The clean tech sector has become one of the most exciting areas of opportunities for job seekers.  While venture capital investment was down in clean tech during the first half of 09, over the past couple of months that trend has reversed, and this year’s stimulus plan is designed to make up for it. To jump start your career, get clear on your focus, learn about the industry, concentrate your networking efforts and get involved.

by Frank Marquardt, Author of The Solar Job Guide and Green Careers (Wetfeet Insiders Guide.)

The clean tech sector has become one of the most exciting areas of opportunities for job seekers, and with good reason. The industry has been receiving significant private investment, including $8.4 billion globally from venture capitalists in 2008 alone.

And while venture capital investment was down in clean tech during the first half of 09, over the past couple of months that trend has reversed and  this year’s stimulus plan is designed to make up for it, targeting additional billions for a variety of clean tech sectors, including $4.5 billion to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies, $6.3 billion in state energy efficiency and clean-energy grants, $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, and $5 billion to weatherize homes.

Those are obviously big numbers, and a lot of that money will go to payroll. But that doesn’t solve the central problem of somebody looking for work: Where do you start? Here’s the advice I’ve heard over and over again from recruiters and hiring managers working within clean tech.

Get Clear on Your Focus

Anybody who says they’re looking for a job in “clean tech” hasn’t done their homework. Clean tech isn’t a single industry; it’s a bunch of them. Are you looking at jobs related to the energy grid, in the wind industry, in solar? If you’re looking in the solar industry, do you want a job working at a technology company, a construction firm, or doing project finance? If you want to work at a technology start-up, do you want to work with photovoltaics or concentrating solar power (CSP)? If at a CSP, do you want to work at a company that makes parabolic dishes, solar troughs, or power towers?

My point is that each clean tech sector is complicated, with a wide range of technologies and sometimes challenging-to-understand supply chains. You’re going to need to do your homework to figure out the type of company, and type of job, you’re targeting. The clearer you are about what you want to do, the more effective you’ll be in communicating why you’re the person to do it.

Learn about the Industry
If you’re transitioning from another industry or only learned about clean tech in the last year, then you’re probably not going to get clear on your focus overnight, so why don’t you enjoy the process. Take some time to get to know the different industries. This is networking 101: Go to events, take part in conferences, sign up to hear speakers. Read green blogs and websites. What are the technologies that excite you? What areas of the industry seem most promising? Develop some opinions on what you think needs to be done, and why you’re the person to do it.

Fortunately, most cities have a lot green informational events. Plug into these. They provide a great place to meet people, learn what they’re doing, and make some connections that could help you throughout your job search. You’ll have fun and might make some new friends in the process.

A couple great places to start with your education is to check to see if there’s a local Green Drinks, which is a monthly networking event that takes place in most cities these days, or Eco-Tuesday event as well, which is a networking and educational opportunity for would-be green professionals.

Get Involved
If your city doesn’t have a Green Drinks or Eco-Tuesday, consider starting one. (Select “Start Green Drinks” on the Green Drinks website or the “Ambassadors” tab at the Eco-Tuesday site.) The green movement has an entrepreneurial energy at its core, and hiring managers want to see that you understand the industry but also are involved in the wider movement. By volunteering, interning, and getting involved in what’s going on, you’ll demonstrate your interest, gain new understanding and insight, and build your network.

Making It in Clean Tech
The green movement is ultimately about making the world a better place. But clean tech companies are businesses, and all the warm fuzzies in the world won’t get you a job at one. However, developing a connection to the larger community where you can communicate your solid business skills, deep understanding of the industry, job you want in it, and passion for the work will help you find a role in this rapidly emerging field.


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© 2009 – 2010, Frank_Marquardt. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Frank_Marquardt (1 Articles)

Frank Marquardt has been writing about careers for more than ten years. He has contributed to hundreds of career guides on dozens of industries, including The Solar Job Guide and Green Careers (Wetfeet Insiders Guide.) He has developed business cases, led workshops, and spoken to business groups, students, and career counselors across the country about sustainability and green careers. Frank is also a coach trainer with Green Career USA, which helps career coaches and counselors green their practice. Previously, as executive editor at SustainLane, Frank developed hundreds of how-to articles about living green; co-created and co-produced the animated series The Unsustainables, which aired on Comcast On Demand; and contributed to the 2006 SustainLane U.S. City Sustainability Study, which was published by New Society as the book How Green Is Your City? Frank has written for Sustainable Industries Journal,, and TriplePundit, along with dozens of other media outlets, and is writing a book about work in an apocalyptic age. Frank also serves as director of content strategy at Native Instinct, an interactive agency.

  • William G. Oatiz

    What I find most encouraging about green sector jobs is that many colleges are now giving degrees in solar and wind power. Even in my rural area of Michigan, there is a new small business operated by one of these graduates who now installs solar panels. There is also a new factory under construction to build home-sized windmills not far from here.

    So, when the “green revolution” begins reaching even into the rural areas of the Midwest, can I assume that these industries are beginning to come into their own maturity? Maybe, but I think we still all need to help push them along. These technologies are just too convenient for us to allow them to fade away, they are somewhat pricey at the moment, but economies of scale should bring that price down to a competitive level. After that, the benefits just keep flowing.

  • Frank

    William, great comment. I interviewed an investment banker the other day who talked about how the sustainability sector will be bigger than the Internet. However it takes time to get people trained, for companies to get the capital to expand, and for the infrastructure for sustainable practices to be put in place. We’re still at the beginning of this shift. The recession has made it harder for some companies to get capital, but that will change with time.