Chasing the Coveted Conservation Career by Sarah Blake

Conservation Careers Blogger Sarah Blake shares her opinions, experiences and frustrations of hunting for a conservation job, to encourage you not to give up!

We are all on the hunt for that secret sliver of information that we think must be out there. That magical and mythical key that should unlock the door to the conservation job of our dreams. Surely everyone currently working in the sector has it already and we just need to work that little bit harder to gain use of it ourselves? I will save you all a lot of endless searching and fruitless frustration. In my opinion the key, the secret, that holy grail of information you are all searching for is this; do not give up!

It’s very simple when you think about it, and probably not what you want to hear.  But I believe it’s the truth. Getting into the industry can be brutal. It may require slogging through qualifications, hours of unpaid work to gain experience, often moving far from everything familiar and yet here you are, still getting rejections from jobs you are completely right for. Believe me when I say I understand how you’re feeling because I am feeling it too.

Recently I have become unexpectedly (but voluntarily) unemployed. After years in the industry I have found myself struggling to even gain interviews let alone job offers and sometimes I am unable to fathom why. Surely I was perfect for that job? But it is less of a blow when you take things into consideration. One job I applied for and failed to get had a lot of applicants – to be specific, 800! Eight hundred applications for just one job! If nothing else, the sheer odds of the game are stacked against you.

Whenever I meet someone who has made it into the conservation world one of my first thoughts is “how did you get there?” What was it that made you stand out from potentially 799 other candidates? The truth is that I already know the answer as it’s the same way I have achieved it myself in the past. Determination and hard work. It’s as simple as that.

You are attempting to enter into a hugely competitive market in which there are very few opportunities and most of them have “dream job” stamped all over them. So how do you actually get ahead and get noticed? Even with the right qualifications and experience behind you it is very difficult. And unfortunately everybody else that is applying has that same flame of passion for conservation burning inside of them as you do, it’s not a unique thing so it may not be the best selling point. But there are some things you can do to stand out a little more from the competition.

Experience is essential

And a variety of it too for it will always teach you new things. My very first job was as a wildlife guide on a whale watching boat and the experience from that lead another employer to be impressed by the fact that my voice could carry over the noise of the boat, the sea and the north wind in order to give talks to a crowd without a microphone.

Lower your expectations

Just because a job title has the world “ conservation” in it, it may well be very different from what you expect. I know some people who work in the field and barely ever catch a glimpse of their quarry, be it a very rare animal or plant. And even when they do, they have often endured endlessly long nights and days waiting through fly infested swamps or soul destroying tests of patience in uncomfortable environments to achieve their goal.

“It’s not all joyous re-releases of wildlife and surveys finding 10 species which are new to science. It may also involve a lot more paperwork than you might expect”.

The welfare work I conducted out in Vietnam sounded glorious to most people whom I talked with about it but they never experienced the 40+ degrees celsius days, the pollution so thick you could feel it entering your lungs, and the frustrations of a culture I was yet to understand fully.

Conservation work is a tough gig and often with very little visible output. Animals I have worked with for years in zoological collections play their part in breeding programmes for conservation effort, but very few keepers are ever there to witness a release back into the wild or a piece of jungle which is now safe due to fundraising efforts from that zoo. It can be a very segregated feeling.

It will happen. Eventually.

“I tell you this as a warning only, for I know that there is deep satisfaction in a role that really can make a difference. So I implore you all to go out, volunteer within your local community on a habitat restoration project, go and educate people with the knowledge you have about the wonders of this glorious planet, and finally, do not give up. You will get there, as will I”.

To get those coveted positions we have to keep on going. We keep applying, we keep refusing to accept the huge amount of competition out there and we keep determinedly flaunting our own skills until someone finally stands up and pays attention.

“There will come a time when that phone call comes through and until then, just keep on going. Do not give up. Keep applying until it happens because one day it will. One day you will be walking along a beach on some exotic island counting turtles or marking out quadrants of coral reefs with an oxygen tank on your back. One day you will be telling people about the wonders of the natural world and they will be so enthused about it that you inspire them to make some changes in their own lives. One day you will don a pair of waders with a massive hole in them and be waist deep in an algae filled bog in the pouring rain with a massive grin on your face because THIS is what you worked so hard for and you are finally being paid to do it”.

So no matter the number of rejections, the endless application forms and the interviews with millions of other hopefuls. Don’t give up because one day it will be you.

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