There’s so much talk about protecting our environment, and yet so little action. The pollution levels are getting worse each year, we suffer from heavier thunderstorms, droughts, winds and earthquakes. It is close to impossible to eat and live healthy when ground water is polluted, and we breath an air filled with smoke… We’ve lost many battles, but the war is not over yet. Working as an environmental specialist, you can at least try to make things better, within a company, community, or a certain area of your work.

Interview for this job does not belong to difficult interviews. Your interviewers won’t understand the ins and out of on-site inspections and lab analysis of water or soil samples. They won’t ask you (m)any technical questions, because they cannot interpret your answers to such questions. Hence they will ask mostly about your education, experience, motivation, and attitude to various situations that can happen in the workplace. Let’s have a look at some questions you may face.


Why do you want to work as an environmental specialist?

You should show your passions for protecting our environment, and for conducting tests and analyses, but you should not sound like an activist. What’s more, you should focus more on the corporate side of the job, if you apply in a power plant or chemical plant, or with one of the pharma giants.

Say that you understand that for a good reputation of their business, and also to protect them from receiving hefty fines, it’s important to keep certain things in check, such as exposure of employees to hazardous material, levels of this or that element in the company premises, water, soil, or air.

You enjoy working on such inspections, you have the required education and experience, and you see a meaningful purpose in this job. Everything considered, it seems like a perfect choice at this stage of your professional career.


Can you please tell us more about your education and relevant working experience?

Focus mostly on relevant things. You can briefly mention your degree in environmental science, environmental engineering, or other relevant field. But there’s no need to talk about particular subjects, or grades you earned.

The core of your answer should consist in hands-on experience, whether you gained it while studying, or in one of your former jobs or volunteering experience. Talk about the various types of tests and analyses you conducted, but try to speak in a simple language, one a layman should understand. In 90% of cases your interviewers won’t be environmentalists, so it makes no sense trying o impress them with words they won’t understand

Of course if you did your homework, and know something about your future place of work, you can be more specific in your answer. Knowing what types of tests and inspections are required by law in this or that plant, you can refer to them in your answer, explaining that you did similar tests before.

* May also interest you: How is your previous experience relevant for this role?

What is your knowledge of Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act?

They do not expect you to recite the act from word to word, or anything similar. It’s enough saying that you studied them as a part of your education, and perhaps had to adhere to them in your previous roles.

If you want to step it up, however, you can think about one or two particular rules or regulations from one of the acts, which happen to be strongly relevant for your future employer, for example rules they may struggle to abide to as a business, with the things they produce in their factories. Such an answer shows that you did your homework, and that the interview matters a lot to you…


In your opinion, what role does employee training play in the process of adhering to environmental regulations?

You should give it a high importance. Obviously a common Joe does not know the regulations, and how to adhere to them. They need someone to show them how to protect themselves and the environment from hazardous materials, and explain the impact certain processes can have on the environment.

You can take your answer one step further, saying that in your opinion, an environmental specialist should participate in orientation and training of each new employee. It doesn’t mean that you will lead the training, or spend hours talking to them. You will simply identify a few key areas each particular new employee should be aware of, and explain them in a brief training session. That’s the attitude they seek in an ideal job applicant.


Imagine that you discover that water in some area nearby the plant is contaminated. You share your findings with one of the executives, but they plead you to conceal your findings, promising that they’d address the issue promptly. How will you react?

The right answer to this question depends on your future place of work. If you apply for an environmental specialist job with a government, or with some local NGO, the answer is obvious. You would not conceal your findings, regardless of pleads or offers of the executive (they may try to bribe you in such cases)…

Situation changes when you apply for a job in a corporate sphere. Here you should show some diplomacy, addressing the situation more delicately.  At the end of the day, you do not want the reputation of your employer to end up in ruins. It can easily mean that you’d have to look for another job…

At the same time, however, you have your values and principles, and cannot ignore a water being contaminated. Try to look for some compromise in your answer, or say that your action will depend on the seriousness of the situation.

For example, if the concentration of some dangerous element in water exceed the limits just marginally, you’d agree to conceal the test results, but urge the executive to take measures immediately, so when you repeat the test next time, the pollution levels will fall within the limits.

But if the pollution levels are way above the roof, you won’t conceal it. On the contrary, you will try to convince the executive to take responsibility, to perhaps even announce the issue publicly, and to take strong measures to remedy the situation as soon as possible (even if paying high fines is a part of the scenario)…


In your opinion, what are the biggest environmental hazards in this type of production (plant, business, etc)?

You should do your research before the interview, and write down the biggest hazards. The most important thing is to refer to the issue complexly, mentioning the hazards for the air, water, soil, animals, and of course also for the people who work in the plant, or live in its vicinity.

Taking your answer one step further, you can talk about the preventive measures you’d suggest as a part of your job, in order to minimize the risks for both employees and environment. Needless to say, each hiring manager will be impressed with such an answer.


Other questions you may face in your environmental specialist job interview

  • Describe your way of conducting field inspections, step by step.
  • This job requires a lot of driving. Do you have a driver’s license? Did you have any accidents in the past?
  • What is your experience with preparing report and legal documents for local authorities?
  • Imagine that we are about to implement a new process in our production of chemicals. What steps would you take to measure the potential environmental impact of this process?
  • Do you prefer to work independently or on a team?
  • What does integrity mean to you?
  • What are your salary expectations?


Conclusion, next steps

Interview for a job of an environmental specialist belongs to easier interviews. This is not a fancy job title, and you won’t typically compete with many other applicants for the job. It makes your situation easier.

What’s more, your interviewers won’t know much about the technical aspect of your job, and in four out of five cases, you won’t face any technical questions in this interview.

Try to learn something about your new employer, the activities they do and the environmental hazards their activities present. This will help you with answers to some of their questions, and it also indicates that you care, and really want to work for them…

Ready to ace your environmental specialist interview? Not yet? Check the following articles to continue your preparation:

Matthew Chulaw
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