By MIRIAM ACZEL
We wanted to take the time to catch up with Spencer and hear about his experience as an early-career climate and energy professional in the DC area, and his tips and suggestions for clean energy jobseekers.
Miriam Aczel: Tell us a bit about your experience finding a job in sustainable energy in DC.
Spencer Schecht: Well, it may sound somewhat cliché, but I think that having connections—especially in a place like DC–makes a huge difference. For me personally, my previous two positions were a result of connections. Reaching out to people, and beyond that, following up with them, is crucial. I also credit LinkedIn. I made sure to have a really sharp LinkedIn.
MA: What are some of the key challenges you faced along the way?
SS: One of my mentors once cautioned me that my enthusiasm can be confused for arrogance. Enthusiasm is great, but you have to demonstrate that you can do the job–showing and not telling. It’s really important to make sure your work product speaks for itself. Developing my ‘office persona’ is important, and something I’ve worked hard at, as office politics can be challenging.
MA: Do you think finding a mentor or role model is important?
SS: Definitely. I’ve taken examples from people I’ve seen succeed around me, paying attention to the things that they do and character attributes that they have. But mentors or role models can be anyone—I’ve seen top performers several years younger than me. Humility is key and taking every opportunity to learn from others, trying to understand what characteristics and attributes they have that leads to their success.
MA: What advice to you have for job seekers?
SS: It can seem overwhelming jumping into a new field, and many people are often afraid to reach out. I think connections are key—make sure you have an updated LinkedIn account.
DC has a great sustainability-focused community, and doing the legwork, reaching out to people, and doing informational interviewing can help open up new possibilities that you may not have thought of. An analogy I like is that when driving from LA to New York, you don’t need to see the whole road ahead of you. You just need to see the headlights in front of you. It’s similar with the job search, each person you connect with can in turn connect you to others, and new doors and new opportunities will open up along the way.
MA: What would you suggest for people who don’t have a background in energy or sustainability but are looking to transition?
SS: My first advice is to get the background—not just the technical background but also the skills necessary. The clean energy industry isn’t just policy wonks or engineers—it is a dynamic and growing industry with many different types of employment opportunities. Leverage the skills you do have—work with your strengths, and work to improve them and see how they will fit in with the different opportunities. Informational interviewing or shadowing others can help with this too. So it’s not just about investing into the education—which is important too—but you have to burn the wick at both ends. Leverage the resources you do have and don’t be shy to reach out to people. DC is a particularly interesting place; it’s a very competitive job market but also a lot of great networking opportunities.
MA: Let’s talk about happy hour! You recently took over as co-owner of Green Drinks DC, a network of individuals who meet regularly for events related to sustainability. How did you first get involved?
SS: Green Drinks DC is a diverse network of individuals with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, who share a common interest in clean energy and sustainability. The network has grown steadily since it was founded, over ten years ago.
Three years ago, my roommate Tim Ryder and I became interested in developing an environmentally-focused happy hour series as a synergy to the networking culture of the DC area. We ended up at a Green Drinks DC event, and while speaking to the network’s current organizer, were offered the chance to organize the next Green Drinks event. Since then, we have organized a variety of events ranging from comedy shows, expert panels and presentations, and informal happy hour meetups with like-minded individuals. It’s continued to grow—one baby step after another—and has been exciting to see how the network and different types of events we host has expanded.
MA: That sounds great. When’s your next event? How can Leaders in Energy members find out more?
SS: Through Green Drinks DC, Tim and I continue to organize a wide variety of DC Green Drinks events to connect environmentally-minded individuals and organizations. It’s a great network and welcoming environment, especially for people looking to learn more about sustainable careers. Our next event, ‘Beyond the Business Card’, will be held in partnership with the Greenermind Summit on August 27–all are welcome!
MA: Tell us about the workshop you’re hosting at Leaders in Energy’s 5th Annual Green Jobs Forum.
SS: I’m really excited about this workshop. It’s called ‘Fear is Your Copilot: Networking in Washington DC’ and is an opportunity to delve into a very personal part of each participant and look at where they want to be professionally and what stands in their way. We’ll be going through tips and strategies, how to prepare for networking and the job search. And how to ‘set your mind’ when you walk in. But it’s also about getting it out, the ‘hard honesty’, what barriers prevent you from getting to where you want. It’s a new way of thinking about networking, much more personal. This workshop has been a brain child of mine that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Photo credit: DC Green Drinks
Spencer Schecht is an early-career climate and energy professional serving as the Member Experience Manager at the Smart Electric Power Alliance and the Director of Partnerships and Outreach for Green Drinks DC. Spencer holds a B.S. in biological sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park, a M.A. in International Affairs from the School if International Service at American University, as well as a M.A. in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. Spencer spent two years at the DC Sustainable Energy Utility helping some of the largest institutions in the nation’s capital adopt energy efficiency measures. He has also worked on programs with The World Bank and The Natural Resource Defense Council around renewable energy domestically and abroad.
Miriam Aczel is a President’s PhD Scholar at the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, focusing on international energy and environmental science and policy. She has an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London and a BA in Geography and Earth Sciences from McGill University. She is Director of Communications and Blog Editor for Leaders in Energy, and the co-founder and co-director of the Amir D. Aczel Foundation for Research and Education in Science and Mathematics in Cambodia. Miriam speaks French, Italian, and Hebrew and is learning Spanish.