I wanted to share a few things that helped me in my search to switch to clean energy. Broadly, I’ll consider them three twists to well-known strategies.
1) Long-term focused networking: I attended events, conferences and talks pretty regularly in the last couple of years. These days I am running into the same people on multiple occasions. This is likely to happen in any city – since the sector is in its toddler stage and the number of people involved from an area is finite. Somehow “networking” gives the perception of maximizing the number of contacts and cards exchanged per event. This did not work for me, since in a 45-min “networking session”, I could often only muster up 4-5 conversations. And if at the end, I had 5 new cards that meant, 5 more follow-ups with bleak prospects. So I started speaking to the same old-faces that I was seeing and might have already met in the past. Meeting them over and over again, and getting an update from them – firstly, made them better contacts (even friends) over time. Secondly, the information exchange was free flowing. So if they were able to work-up an opportunity, they would be willing to share it with you more readily.
2) Volunteering: can’t say enough good things about this strategy. It prepares you in so many ways – expertise, networking, feeling good about devoting your time, credibility…..and perhaps many more. These days there are numerous opportunities to volunteer for clean-tech related events. I would also suggest to not optimize too much on the perfect event, technology or location- just go out and spend some hours volunteering for any clean-tech opportunity you get. If you are in the Bay Area, you could check out non-profit solar installation orgs or business plan competitions or numerous conferences and symposiums. A short starter list:
a) Grid Alternatives
b) Clean Tech Open Business Plan Competition
c) Berkeley Stanford Speaker Series or other Univ. of California clubs like BERC. Thee university events do not restrict volunteers to a university affiliation very strictly.
3) Building your knowledge: Nothing speaks better than true knowledge that prospective employers hear in an interview. I have had the opportunity to work on many projects while at Haas, to build knowledge (even if theoretical) on many clean-tech business aspects – solar PV, solar-chemical storage technology, natural ingredient supply chain, energy regulations as well as business plans, pricing, licensing and others. In my recent interviews I mostly talked as much about these projects in the last 2 years as my professional life before that.
As a student there are many structured ways to build this knowledge, but even if you are outside (non-student) – helping a student team with their business plan, reading, blogging, etc would be equally good. If you can take a course in this field, that would give you immense credibility boost and perhaps some good contacts. Many solar PV companies themselves are providing training sessions or webinars, which would be good to subscribe to. I mentioned attending conferences already. Subscribe to energy related groups and mailing lists in your area or even outside.
Another thing I have noticed is that clean-tech companies and start-ups are seeking part-time people (due to budget constraints, lack of perfectly fit/inexperienced candidates). Try to get a 5-10 hour part-time gig (even if you have to work for free) and help out a clean energy company and get something on your resume (and again get contacts)
Obviously, there are thousands of paths to this destination. So feel free to comment with what might have worked for you. I feel there is good job demand in the clean-tech sector (although fewer for business development people than on-site green-collared jobs) but there is also a good supply of potential employees (unemployment at 10%)— so anything that you can do to become a better “fit” in this environment will pay good dividends. Good luck.