I graduated from college and started looking for a job during a local ebb in the job market. Nobody seemed to be interested in hiring a new grad with less than 2 years of industry experience.
So I figured that job hunting would be a cakewalk once I had more job experience.
Of course, it's not that simple. The environmental biz is a pretty big umbrella. An firm that does emergency hazmat response, an engineering firm that designs systems for wastewater treatment plants, and a consulting firm that does wetland and other ecological studies all do environmental work, but the work performed has almost no overlap. And even selecting my part of the environmental world - trying to figure out what's wrong in the subsurface and fix it - is wide indeed.
As an entry level geologist, I could have easily started working for local government, nonprofits, remedial design firms, consulting firms, and law firms. I could have operated under the guidance of an alphabet soup of federal laws (RCRA? CERCLA?) and a bewildering array of state rules, which may or may not bear any relation to each other. I was equally inexperienced at everything.
After a few years of fieldwork and a masters degree in something related to fixing stuff in the subsurface, I am a specialist. I have a good base of knowledge, which is pretty impressive... for a particular area of geology and regulatory regime. I provide lots of value in my area of expertise. The problem is that I'm operating in a very small world, so if I go job-hunting, I'm looking at a tiny number of firms that may or may not be looking for, well, me. And neither those firms nor I wanted me to start all over again as an entry-level generalist (although dire financial straits may change that calculus for me).