Shana at her work as a project supervisor with Conservation Volunteers Australia

4 Stories and 4 Tips from my Conservation Job Hunt

There was a point after I had graduated when I was still searching for work that the thought genuinely crossed my mind – what if I actually never get a job? While now, that thought definitely seems over dramatic the process of job hunting, the sting of rejection and the disappointment of missing out on great jobs is stressful, and certainly can induce this kind of thinking.

A couple of months ago I found myself in a familiar position for beginning conservationists: just finished a Masters degree, a heap of volunteer experience but struggling to land my first job. After the seemingly endless round of CV alterations, cover letter writing, video interviews, in person interviews and even the occasional aptitude test I did eventually find success. Knowing so many others had been through or were going through the same process was hugely comforting and I hope I can now offer some useful tips learned through my own experience.

1 – A “no” isn’t always the end of the story

I was originally unsuccessful in getting a job at the organisation I now work for. After being rejected the organisation contacted me and suggested I apply for another job with them, which I was successful in gaining. I was so happy to have finally secured a job I was surprised that about one month into my new position two employers from previous jobs I had applied for contacted me. Both were wondering if I was still available and interested in the jobs despite initially being unsuccessful.

These experiences illustrate that even if you haven’t been successful the first time around an opportunity may still arise so don’t become complacent. An organisation may realise they need to hire more people, more positions might open up or their original choice might even decline. Whatever the reason, a polite email or call expressing your disappointment but on-going interest in the job or in any other position within the organisation might go a long way.

2 – Be forthcoming with your shortcomings

Obviously I would not recommend walking into an interview and only talking about your weaknesses however, a well-phrased and well-timed acknowledgment of any shortcomings you might have can help to show your enthusiasm for a job and your own self-awareness. I found the best way to do this is with the following question:

“What aspect of this job do you think I will find the most challenging?”

This question will prompt the interviewer to explain what they think your weaknesses are and which aspects of the job are most challenging, so allowing you to immediately counteract your perceived weaknesses and explain how you will be able to handle the more challenging aspects. For example, the interviewer might say:

“The most challenging aspect of this job will be dealing with difficult clients, as you don’t have much experience in that setting you might find this challenging.”

To which you may respond with:

“I can see why that would be challenging and I think applying the negotiation skills I developed doing XYZ will help me to handle this challenge.”

In my own experience I asked this question at two job interviews anticipating that I was lacking some plant knowledge specific to the areas the jobs were located. I anticipated correctly, and was able to counteract this in the interviews by:

  • Reiterating my transferrable skills from previous plant and research work.
  • Ensuring them I was willing to learn and study the region prior to commencing to get a better grasp on the plants in the area.
  • Reiterate how interested in the position I was, and how I enjoy doing plant work so they could be confident that I would be proactive in educating myself.

One interview was with the organisation I eventually secured employment with. The other interview was for a position I was unsuccessful in gaining however, when I received feedback from the employer I was complimented specifically on this question as the interviewer felt it showed maturity, proactiveness in acknowledging my weaknesses but also showed enthusiasm to perform well in the job.

3 – Get someone else to read your CV

I wouldn’t blame you if you rolled your eyes at this tip, you’ve probably heard it a million times but there’s a good reason for that. On several occasions when showing my CV and cover letters to family or friends they would find small errors I had made despite having spent hours reading over my own work.

In addition to this the most useful thing I did for my CV was taking it to the career counselors at my University. Just an hour-long group workshop at my University transformed my CV and I truly believe it was instrumental in helping me secure interviews and a job. If you’re at University make use of these services which are often also available for alumni, if not, there are many online services that will help you get your applications looked over by professionals, including those offered by Conservation Careers.

4 – Watch out for specific job application requirements  

One thing about spending every spare minute reading through job advertisements is you gain an appreciation for ads that clearly state what they want in your application. You will also realise the diversity in job advertisements, some come with a “job pack” with 5 PDF’s to read while others might just be a half-page website ad. It is crucial that whatever the format you read through what the advertiser wants carefully. I recommend especially keeping an eye out for jobs that require a response to essential selection criteria. One job I applied for stated in their general feedback to applicants that the number one reason people failed to progress to the next round was because they had not responded to each selection criteria.

A common point of debate with job applications is page limits. Some ads will state the maximum number of pages they want while others will not. In the latter case keeping to the norm for your country would be the best option. The other option would be to call the advertiser, something that I failed to do on one occasion and ultimately did not secure an interview because of it. This particular job called for a response to a series of essential selection criteria in addition to a CV and cover letter. Without page limits written on the advert I went in search for guidance on their website and found a general job guide which suggested two pages maximum for the essential criteria response. I was eventually unsuccessful and when following up for feedback it was suggested that I should have given a more in depth response to the selection criteria. After discussing it further, the employer said that they happily read responses 4 or 5 pages long!

The moral here is, if you’re unsure on exactly what to send through when applying for a job, ask the contact person. Obviously not every job will be like this and you shouldn’t go against any specific application requirements listed on the job advertisement however, if the advertisement is vague or doesn’t give any specific requirements it might be worth giving them a call to find out exactly what they’re looking for.

Although looking for a job can be stressful taking every application, rejection and piece of advice and turning it into a learning experience and an opportunity to improve can help change your mindset from that of a stressed job seeker to a motivated and adaptable job finder. The job I have now isn’t what I thought I would be doing but even in the short time I have been doing it I have learned many important “real life” skills that you don’t generally get at University that I am confident will assist me in getting other work in the future. So keep an open mind and even if you’re rejected, you will still learn and be able to make improvements to your CV or interview skills along the way.

Good luck!

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