Marine conservation job application tips and tricks from The Reef-World Foundation

Does this sound familiar? You’re struggling to break into the notoriously competitive conservation sector, yet you can’t get ANY feedback from employers to learn how to improve your job applications?

Lack of feedback from conservation employers is one of the biggest challenges and frustrations conservationists face when applying for conservation jobs.

“Often I have all of the listed requirements but still don’t get offered an interview and it would be nice to know where I was going wrong.”


We know that employers are incredibly busy, and don’t have the time to provide customised feedback to every applicant (especially for popular roles). To help, we wrote an article How to give great feedback to all job applicants in under 20 minutes, showing employers how they could give feedback quickly and easily.

We used this very same process to give feedback on recruitment for our Social Media Officers: Behind the scenes | Applying for a conservation job at Conservation Careers.

Recently Reef-World Foundation applied this approach to give general feedback to all their applicants for a marine ‘Programmes Officer’ role.

Read on to learn their top tricks and tips for marine conservation job applications and interviews, to strengthen your next applications.

The original post below appeared on The Reef-World Foundation’s blog.

Applicants for jobs rarely receive personal feedback, especially if they don’t make it to the interview. Coupled with a lack of work experience options, it leaves a dead zone where people cannot learn how to write successful job applications. A simple solution is to write general feedback to all applicants. Read on for tips and tricks on marine conservation job applications.

You’ve heard time and time again that Conservation is a notoriously difficult sector to break into. I was told this when I began my career in conservation in 2012, and frustratingly, not much has changed since then. NGO work is not the only way into a career protecting the environment, but it is the most common route.

Unfortunately, many NGOs are funded through grants, and these grants rarely offer budget lines for salary. The result is not only a low paid sector doing work critical for the survival of humanity, but fewer job positions creating a very competitive industry.

Credit: The Reef-World Foundation.

The lack of staff capacity in these organisations makes it hard to take on entry-level candidates who are still learning core skills such as time and deadline management, writing skills and creating positive relationships with stakeholders. There simply isn’t “time” to train and supervise new staff without these skills. It leaves entry-level candidates with few options but to intern, pay-to-volunteer, or take short-term contracts that don’t end up providing the skills and experience to graduate to paid positions. It’s a tragic Catch-22 situation that doesn’t do anyone any favours.

Creating positive relationships with stakeholders is a core skill that few early career applicants have developed. Credit: The Reef-World Foundation.

And, as competitive as our sector is, the way you apply for jobs is absolutely critical. I was recently inspired by the hard-working folks over at Conservation Careers who are trying to help candidates dive into conservation employment. Applicants for jobs rarely receive personal feedback, especially if they don’t make it to the interview. Coupled with a lack of work experience options, it leaves a dead zone where people cannot learn how to write successful job applications.

Their simple solution is to write general feedback to all applicants – and so for our recent posting for the role of Programmes Officer, we did just that. The overwhelmingly positive response we received from candidates has inspired us to share these lessons even wider.

We received a total of 119 applications for this role. Two staff read through each application and we shortlisted 8 applicants to interview for the first round.

We then used a recruitment rubric similar to this example to assess these candidates (and check our biases) according to indicators for the following criteria:

  • Analytical mindset and penchant for managing socio-economic data

  • Passion for our mission & alignment to our core values

  • Able to undertake our implementation work

  • Culture fit

From this, we shortlisted three candidates for the second round of interviews. These candidates were also set a task involving Green Fins data analysis, pulling lessons from the data, professional growth and prioritisation of tasks. All key skills for the role.

In the end, our chosen candidate scored highly in the interviews, rubric and in the task. What really impressed us was their analytical thinking and approach to taking lessons from data to feed into implementation, their passion for marine conservation and their experience with the diving and snorkelling industry (our main stakeholders).

General tips and tricks on applications 

  • Cover letters are a critical component to show the potential employer who you are. We refer to it at each point in the selection process. Happily, 94% of applications for this role did send a cover letter. We did not consider those that didn’t.

  • The strongest cover letters outlined people’s motivations for conservation work, what lessons or skills they picked up from their experiences, how that would benefit the specific role and associated responsibilities, and how they align with the organisation’s culture, mission, and vision.

  • Avoid writing a cover letter that is just a narrative of your CV. You are just replicating information already available. Don’t make the reader work to connect your experience and the role. They only have a few minutes to review your application in the first screening.

  • Every one of us is passionate about the work. Set yourself apart by demonstrating your passion through the impact you’ve had rather than stating it.

  • And a last note on cover letters – don’t forget to change the job title and organisation to the specific position! Never copy-paste from another job application.

  • We received a high number of applications focusing on hard science experience (restoration, reef monitoring etc.). However, that is not the work that we currently do or was appropriate to the position posted. In this case, it would be important to highlight what transferable skills from that experience would be relevant for this role.

General tips and tricks on interviews 

  • If you need to take a moment to collect your thoughts to answer a question, or if you’d like to start an answer again, do. A good employer won’t hold nerves against you.

  • Make sure you are familiar with the responsibilities and job role advertised. Including location, contract type, salary etc.

  • Whilst we want to hear what you would get out of the role, do spend more time focusing on how you will add value to the organisation or the work.

  • If you don’t have experience in one area of the job, talk about any transferable skills that would add value to that area as you learn it. E.g. Do you have any MEL experience? No, but I have proven planning skills through X job and am comfortable working with databases which are necessary skills for MEL work; therefore I think I will be able to learn MEL easily.

  • Ask questions! Not everyone did, but you need to establish if the organisation’s culture is a good fit for you too.

A few simple tips and tricks can make a BIG difference to your job application success. Credit: The Reef-World Foundation.

Read the original article on The Reef-World Foundation’s blog.

Thanks Reef-World for taking the plunge and providing such valuable feedback to marine conservation job applicants! We hope it inspires more conservation employers to try a similar approach in the future.

Recruitment & job application resources

If you’re a conservation employer who would like to give feedback to job applicants but are short on time, check out How to give great feedback to all job applicants in under 20 minutes. You can also explore our growing list of Recruitment Tips for conservation employers.

If you’re a job applicant who wants more insights to improve your applications, check out Behind the scenes | Applying for a conservation job at Conservation Careers.

We have a wealth of resources to help you strengthen your job applications, including our webinar How to Apply for Any Conservation Job, the Top 10 conservation job application mistakes to avoid and our downloadable step-by-step conservation job application guide.

Careers Advice, Early Years, Mid Career, Senior Level, Volunteer & Internships, Top Tips, Recruitment Tips, Project Manager, Marine Conservation Jobs