What is ESG and what is an ESG policy?:
At the most basic level, ESG stands for environmental, social and governance. The meaning of ESG can be individually broken down into three criteria within a company’s ESG policy.
Environmental: The environmental aspect of ESG looks at how a business operates as a steward of the natural environment, focusing on all aspects of sustainability including waste, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
Social: The social element of a company’s ESG framework examines the impact of operations on the human rights of workers, covering areas such as diversity and inclusion, workplace equality and pay and conditions.
Governance: The governance aspect of ESG looks at how a business polices itself and its corporate governance. This can relate to issues such as transparency, accountability, and compliance.
ESG interview questions:
The questions put to candidates for ESG-related roles are largely dependent on their level of experience.
If someone has no experience, companies will be more concerned with their attitudes and values.
In such cases, questions such as where someone studied and how willing they are to learn new skills are applicable.
Here, we are looking at the sort of questions that should be asked of someone applying for a more senior ESG role.
In such circumstances, the employer will be looking to understand the sort of leadership capabilities a candidate has alongside the expertise that they bring.
Asking targeted questions about the environment and social issues can be a useful way to find and compete for highly motivated talent and is clearly vital when it comes to ESG-related roles.
For example, asking candidates questions about greenwashing provides insight into their ethics, responsibility, and risk.
Employers must think carefully about the questions they ask and bear in mind that the benefits of diversity are unlocked only with diversity of thought.
It is important not to ask leading questions that are targeted at bringing about answers that meet their expectations.
When thinking about ESG it should also be noted that specific roles in different departments may prompt more tailored questions or alternative ways of asking a question.
For more senior ESG-roles, questions might include:
Are you a team player?
This question works for senior and junior ESG-hires and as such may seem very generic, but because of the multidisciplinary nature of sustainability and of ESG, this will help reveal whether a candidate has a team player mindset. It will reveal if someone works well with people from different professional backgrounds, while also enabling the interviewer to look for specific skills relevant to the position.
What transferable skills do you have?
This question will reveal how a candidate fits in with the specific role they are applying for.
For example, a financial auditor will have strong numerical skills, which could be used to calculate greenhouse gas emissions. However, they may not have the investigative skills needed to dig for more information or knowledge of environmental or social issues.
Of course, with ESG many issues are not clear cut. An ESG professional will have to do some digging to find and verify the information they are presenting.
Transferable skills are an important area of interest as they provide a pathway to resolving a variety of issues from different directions.
What experience do you have in ESG?
This is a good way of looking more deeply at a candidate’s specific and relevant experience. Not only will it reveal direct experience – and examples – of working within ESG roles, but whether someone has further transferable skills and experience. This question will also help an interviewer gain an understanding of the professional’s technical skills.
When it comes to experienced candidates, interviewers should also look at how well they manage relationships, how effective their interpersonal and team management skills are, and how well they can promote conversations about ESG within an organisation.
This question can also spark a conversation on a candidate’s specific skills. For example, do they have knowledge of Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) reporting, some form of education on sustainability and/or knowledge of scope 1/2/3 emissions.
Other forms of experience the interviewer would be keen to hear about are:
Experience with data collection and analysis
Knowledge of key concerns within ESG
Experience with diversity and inclusion
Experience working in a similar role for a similar business
An HR background – which can be particularly helpful if the needs of the business are more focused on the social aspect
What skills do you bring to the table?
This question will allow an interviewer to concentrate on someone’s strengths, irrespective of their experience.
Sustainability is a very broad field, so it is important to get an idea of which area best suits a candidate – and whether that is what the role in question requires.
An interviewer could expand this question to ask about past challenges and how they solved such problems. This gives candidates a chance to explain how they overcame certain difficulties.
What areas of sustainability do you least enjoy?
The answer to a question like this will shed light on the areas a candidate doesn’t enjoy, helping the interviewer understand someone’s limitations.
An interviewer can also ask what someone wants from a role. ESG professionals are often driven by different motivations than those in other departments. These can range from wanting to save the world to simply wanting a job, but most want to feel they are making a difference of some kind.
What ESG issues currently most interest you?
This question allows an interviewer to gauge whether a candidate has done enough research or whether they have a good understanding of the most important and relevant ESG topics. It would also reveal whether someone was aware of the latest trends and what policymakers are talking about.
The questions could be expanded to test a candidate’s knowledge of the last COP(Conference of the Parties) UN climate summits. This would help make sure a candidate is aware of major ESG trends.
For example, at COP 26 the main objectives were a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050 and to reinstate the pledge to limit global warming to 1.5°C in line with COP 21.
Another question with the same goal would be ‘What are the sustainable development goals’? These were adopted by the UN in 2015 and act as a call-to-action to promote a better future by 2030.
Furthermore, this question can be used to see if a candidate has a good understanding of what an organisation’s competitors are doing.
You can download our template for ESG interview questions for senior candidates here