Here are the top 8 things to know before you are on your journey to becoming one:
#1 – Billable hours
If you have never been in the consulting world, you may not know what billable hours are, I did not, and we are not alone. When I first started, I was asked to keep track of my hours, which I did, but at the end of the week when it was time to fill out my timecard I did not have the correct information. I just had what time I got in and what time I left. Good thing I didn’t have any projects to bill to. When you are working on a project you will need to keep track of the time spent and the activity you were doing, whether it is taking samples, filling out the chain of custody, or writing a report. Billing to projects is how the company stays on budget and gets paid by the client.
#2 – Field Work vs. Reporting
When it comes to starting in environmental consulting, people have a lot of different ideas about what the job entails, especially when you are getting advice from different sources. Each firm is different, and I can only speak on how Triterra does things because this is the only environmental consulting firm I have ever worked at. Below is a perfect example of what two of our newer staff were told to expect, or just what they thought to expect when starting in their careers as environmental consultants.
Taylor: “I thought environmental consulting would mostly be a lot of in-office and reporting type of work but am super happy to say it’s split with a lot of fieldwork which I find super fun and truly enjoy.”
Kate: “There were countless times I was told to expect to be working out in the field 5 days a week and even during some interviews before I accepted my position at Triterra, that was the case. 5 days a week for approximately 5 years is what I was told to expect and then after that, I would be allowed to be involved with more project management. With Triterra, however, I was pleasantly surprised with the balance between field and office work from the start. I am fully aware of the luxury I have as both the field worker and the one to handle the report writing and sometimes even communication with the clients. I didn’t expect to have this much responsibility this early into my career, but I am so grateful for it.”
#3 – Talk to an Environmental Consultant
Lucas believes “you should reach out and talk to some consultants because that’s the only way you’re going to get a feel for what they truly do. Your academic institution probably can’t give you as accurate of a description as an actual consultant can.”
Also, if you have the opportunity to intern with a firm, do it, it will open your eyes to the world of consulting and help you on your journey to becoming an environmental consultant.
#4 – Skills and Opportunities
Attention to detail and great communication skills are very important aspects of the job, also working on a team. Being a great team member is always appreciated especially when things don’t always go as planned, you need to be able to problem-solve and help where needed.
Here are a few things Alan believes are important in becoming or being an environmental consultant: Strong references, experience in a lab setting (depending on the consulting career track), strong report writing skills, ability to effectively communicate and in a positive manner, teamwork ability, time management skills, willingness to work in inclement weather (more important in the early years of consulting).
While in school, cultivate relationships/opportunities with professors and upper-level classmen. Join campus groups such as the “geology club,” and if possible, get experience working in professor’s labs if the opportunity is available. Professor’s opinions of you can carry significant weight, and they are great references. Additionally, getting to know others, especially upper-level classmen, can significantly increase your chances of finding, and landing, a job. As the upper-level classmen go on to start their careers, they will likely report back to the clubs/groups at your school about job openings, and if you are familiar with these people, they can likely put in a good word for you and get you into the interview process.
#5 – Always be professional and don’t burn bridges
Never burn a bridge with a former employer, coworker, or subcontractor. The environmental consulting field is small and there is a good chance that you will end up crossing paths again in the future. Kyle has a perfect example as to why. “I worked with a project manager at an asbestos abatement company. Whenever I had an issue with his company’s performance, I was always calm and polite as I addressed the issues that I needed to have corrected. That individual always appreciated the professionalism that I provided, and he is now an EGLE inspector for the state of Michigan who shows up to audit my work practices and he maintains that same professionalism and respect that I showed to him earlier when we were working together.”
#6 – Field work doesn’t stop because of the weather
Well, that isn’t one hundred percent true in every case, but Connor shares with us what his thoughts were on the weather and field work. “I should mention that I started in November. So, when I started it was getting into late fall and the weather was getting cooler. I remember thinking ‘wow, field work will probably stop in a month or so when the ground freezes.’ Nope. Dead wrong. It’s a year-round business, all of it, that means not only do site walkovers continue to happen but also field work in the snow. So, throw on your warmest clothes and get out there. That was one of the biggest surprises to me, not one I was prepared for either. Field work in the snow isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it needs to get done, so I bundle up and do it.”
#7 – Environmental consulting isn’t always working with large companies and corporations
Connor said “before I started at Triterra, I had this image in my head that environmental consulting was working with large companies and corporations, specifically those that generated large amounts of pollutants and finding environmental solutions to the waste that they generate (i.e., engineering controls to limit/contain, preparation for spills or releases, and how to properly dispose of the waste created). I thought it was a straightforward one-faced job. My mental image couldn’t have been farther off from what we actually do. When I started at Triterra I soon learned that rarely are we working with huge companies, it’s mainly small businesses, real estate companies, and private investors whose needs range from Phase I ESAs to Brownfield Plans, and everything in between. Nor is it a one-faceted job, there are many aspects that I never knew existed and subcategories that open doors into different areas of environmental consulting. This was one thing that surprised me the most and something that I enjoy about consulting, as it has allowed me to find my niche within our different areas of expertise.”
#8 – Company Culture
Here at Triterra, we strive to maintain great company culture, we love the family feel of our firm and will continue to make great efforts to continue this as we grow. We have implemented quarterly staff outings, and, on most Fridays, you can find our staff at a local restaurant enjoying lunch together. We also believe in internal promotion; we are always trying to create a clear career path to be able to move up in the company as the staff learns and grows. Although we work tirelessly on our culture, there are some things we can’t compete with, such as dream jobs out of state, the curiosity about what other firms may offer, or changes in life situations that may take you on a different journey. Mariah started with Triterra as an intern and was hired full time as a Geologist, here is her story:
“With being so young in my career still, it was very hard to not wonder what other firms are like and the possible opportunities that could come with that. I knew going into the environmental field within Michigan, I wouldn’t be making a high salary starting off and it was something I would have to work for. But like anyone, I was curious about what was out there outside of Triterra and started thinking that money was my motive. After taking the leap and working at a very large national firm for three short months, I begin to realize that money wasn’t everything to me. It was the culture, my colleagues, and being passionate about my work regardless of the dollar amount. At the end of the day, I realized I was much happier at Triterra for many reasons: flexibility, support, values, respect, professional growth, and so much more. All of these characteristics, I value much more than money because the money comes and goes regardless, but the culture at Triterra is priceless. I am very ecstatic to be part of Team Triterra again. “