Sustainability consultant Nicole Clucas tells us how she got into sustainability in the first place and how she moved from private consultancy to working in-house and joining an NGO, and how the different environments compared. She also explains how career coaching enabled her to work out what sort of thing was right for her and how it helped her build up her network
Nicole Clucas, Sustainability Consultant
LinkedIn: Nicole Clucas
Having started her career in public relations and then in the Business Recovery department at PWC, Nicole is now a sustainability professional with over 12 years of experience in sustainability strategy development, communications and stakeholder engagement work for major global companies.
Nicole’s specialities include: sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, technical environmental consultancy, thought leadership, internal and external communications and editorial and sustainability research.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- Why you should ask other people about a possible career before deciding what qualifications to take (for more on this, check out Episode 8: No Education? No Experience? No Problem! – with Austin Belcak of Cultivated Culture)
- The importance and value of networking (yes, it’s come up again!) and how, if you keep on reaching out, people will help you
- Why it’s worth being humble and setting your ego aside when changing career and starting at the bottom
- How internships can help you find a permanent job
- How a network of people in the same position as you can help if you are thinking about starting your own business
- Overcoming the “fear factor” associated with making a change
- The impact the people you work with have on you
- How career coaching can help you
Resources mentioned in this episode
Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase. This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.
To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.
Episode 44: Sustainability and how career coaching can help you - with Nicole Clucas
Jeremy Cline 0:00
What's stopping you getting help with your career? Is it because it's something that you feel you should be able to work out for yourself? Is it the cost involved? Is it the time? Well in this interview one of the things we discuss is how getting that help can really put you in a much better position. I'm Jeremy Cline and is Change Work Life.
Jeremy Cline 0:32
Hello, and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast, the show that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. Today I'm joined by Nicole Clucas, who is going to talk to us about her journey from insolvency - corporate recovery I think it's euphemistically called - to sustainability consultant. So Nicole, welcome to the show.
Nicole Clucas 0:51
Thanks, Jeremy. Thanks for having me.
Jeremy Cline 0:53
Can you start off and tell us what is a sustainability consultant? What is it you do?
Nicole Clucas 0:57
I worked in sustainability for about 12 years now, doing a combination of advising businesses on everything from environmental, social and economic impact. So things like for example, I've spent a long time working with big corporates on human rights issues, as well as managing carbon footprints and food supply chains. And then I've also worked in the charity space for organisations like WWF, on campaigns to protect global world heritage sites from exploitation. So yeah, quite a variety in my CV.
Jeremy Cline 1:29
How did you get into sustainability in the first place? Or perhaps before that, how did you start off with corporate recovery and that sort of thing?
Nicole Clucas 1:38
Yeah, I ended up at PwC in a temp role actually, in the department which was then called business recovery services - I think it's called something else now - back in 2005. I'd worked in public relations before that and had decided that it wasn't really right for me. So I ended up working partly on a helpline but doing admin as well to support some claims that were coming in against independent Financial Advisors who'd gone bust, and really enjoyed it and was working with a great team. So they offered me a permanent role as an analyst which I accepted, and spent a couple of years there and did everything really from helping to take companies to pieces working with barristers, understanding company law, looking at insurance, and whether that covered people for the advice that they'd given that turned out to be disappointingly not helpful for a lot of people's pension schemes. It was a really interesting time and the training was second to none actually. I still go back and use a lot of the training that I was given, basic things like how I form emails and do client management today. It was very interesting.
Jeremy Cline 2:40
What is it that an analyst does or is it a term that applies to a great many things, because I see quite a lot of people who say they're an analyst or they're going into an analyst role, and I'm not entirely sure what it means.
Nicole Clucas 2:51
I guess in the department I was in it was really a junior consultant role because I would have progressed up to manager and then director if I'd stayed on for a number of years. So it was everything from dealing with - we had a creditor committee that was appointed by the creditors themselves - so we had regular meetings with them every quarter. So it was helping prepare all the analytical paperwork on what we'd done with the money, that was left, one of the companies in particular that I worked on, and working out how we would best get money back for investors that had made a claim against the organisation. So that kind of thing, responding to creditor correspondence, which was quite regular, because we wrote to them every few months as well, dealing with barristers, dealing with law firms, and everything in between, really. I was in a small team of four of us at that point. So really supporting the managers and directors I work for, as well as working on reports regularly for the named partners on the job as well. I got real exposure relatively very junior, really. So I was very fortunate in that respect.
Jeremy Cline 3:49
Talk to the events that led to you leaving that and starting in sustainability. I was going to say what went wrong, but I don't know if something did go wrong. Talk us through that.
Nicole Clucas 4:01
As much as I learned a great deal and I really valued the training and I really enjoyed the social side of the team that I worked with, I'd increasingly become a bit disillusioned I think. I'd always had an interest in the environment. My undergrad was in business and geography. And I was really interested, increasingly so, in moving into sustainability, which at that point - we're obviously going back 15 years now - things were very different than and it was much smaller than it is now. So I started kind of putting some feelers out and reached out to my network, and some people put me in touch with the sustainability team at PwC, which, at the time was quite small, and everybody there had about four or five years experience already and a masters generally speaking. I remember going for coffee with a guy who actually later I would come across when I was working in-house at Barclays. Funnily enough, he advised me on the kind of training that he'd done and the way to go about breaking into the sector, essentially, because I was applying for jobs at the same time in sustainability, but I was getting interviews, but I then wasn't really getting through. He and many other people recommended the masters course at Imperial College in Environmental Technology, which has been around, I think, probably about 35, 40 years by now. So I started looking into that and applied, there's about 10 different options that you could do. And I did the business and environment one, and wrote my application, went for an interview and was very fortunate to be offered a place. So yeah, so I was really pleased about that. And that started in October 2007. So I worked up until a couple of months before that, and then left to pursue that full time for a year. And I was very fortunate that I was in a position where I could move in with my dad, because there's no way I could have paid London rent at that point in my career, because I just wasn't earning enough in the role that I was in. So yeah, so that's what led me there.
Jeremy Cline 5:45
So that sounds like quite a big commitment actually, deciding to do a masters. I mean, I like the approach which we've had previous guests on the podcast, who've talked about talking to the people who've already done it when you're interested in something - so finding out from people who are already there, what qualification and experience they recommend doing. So the fact that they had said yes, you should do a masters - was there any doubt in your mind not having done the role that you were thinking Oh Crikey, that's actually quite a big commitment. What happens if I go through this whole process of doing a masters and then go into it and then discover I don't really like it?
Nicole Clucas 6:17
Yes, that was in my head. I think actually, in addition, when I was still a student doing my undergrad, I'd done a week or so's work experience in a sustainability team. So I had that to draw on as well. But yeah, I mean, it was a big financial investment, obviously, and effectively taking a career break to go back and study full time was obviously a big commitment. But I guess I thought about as well what kind of things were interesting to me outside of work, and environmental articles in papers and various online things at the time, were definitely up there. So I knew I had a personal interest in it, and I knew the consulting side of things existed. So I thought if I could blend the consulting experience I already had with a sustainability qualification, then that would be really useful for me. But yeah, I definitely had my doubts. And obviously, you feel like stepping away from an independent life that you've built for yourself is difficult. And I was very fortunate that I had a parent I could live with, which saved me a lot of money on rent and things. Yeah, it was a risk, but thankfully - touch wood - it's paid off so far.
Jeremy Cline 7:18
How much did the work experience help with that decision? Even though it was just a week.
Nicole Clucas 7:23
It did help because I could at least think about what the day to day of a job in sustainability consultancy was actually like, because I remember helping out with the admin side of things at the time and doing some analysis on some environmental data. So I kind of had a sense of what was involved. And also I think, because PwC had a sustainability team at the time - albeit it was a small one - having worked within PwC that gave me the confidence to realise that would be of interest to me and the consulting side of the work that I'd done and the analytical work I had found interesting. So yeah, I think that's really important. And I can talk about this in a bit more detail, but I did a course last year through Escape the City called the career change accelerator programme for a couple of months. And again, their approach is very much go out and talk to people who've done what you're interested in or who work in that space and try and do some work for free or shadow somebody just so you get a real sense of what it's actually like in the day to day. Because if you're not involved in it, it's easy to kind of think in your own mind what it would be like, but the reality can often be quite different.
Jeremy Cline 8:28
And the masters itself, did you love every minute of it? Was it something that you saw as a means to an end? How did that go?
Nicole Clucas 8:36
I really enjoyed it, but I'm a bit of a geek to be honest. I really liked school and I like studying, I like learning new things. I really enjoyed it. That's not to say that it wasn't really hard work because it was. It was like having a nine to five job and then coming home and working at night as well. So it was tough. But at the same time I was on that course with I think about 125 other people. That in itself has really set me up well for my career, because I automatically had a network of people who were going out and trying to do the same, or similar, you know, work that I had. And so that's been invaluable, actually, as my career's developed, because I'm in touch with quite a few of them. And there's a really strong alumni network with the course, so people hire from it directly, which has been great as well.
Jeremy Cline 9:22
The Masters was a full time course, it wasn't sort of part time, part time working. And to what extent during the course, were you able to sort of set yourself up for what you did afterwards? Or was it sort of day one - graduate, day two - start looking for a job?
Nicole Clucas 9:36
The first term - I believe it's the same, but it's probably changed quite a lot since I did it, you don't have to have a science background to do the course - so the first term is essentially trying to get everyone up to the same level. So you do lots of different subjects, environmental law, environmental economics, and broader sustainability, pollution, etc. And then the second term is where you've selected your option, and mine was business and environment. And so in that term in particular, they worked incredibly hard to get us access to people working within businesses. So I remember Unilever came to spoke to us, Nike came and spoke to us. We did a project during that term with BP on sustainable energy, which at the time was something they were looking at in a lot of detail. And then we presented that back to a board effectively of, you know, senior people from that business. So we had to come up with a pretty robust idea to help them with the problem they were trying to solve. And then the final term was your thesis, and I did mine on supermarket sustainability. So to what extent supermarkets at that point with choice editing their products on behalf of consumers before the consumers were able to purchase them to make sure they were as sustainable as possible. So through that, and through the course they connected me with various people - M&S, ASDA, I also spoke to people at Sainsbury's, Tesco and the Co-operative. So that gave me a real sense of what it was like and help me build my network and only point because again, I agree. I think that's really important. And I suppose when I finished the course, because it's got such a strong reputation, a lot of companies recruit from it. So there was a lot of emphasis on career days that were held throughout the year. And then I did an unpaid internship at Richmond Council as soon as I finished, for three months, part time, while I was also looking for a job, which again, gave me some practical experience of what sustainability was like on the ground supporting residents and local businesses.
Jeremy Cline 11:24
Whilst you were out doing the course there was almost like a milk round sort of thing where you get the big employers coming around? That's interesting. Where did you do the masters out of interest?
Nicole Clucas 11:33
Imperial College. And there's many different ones you can do now. At the time - it was 15 years ago now - so quite a long time. But Imperial was the one that most people had mentioned to me and it had a really strong reputation, and it still does. But there's lots of amazing courses you can do now at UCL and Kings. Aberystwyth has a really strong programme, Manchester as well. It's great to see actually that it's growing so much.
Jeremy Cline 11:55
Having done the degree and having done your internship at the council, what was your first proper job afterwards and how did that arise?
Nicole Clucas 12:03
Yeah. I think when you're doing any kind of change, and also because I'd worked for a few years before, it's the classic that your ego takes a bit of a hit when you think, 'Oh, you know, I've got all these years of experience and yet I'm having to start at the bottom,' but I think that's really important. And it's served me really well in my career actually, because you have to be humble and you have to understand what it is to progress through an organisation. And just because I'd been a consultant, I was not a sustainability consultant. So after I worked at Richmond, I did I think probably about a year actually of paid internships. So I worked for a small consultancy called Clownfish, who had opened an office in China actually, so we were doing some work with the FCO and other organisations that were based in Shanghai. That was really interesting. I worked with a great team of people. My ex boss has long established her own consultancy called Given, it's about 10 years old now, and I think they do some really inspirational work. But there was a team of us there who I really enjoyed working with. And then after that I did an internship and then a short term contract at consultancy called Corporate Citizenship for about six months in the end, which I found really fascinating. Again, they are a management consultancy - but for sustainability and do a variety of projects. And because I had an environmental background, they had a small environmental team there then, and I helped out with things like carbon printing, as well as broader corporate sustainability consultancy and community investment work. So that was fascinating. And they had some major global companies that they work with. And then I took on an 11 month contract with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, in their stakeholder strategy team, doing a lot of work with patient relationship managers. More on the community investment side actually. They did a lot of things like blood drives and work with small local charities, volunteering schemes, etc. So that was great again, and something that I hadn't really been exposed to that much at that point. So yeah, really valuable. And then I was extremely fortunate in that Corporate Citizenship who I'd worked were advertising for permanent senior researchers, so I joined them back in October 2010. And that was my first permanent job. And I was there for about three and a half years in all I think.
Jeremy Cline 14:12
So did you still know people at corporate citizenship when you applied for that?
Nicole Clucas 14:17
Yes, I did. And I guess because I was a known quantity, I was very fortunate. I went through the interview process and everything and then I was offered a role. So that was great. I've enjoyed lots of the jobs that I've done for various reasons, but that was my first permanent role in sustainability, and it was a great team of people - and I still look back at it now in a way with rose-tinted spectacles because I learned a huge amount and I worked with lots of different companies - Unilever, Kraft, L'Oreal, Cadbury - at the time, when I used to help write sustainability reports. I did a lot of work on stakeholder engagement. I worked with Caterpillar on their community investment work, I wrote sustainability award entries and helped companies with indices work, so things like Dow Jones sustainability index, which is very comprehensive. I did a lot of analytical work, I did some thought leadership reports. It was the best grounding, I think, in sustainability that I could have asked for. And I'm still in touch with people there now, actually, even though quite a lot of the people I worked with at the time have moved on, but there's still some people there that I keep in touch with. I think they're brilliant company to work for.
Jeremy Cline 15:24
And just going back to the internships, was this sort of fairly typical of people who had graduated from the masters programme that they did these paid internships before finding their full-time role?
Nicole Clucas 15:37
Yeah, it was at the time, because the sector was still quite small. So yes, definitely. I think it's changed a lot now. Saying that it's incredibly competitive, and I've been very fortunate personally that it's grown as much as it has, because it's enabled me to move around a lot. But that is pretty typical, actually. And a lot of companies - most of the companies I would say that I've seen - pay, which I think is important, even if it's just a minimal amount. But yeah, that was fairly typical. And it is typical to an extent at the moment actually still.
Jeremy Cline 16:06
When you say they're paid internships, I mean, are these sort of akin to a vaguely decent starting salary, or is it really just about enough to cover - well, does it even cover things like food and rent?
Nicole Clucas 16:16
Yeah, I think it depends on where you are. I know that places I've been in the past have payed London living wage. So it really depends on whether that's going to cover you. And I can't remember how much that is at the moment. But I was fortunate in that some of the work I did was indirectly through a recruitment agency. So some of it, for example, Pfizer was a short term contract, less than a year, so that was paid a proper salary, and the contract I had with corporate citizenship before I got the permanent job - part of that was a short-term contract, and therefore that was paid a proper salary. And before that, I was on the intern wage. So yeah, it's a really tricky one, I think, because obviously, you want to be as inclusive as possible and not just invite people who come from a very privileged background and can afford to do these internships.
Jeremy Cline 17:02
How were you aware of the internships? Were they advertised? Did you have to hunt them out?
Nicole Clucas 17:08
I did. Yeah. There were some job boards at the time, Sustainability Jobs I think was one, and also through the alumni network that my masters has actually - so that was all done through email. And then just through getting in touch with specialist recruiters in the sector as well, because sometimes they would have junior roles. I wanted to work ideally for a small consultancy, which was what Corporate Citizenship was - at the time, that was about 25 or 30 people. It's grown a lot in the last few years. So I just did a lot of googling to be honest. And I looked at the consultants in the sector, did some research, sent speculative CVs in a lot of the time, and even tried to meet people for coffee as well actually - just to build my network and to get people's advice, who very kindly gave me their time.
Jeremy Cline 17:57
This is a great case in point of, I think, people can be quite reticent - particularly in the UK - of reaching out to random people and asking them for a coffee. I mean, clearly in your case, it's been incredibly effective.
Nicole Clucas 18:09
Yeah, I mean, obviously there'll be some times I didn't get a reply. But I think it's important to just keep going, because somebody will always help you. And I'm fortunate that I work in a sector that very much wants to support other people coming in. So yeah, it's worked really well for me, actually. And the course that I mentioned - Escape the City - that I did last year, they very much recommend you do that as well. And so through contacts of their network, I had a particular interest in coffee, actually. And they put me in touch with some people who worked in the sector, again, who I went to see and were very kind and gave me a lot of their time and explained about what they do day to day. And that really helped me understand what the opportunities were for somebody like me who has a sustainability background. So yeah, I'd say it's been invaluable actually. And certainly LinkedIn is another invaluable resource that I think is really important if you're looking to make a change, that you just reach out to your network, because I've always found it to be incredibly useful.
Jeremy Cline 19:05
You had the proper job at Corporate Citizenship, and you said a few moments ago that it was the best grounding that you could have got - did you join there expecting that it was going to be very long term, or did you join it expecting that it was going to be where you learnt your trade, but then with the view to going on somewhere else?
Nicole Clucas 19:23
I didn't really know actually. I remember feeling delighted that I had a permanent job, so obviously, that took a lot of the pressure off me trying to move on every few months because contracts or internships were coming to an end. So I was kind of happy to breathe a sigh of relief for a period. And I really saw it as somewhere that I knew I wanted to be probably for three or four years, just to get a really good grounding and then see, did I want to stay in consultancy and progress my career there, or did I want to move to an in house role and see how sustainability worked when you're within a business? So I guess I wanted a really good grounding, which I definitely got. When the time came, I kind of thought, well, I feel like I've learned as much as I possibly can from here and it's been brilliant experience, but I'd quite like to see what it's like working for a company. And that's when I started looking. And I was fortunate, I went through the interview process for a role in a new team at Barclays in their group sustainability department, and I got it. So that was really exciting.
Jeremy Cline 20:23
Can you just go into a bit more detail about knowing the time was right, and knowing that you'd got all that you wanted out of the role by that stage?
Nicole Clucas 20:31
I guess I'd been there for about three and a half years, and I'd worked on every consultancy offering that the business had at the time, which ran lots of different areas - reporting, strategy development, stakeholder engagement work, environmental consulting, sustainability indices and awards. I also was involved in recruitment there because I recruited, line managed and trained interns and junior staff on a rolling basis. And then I'd also actually had a role being editor of a publication that Corporate Citizenship produces called the Corporate Citizenship Briefing. So I got to the point where I thought, well, I could move up where I am. But I thought actually, I'd be fascinated to know, having worked with some massive brands, what is it like when you're in-house. When you're a consultant, you do often do a defined project, then you hand it over effectively to the business. So yeah, I had a real interest in seeing what it was like working in-house, and then what happened day to day and what your interactions were and how you worked with the business. So that's when I started thinking about moving in-house and I worked with - there's quite a few now specialist recruiters in the space. So I worked with them and then also was applying for in-house roles at the same time.
Jeremy Cline 21:43
And what was it like working in-house?
Nicole Clucas 21:45
Yeah, it was really interesting. I mean, I was part of a new team, which was really exciting. At that point, Anthony Jenkins was the CEO, and he was very invested in sustainability. So we were incredibly fortunate, we had a lot of embedded resources within all parts of the bank. So people to support what we wanted to do. There was a big team of 11 of us and three sub teams within that, so I joined the sustainability thought leadership, learning and innovation team. And my role really focused on developing the environmental strategy for the group, supporting work on stakeholder engagement. So running and organising events, I did some thought leadership debate, and then more broadly workng on the sustainability strategy with the rest of the team, which we were revamping the plan of relaunching it. So it was fascinating. And I learned a huge amount from the existing environmental risk teams, working on credit risk and finance. I supported a lot of work that we did on green bonds at the time. That again was really interesting, working out what at the time was very kind of loose guidance on bonds and what was green and what wasn't. So I worked on producing Barclays a view of what was green and what wasn't, to make sure we didn't land ourselves in any hot water by financing anything dodgy.
Jeremy Cline 22:55
So is that what green bonds is, it's sort of lending money to environmental businesses or what sort of businesses?
Nicole Clucas 23:03
Yeah, so sustainable projects, essentially. So the money is ring fenced specifically for sustainability work. Most commonly its environmental. So for example, a wind turbine that's going to create green energy, or a lot of mortgages actually fall under green bonds now, I think because of the housing regulations around sustainability in the code of homes. So yeah, a lot of things like that. There were some social ones, so things like encouraging and facilitating and building accommodation for students from underprivileged backgrounds in certain universities, but much more commonplace were the green projects, because they're much more quantifiable. And it was a very kind of early stage at that point. This was back in 2014. So again, it's grown quite a bit since then. But yeah, it was fascinating to be involved with, and Barclays in the end, I worked with the Treasury team, as well as the environmental credit risk team, and we made an investment of 2 million pounds, which is great.
Jeremy Cline 23:57
So this might be an impossible question to answer and might also be a very cynical question to ask. But why did Barclays set up this new sustainability team? This is a good thing for our business i.e. we're going to make more money doing this thing, or was this more - I'm trying to think of a term other than window dressing, but I can't!
Nicole Clucas 24:17
Jeremy Cline 24:18
Greenwashing, yeah! So what was your impression when you joined from that perspective?
Nicole Clucas 24:24
Yeah, it's a good question. Because I'm as cynical as the next person about green washing and very much have avoided it throughout my career. It was an interesting time in the finance space. Part of me, I guess, chose to go there and accepted the role because I wanted to work for a company that didn't have it all figured out. Now, obviously, as everyone is aware, the finance space in the banks in particular had a huge number of issues going on. And there were questions over various responsibility, base level as well as ethics. So I guess I kind of went in slightly cynical, but I was pleased to see that in all my interactions, including running training on something called the Barclays Lens, which was an ethical decision making tool that was rolled out to all the directors across all parts of the business. I think, a lot of people to be honest, were very embarrassed to go meet friends or go to barbecues, when they were asked what they did. And they were embarrassed to say that they work for a bank because there was so much negativity towards organisations like them at that point.
Jeremy Cline 25:25
This is about sort of, what five years out of the finance crisis. So yeah, banks still not exactly popular.
Nicole Clucas 25:32
No, exactly. So I guess in many ways, we were pushing at an open door because people really wanted to demonstrate the fact that they were useful to a society. And you know, idealistically or not the CEO that we had was incredibly visionary and wanted to change the face of banking. It wasn't just about Barclays, it was about the industry. We also did a number of initiatives where we would take senior leaders out of the business for a period of time and sent them on something called Leaders Quest, which was them going into communities that had no money and poverty, hunger, disease, etc was a real day to day worry for a lot of people there in different parts of the world. And they would see what are the issues day to day that these people have to deal with, which I think gave a lot of them a real reality check as to what is my contribution to society? And how can I support what Barclays wants to do in becoming a more sustainable, responsible bank? So yeah, I think I was pleasantly surprised, I suppose you could say, and learned a huge amount. I worked in the corporate affairs team and had a great team around me. Enjoyed working with everyone, I've mentioned the more technical sides of the business, as well as different parts of the bank - I worked quite a lot for corporate bank. And they were really keen on a lot of this. I mean, a lot of them were driven by their client demand, but also a lot of them were very passionate about it. And it also helped I think, at that point that they had children who were asking them, well, you're messing up the planet, what are you going to do about it? So it was kind of a push pull situation which which worked in our favour.
Jeremy Cline 26:59
So what happened next after Barclays.
Nicole Clucas 27:01
So unfortunately, I could see things that were slightly coming down the line for one reason or another, so the CEO got the sack. And then obviously that necessitates to clear out of his entire team. And so the team that I worked under a lot of people were made redundant. So I was looking around to see what else I could do. And I'd come across WWF, I'd never worked for an NGO before. And so I was really interested to see what it was like from their perspective, and particularly working on a campaign. So I applied for a job there, working on a global campaign to protect World Heritage Sites. And I was very fortunate that I was given it. So I left Barclays and joined WWF in November 2015, and was there for probably about 18 months or so, bit longer. That was fascinating. I think having obviously Barclays was on the receiving end of a lot of NGO campaigns, and rightly so, but I think it was fascinating for me to see how an organisation like WWF constructed a campaign and the amazing creative, very talented people that they had working on it.
Jeremy Cline 28:00
Just go back to the redundancy. Was it that you were made redundant or was it just you could see the writing on the wall and so decided to jump before you were pushed?
Nicole Clucas 28:07
Yeah, I jumped before I was pushed, I wouldn't necessarily have gone anywhere. But I think there's a different CEO in charge now. And there was a chairman temporarily at the helm. So things changed a lot sadly.
Jeremy Cline 28:17
And was it a conscious decision to go into the NGO sector out of the corporate environment? Was that something that you'd kind of been hankering after? Or was it sort of right place, right time - the opportunity just came up?
Nicole Clucas 28:28
Yeah, a bit of both actually. Definitely right place right time. And I'd met a couple of people in the sustainable finance team, which is what I joined through my work at Barclays. But also, I was really interested to join an NGO. I was fascinated by what they did, to be honest. And I really wanted the opportunity to see how it worked from their point of view, and how they leverage the public as well as the media in terms of their corporate campaigning, as well as broader campaigns where they engage the public. So yeah, it was very interesting.
Jeremy Cline 28:56
And so what were some of the big differences that you really noticed going from working for a massive global bank to albeit a massive global charity, but going from a bank to a charity?
Nicole Clucas 29:07
Yeah, I mean, that was a quite a big culture shock, actually. And one I don't think I was necessarily aware of going in there, but had a lot of positives. WWF I think has a very flexible working policy. I'd been fortunate at Barclays in that I worked in a team that also had a flexible working policy, so I worked from home one day a week, but WWF very much wants to look after it staff and so that was very much part of what they offered. And then I guess, I suppose the pace as well. I was used to working in a very fast paced corporate setup, whereas WWF is a global network. It was slightly slower paced, but definitely a different way of working. So I had to learn that and work out, you know, how to get the network involved and engaged in what we were trying to do globally. It was an amazing working environment. I worked down in Woking in a pretty new office that was very sustainable, has trees in the middle of it, beautiful building that I think David Attenborough opened few years ago. Had their own kitchen garden, it was on a canal - yeah, it was really nice
Jeremy Cline 30:08
Without going into huge amounts of detail, bit of a pay cut?
Nicole Clucas 30:11
Yes! And I suppose I was fortunate at the time, I didn't have a mortgage. I was living on my own when I worked at Barclays for a period, and it just so happened that a friend of mine, an old housemate, was looking for someone to live with. So I moved back in and that cut my costs considerably. So yeah, it definitely was a bit of a hit on the old finances, but it was worth it.
Jeremy Cline 30:33
And so you were there for 18 months. So what was the next move?
Nicole Clucas 30:37
I left there and I'd always thought about freelancing and I felt like I was in need of a change at that point. And so I took some time out over the summer. I left there in 2017, to work on my next move, and I did some work for some contacts of mine over that period, as well as a freelancer, set up my business, etc. But I really miss being part of a team, very social person. When you're at work, team is very important to me. And so I was looking around at what I could do next and really enjoyed my experience at Corporate Citizenship. And I was very interested in the food sector and a role came up at Context who I'd come across, they're a competitor to Corporate Citizenship. And so I applied for a senior role there and was fortunate again to get it, and I worked a lot with Mars, I started to work with H&M, Lavazza. So yeah, real variety again, and taught me a lot, actually. Context is run by two very talented people, and my boss, Peter Knight, used to be a journalist, and so I learned a huge amount about writing, editing, concise writing, visual communications - we worked a lot with designers producing infographics. It was fascinating, a really exciting period in my career.
Jeremy Cline 31:47
Can we just talk about that intervening period between Worldwide Wildlife Fund and Context - you said I wanted to do something for myself, I set up my own business. What did you get as far as doing?
Nicole Clucas 32:01
So that period was about five months. So I was doing some freelancing. And so I set up a limited company which I still have, called NC Sustainability Limited, not very imaginative! But I was doing some consulting work, so writing, editing, mostly for some contacts. So helping out with publications. The one thing I would say, I think I got to the point where I was trying to work out if - much as I love sustainability, and I still do, and I'm very passionate about it - was there another area within it other than corporate or NGO that perhaps I hadn't thought about that I would be suited to. But I think because at the time, I was living alone, I also had a mortgage at that point. So I had some savings, fortunately, but I knew that it was going to be limited. So obviously, the freelancing really helped. But I think because I didn't build a network around me of people who were also trying to make a change, I found it quite difficult if I'm honest, to keep going on my own, coming up with ideas and things. Even though I have a very close network of friends, fortunately, that I can talk to. But nobody was really in the same boat. Yeah, I think I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot from it. Obviously, running a business has its challenges and its opportunities. When I joined Context, it's a small business, and so everyone has a responsibility in terms of bringing in new work. And the owners are very open about the ingoings and outgoings. I think I was able to apply my experience there as well and again, learned a huge amount about running a small company. But as I mentioned I did the course at Escape the City, which was immensely helpful actually, and gave me a network - there was 30-odd of us on that course - and so I'm good friends, all those people still, and we've met up since the course finished and hopefully we'll do once we're out of lockdown, as well. So that has made a massive difference actually, and has made me think differently about not making a big change but making a small change, and has given me a network that I can draw on for support.
Jeremy Cline 33:54
Before we go into that I better just clarify for listeners who may be listening to this far in the future, the reference to lockdown, we're recording this interview in April 2019 (whoops should have said April 2020!), where the world is basically in the midst of the grip of the coronavirus, and Nicole and I are basically confined to our houses at the moment working from home and that sort of thing. So it's quite an interesting time. And I'm hoping that by the time this episode is released, and certainly in the future that it'll be a - well, not a long forgotten memory because no-one's going to forget it - but certainly a memory of Gosh, do you remember that time? So talk to me about what was it that led you to discover Escape the City? I've heard of them, and the only thing I really know about is that the title says it all, you know - if you happen to be working a corporate job in say, the City of London or in London itself, but you really don't want to carry on working there. It's the kind of job board and sort of coaching site where they can help you get out of that. How's that for a description?
Nicole Clucas 34:53
Yeah, that is basically how it started. So I think it started back in 2009/10. I was on their mailing list, I'd been to a couple of events that they'd run around people who'd made a big change in their career, and I was looking around because I was thinking about what my next move would be - did I want to stay in consulting? Did I want to go back in house?
Jeremy Cline 35:15
So at which point is this, is this whilst you're at Context group? Or is this before?
Nicole Clucas 35:19
Yes, this is while I was at Context. So this was probably late last year, well probably in the summer actually because I was looking around and thinking about my next move and I came across Escape the City again, I think I was on their mailing list still, and I wasn't thinking about changing career completely, but I knew I needed to change something in some way. But I just didn't know what that was. And having had the five month period a couple of years previously where I tried to kind of make a change or think about making a change but on my own I knew that that was not right for me and was going to be really difficult again if I decided to take that route. So I had a look in more depth at Escape the City and a couple of other career programmes and applied for their career change accelerator programme and got accepted. So I went through the interview process. So that was really exciting. Yeah, so that started in September 2019, and ran for three months until Christmas.
Jeremy Cline 36:14
So tell me about the application because I assumed that these sort of career change accelerator programmes that basically anyone can do them and it wasn't a selective thing. Can you talk a bit about that?
Nicole Clucas 36:24
Basically you write an application form and and outline what it is that you are looking to do, and why you think the course would help you. So I don't know how selective they are, but they do have quite a lot of people applying all the time. And so I sent that in and then had a telephone interview with one of the people at Escape, where she asked me questions about my career to date, why I thought the course would be helpful to me, what I could offer people on the course as well, because it's very much a reciprocal arrangement. And so I managed to get through which was great.
Jeremy Cline 36:53
Is this something where you need to have an idea where you want to get to and they help you with that process, or is it suitable for someone who knows they need a change, but they just don't have a clue what yet?
Nicole Clucas 37:04
Yeah, it's definitely suitable for people who don't know. And I'd say people who do have an idea as well. So they take you through the psychology of change in many ways. So looking at a lot of people and myself included, I definitely got stuck around coming up with ideas for one thing, but also there's the fear factor. So particularly when I'm the only one who pays my mortgage. So it's thinking about, can I afford to make a change? I've progressed so far in this career that I'm in and I've invested a lot of time and money to be honest studying, do I really want to make a change? And how do I do it? And it definitely gives you all of those tools. And also makes you think about change in a different way. And think about perhaps there will be a short term period where things are difficult and you have to think about your finances, and they also go into all of that in a lot more detail. But in the long term, long term happiness, you know, what's important to you as an individual should be a priority.
Jeremy Cline 37:57
What sort of investment is required if you don't mind answering that question?
Nicole Clucas 38:01
So timewise, they recommend, I think, probably an evening or so a week at least. So the course itself was run on Tuesday nights after work for three hours, and then some Saturdays as well over the 12 week period. So there's that time commitment. I can't remember how much it is. But there's the finance side as well. So you have to have enough cash to afford to do as well. But they do give you some great resources. And then once you're finished, you have access to the alumni network, which to be honest, in many ways again, I'm fortunate that I have that. Because it's been invaluable in terms of connecting me with people in fields that I was interested in. They get you to think about your interests on a personal level, which they call tennis balls. So there's a lot of emphasis, as I've mentioned, around meeting people that work in areas that are interested in trying to do work experience, trying to get as much information as possible if you're thinking about going back into studying - like what is it actually like etc, and, you know, meeting people, if you've got a family - working out what's feasible for you as well. It was brilliant, and I can't recommend it enough.
Jeremy Cline 39:03
When you were first considering during the course what convinced you that it was going to be worth the time and money invested? I mean, I'm sure that there's quite a lot of career change courses out there. And I know there's a growing number of career coaches. How were you convinced this was going to be worthwhile? And lots of leaving you at the end feeling a bit sort of 'Yeah, well it was all right.'
Nicole Clucas 39:24
Yeah. Good question. I was fortunate that a friend of a friend of mine had done, not the career change course, but the startup accelerator, which is slightly longer running, I think. I spoke to them in quite a lot of detail about Escape and how the programme worked, etc, etc. And then I also as part of the interview process that I had, I did a lot of research before that and asked quite a lot of questions of Escape and what was involved, to make doubly sure that I was making the right investment of time and money.
Jeremy Cline 39:53
What do they tell you that you're going to have at the end of it? What's the transformation that they sell?
Nicole Clucas 39:58
I guess they sell the long term change process that you can go back to again and again. So you're given a lot of materials, they take you through a lot of exercises. Interesting actually, at the moment, given the current climate around what's going on in the world and lockdown, it's definitely given me a lot of food for thought around the change process. And, you know, managing fear and stress and things like that, I think was a big part of it, too. So I guess that's what they sell. But as well as that they also sell the network, which has been really helpful to me. And they give you a lot of materials as well, which have been really useful too.
Jeremy Cline 40:34
So when you say the network, this is presumably not just people who are doing the course at the same time as you but people who have already been through the course?
Nicole Clucas 40:41
Yeah, correct. So there's a big alumni group that they run. Escape themselves, the people that work at Escape have been really helpful in connecting me with people in areas that I'm interested in, for example, coffee. And they also run a regular programme of events. A lot of them are free, actually. So you can do taster events around career change as well as startup programmes and at the moment, given the current climate, they're running a free programme around redundancy.
Jeremy Cline 41:05
For you personally, what were the two or three takeaways that you were left at the end of having been through the process?
Nicole Clucas 41:11
I guess I hadn't quite realised the extent to which the people I work with have a massive impact on me. And that is probably the number one thing in terms of looking towards what I'm going to do next.
Jeremy Cline 41:22
In terms of needing to work with people or just the types of people?
Nicole Clucas 41:26
Both, actually, I knew I always knew I was an extrovert but I didn't really realise to what extent I was until I did the Escape course and worked my way through the exercises and thought creatively about what was important to me. The social aspect of work, I realised, it's the number one thing. The people that I work with, I feel like I'm learning something from people and also given I work in sustainability I always think you have to be a bit of an optimist and you can feel like you're pushing water uphill at times So I think it makes a big difference to have people around you that are you know, positive and collaborative certainly in the things that I've done in the past, so that was one. The network, I've mentioned this already, but the alumni that didn't do the course at the same time as me have been really helpful. But the people that did do the course at the same time as me, have, I think, become good friends of mine. And I think given we're all in the same boat, thinking about, you know, making a change, and that will happen at whatever pace is appropriate for everybody. But I think to have that support network to draw on has been valuable, actually. And change for some people can be quite a scary thing. But I guess given I moved around quite a lot in my career, it's never been something that's frightened me, but I think as I've gotten older, I've got more responsibilities. So I think embracing change, and there's obviously going to be scary parts of it. But you know, trying to think about the long term goal.
Nicole Clucas 42:48
Yeah, it's definitely reframed that for me, I think.
Jeremy Cline 42:54
What do you think is going to be your next step or steps in terms of what you might look for, what you might do or how you might approach your role?
Nicole Clucas 43:03
One of the things that I've realised is important, as well as everything I've just mentioned, is doing something that makes a difference to people and involves helping them in some way. And so I think I'm definitely still interested in the food sector, which I've worked with for a number of years. Coffee is definitely something I'm interested in pursuing. Specifically, I know that's quite niche. But also working, again, working for a company, there's the will to do things differently. And also the leadership and the backing to do things differently. Because I've known companies over the years, having been a consultant where people are really enthusiastic at say manager or senior manager level, but trying to get change to happen, which is often what's needed in sustainability is really hard, unless you've got people at a senior level who buy into it and say, Well, this is gonna happen, and this is how. So I think I'm looking for that enthusiasm, I guess, and an opportunity to make a real difference.
Jeremy Cline 43:56
This has been fascinating, and I feel that we're at a bit of a cliffhanger here actually and I kind of want to see what happens next. So maybe in six months time or something perhaps we could have you back on and you can tell us what did happen next. Hopefully coronavirus and all that sort of thing would have quietened down to normal but I'd love to see where the course, having been through the process and having this sort of self-discovery where it leads to.
Nicole Clucas 44:22
I'd be happy to happy to come back on again. Thank you.
Jeremy Cline 44:25
Obviously I'll link to Escape the City and some of the other things you've mentioned. Are there any other particular resources that you found that have been useful in your journey, be it books, quotes, other courses or anything like that?
Nicole Clucas 44:38
This is quite a popular book and I'm sure a lot of people have it or have maybe come across it, but What Colour Is Your Parachute? I found that incredibly useful because that's a lot of exercises you can do and practical ways of thinking about change when you're in the midst of the change process. And it really helps consolidate your thinking. I still go back to it now actually, and I bought it a few years ago.
Jeremy Cline 44:59
It's a book I've heard mentioned many times, and I really should actually read it at some point! Fantastic. And you've mentioned the value of networking and talking to people who do what you'd like to do, if anyone listening to this thinks, well, that sounds interesting, is there a way that they can get in touch with you?
Nicole Clucas 45:14
Yeah, sure. I'll give you my email details. And I think you've got my LinkedIn profile. So I'm more than happy to chat to people or provide advice as best I can.
Jeremy Cline 45:24
Cool. Yeah, I'll definitely put that in the show notes. Well Nicole, good luck with whatever your next step turns out to be. And thank you for taking the time and telling us about your story.
Nicole Clucas 45:34
No problem. Thanks, Jeremy.
Jeremy Cline 45:36
One of the very clear messages from my interview with Nicole was how getting help with your career, getting some kind of coaching can really help you. Nicole had already been through a few different career changes, starting with PwC before she went into sustainability, working in private consultancy, working for a big corporate, working for an NGO. But even though she'd been through all of those changes, she recognised that taking a step back and getting someone to help her take a step back and look at what she liked, what she didn't like, what was suitable for her, has really helped her. And whilst at the time of recording, Nicole hadn't worked out what the results of that coaching were going to lead to, it's clear that it had really had a very positive impact on how she was thinking about her career. It's very easy to think that we can just do this by ourselves, that it's not worth our time or not worth the money going through the whole coaching process, but I think Nicole's experience shows that it really can be extremely valuable. Obviously, it needs to be the right sort of coach obviously, it needs to be the right sort of thing for you at whatever point in time you're at, but it's definitely something that's worth considering. If you're interested in getting a flavour of what coaching might involve, take a look at the Change Work Life website and the top in the menu, you'll see an option marked 'Find career happiness'. Click on that and it will take you to a link where you can get a couple of exercises, and they really are the sorts of exercises that a career coach might ask you to do. So it's a couple of exercises to help you work out what sorts of things you enjoy, what you like doing, what you dislike doing, and also an exercise to help you start to think about what you'd really like your future to look like. So if you'd like a flavour of what career coaching might involve, then do take a look at those exercises and see how you get on. You'll find show notes with links to Nicole's contact details and all the resources that she mentioned on the website at changeworklife.com/44. And whilst you're there, under podcasts, there's a section called 'subscribe to the podcast'. If you haven't subscribed and the content of this podcast is helpful for you then do hit subscribe either on the device that you're listening to at the moment or if you click on that link, subscribe to the podcast it'll take you to pretty much wherever you can find podcasts. So take a look and never miss an episode again. So again, I've been building it up. But next week's episode finally is the one about networking. It's been mentioned by so many of my guests, including Nicole in the interview that you've just listened to. Next week, we've got someone who describes himself as the unnatural networker, as an introvert. And yet, despite that, he's got a great system for how you do networking. It's a really, really great interview. It's a must listen. So come back next week, and I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.
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