Nick Askew has 15 years’ experience working in wildlife conservation in the UK and internationally. He runs Conservation Careers which is a social enterprise helping job seekers and conservation organisations to form lasting relationships. His website lists careers advice and job vacancies from within the world of wildlife conservation, and provides an opportunity for job-seekers to promote themselves.
So you want to work in conservation? Great! With wildlife in crisis all around the world and numbers of threatened species at an all-time high, the natural world needs your help.
The good news is there are a growing number of jobs available in conservation – it’s become a professional industry requiring a diverse and growing range of skill sets. The bad news is it’s more competitive than ever before, with 92% of conservationists confirming that it’s become tougher to get a job in the last decade alone.
So how do you give yourself the best chance of success? Conservation Careers asked 146 professional conservationists from 50 countries to provide their careers advice. With a combined experience of 1,734 years in the sector, here’s what they had to say…
- You won’t get rich, so you’d better love it. Yes there are some well paid jobs in conservation, and no, you won’t be on the bread-line. However, the reality is most conservationists work long hours, in difficult conditions, and are paid less than many of their friends or family. The reason to work in conservation is because you genuinely want to dedicate yourself to helping wildlife. If you do, you’ll have one of the most rewarding careers of all; safe in the knowledge you’re helping to make the world a better place.
- Get familiar with the jobs that are available. With the job market expanding all the time, knowing what type of role you’d like to do is one of the hardest steps to take. Start by familiarising yourself with the jobs which are available at sites such as Conservation Careers (or our friends at Stopdodo, EnvironmentJob and the Countryside Job Service).
- Make things happen for yourself. Your career will only take off if you create opportunities for yourself and take control. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Here’s a few ideas which might help: (i) Blog – write about nature, yourself, your experiences, and let people know you’re doing it; (ii) Say yes to things – attend events, meetings and workshops, go to the pub and talk about conservation. (iii) Ask people for introductions and for help – a lot of time they’ll say yes, and; (v) Be nice to people – it’s a small world, and your reputation is the only thing that counts.
- Passion isn’t enough, you need experience. It’s not enough to say you love wildlife and are determined to work in conservation – you need your experiences and skills to support this. For many this means volunteering for organisations you’d like to work for, or in roles which are close to what you’d like to do. One of the best times to get voluntary experience is whilst studying: join your conservation volunteer group and get involved. Use your holidays to gather relevant and high-quality work experience. Although this is often unpaid work, if you’re serious about conservation, you should have the time of your life! You might even be lucky enough to get a paid internship.
- Get educated, and don’t stop learning. Conservationists are a clever bunch. When asked what their highest ranking qualification is, survey respondents stated: Doctorate (19%), Postgraduate (42%), Undergraduate (34%) and School level (6%). In reality, the type of qualification depends upon your chosen career path, with PhDs being especially useful for science and research for example. If you’re not sure what you’ll need, ask people working in your chosen field and read the educational requirements in job descriptions carefully (see number 2 above). It’s also important to keep abreast of the latest skills and knowledge by attending training courses, watching TEDTalks, and being active in your chosen profession.
- Be a professional. Often call soft or transferrable skills, these are invaluable in today’s job market. Be a good communicator, manage tasks effectively (read about GTD), accept criticism, be adaptable and reliable, have a good work ethic, get on well with your colleagues, and be presentable. They’re not looking for superman, but don’t want a Muppet either!
- Hone your applications to keep them out of the HR bin. The reality is most jobs have a lot of applications, so you need to do all you can to keep yours out of the reject pile. First of all focus on the content: always bespoke your CV/resume/cover letter to each job you apply for, and ensure you highlight the results of your work. Use facts and figures wherever you can, and provide clear evidence for each key aspect as outlined in the job description. Having got the content right, check, check and check again that your spelin and grandma are all korect. Many applications end up in the bin for the smallest of mistakes. Ask friends, family and your local careers service to help.
- Become great at interviews. So you got an interview – congratulations! You must be doing lots of things right. Now is your time to shine. And prepare. You must prepare for interviews and be ready to give confident answers to all the questions that might be coming your way. Use the STAR acronym (Situation, Task, Action, and Response) to help convey your experience. For example, I worked as a conservation volunteer for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (Situation). My job was to estimate the Barn Owl population in the Lower Derwent Valley (Task). I did this by visiting 120 farms in the study area and speaking with farmers about their local knowledge of the species (Action). As a result of this work I found the area to hold the highest density of this species in the UK (Response). If you’re prone to nerves, practice answering interview questions with your friends or family. Finally, don’t forget to sit confidently, breathe calmly and smile. You’ll feel better for it.
- Be familiar with different cultures and languages. If you’re planning to work internationally, being able to speak different languages and to work within different cultural settings will be an advantage. Languages such as French and Spanish will stand you in good stead.
- Stay focussed, the first job is the hardest to get. Once you secure that first job, you’re on the ladder and now have control. You decide when you want to move into a new role, and can wait until the right opportunity comes your way, safe in the knowledge that you’re being paid and building your experience.