Skip navigation to content

Case Study: Sarah McCusker

Personal details
Degree:MA Sustainable Development Profile picture
School(s): School of Geography and Geosciences
Year of Graduation:Jun-2009
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Climate Consulting
Job title: Principal Consultant - Corporate Sustainability
Occupational Sector: Sustainability Consultancy
What has been your route to getting your current position?
After graduating I undertook a 6 months funded Project Scotland placement to keep myself busy whilst looking for permanent employment. I had previously sent my CV to a recruitment agency specialising in entry level jobs in the environmental sector. After a three round interview process I was offered the job in London and moved down in January 2010. After starting an entry level consultant role my dedication, drive and intrepreneurial approach meant my contributions to the company were noted and I was quickly promoted to managing larger projects and eventually a whole team of consultants and creating and managing multi-million pound sustainability projects.I’ve also been very committed to continual professional development and attend many workshops, conferences and training courses as well as attaining professional qualifications. This helps to keep me up to date and at the forefront of the sustainability agenda.
What does your job involve ?
I manage the Corporate Sustainability and Research team and am therefore responsible for managing other consultants, project planning and programme management, business development business strategy and service development and of course maintaining client relationships and delivering consultancy support. I deliver sustainability consultancy to private, public and third sector clients focusing on:- sustainability strategy and carbon management plans\n- carbon footprinting and resource efficiency management- behaviour change, employee engagement and training\n- legislation compliance, reporting and risk aversion- environmental management systems - creation, implementation and auditing. As part of my role I also programme manage a £2.2m European funded project working with construction sector businesses to upskill, diversify and collaborate to deliver work for the low carbon economy and retrofitting markets.
What are the best bits of your job ?
Sustainability Consultancy allows you to be at the forefront of the sector developing new services and solutions to complex sustainability issues. Being able to make a tangible difference to the way we do business has such a positive effect and makes all the effort worthwhile. The diversity that consultancy provides comes not just in the forms of dealing with different challenges and areas of sustainability but also a broad range of skills such as presenting, business development, project creation, data analysis and business strategy. I love the fact that I can not only contribute to our client’s development and progression but also help shape our own sustainability strategy and business model going forward. Being able to contribute wider is giving me a lot of skill sets that I hope to develop further and use to set up my own business in the future.
Why were you successful?
After graduating I already had a long track record of working in the Sustainability field through my two jobs that I had throughout university but also voluntary work such as being the Sustainability Officer for the Students’ Association. I think this long term commitment and experience both academically and professionally in Sustainability helped me to secure the job even though it wasn’t necessarily directly relevant. I think also a willingness to learn and a passion for the work made me stand out. I had thoroughly researched as much as I could before the interviews and asked some well thought out questions. I think for securing the job it’s as much about how you are in person as what you’re like on paper.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
I think the combination of my degree and my previous work experience helped me adjust and adapt to this role. You can’t be afraid of hard work or getting things wrong but must tackle everything with the best intentions and learn from your mistakes. My degree was great at teaching me the main skills needed to research key issues, analyse the problems and strategise solutions, what it didn’t teach me was how to put all that in to practice with real professional deadlines and managing multiple projects at once. Studying, in a combination of working two jobs through university and volunteering is what really helped me to adapt to a corporate working environment. Sustainability in practice is constantly evolving and updating and through my degree programme I learnt to keep up with trends, interpret best practice and relay that into something tangible for the future. Without my degree I would have really struggled to get into this industry and progress so quickly.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
I think the main advice I would give is to think about the future as soon as possible. Follow your passions and get as much experience as possible but be committed at the same time. Employers sometimes frown on people that change around a lot not just who they work for but what they do. Whilst it’s good to have focus in these tough economic times you will most likely have to be flexible in terms of location, salary and job type. Get on the ladder as soon as you can and work your way up with passion, commitment and excellence. I sometimes regret not working harder at my studies to get a first but degree classification isn’t what gets most people the job – it’s who you are, what you’ve achieved as a whole and your life experience that holds more weight in the job market. I look back and am proud of the jobs I held down, the voluntary work I did and the degree I got in the end. Employers want to see a whole package and someone that’s ‘job ready’ and if you’ve never worked a day in your life after graduating you may find it tough to get your foot in the door. Use your time wisely and try to achieve a healthy balance of personal interests, academic achievement and work experience (paid or voluntary) and this will set you out on the right path that you want to follow.