ESG candidates: here's what they really want

ESG candidates: here's what they really want

This blog is written by Adam Bond, Head of ESG Recruitment at Leonid Group


I’ve been working in the ESG, Sustainability and Human Rights space for over two years now and there are some common themes emerging among candidates which will help businesses understand what they can do to help attract the very best talent to their organisation.

Leonid focuses predominantly on senior appointments and leadership roles, however we have also supported businesses build out entire teams. Therefore, while this article relates to senior management roles, I believe the trends are widely applicable to hiring at all levels.


Overview and context

The global drive to combat climate change, pollution, human rights infringements has made the ESG space a dynamic and rapidly evolving area of industry.  As such, the salary ranges, job titles, seniority levels and where the roles sit within an organisation all lack the consistency which other areas of corporate governance typically see.

This lack of consistency poses significant challenges when looking to hire, but also presents opportunities for candidates that can position themselves correctly.


Passion is a key driver

One element I have continually observed is the depth of passion which candidates have for working in this sector, which is perhaps unsurprising as it affords professionals the ability to balance technical skills with the ‘feelgood factor’ of doing something truly meaningful.

It’s fair to say this is probably the biggest driver for candidates; they are looking to make an impact in their next role and work for a purpose led business that demonstrates a clear commitment to making a difference. Organisations that can demonstrate this and highlight their commitment to sustainability are going to be far more successful in their candidate attraction. On the other hand, candidates are savvy and acutely aware of empty promises and can easily spot businesses looking to produce sustainability strategies solely for optics with no appetite to implement them.


Reporting lines must be carefully considered

Candidates frequently express a preference to NOT report to anyone in the marketing, communications, human resources or legal teams; this is because these teams are typically involved at the latter stages of a sustainability strategy, focused on delivering messages rather than being part of the strategy setting. The most effective reporting lines are as close to the top as possible. To be successful, a sustainability strategy must be closely intertwined with overall corporate strategy and have backing from the Board.


Communications must be sustainability-driven and aligned

ESG candidates will typically scrutinise a company’s website and social media and even the job description, to see how committed they are to sustainability and driving meaningful change.  As such, it’s important to ensure that your organisation’s sustainability messaging is fully embedded in marketing and communications and that the job description and advert are carefully worded.  However, it is worth bearing the next point in mind, too….


Not everyone is looking for a model approach

While many candidates are excited to work for a business which clearly puts sustainability high on the agenda, there are others who relish a challenge.  If a company has a large carbon footprint or operates in a complex sector with conflicting priorities, such as oil and gas, this can appeal to job-seekers who are excited by the prospect of transforming a business and having a major personal impact on the change.


Salary positioning can be a challenge

Salaries in ESG, Sustainability and Human Rights do vary considerably according to geography and industry sector (for a more in-depth overview of this, please download a copy of our Global Guide to Hiring in ESG, Sustainability & Human Rights). Going to market with a below average salary can easily be viewed as undervaluing or misunderstanding the role within the business, immediately discouraging candidates. While this may not be a fair judgement - as some companies may have limited resources or be early in their ESG journey -  it can still resonate in the market.

In 2024, we’ve seen a surge in salaries offered by larger companies, driven by demand for talent far outstripping supply. However, it’s worth remembering that remuneration is still not the biggest driver for many candidates, so if the role can be positioned as a meaningful driver of change, you will still be able to attract quality candidates.


Be open to candidate backgrounds

Candidates will find it frustrating if they are overlooked simply because they don’t have experience in a specific industry vertical.  In reality, sustainability strategies at their core do not vary wildly from sector to sector, with a couple of exceptions such as mining, where business operations have a much wider impact on the world as a whole. Hiring candidates from another sector can actually bring fresh ideas to the table and those who are passionate and driven will always do their homework before joining a new company!


Be transparent

Organisations are all at very different stages when it comes to sustainability. If you are hiring in this domain, then be honest about where you are at. Remember that candidates will relish a challenge and the opportunity to make their mark, so being behind where you ideally want to be should not be dressed up or hidden.  Honesty is always the best policy.


For more information on the ESG, Sustainability & Human Rights recruitment market, please feel free to get in touch with me directly: