Finding your dream job in environmental services

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I recently received an email from a student pursuing her MBA in Bhubaneswar, India.  While she is very passionate about the environment and having a career in environmental services, she is concerned that her purely business background, and not having a chemical or mechanical engineering degree, will prevent her from finding her dream job and ultimately reaching the upper levels of management in an environmental services company. 

I understand her anxiety, as I myself have had similar feelings at certain points in my career.  I have decided to break her question into two separate articles:  1) Finding your dream job and 2) What it takes to be a good manager in environmental services, or any company/industry for that matter.

This article will deal with finding your dream job.  So let’s start at the beginning.  Let’s start at the job posting.

I will let you in on a little secret.  After a 25-year career, reading numerous articles on the HR hiring process, applying for jobs and interviewing people for jobs, I have learned something.  The job placement ad is for the “perfect candidate” that HR and management really does not expect to find.  If there are 10 hiring criteria, HR and management will really be satisfied with around 6-7.  I have placed these job ads myself, I have interviewed job candidates, and made these hiring decisions myself, and that is the absolute truth.  HR and management simply wishes to widen the hiring circle to find the best possible candidates and they know that somewhere in that pool, a good hire will be discovered.

The take-away is this.  If you are applying for a job, do NOT self-select and remove yourself from the race before the race has even begun.  Do not decide that you are not qualified for a job before you have even had the first interview.  The fact is, you really do not know what criteria are most important to the hiring managers and you really do not know the backgrounds of the other job applicants you are competing against.  Never take yourself out of the race before the race has even begun!

And if you do not believe me, I will give you real world examples from my own career to prove my point.  While much of what follows deals largely with my early career in accounting and law, they do help to illustrate one very important point.  Your resume does not need to reflect each and every item in a job posting for you to get the job. If something is missing, submit your resume anyway.  Go to the interview and highlight the qualities and qualifications you do have, and how they can benefit your future employer.  In all cases, never, never give up.   

The truth is, I have never been “qualified" to do any job I was hired to do.  Not once, in 25 years, did my resume reflect the criteria in the job advertisement.  It’s not that I could not do the job, or grow into the job, or learn how to do the job, its simply that my “resume” did not list each and every criteria in the job advertisement.

My first job in accounting was at a mid-size beverage company in the US that sold product internationally.  It was one of the most enjoyable work experiences I have ever had, where I made life-long friends, and learned more about accounting than any company I have ever worked at.  But I almost didn’t go to the interview.  In fact, when I was driving to the interview, I considered turning around and going home, because my work experience did not reflect what they were looking for.  The job posting said they were looking for someone with several years of accounting experience, experience working in an international company, and preferably working in the beverages industry.  I had none of that.  But I did have an accounting degree, had lived in China, had a passion for all things “international”, and showed in the interview that I would do anything required to learn how to do the job.  And I got the job.

Several years later, while still working at my first job in the beverage company, I came across a job posting for an Accounting Manager position in the company headquarters of a Fortune 50 company, with 50,000+ employees worldwide.  The position would be in the company's “Controllers Group,” and would be extremely high-level.  They wanted someone with experience working in a large company, someone with experience doing a very specific area of Tax Accounting (FAS 109), and someone with experience in the paper, wood, and building materials business.  I had absolutely none of that.  In fact, I was working for a small company in the beverages industry and had never performed that tax calculation before. My resume was not even close.  But I applied anyway and in the interview, I highlighted that although I had worked at a small company, I had developed quite strong accounting skills.  That although the international areas I had previously worked in were Asia and Africa, those same skills in dealing with international operations would be transferable to their operations in Europe and Latin America.   And I got the job.

After I graduated from law school, I applied to one of the “Big 4” accounting firms to work in their international tax division.  It would be top of the pyramid, doing tax work for some of the leading international companies in the world.  However, my undergraduate accounting grades were admittedly quite average, and I was worried I would not get the job, regardless of how well I had done later in MBA school and law school.  It was  "Big 4 accounting" after all.  But I applied anyway, and got the job.  While they may be one of the largest accounting firms in the world, turns out they really were more interested in my law school grades after all.

When I applied for my dream job of working in a law firm in Beijing, I was absolutely certain I would not get it.  Although my law school grades were pretty good actually, after ten years in the US, working and studying, my Chinese language skills were very rusty.  But I applied anyway and got the job.  Much of what I know about China, I learned at that Chinese law firm.  Lifelong friendships, incredible learning experiences, all would have been missed if I had not applied for that position and gone to the interview.

Which leads us finally to the environmental services industry in Asia.

I am currently managing one of the leading companies in the environmental services in Asia.  From power generation to steel, mining, chemical, glass, cement, we are there.  We are everywhere in Asia.  But again, was I qualified “on paper” to get the job?  Did my “resume” qualify me for this position?  Not really.  While I had a strong background in accounting, tax, law, marketing, international business, and China, I had no background in engineering, managing a sales team, or environmental services.  But did that stop me?

Over the past 7 years, I have learned the engineering.  I have learned how to manage a sales team.  I have learned the in’s and out’s of dealing with large Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOE’s).  I didn’t learn it in school, I learned it on the job.

If I have learned anything over the course of my 25-year career, you cannot let a piece of paper (your resume) get in the way of your dream job.  If you are smart, educated, capable, willing to do whatever it takes to grow into the job, you can succeed.  So your resume does not appear to make you the "perfect candidate" based on everything listed in the job posting.  Apply anyway.  Send them your resume.  Go to the interview.  Do not simply take yourself out of the process.  Do not decide for yourself that you are not qualified.  Let the company decide whether you are qualified or not.  Let them make that determination. If you are passionate about a certain company, a certain industry, then apply, go to the interview, show them what you can do for them.  You are your own strongest advocate.   If you don’t make it happen, no one will do it for you.

Whether you are an engineer who believes they would be an excellent salesman, an accountant with a flair for creative writing and marketing, or a business manager who really is interested in engineering details and product design, I encourage you to pursue the career path that brings you the most fullfillment.  And if that path leads to a career in environmental services, all the better.

The environmental issues facing Asia are grave.  Asia needs young professionals who are passionate about environmental services, who wish to make a difference.  

If you feel passionate about the environment and promoting human health, if you believe in yourself and your abilities, and your ability to grow into a job, then I strongly encourage you to pursue a career in environmental services.  And don’t let anything get in your way.


Scott Garner, CPA, JD, is Vice-President Asia-Pacific for Hi-Vac Corporation (China).


The Asia Environmental Daily