OK, so you love animals. You sleep and breathe nature. And you want to work in the field of conservation. Super! Now here’s the hard part: figuring out how to land your dream gig.
The most common question I receive, by far, is how to get a job working in conservation. The question comes from both environmentally qualified job seekers, and people without formal education and training. The first piece of advice to share is this: a job search is a fluid process and requires an action plan. Be prepared to invest time and effort in that process to see eventual rewards.
Here are 10 tips to help get you on the right path to achieve your dream gig in conservation:
1. Think “results” in your resume
Far too many resumes are incomplete. The overwhelming majority of job seekers include only the following under their career experience: Company name, role and responsibility. That’s not enough. You must show more. Think: “What did I specifically do that made my role exceptional and results outstanding?” Anyone can do a role. It doesn’t mean they do it well. Your job on your resume is to show an employer what makes you stand out.
2. Reflect your personal brand on social media
No, this isn’t another reminder to stop posting photos of yourself dancing on a table at a Christmas party with a necktie knotted around your forehead. We’re so past this kind of reminder today. No, this is a reminder to think about how you use social media and how it is building your personal brand. Don’t just repost links about conservation news. Post items that SHOW what YOU are doing for conservation. Photo tools make this easier than ever. Planting trees? Show it! Photographing nature? Show it! Going on a hike? Show it! Authentic people show rather than just tell. Creating authenticity takes effort. (P.S. Also see tip #5!)
3. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer
This can’t be stressed enough: most employers consider volunteer experience as “work” experience. They view skills obtained through volunteering or paid work as skills. Period. Building up your resume with volunteer experience shows you are genuinely interested in the field. Sure, there’s no pay. But you are sending a strong message about your commitment. As one employer once told me, “I know they understand mosquitoes are part of doing field work and won’t quit on me two days later!” Building a relationship with an organization as a volunteer can — and often does! — open doors. Plus, volunteers often fast-track themselves to knowing the culture of an organization, which makes them an attractive hire to an organization.
4. It’s not just about whales and dolphins!
Let’s get this out of the way right here and now. There are only so many jobs available for marine biologists. These types of jobs belong to fully qualified environmentalists. The conservation field is about much more. Like many career fields, there are opportunities for IT specialists, communications professionals, accounting staff, administrative assistants, labourers, office management positions, etc. These are all positions that any large or small organization requires to function.
5. Be a sponge
Read. A lot. Have a thirst for knowledge. It could be research papers. It could be conservation-focused magazines. Soak up the many news stories that organizations post on their websites about the work they do. Watch YouTube videos or TEDtalks by leading experts.
6. Attend workshops
Once you have that degree or diploma in a conservation-related discipline, the learning can’t stop. The dreaded career gap is something many job seekers face when they don’t enter their field of choice immediately upon graduation. That’s where workshops, certifications and training can help. Many workshops are available to anyone, regardless of education. Example: In early 2013, the Nature Conservancy of Canada hosted multi-day Reptile and Amphibian Training Workshops in Ontario. The workshops focused on identification, survey techniques, behaviour and biology, etc., and included both classroom and field components.
7. Think smaller communities and smaller organizations
A sure-fire way to lower your odds of entering the conservation field is to focus only on big cities. Sure, you may be from Toronto or Vancouver, and you really want to start your career there, but guess what? So do a lot of other people. Just remember: Starting in a larger organization in a big city means you stand a greater reality that your role will be singular. Advancement, if possible, will take longer. In rural areas where many smaller organizations reside, there is less competition among job seekers. When you work in a smaller organization, you will likely have multiple roles. That equals more – and faster – experience. Smaller organizations in rural areas, especially in the conservation field, are often viewed as a credible ‘farm system’ of talent for large organizations when they are seeking new employees. Being strategic can help you get farther in the future and often do it faster.
8. Think high-value networking opportunities
Look at tip #6. You can’t beat networking opportunities like that! These are maximum-value, get-your-hands-dirty opportunities that can pay off faster than all those tips you read about joining online groups, forums or attending crowded conferences where competition for face-time is high. Workshops offer much more intimacy and practically guarantee you interaction with key people.
9. Transferable skills matter!
Play up your soft skills! Most job seekers forget about their soft skills. These are skills that almost every job requires. Some common soft skills include communications, ability to learn and accept criticism, adaptability, work ethic, and attitude. Employers typically weigh a candidate’s soft skills, especially when two candidates are almost identical in field skills. Soft skills are about how you will fit in at a workplace. Employers are always seeking the best fit.
10. Tell stories in job interviews
Stories do what facts and figures can’t. Your stories help you show your authenticity. You can’t wing it and create a story on the spot in a job interview. If you do, you will likely stumble. And that makes you look unprepared. You should have three or four good two-minutes-or-less stories already carefully crafted and embedded in your brain. A good story captures human interest. A good story also illustrates your character, a challenge, and a memorable ending. Most importantly, in the job interview process, a great story will be remembered. You want an employer to remember you. You need at least one great story that illustrates your abilities for each of these core areas: Communication, Teamwork, Conflict Resolution, Adaptability and Problem Solving. You can be guaranteed that you will be asked questions that involve some or all of these core areas. Having stories will help you ace these questions and also appear confident and prepared.