Research Associate, Cleantech & Renewable Energy, London, UK
Marketing Coordinator, Environmental Nonprofit, DC
Project Financial Analyst, Early-Stage Solar Provider, NY
Sales & Marketing, Renewable Energy Provider, Manhattan Beach, CA
Senior Associate, Green Strategy Consulting Firm, DC
Earth Day, tax day and National High Five Day are all coming up and, oddly enough, we’d rather focus on the former. In fact, many of you have expressed interest in green jobs, companies and industries and we’re certainly excited to help smart people work on important problems.
We had a chat with Nick Ellis, banker-turned-Managing Partner of an SF recruitment firm focused on placing people in green jobs. Whether you’re looking to make a change or just curious, we think you’ll enjoy Nick’s unique perspective.
Going Green with Nick Ellis, Bright Green Talent
How did you end up at Bright Green? How did this role fit into your broader career plans or interests?
I came to Bright Green Talent from an investment bank where I was doing public finance (a job I adored). A few years in, I realized that I wanted to take a shot a running my own business and combine my passion for social and environmental justice with best-of-breed business practices. At the time, I put three constraints on my next career: it had to be entrepreneurial, environmentally-focused, and be something I could take internationally. Ultimately, my goal’s to combine my environmental entrepreneur experience, labor market insights, and public finance background to make a bid for public office. There’s this beautiful confluence of business, environment, and policy that’s changing the way we work….I’d love to bring all three to bear as the SF City and Parks Commissioner to help implement a markets-based approach to public park management that redresses global warming.
What do you like and dislike about the recruitment industry?
There’s a series of problems with transparency, ethics, and accountability in the recruitment industry that lead to a lack of confidence and loyalty between candidates, recruiters, and employers. The business model itself distorts the incentives to collaborate and increase transparency because it focuses on the fees and process, not the goal of putting people in sustainable jobs. There’s a lot of “churn and burn” out there. For me, pushing the industry towards greater transparency, efficiency, and accountability is a killer challenge. Bright Green Talent provides me a platform from which I can make a positive impact and a handsome profit, and in the process, demonstrate that business is the most powerful engine for environmental preservation.
From a recruiter’s standpoint, how can candidates differentiate themselves more effectively in this market (at any step in the application process)? What common mistakes are you seeing among job seekers? Where do you advise them to invest their time?
The biggest mistake we see is that folks think that their passion alone will get them the job. Passion’s important, but practical experience and a proven track record are more important. The other big mistake is that folks invest their time in too many job boards, mechanically sending out resumes. Get personal and approach contacts at firms you’d like to work with–it’s still how 80%+ of the population find a job. In the absence of your own personal connections, choose one recruiter who knows your industry and work with them to get introduced to a company. Word of advice: working with more than one recruiter puts everyone involved at risk, so stay (professionally) monogamous.
Green businesses are pushing the boundaries of traditional models. When you’re interviewing with a company, consider how you’ve pushed the boundaries in your previous lines of work. For example, if you were an IT Manager at Netflix, did you broach the conversation about sustainable sourcing practices for the firm’s hardware that took into account lifetime energy use and end-of-life disposal options? If so, you’ve shown that you’re a “cradle to cradle” thinker, and likely ready to help these businesses break new ground. If not, consider going back to school or volunteering as two paths towards getting up to speed on what it means to be green nowadays.
Within the green recruiting market, what types of skills/candidates are most marketable right now? What types of companies are hiring? If not now, in the future once the economy has improved?
Right now green businesses are in a “build it and they will come” phase. Biodiesel refineries, utility-scale solar firms, and electric car production lines are a few examples. As a consequence, mechanical and electrical engineers who embrace a systemic approach to design are in high demand. We’re also preparing for a groundswell of demand for contractors to help put the stimulus money to work in both the public and private sector. If you’re unemployed and looking for short-term gigs to get some exposure, drop us a line–we’d love to help you get your feet wet.
What types of green opportunities are best suited to people who share your background in finance/business?
I’d break it down into three channels:
1) Venture work sourcing and evaluating green investments. Finance teaches you to dig into the details, challenge assumptions, and separate the wheat from the chaff on an objective (read: economic) basis–these skills remain in high demand as more businesses seek funding for their green ideas.
2) Carbon project finance draws heavily on the project finance skills I learned in public finance. Firms like EcoSecurities and MMA Renewable Ventures are always looking for project finance bankers who understand the emerging regulatory environment supporting cleantech projects. If you’ve done due diligence on tax-equity or tax-credit investments for large-scale utility projects, you can likely shift into carbon project finance quickly.
3) Carbon trading remains small scale in the US (see RGGI for more info), but it’s going to grow in the coming years. Whether it’s cap-and-trade or a straight carbon tax, the field itself is poised to see harmonization and integration into global trading treaties, meaning the market will get big quickly. Investment banking exposed me to how markets set fair prices and value securities–both skills that carbon trading will need in the years ahead as it attempts to establish legitimacy.
What are the most valuable skills gained in a green job in your opinion?
Exposure to triple-bottom line business practices that re-imagine established industry practices and prove that there’s a way for profit, planet, and people to work together to create a virtuous cycle. Ecopreneurship is one of the only spaces where the moral imperative aligns so beautifully with market opportunity. I’m convinced there are trillion dollar markets within this sector, and that in twenty years’ time, there will be more social and environmental entrepreneurs than classic business entrepreneurs. To get at these markets, though, you’ll need a fair amount of focus, vision, and a strong team–no one gets anywhere without the help of others.
We’re working hard to continue to bring access to Premium Jobs to talented people poised to make the kind of very impact in their careers that Nick describes. This past week we welcomed the Stanford GSB and the Haas School at Berkeley to our list of partner MBA programs. If you’re currently enrolled at one of these schools, don’t wait to join your school network to learn how you can save big on Premium Membership.
On the undergraduate front, last week we were also privileged to participate in Bruin Consulting’s Case Competition at UCLA and watch a phenomenally talented group of students tackle a healthcare strategy and operations consulting case. Thank you, Bruin Consulting, for the invitation and congrats to Ruchi, Christa, Stephanie and Jani on your hard-earned victory ;).
How can we get involved at your school? We’re happy to help! Just email us.