How to break into Clean-Tech without any experience

As a recruiter, I’ve had countless conversations with excited, motivated and very eager people that are looking to break into Clean-Tech. Like many, they are looking to do something more meaningful at work and something that transcends and has a deep impact. Another group of job seekers, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, are those eying the Clean-Tech space as a potential island in a very tumultuous economic sea.

Unfortunately, it is hard to assess just how much value you can provide to a sector that you know very little about. I will put forth that for a cash constrained company, it is difficult to project how success in an unrelated industry might translate to success in the industry they operate in.

My suggestion is that you need to do research;  lots and lots of it.  While the CleanTechies website provides some helpful resources (→Blog, Job Board, Resume Writing Services), there are fundamental skills that an employer is seeking and the job seeker must have in order to add value to the organization – especially in this economic environment where headcounts are being cut, not grown.  For example as a sales person, you will add value through your understanding of the management of a sales process.

That said, I don’t mean to suggest that a job seeker should not expect that he can project his past success in selling software as an ability to sell solar panels.  Before you go running off thinking about how to develop Clean-Tech credentials, it is much more meaningful to find a directly co-related skill set that is going to be needed in the industry you are seeking employment – and then develop relationships to capitalize on them, for example develop relationships and some market awareness.

What makes a good hire?

To demonstrate what I mean, I would like to introduce you to someone that I think is a very viable candidate for the right company in the Geothermal energy value chain, let’s call him Chuck to protect his identity. He is now keen on working in Clean-Tech, but before coming to that realization he has done some things that give him situational awareness and an ability to add value to the organization he may eventually join from day one.

As a high school student on Student Council he began to develop environmental health safety interests.  Professionally, he did not really do much more from that point on that would be related to saving the environment – but what he did do was to get a PhD in Marine Geophysics from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1996.

With the idea of becoming a professor, Chuck began to do work with 3D animation to allow students to have virtual tours into the deep. Then he took a job at Standford as a data center project manager to run systems that would allow students to have a simulated experience using GIS and more.  Given this experience, in 2003 he was pulled onto a team to do earthquake research – with the idea that he would help cope with the data that was going to be collected from the research.  The reality was that before the data could be collected, there was an immense amount of site preparation that needed to come together.  Given his Geophysics background, he was able to be a competent project manager for the tasks at hand and began dealing with the entire drilling process: finance, permitting, engineering and project management.

Chuck is now interested in applying his project management background to Clean-Tech.  Given his exposure to the entire drilling process since 2003 and his educational background, it is clear that he has a tremendous profile for any Geothermal company.  It is a value proposition borne of education, experience and a passion and interest early in his career that now has an application in Clean-Tech.  My advice to career seekers is that they find a niche within the value chain of some of the technologies classified as Clean-Tech that have a direct correlation with their work history.

Chuck has a background that will allow him to have meaningful conversations with potential Geothermal employers because he understands what their needs are and appreciates the constraints they likely face on at least some level of the company’s operations.  He might find the need to learn about the finer aspects of Geothermal electricity, but he understands some of the fundamentals of what needs to happen to get a project done and he can learn the rest on the job.


[photo credit: MichaelMarlatt]

Have any Question or Comment?

3 comments on “How to break into Clean-Tech without any experience

Charlene Draine


Your caution to clean-tech job seekers should be a foundational job search practice. It ought to be realized more by those who persistently announce expansive growth in “green collar” jobs. Those jobs already exist as “blue collar” jobs, but with greater emphasis on energy conservation and efficiency.

Colleges and universities are adding new curricula because knowledge / training in this clean-tech industry is still needed by existing workers and new entries. Managers are also attending this training to understand how to leverage their company’s workforce to become more sustainable and do ‘good.’

I couldn’t agree with you more, research is the key to a carefully crafted career transition. After that, there must be: re-packaging – possible training; branding – your niche; marketing – convinced of need; sales – demonstrating return on investment in the job seeker.

James Ure


Thanks for this insightful post. Essentially, the “desire to do good” isn’t what counts for people trying to establish themselves in Clean Tech.

I suggest that you write an additional post – Part II – “How to network your way past the experience hurdle.” Once you have a niche that adds value, and once you are on your way to market awareness via research, what techniques do you suggest to develop these relationships? What specific things are unique to Clean Tech?

The “experience” hurdle is a tough one – even when you have found your niche and know how you can provide value.



Good post. I would second what James says – network like mad, and join every local group you can find. Even start working within a non-profit advocacy org to “pay your dues.” Many of us have been working in whatever way possible on the periphery of the “green economy” for decades, but there were never many jobs, or at least not good enough ones to support our families. In fact I would go so far as to say that “we” who have volunteered countless hours of research, advocacy, and low pay working for start-ups are the ones that made this green economy happen! I have spent years moonlighting for green companies while I did a day job in corporate marketing. However, that’s not going to get us a decent job unless we persist with incredible determination. Oh…and get an engineering degree!

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