The pandemic has proved we are no longer constrained by physical location on who we can work with
The pandemic has proved we are no longer constrained by physical location on who we can work with © Getty/fStop

This week’s problem

I’m a British-born woman living in France with my family. I qualified as a lawyer in the City and, after moving, I tried and failed to get into the nascent corporate social responsibility scene here.

I then became a legal translator but have been out of the job market for nine years. I have a clear idea of what I want to do — something in environmental protection/combating global warming, and am keen on a job in a think-tank or environment group active in both the UK and France. I’ve completed relevant courses run by prestigious French institutions but don’t know where to start my job search. Female, 40s

Jonathan’s answer

While there have been improvements over the past few years in retaining women in the workforce who have, for example, taken time to start a family, it can still be a challenge for them to re-enter the workplace after a prolonged break. Not every organisation is going to value your skills since the gap in your paid career path makes it, in their view, difficult to compare you with other candidates who did not take time out.

You want to play a part in addressing the climate crisis, but your challenge is how to engage specifically and professionally.

It might help to relax your filters. Since the pandemic has proved we are no longer constrained by physical location on who we can work with, perhaps you could cast your net beyond France and the UK and consider all the French and English-speaking worlds? There are 29 countries where French is the official language and 60 countries where English is the official language.

Similarly, you could look beyond pure think-tanks, perhaps to organisations with poor sustainability records wanting to support the various Build Back Better campaigns, which have environmental issues at the forefront.

When you were applying to law firms, there was an open and standardised application pathway; with no light at the end of this particular tunnel, you are going to have to switch it on yourself. You have defined your dream industry, but still need to describe the specific jobs you could do within it. Present a skills-based CV, focus on your legal background, languages, relevant courses, and any voluntary positions, as well as the intense project management skills developed at home.

Armed with a clear vision of the sort of job you want and your skills and experience, the next step is some active networking, including with the other people on the courses you took, contacts from your old law firm, and other alumni from your university, as well as contacts of your own friends and family.

Who could they introduce you to for an information interview? Research the industry, think-tanks, and environmental groups to become familiar with the main players. If any really stand out, consider a direct approach — the pandemic has also made taking a 10-minute video meeting with someone new to offer advice much easier and totally sustainable for all concerned.

Readers’ advice

Use your existing legal skills. Cleverly applied you may get there in the end, if you’re also tenacious and have good people and political skills. all2dust

What sort of organisation? Find one, get their public documents, find out what the job roles are, identify the ones you would like, work out what you could offer. What sort of people are in those roles already? Aerobert

Some of the highest impact environmental protection and climate impact jobs are in companies with poor environmental records. Mining companies, oil and gas, utilities, defence, maritime and industrial processes are under pressure to reform. Finding any entry point to one of these companies is a good first step. Then position yourself for attractive opportunities once you are in. @Plebonomics

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development, and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email

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