ESG Job Interview Questions



What you’ll be asked at your ESG job interview is largely dependent on your level of experience. For someone with no experience in the field, employers will be more concerned with the attitude of an individual and their values. Whereas, for someone coming into a more senior ESG role, the hiring manager wants to understand what sort of leadership capabilities you possess, as well as the specific sustainability expertise you will bring to the table.

Starting with an inexperienced candidate, an interviewer may kick things off with the basics:

Where did you study? What did you study?

This question is simply intended to decipher your particular pathway and intentions to sustainability. Did you study to be an activist and dream of saving the planet? Are you a business professional? Are you a nuclear scientist? This question and its answers will determine a lot of the direction for the interview.

How willing are you to learn new skills? 

This might be extended with something along the lines of ‘how willing are you to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty’? This is where the interviewer learns about your attitude and whether it fits with the company’s expectations and needs. For instance, an interviewer may probe into your willingness to conduct a waste audit (an endeavour which could reasonably be expected to tarnish clothes and equipment with dirt and related rubble). The same would be applied to your readiness to undertake a site audit of a factory. Ultimately, a component of field work is par for the course when working in ESG and if that makes you feel uncomfortable then it is possible that some of the more common ESG roles may not suit you.

Are you a team player? 

This may seem like an incredibly generic question and it may not be asked in this way; however, given the multidisciplinary nature of sustainability and ESG, interviewers are looking for individuals with a team player mindset. They want to know how well you get on with people from different professional backgrounds and essentially find out to what extent you’re capable of breaking down barriers or conversely, putting up siloes. 

While the majority of job interviews in this current age have moved to remote platforms as opposed to in-person, interviewers will still be trying to elicit subtle tells around your philosophy to issues like teamwork, community and of course sustainability itself. They’re looking for behavioural cues, which despite being harder to recognise through a screen, are still something to consider.

In this vein, the interviewer may have a checklist of what they’re looking for. For example, if they were talking to someone applying for an Environmental Auditor job, the interviewer would be looking for how effectively and how far the person is willing to investigate issues. Does the candidate know which questions to ask? Do they try to make the interviewer feel comfortable? 

What transferable skills will you bring to the role? Do you have the right aptitude for this work?

A Financial Auditor, for example, may come with strong numeracy skills, which can be applied to calculating greenhouse gas emissions, but they may not have the aptitude to dig deep for more information. Unlike financial services where many of the reported elements are clear and easily defined, in ESG many issues are not black and white; there are a lot of grey areas meaning you may have to dig deeper than you ever have before to verify the information you’re presenting. The transferable skills are therefore an area of interest to the interviewer because they provide a pathway to resolving the many issues, albeit from different directions.

Tell us about the scope of your Sustainability/ESG experiences up to this point.

This question follows on from the transferable skills topic as the interviewer probes deeper into your specific experience. For example, if you are coming from a role in financial audit, how often did you have to go to your clients’ offices or premises? Was there a lot of digging around in complicated archives searching for relevant information? Did you rely on prior year results to inform your testing procedures? What sort of sample sizes did you apply when selecting your interviewees and your information sources? Your answers will give a good indication of how much fieldwork you’ve previously been exposed to or are willing to engage in.

What sort of technical skills do you have?

This relates to your particular subject matter expertise. So if you are coming from a role in financial analysis your specialisation covers things like profit margins and balance sheets, financial ratios, and profit and loss statements. This tells the interviewer straight off the bat that here is a person who understands the concept of a systems framework and can therefore conceptually work with a model. The work is relatively similar but the numbers and content will be different. So the interviewer will be trying to ascertain how your particular expertise can be related to sustainability work.

When it comes to an experienced candidate who is likely a senior leader in the area, the interviewer is looking at how well you manage relationships, how effective your interpersonal and team management skills are for a leadership role and how effectively you will be able to promote the sustainability conversation within the organisation.

For instance, the interviewer would be hoping to see whether you will be able to shield the organisation from climate sceptics and how effectively you can talk to different audiences, the sceptical ones in particular. The interviewer would want an insight into your views on issues like rising temperatures, various aspects of climate change, and sustainability policy and how an organisation might propose to tackle those issues.

The answers to these types of questions will demonstrate whether you are a leader who is an authority figure, a subject matter expert or even both. An organisation will take either, depending on its requirements; for instance, the latter is likely to be out in the field, attending conferences and seminars, or talking to the media and generally being a face for the company.

What are the skills you bring to the table? What’s your greatest strength?

Irrespective of experience levels, the interviewer will want to quickly hone in on what you claim your strength areas are. How have you applied yourself in the past? Sustainability is a very broad field, so the interviewer needs to understand which part of the field you will be best contributing to as it has to match with what they’re looking for. You can therefore expect to be quizzed on the nature of past challenges and how you applied your strengths to handle these challenges.

What areas of sustainability do you least enjoy?

It is just as important for the interviewer to understand the areas you least enjoy. This indicates your limits, which will help an organisation more accurately scope the boundaries of its own overall capabilities. This in turn leads to a more accurate strategic planning process. 

Why do you want the role?

Sustainability professionals are driven by completely different motivations than in other areas; some want to save the world, others just want a job, others are in the middle but ultimately want to feel like they’re contributing in some way. Fundamentally this won’t affect your value to the company, but it is useful for them to know.

Describe a difficult sustainability situation you found yourself in.

This gives you an opportunity to explain how you overcame certain difficulties, and how you extricated yourself from the situation. An interviewer will likely weave this into the conversation as they seek to understand your values and how they might benefit the organisation.

Why have you left/are you leaving your current role?

It is not unusual in ESG and Sustainability roles for people to change roles due to a conflict of opinion. So this type of question aims to dig into your beliefs and whether they align with those of your potential new employer and ultimately whether you’re a good cultural fit for the organisation.

What do you think are the most topical issues currently?

There can be many layers to this line of questioning. Firstly, the interviewer may be seeking an understanding of whether or not you have done enough research; do you have a good understanding of what’s out there; what people are talking about and of course what the policy makers are talking about? Second, are you aware of what the organisation’s competitors are doing and therefore what the business needs to be doing to stay relevant and stay ahead of the curve.


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