person and his or her work, both online and with referral contacts.
  • Check local business and industry publications.
  • Mention your findings in the interview so they know you did your research. (Plus, people love hearing about themselves!)
  • Speak the green lingo: It is useful to know industry standard terms. Two good resources for learning how to talk the talk are and

Show your passion and commitment to green causes during the interview. Mention how environmental initiatives have been integrated into your current or past roles. Briefly discuss how eco-initiatives are a part of your personal life in terms of a commitment to reducing climate change, to responsible energy and water use, and to resource efficiency.

In these interviews, ask questions such as these:

  • Could you describe a typical workday?
  • What do you see as the potential for growth in this field?
  • What can I do now to help me find employment in this field?

evaluation + follow-up
Create some criteria prior to the interview that are based on your goals and vision for your green building career. List what is important to you and compare the responses given to your criteria. Remember to follow up with a thank-you note as appropriate etiquette for the professional’s valuable time.

Dedicating your time as a volunteer might be appropriate if your career path is unclear and your goal is to glean a very general sense about a particular profession. For example, perhaps you are trying to decide between architecture and interior design. In this case, you could volunteer for the local architectural or interior design professional association. Volunteering can also be a great way to network with like-minded individuals, and it can be short- or long-term, fitting into a variety of schedules and other commitments. Finally, volunteering can be a starting place for green credibility.

In contrast, mentoring or an internship would be appropriate if you have already decided on a specific career path. As with volunteering, the time spent may be unpaid, but it contributes toward resume-building experience and tends to be more structured in nature.

the green job search
As with any search directed toward a specific goal, a well-laid plan that includes appropriate resources and tools will typically yield the best results. In this case, the goal is to find a satisfying and enriching job within the green building field.

the plan
Although the plan for how to best get a job should be customized to each person’s needs, there are several factors that are universal for all successful job searches. Here are some issues to consider when starting out:

  • Based on your current financial budget, what is your timeframe for transitioning to this new career?
  • What type of budget do you have for investing in the search?
  • What is your personality—are you bookish, computer savvy or a go-getting networker extraordinaire?

Next, find the appropriate resources and tools to execute the plan you have created, keeping in mind your strengths. Do not forget that any plans should be fluid and adaptable; if one route does not work, be open to changing direction or pursuing multiple options simultaneously. 

Resources can take several forms, from books to online resources to people. This section compiles current resources available for today’s green job search. 

Two of the most popular online resources are job boards or postings and social media sites, because they are “live time” and have constant updates. There are pros and cons to these online resources versus printed media (such as books, newspapers and articles). Pros? All of the information is very current and also free. 

Balance this with the potential cons—online resources are numerous and have questionable reliability. The following section outlines how to pick and choose to maximize efficiency and efficacy when searching online.

job boards
This is where potential employers post opportunities and job hunters can provide their resumes. But job boards are numerous and often overloaded with overlapping layers of information. Many job boards claim to be the biggest, oldest and best—further complicating how to determine which ones to consult. There are a few key ways to cut through the clutter:

online organizing methods

  • Create a Google Reader Account with RSS Feeds
    For those who are not tech-savvy, this is a web-based aggregator (similar to a search engine) that will sift the pertinent sources based on your criteria or keywords. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” and it is like the CliffsNotes of pertinent information, saving you the time and hassle of having to read through all of the details on every site yourself. With this resource, favorite green job boards can be indicated, and the quick, user-friendly format provides an easy way to look at all the newest job openings.
  • Use a Job Board Aggregator
    Job board aggregators can be used with keywords such as “green jobs” or, even better, with additional details such as “green architect” or “green engineer.” The more specific the search words are, the more refined the results of the aggregator will be. Criteria can also be based on desired location or salary goals.
  • Install a Ranking Toolbar
    A ranking toolbar is a monitoring service for Internet traffic, showing metrics and analytics of frequency of visits. This could be important when viewing green job boards because it could show those most frequently visited.

These are online professional networks. One of the most popular social media sites for networking is LinkedIn. The advantage of using a site like this is that it allows for invitations and connections to be made with key green building professionals. LinkedIn has a specific group called the Green Jobs and Career Network Group, where one can apply for membership. If approved, the members have access to new job posts with the associated key contacts.

industry associations/conferences/publications
Often industry associations will post a potential position. These may be general sustainable associations or specific to the discipline. Some companies only advertise in this place, so check out their local and national conferences. The industry association may also have a pertinent newsletter or other publications. Their website may also have other job-posting areas.

Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. “Holley Henderson, Becoming a Green Building Professional, 2012.”

green job board resources


Green Dream Jobs—From

Green Jobs

Green Jobs Network

Green Job Spider




Net Impact

Sustainable Business


Tree Hugger

U.S. Green Building Council—Career Center

Job Board Aggregators

Simply Hired

Ranking Toolbars
The Alexa Ranking Toolbar