I thought this post may prove useful for those who are on the hunt for a job in the conservation sector. I know how painfully difficult and deflating it is to get your foot in the door of some form of conservation career. The added pressure we put on ourselves (and sometimes receive from others) doesn’t help either. But, I’m here to tell you to keep going! And do not give up! I spent MONTHS sending out endless applications, and thankfully my refusal to give up on my dream finally landed me in a position within my local council’s park ranger team. Out of the hundreds of applications, that was the first and the jackpot opportunity I had to begin my career. Yesterday I had a look back over the personal statement I had submitted with my application, and I have to say, I was quite surprised at how well I managed to utilise all of my previous workplace and volunteer experience to showcase my suitability for the role. It then gave me the idea to write this post in the hope of maybe helping to prepare future conservationists for interviews and job opportunities. Keep reading for my tips and notes for both.
This may not be required for all job roles, however if you have the option to include any other bits of information in your application be sure to add a strong personal statement. If structured well you can utilise every inch of your working background, even if its barista work!
Begin by introducing yourself in a short concise paragraph that gives an initial insight into yourself and your love of wildlife and conservation. State the role that you are writing to apply for, who you are and your current position; whether that be a graduate, already in a conservation role or volunteer position within a wildlife charity.
Structure is very important in writing a personal statement, as mentioned by my employer once I had received the job offer. I would advise initially making a plan for the bulk part of your statement to list all of your experience, which can then be ordered accordingly to ensure an easy flow from one point to the other.
Try to categorise your experience under main subheadings; For Example (using myself);
· Practical sessions undertaken
· Behavioural Studies
· Extra-Curricular activities (outside of assigned education hours)
· Written achievements such as creating management plans
· Experimental studies; Water quality, soil assessment etc
· Software use; ARC GIS
Of course, don’t write out a story of your entire educational background, just add in a brief (sometimes a sentence will suffice)description of each of the above and anything else that may fall under your study category. Although maybe compulsory for completing your education, employers won’t necessarily be aware of what skills and activities you have partaken in to do so. Giving a few clear pointers will give them a large enough overview to develop an understanding of the topics you’ve covered and skills you have developed. These can then be expanded on during the interview process if they wish to know more.
· Areas you’ve visited
· Purpose of each trip
· Practical work conducted
· Skills utilised; Flora / Fauna surveying, Quadrat surveys, Data collection
· Data analysis
· Organisations worked with
· Highlight moments; Seeing a rare species etc
Again, get as many key points in as you can here, giving a simple but concise outline of the work you’ve carried out, the skills you’ve utilised and why the work was being done. I would also conclude this section with a reflection on how valuable conservation trips can be. For example, I found them particularly beneficial for developing my practical skills, but also helping to increase my confidence through having to present findings to a large group and finding my voice in team building activities.
Previous Employment or Volunteer History
I followed on with my point about gaining confidence to lead into my previous employment history.
· Name of employer
· Duties carried out
· Achievements within the role (personal and professional)
· Team achievements
· Role development; Taking on duties outside of your job role
· Company projects you’ve been involved with
· Software used
· Personal business experience
· Examples of time management
· Customer service & examples of dealing with high pressure situations
Be sure to mention your strengths in time management here as well as using your initiative to complete a task in high pressure situation. Being able to adapt quickly within a role is a valuable asset and is one worth mentioning.
This can easily be wormed into the above headings, but to be clear in what I mean by administration I’m going to list them separately.
· Communicating via the phone; Conducting interviews, dealing with customer complaints etc
· Communication via email
· Software used
· Understanding of Microsoft office; Excel, Publisher
· Social Media experience
· Risk Assessments
· Understanding of general company policies; GDPR
These points should clearly indicate your organisation and workload management skills. Strong communication and interpersonal skills are also a key thing to illustrate, as there are times in every role where professionalism is required. Being able to communicate efficiently with directors, to members of the public is useful in any kind of working environment.
Hobbies & Personal Projects
· Social Media
· Developing Skills; I.D identification, Hedge laying,
· Personal trips; ‘Holidays’ that are centred around wildlife and exploring
· Favourite spots / reserves you frequently visit to see wildlife
· Self-constructed projects / Learnings
This is the part where you can really let your interests shine through. There will, of course, be more to include than what I have listed above, so if you have something to shout about, do so. Whether it be creating a pressed flower books, creating informative content to publish online, or spend every weekend in the same spot studying a particular species; Tell them. It all counts. These are all things that on top of everything else you’ve previously listed, you choose to do in your spare time; talk about passion for the cause!
Conclude your statement with a short paragraph outlining how you feel all the above has assisted in developing your profile, and what you hope to gain from the role you are applying for. Do you want to brush up on your practical skills a little more? Or is it to communicate with the public to create a better connection between them and nature? Be humble but confident in why you think you would make a good fit for the role.
Now you’ve reached the interview stage, here are my main four tips that on reflection, I feel assisted me in my interview.
1. Don’t be shy.If I’m completely honest, I’m a little bit of a rambler (as you can probably tell through my writing), get me on a topic that excites me, and I’m off talking with the jittering enthusiasm of a child on Christmas Eve. I am able to converse in a formal setting appropriately, and whilst some interviews are definitely the place for more formality, I think that when it comes to the conservation sector, passion and enthusiasm is relished. So, don’t be shy to showcase YOU. Be your natural self and let your knowledge and passion flow through you as you embrace each question.
2. Ask questions.Nearly all interviews I’ve attended have ended with ‘Do you have any questions?’. If they don’t, have some to ask anyway. Do your research, whether that be site based, or general business strategy. Find out some key points that take your interest that you would like to know more about. It shows the employer that you alr4eady have a good understanding about the organisation/business and that you have genuine interest in learning more.
3. Don’t be afraid to scope.If you have an idea for the organisation / business don’t be afraid to question whether it’s already something they are developing or would consider thinking about. For example, I asked about the current status of reptile and amphibian surveys across the site and whether that would be something I could have the opportunity to get involved with / develop, despite it not being part of the listed job role. It shows willing and hints to where your interest lie, allowing a further development in your character profile.
4. Take a portfolio.You may not even get to the point of displaying if your conversation is going well, however it doesn’t hurt to have that security blanket of your achievements and experience there should things dry up. Pictures can speak 1000 words and pulling out visual content to help with the explanation of your experience can really be helpful to both you and the employer. It also adds to the perception that you have prepared for the interview, rather than just turning up and winging it. I personally didn’t get to a point of showing anything of mine, however the portfolio folder was still present and visible.
Topics that were covered:
· Customer service / public interaction-based questions and scenarios
· Administrative questions and scenarios; Time management, computing efficiency, previous software experience/ I.T Skills, health and safety
· Personal questions; Experience, future ambitions, what could you bring to the role
Note; Before my interview I also had to complete a computing competency test
I hope this post helps some of you on your journey to your dream career in environmental or conservation services!