Climate Career Q&A, Part 1
Where I answer questions from product managers about launching a career in climate
I recently did an ask-me-anything event with Climate People, a technology recruitment firm dedicated to mission-driven climate roles. We covered tips for transitioning to a climate career, my own journey into the space, the state of climate tech, and what product management looks like in this sector.
We didn’t get to all the questions, so I promised everyone that I would do a post to address what was left unanswered and go deeper into some of the stuff we did cover. To accommodate for the short attention span that we all suffer from nowadays, I am splitting this into two parts.
The perceived “climate salary gap”
Work-life balance and burnout
Importance of revenue as a product metric in climate
Outlook for climate product roles
Impact of generative AI
Q: What were the strategies that worked in your job search?
For my views on this, check out the piece I wrote recently. In short:
Create meaningful connections: having a quality climate professional network is incredibly important.
Learn about climate solutions, and figure out what you want: this will lead to a more focused search.
Share your views and insights: create a brand for yourself and find your voice, in whatever form of content and medium that works for you.
Help others: a career transition can be tough; you will get help and support from many people, so do the same for others.
And don’t forget to have fun in the process!
Q: Did you have imposter syndrome when you started rebranding your LinkedIn and creating climate-related content? If so, how did you overcome it?
Yes I did, and I still do. I don’t think imposter syndrome is something you can ever have fully behind you. But it is possible to get better at dealing with it.
On Have a Great Climate Journey I talk about the back-and-forth that took place in my head when deciding to start a climate blog. In short, I told myself that I would start writing for my own eyes only, so I wouldn’t care if no one read it. Was there a little self-deception in that? Definitely. But it worked well enough to get me started. Once I got going, my writing improved and I became more confident publishing my points of view. At some point I stopped caring about what everyone else would think because the audience kept growing and I received enough positive feedback to know that at least some people were getting value from what I was writing.
Sharing my thoughts on LinkedIn was a similar process. It took me a while to find my voice. For several months I mostly lurked in the background, learning how to use social media as a brand-building and job-hunting tool. What struck me the most was that so much of the content on LinkedIn optimizes gaming the algorithm over adding value, lacks nuance and, frankly, can sometimes reflect sloppy thinking. While I too am guilty of playing the algorithm game, I felt I had interesting things to say which made me feel like less of an imposter.
A more esoteric point: if you practice enough mindfulness, you start to recognize thoughts as just objects in consciousness. You learn to not let yourself be consumed by thoughts, especially when emanating from the incessantly critical inner voice that many of us have living in our heads. Imposter syndrome, I feel, is just that: a thought. You can notice it arise and watch it dissipate, knowing that it isn’t necessarily revealing any special truths about yourself or the universe. In other words, it is possible to simply tell that voice in your head to talk to the hand while you get on with the business of being awesome and kicking ass.
Q: How have you dealt with rejection in your job search?
Rejection sucks. It is part of any job search, but it can dampen motivation. The best advice I have is to not take it personally. It is not about you.
The market was flooded with great talent following the big tech layoffs. Many are seeking mission-driven work, leading them to climate more than to other sectors. Recently, there has been a slowdown in funding for climate tech startups, which is making companies a bit more cautious in general about hiring. The result is more job seekers, fewer roles, and a large number of applicants per position. It is not uncommon for the most sought after roles to get more than a thousand applications. This means that excellent and talented people are bound to fall through the cracks, and increases the chances that companies will simply ghost applicants (although, c’mon hiring managers, a rejection email is basic courtesy towards someone who has expressed genuine interest in working for you.)
As for how to deal with it, I don’t think I can add a whole lot to the wisdom of the internet at large. Look, rejection is tough. But it will happen. It’s important not to get discouraged. Turn it into productive things that will continue to move you forward: sharpen your elevator pitch, make more connections, work on your brand, go out and get some recharge time, talk it through with others, focus on what you can do different next time. Easier said than done, you say? Yes it is. But keep at it and you will break through.
Q: You talk about the importance of demonstrating passion for climate solutions. Do you have tips for how to do that?
Sadly, simply being committed to dedicating the rest of your career to climate solutions is not enough unless others can see a genuine passion. There are two main opportunities to do that.
When interviewing with a potential employer, you need to talk about your motivation for working in climate. Most companies will ask this question, but even if not, you want this point to land. It doesn’t matter how trivial or noble your motivation is, what matters is that you have a compelling personal statement, a story to tell about why you want climate to be the focus of your professional life and how it relates to the job at hand. A compelling story is not something to be improvised; it needs to be crafted, practiced, and tweaked. Tell it to everyone you meet and make adjustments based on how it lands.
I would argue that even that is not enough. These days, you need your story, your motivation, and your passion to be eminently googleable (I call dibs on that word.) Recruiters and hiring managers will absolutely look candidates up. If you want to stand out among hundreds, or sometimes thousands of applicants, your passion for climate must be one of the first things they learn about you. If you are lucky enough to already have climate experience, it will be right up there in your resume. If you don’t, you have your work cut out for you. Maybe you can get away with an impressively crafted summary in your application, but I suspect more is needed. In my case, I was regularly posting relevant pieces on this Substack and on LinkedIn.
Q: There don’t seem to be many product leadership roles in climate. Any advice for product execs?
That has been my experience too; there are plenty of product roles in climate, but openings at director level and above are few and far between. I suspect that two things are at play:
Naturally, there are fewer exec level roles up for grabs. Many of the most senior roles are filled by promoting from within rather than hiring an outsider. I see that as generally a good thing.
The lack of product exec roles is a bit more pronounced in climate tech, because many companies aren’t yet at the stage where they need to scale their product teams. In most cases, the CPO or VP of Product role is played by one of the founders, so the priority is to hire entry-level or mid-level PMs to support the product work, rather than product leaders.
The question is how product leaders can overcome that hurdle. My own approach (which might not be right for everyone) was to be open for less senior roles, since I had prioritized moving to climate over career progression. After nearly a decade in exec roles, I was actually excited about the prospect of doing more hands-on product work myself. As it turns out, my employer and I got to shape the role together throughout the recruitment process. I was certainly fortunate to be able to do that, but the opportunity would not have presented itself had I been solely focused on leadership positions.
In my experience, many early stage companies looking for a first product hire translate that need into “we need a product manager” but are actually looking for a hands-on product leader. The job description might not have “product exec” written all over it, but in practice that’s wat the job will quickly turn into for those capable of rolling up their sleeves, getting shit done, and growing with the business.
For more Q&A, go to Part 2.
Resources to Help Launch a Climate Career
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