Career Planning

Environmental Careers Overview

Advocacy, Outreach, and Communication
Jobs in this area are generally with non-profit organizations, state and local agencies, and business. They involve educating the public about an environmental issue like biodiversity, urban sprawl, energy conservation or recycling. Employers want people with strong organization and communication skills and experience with computers. A BA or BS is required, but the degree can be almost anything, though an environmental studies degree is preferred. Experience in marketing, fund raising, business and environmental issues is a plus.

Policy and Regulation
These jobs can be with non-profits, government or industry. In this case, employers look for people who can write, analyze, interpret or administer environmental regulations. In some cases, the job involves lobbying government to pass laws, to alter their interpretation, or to implement them. It helps to have strong research skills, some kind of technical background, and familiarity with environmental laws. There is no particular degree required in the field though individual listings request everything from law to chemical engineering.

Conservation and Natural Resources
Here the educational requirements are more specific and employers (government and industry) want someone with a B.S. or M.S. in wildlife biology, forestry or soils. Oral and written communication skills are important, though not as important as for advocacy jobs. The ability to use text, spreadsheet, GIS, Arcview and html software is highly desirable. Additional qualities include effective people skills, office skills and the ability to meet deadlines. Being in good physical shape, and in some parts of the country, having the ability to speak Spanish are advantageous.

Environmental Engineering and Scientific Services
Environmental Engineering and Scientific Services has the most job listings - 32%, mainly with industry and to a lesser extent with the government. These jobs invariably require a technical degree in engineering, biology, geology, chemistry, math or industrial hygiene. Employers also rank written and oral communication skills very highly, along with the ability to do data analysis and familiarity with federal and state environmental laws.

Outdoor and Environmental Education
Employers in this category include private educational enterprises and programs affiliated with schools and colleges or with local, state and federal parks. They are looking for a degree in education and/or conservation and natural resources. Oral skills are important, especially the ability to speak in public and tell stories. One to two years of teaching experience is desirable, along with experience working with children and youth in outdoor settings. Outdoor skills, safety training and some knowledge of practical maintenance (carpentry, plumbing, etc.) are valuable.

Skills and Careers Assessments

Creating a career path requires you to examine your skill set so you can search for careers that are suited to your individual strengths.  Skills and careers assessment tests can help you determine which types of positions are best suited to your interests and abilities. Contact the MU Career Center to complete the following assessments with a Career Specialist:

  • Self-Directed Search
  • Missouri Card Sort
  • Discover
  • StrengthsQuest

MU Career Center
909 Lowry Mall
M-F 9:00AM-5:00PM

Skills and Career Assessment Websites

Practical Considerations

It may seem hasty to make decisions about your future now, but if you can identify aspects of the lifestyle you want in the future, it can help you determine which careers will make the best fit. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where do you want to live? In the United States or abroad? In a rural or urban area?
  • Do you plan on having a family with a spouse and/or children? How will a particular career path affect your current and/or potential family members?
  • Do you want to travel for work frequently, sometimes, or rarely?
  • What type of work environment are you most comfortable in? Do you want to work closely with other people or do you prefer self-directed work?
  • What salary range would you like to reach in five years? Ten? Twenty?

Suggested Career Assessment Reading

Boldt, Laurence. Zen and the Art of Making a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design. New York: Arkana, 1999.

Bolles, Richard. What Color Is Your Parachute?  2009: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2008.

Everett, Melissa. Making a Living While Making a Difference: Conscious Careers for an Era of Interdependence. Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers, 2007.

Lore, Nicholas. The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success. New York: Touchstone, 2012.

Sher, Barbara. I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It. New York: Delacorte Press, 1996.

Tips for Academic Success

Every good student knows that to succeed in a course you should read the assigned materials, complete the required assignments, always attend class, and actively pay attention in class. You can maximize the benefits and academic experience of a course by using the following suggestions:

  • Read sources frequently cited in your assigned course readings. The sources are probably important to the field and contain information that will help you understand methods, assimilate information, analyze issues, and become a strong researcher. 
  • Do not be passive about your education! When you are in class, interact with your classmates and the instructor. When you are completing course-related readings, develop a list of relevant questions to bring up in class and/or to discuss with your instructor during their office hours.
  • Develop a professional relationship with your professors. Take the time to visit their office hours and talk with them about the things you are learning in class, your research, and discuss your questions. Do not be intimidated by your professors. Most of them chose a career in teaching because they enjoy working with students. In the future you may need letters of recommendation from your professors, so the more positive things they know about you and your work, the better. 
  • Do not look at your courses in isolation; try to make connections between course materials. Synthesizing information will hone your analytical skills and help you examine the big and small pictures.
  • Organize and save all of your relevant course materials. It is very likely that you will be able to utilize past course materials (such as class notes) in a future course. 
  • Develop your writing by visiting The Writing Center and speak with your instructors about approaches you can take to improve your writing. Remember, well-written papers are papers that have been revised. Writing is a recursive process.
  • Find academic journals related to your area of study and read them. Journals will help you identify current topics in your field. Numerous journals are available in the library and through inter-library loan. Many academic journals provide subscriptions to students at a reduced rate. 
  • Consider presenting your research at the Undergraduate Research Forum or publish your work in the Artifacts Journal, an undergraduate research journal. Doing so will help you get valuable feedback from professors and peers on your research. Presenting or publishing your research will help you develop your public speaking and/or writing skills. Presentations and published works are excellent to include in resumes and graduate applications. Fellowships are available through the MU Fellowship Office.
  • If you excel in a subject, consider tutoring people who need additional help. In addition to the satisfaction of helping someone else, tutoring can expand your understanding of a subject and develop fluency in expressing ideas orally.  


The saying “It’s all about who you know” could not be truer, especially in the context of developing a career. The people you know may be able to help you obtain volunteer opportunities, internship positions, and acceptance to graduate school, possibly support your fellowship applications, and assist in your employment search. There are a number of events that can facilitate the networking process such as special lectures, conferences, professional association meetings, and career fairs. Be outgoing, introduce yourself, and interact with the people you meet while attending events, volunteering, interning, working, attending class, and participating in university organizations. Networking is not only a career development tool, but it is also personally fulfilling because it gives you the opportunity to meet amazing people in related fields who share your interests.

Local Environmental-Related Programs

Volunteering, Internships, and Employment

The best way to learn about an occupation is to gain hands-on experience through volunteering, an internship, or employment. Your experiences will help you determine whether or not you want to pursue a particular career path, will give you the opportunity to create a network by meeting people in a particular field, and will help you gain invaluable employment experience.  Consider visiting the Career Center for advice on resumes, interviewing skills, and much more. The Career Center also offers many resources on its website.

Volunteer and Internship Opportunities


Potential Careers

  • Business Manager--transform corporate culture so there is accountability for the environmental impact of production  
  • Community Organizer-- organize local communities to clean up pollution or protect resources
  • Cultural Resource Management Specialist--manage cultural resources including public properties that represent the combined works of nature and man, such as national parks
  • Entrepreneur-- start a business in recycling, energy conservation, alternative energy, organic food, etc.
  • Environmental Educator-- work with government agencies or NGOs to increase environmental awareness
  • Environmental Site Assessor-- analyze documents and cite characteristics for environmental issues
  • Environmental Specialist-- develop on-site regulations and specifications
  • Fundraiser-- help environmental groups raise funds for research, land purchase, education programs, etc.
  • Lab Technician--collect and test soil, air, and water samples for contaminants
  • Lawyer-- draft environmental laws, sue polluters, protect natural resources and communities from pollution using the courts
  • Lobbyist-- lobby for more effective environmental laws
  • Naturalist-- provide hands-on outdoor experiences for all ages to foster an appreciation of nature
  • Outdoor Recreation Specialist-- teach natural history and outdoor skills
  • Policy Analyst--develop position statements for environmental groups
  • Politician-- pass more effective environmental laws, remove laws detrimental to the environment
  • Publicist-- prepare and distribute communications for environmental organizations
  • Watershed Manager-- delineate watersheds using physical and biological criteria

Researching Careers

After selecting some potential careers and employers, it is time to do research. When it comes to career planning, as with most things in life, the best decisions are made based on information and research. There are numerous resources on the internet and in print that can help you determine which careers are best suited to your skills and future goals. Learning from people who are employed in your fields of interest via informational interviews and shadowing can provide invaluable information about a particular career. Of course, there is no substitute for hands-on personal experience which can be gained through volunteer work, internship experience, and employment. 

Careers Internet Research

Try some of the suggestions below to begin career research on the Internet:

  1. Enter broad terms such as environmental jobs, environmental careers, and environmental employment into a search engine like Google or Yahoo. Also Search O*NET, The Occupational Outlook Handbook, and GoinGlobal or a similar type of site, because it will give you an in-depth introduction to careers and provide you with information on employment viability (salary and job security).
  2. Use the searches you perform on-line and the lists provided on this website to compile a list of job titles, careers, and/or employers that sound interesting to you; this list will continue to grow as you do more research.
  3. Search for information on specific job titles and careers. Then ask yourself the following questions:
    • What educational and/or experiential requirements are necessary for employment in the position?
    • What employers hire people for the positions you are interested in or vice versa?
    • What skills are required for the career, and how do these skills match your own set?
    • How does the career match with your future goals? Does the career provide opportunities for advancement? What is the starting wage and potential wage for the position? What careers are closely related?

Helpful Websites for Career Planning Research

Informational Interviews

Take advantage of the knowledge and experience of people who work in occupations you are interested in by requesting an informational interview. Informational interviews have a professional format and can be conducted in person, by phone, or by email. Please visit the sites below to learn about steps involved in scheduling and conducting an informational interview.

Job Shadowing

If you identify a person who holds a position you are interested in, request to shadow them at work.  Shadowing can provide an interested spectator with information on the work environment, the duties, and the necessary skills required for a particular occupation.  If someone gives you the opportunity to shadow him or her, be sure to write a thank you note following the experience. The person you shadow could be a future employer or supervisor.

Resume, Cover Letter, and Interviewing Information

The print sources and websites below contain general and major-specific information on resume writing, cover letter writing, and interviewing. You should have a general resume on hand in the event an opportunity for volunteering, interning, or employment is available. If an opportunity arises, your general resume can be adapted to target the position for which you are interested in applying. The best place to start planning a resume is with the MU Career Center, which has excellent preparation materials available online and in their library. The MU Career Center also has resources to help you write cover letters and prepare for interviews. MU Career Center specialists are available to assist you with every step of the resume, cover letter, and interviewing process, so make sure to take advantage of their expertise!

MU Career Center
909 Lowry Mall
M-F 9:00am-5:00pm

Websites for Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interviewing