Environmental Consultancy

What is it that you do?

As a hydrogeologist I work within the Site Characterisation and Remediation group.  My role is wide ranging; from working on groundwater risk assessments for landfill and manufacturing companies, to creating a new spring water abstraction well, to groundwater sampling for permit requirements, to working on large scale soil and groundwater remediation projects.

What does your day-to-day job involve?

Generally in my role nowadays, the more junior staff do the site work to collect the data (borehole drilling, soil sampling, groundwater sampling etc), and I tend to interpret and report this data to clients.

How long have you been working in the industry?

10 years (in October)

What qualifications do you have?

BSc(Hons) Environmental Geology, MSc Hydrogeology, working towards CGeol.

How did you get into this role?

Applied for the hydrogeologist graduate role whilst I was still at uni.  Came to the interview (it was a whole day, with different group tasks and presentations (which were observed) in the morning followed by a more formal interview in the afternoon).  Three out of seven people at the interview were taken on that year (we were the last annual intake as the market crashed early the following year).

What are you most proud of in your career?

There is not one thing that stands out; however, I have a particularly ‘spikey’ natured colleague who talks down to people quite a lot and doesn’t trust people. In the last year or so, she has actually started to speak to me on a level and she actively asks for my opinion on technical matters – it might not seem like much, but I’ve felt really low working with her in previous years and this seems like a real breakthrough and has boosted my confidence.

What do you like most about your job?

Each project is different to each other.  It means that in general, no two days are the same, and no two clients are the same to work with either.  It does mean that you constantly feel like you don’t know anything and have to catch up (we always say ‘welcome to the consultancy world’ when someone says they feel like they’re just winging it again!!).  It can be hard for new starters to understand this concept, but it’s challenging and keeps the job interesting.

Anything you particularly dislike?

Clients can be REALLY infuriating!  You have the ones that know exactly what they want, but only give you it in dribs and drabs so you’re left thinking ‘why didn’t you just write the report if you know what it needs to say’!  Or the clients that deliberate and constantly change their minds (those are the proposals that take five years of negotiating just to get the go ahead!).

Also, and although this is a situation I am in currently, I do know that similar situations occur in most environmental consultancies, especially since the crash in 2009/2012ish – due to the up and down nature of project work, you can often find yourself with either nothing to do or completely flat out.  We are in a completely flat out stage at the moment and with two large projects having come in at the same time it means that I will have to be sent out to undertake site work much more suited to someone with ~2 years’ experience.  This doesn’t help the project as my hourly rate is so much more, and it certainly doesn’t help me to progress my career.  It sometimes feels like two steps forward and one step back!  In other companies I would be recognised as a senior a few years’ ago….its not the same here and so can be quite demoralising. 

You also have to spend quite a lot of time away from home each week (including travelling on Sundays), especially at the beginning of your career when you are expected to undertake mainly site work.  

I would in general our junior staff (up to 5 years’ experience) spend about 70% of their time away from home on different site.

What qualities do you believe you need to succeed in this job?

Flexibility (for the constantly changing nature of work), attention to detail (we deal with a lot of data), confidence (to speak to clients and organise your own work load), a proactive nature and problem solving (both when you’re in the middle of nowhere on site on your own and its chucking it down and suddenly you’ve realised something is stuck down the borehole you need to access, or when you’re in the office and the client needs a weird and wonderful (and cost effective!) way of remediating a piece of land etc).  Oh, and you can’t be afraid of getting wet and muddy!

What advice would you give someone wanting to get into your industry?

Go for it – consultancies are seeing a real rise in workloads at the moment and most are trying to recruit like crazy.  Also, we’ve recently been advertising for technician type roles, which don’t need degrees (relevant A-Levels only) – so don’t be put off if you don’t have a degree.  Just remember to address the requirements and attributes of the role you are applying for in your cover letter!  We get so many generic ones, or where they have kept a previous job title on accidently, or where they are from abroad but don’t address the work permit issue etc.  I know people are applying for lots of jobs at a time, but if you don’t care enough to check, why should we care enough to even read the rest of your CV?

Finally, what is the strangest thing you have ever had to do in your working life?

I don’t think I’ve had anything particularly strange, but there is always one borehole you remember for being the smelliest (mine is in Newark and I had to wash all my PPE twice when I got home to stop me retching when wearing it!!).

I have been to a site in Bulgaria where it was all going horribly wrong on site, so I ended up being on site until 11 pm and then having to get driven straight to the hotel for 1 hour sleep before getting picked up for my flight.

Or the time I worked on a proposed coal mining site in northern Colombia and we had to have 2 armed security guards, a bullet proof car, three heavily armed army personnel, a bomb shelter, and hazardous location survival training and we weren’t allowed anywhere apart from the hotel and office without having the security guards with us in case we got kidnapped (or worse) by the FARC terrorist group which operated very nearby.  But I also saw monkeys and a rattle snake, so that was more fun!

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