Making your career meaningful: Insights from Conservation Careers Director Nick Askew

Conservation Careers Director Dr Nick Askew might just be the leading expert on the diverse conservation job market.

Former Director of British Birds and former Communications, Marketing and Fundraising Manager for BirdLife International in the UK and Pacific (Fiji), Nick has raised over £2,500,000 for conservation projects across 120 countries and knows the conservation industry inside and out.

Now he runs the world’s #1 careers advice centre and biggest conservation job board, helping over 230,000 conservationists in 228 countries every year.

Nick says that finding his niche and purpose has been key to creating a meaningful career. It’s about time we shared his insights…

Why do you work in conservation?

I believe all wildlife is beautiful and it needs our help to conserve it for future generations, and for the health of our planet. I also believe you only live once (I hope I’m wrong!) and therefore it’s important to dedicate yourself to something you love doing, and that makes an impact in this world. I’m lucky enough to have found that in conservation.

I guess this can also be captured in two quotes I love: “If you find a job you love, you’ll never work another day again” and “Where your deepest joy meets the world’s greatest need, there you’ll find your purpose”.

What’s the best part of the job?

The best part of being a conservationist is knowing that your career really means something, and that you’re having a really positive impact on the things you love.

On a day-to-day basis working in conservation can be much the same as other jobs. We push emails around, have phone calls, meetings and Skypes, and maybe get to travel to some interesting places from time to time.

The key differences for me from other jobs are the people you work with, and the purpose of the work.

Conservation is full of talented, dedicated and fun people. We’re a global family striving to do good in the world, and we’re wide open to working together and helping one-another to protect and enhance the things we all care about.

What’s the worst part of the job?

I think the hardest part about working in conservation is tackling the large and growing threats to the natural world. The challenges faced by nature are just enormous, and one needs to be positive, optimistic, innovative and collaborative if we have a chance to make a difference.

Linked to that is the challenge of raising more support for nature conservation. Whether that’s seeking to help more people take positive actions for the environment, or the constant need to raise funds if working within a charity.

In many cases we know the threats and what needs to be done, we simply need more support to implement it. That’s a tough challenge, but also presents huge opportunities and is exciting. Look at what has happened in a very small space of time as a result of Blue Planet II highlighting the issue of plastic pollution. Imagine if we could do the same of deforestation or climate change…

Students-celebrating-graduation-in-the-search-for-the-Top-Conservation-Training-Opportunities

What are your career highlights / what are you most proud of so far?

It’s a tough one!

In the early-stages of my career I’m proud to have designed, funded and completed a PhD on Barn Owl conservation. Working on one of the densest populations of Barn Owls in Europe, and helping to roll conservation actions across the UK to better protect the species. It’s nice to know that there are 2 or 3 times as many Barn Owls in the UK now as there were just 20 years ago, and that I played a very small part in that.

In the mid-stages of my career I worked in international conservation for nearly a decade, whilst at BirdLife International. During that time I’m most proud of the work I did in the Pacific, whilst working out of the Fiji office.

As BirdLife Pacific Programme Manager I helped to elevate the status of our Invasive Species programme to a global level within the BirdLife network of 120 NGOs. I also helped raised the funds needed to start a community-based conservation programme across five Pacific Island countries over three years. Finally, I am proud to have helped to facilitate the merging of two conservation organisations – the BirdLife Fiji Programme and NatureFiji-MareqetiViti.

More recently, I’m really proud to have founded Conservation Careers. From the seed of an idea six years ago, we’re now the biggest conservation job board online and helping thousands of people to have successful careers as wildlife conservationists.

But … I’m still mid-career and there’s loads of time yet to do some more good stuff…

What key steps in your conservation career you have taken?

Beyond the roles I’ve done which you can see on LinkedIn here, the key moments for me are probably as follows:

  • Being a fisherman as a teenager. It got me out into nature, learning about it, enjoying it and wanting to help it.
  • Seeing my first Barn Owl when I was 17, and then going on to do a PhD studying them (and possibly the exact same bird I first saw) 5 years later.
  • Working across many different roles, for different organisations which helped me to understand the sector and gain skills in marketing, fundraising, project management, website development, ecological surveys and more. I’m a jack of all trades and it suits me well.
  • Having an entrepreneurial itch from an early age. As a kid I have three paper rounds, washed cars and worked in a kitchen to fund my fishing. As a student I bought and rented TVs to overseas students. So deciding to start my own social enterprise with Conservation Careers was a natural step for me, and now I’m on a mission to help others to start their own ventures to do good in the world, and to break out of the charity model of doing things.

What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?

If you want to be a conservationist, you need to do the following:

  1. Identify the right role for you from within the diverse and growing sector. Know yourself and the job market well, and find your niche. This will make you happy, use your talents the most effectively, and make you super competitive. More here.
  2. Understand the entry-level requirements for your chosen area, and strengthen and fill any gaps you might have in a strategic way. You might need to do some specific volunteering or internship, go back to Uni and do a Degree or Masters, or take an online course. But know exactly what skills or knowledge you need to become employable for your chosen niche in the first place, and then focus on finding the best way to get it.
  3. Spend time crafting high-quality applications that get you interviews. Job hunting is a job in itself, and soooooooo many people do it poorly, putting in low quality CVs, Resumes, Cover Letters and Application Forms. Don’t spend years becoming employable and then mess it up at this stage! Follow our guide for how to apply for a conservation job and you’ll be well on your way. More here.
  4. Take our online course the kick-starter for early career conservationists! I know it’s a shameless plug, but we really have figured this all out and can teach you exactly how to get a conservation job – from early interest right through to delivering amazing interviews. More here.

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You can read a Spanish version of this interview over on Bioblogia.net.

Career Stories, Conservation Jobs & Careers Advice, Conservation Leaders