So you want to apply for a job in conservation? Great! With wildlife in crisis all around the world and numbers of threatened species at an all-time high, the natural world needs your help. Now.
Better yet, you’re ready to be a conservation hero. You’re motivated, qualified – possibly even very experienced – and you’ve found the job you want to apply for. All you’ve got to do is submit your application, right?
We’re guessing if you’re reading this, you already know that it’s not that simple.
This graduate’s post on Reddit sums up how many conservationists feel:
“I have a B.Sc. in Environmental Biology, a M.Sc. in Animal Biodiversity, Conservation and Evolution; I am a PADI Divemaster and an amateur photographer. [Yet I find myself] struggling to get an opportunity in any biology field, but specially in Wildlife/Zoology/Conservation.”
Rather than apply for a conservation job, many job seekers are already ready to throw in the towel, faced with realities like these:
“Intense competition, a flood of unpaid internships, a prevalence of short-term work, high student-loan debt: young conservationists are reporting a tough, rough time in the job market,” explains a Mongabay article that draws insights from Conservation Careers.
(But please don’t! Check out the rest of Mongabay’s article about the conservation job market and then follow our steps below.)
Why Can’t I get a Conservation Job?
Maybe because it’s so universal, it’s so common, we don’t invest the time and energy into learning the art of how to apply for jobs. We assume it’s natural, straightforward, easy.
Well fellow conservation biologists, it’s time for a gentle lesson in biology:
Applying for a conservation job is not an innate human ability.
Just like personal banking or riding a bike, we aren’t born with the skills or knowledge to apply for jobs. And, unfortunately, we rarely graduate with them, either.
While a rare few institutions provide great coaching and tools, the majority of colleges and universities are not good training grounds for applying for jobs.
So even when we’ve already graduated, we have to go back to learning how to ride a bike.
What do conservation employers have to say?
So is it all roses from the employer’s perspective, with hundreds of qualified applicants waiting for an interview request?
At Conservation Careers, we’ve posted conservation jobs from over 5,000 employers since 2014 and we’re willing to bet that most of them aren’t finding it easy, either.
Let’s take a quick look at things from the employer’s perspective.
Every year, Save the Rhino International offers a 1-year PAID Michael Hearn internship, one of the most popular and competitive internships for early career conservationists. In 2018, the conservation charity received a staggering 299 applications, from which they offered 7 interviews and hired 1 intern.
Of those 299 applications, 66 (22%!) were immediately excluded! Why? They failed to follow the application instructions properly or had errors like misspelling ‘Save the Rhino’ or sending in a job application for another organisation.
The majority of remaining applications hadn’t tailored their CVs and cover letters to the job application, addressed the charity’s requirements or shown they had done their research.
“Imagine being the potential employer … if you can’t produce a professional job application, what can you do?” – Mark Carwardine.
Here at Conservation Careers we regularly check applications before they’re submitted. Of the 100s of job applications we’ve reviewed – from applicants at all stages of their careers – most score roughly 40-60% of the 100% that a well-tailored application would get.
“It sounds really obvious, but it’s amazing how many people send in job queries or applications that are riddled with mistakes”, explains Mark Carwardine. “Imagine being the potential employer… if you can’t produce a professional job application, what can you do?”
Some employers, like the World Land Trust, have even started posting job application tips on their vacancy pages to help applicants submit better applications.
“Unfortunately, the truth is most conservation job applications are poorly put together, and therefore fail to generate an interview”, said Dr Nick Askew from Conservation Careers. “It’s not for lack of passion or effort on behalf of the applicant; it’s because they don’t know the steps to take which will make their application stand out from the crowd…”
Well, no longer.
How do I apply for a conservation job?
We’ve spoken to hundreds of talented conservationists, and we know how tough it is to find work in conservation. That’s why we’ve poured decades of experience, lessons and proven advice into a single step-by-step guide: ‘How to apply for a conservation job’.
Written by conservationists for conservationists, the guide is designed to help you write a killer application with the highest chances of getting you an interview. Drawing on experience in communications, recruitment and the conservation sector, it focuses on crafting unique, compelling career stories that showcase you as the best candidate for the role you want.
Below we’ve outlined the guide’s 10 steps to apply for a conservation job. So, whether you’re applying for your first professional experience, or seeking to switch careers into conservation from something unrelated, this is your key to crafting stand-out applications so you can land your dream job and get about the business of protecting nature.
Know exactly what you need? Jump straight to your questions about applying for a conservation job:
Table of Contents
Crafting CVs And Resumes For Conservation Jobs | Webinar Replay
1. Decide if you should apply for a conservation job
To successfully apply for a conservation job is a job in itself! Before committing to applying, review the job description carefully and decide if you stand a chance and if it’s a worthy investment of your time and effort. Here’s what to consider:
- Does the employer look good? You might consider company culture, employee ratings, staff turnover and whether the organisation operates in line with your values.
- Do the terms of employment seem ok? Review the salary, benefits, leave, location, hours of work, etc.
- How excited do the duties and responsibilities make you feel? Using the job description, imagine what the job is like day-to-day. Does it excite, motivate and challenge you?
- How well do you meet the personal specification? Consider the essential (most important) and desirable (nice to have) criteria. You should have most of the essential criteria to stand a good chance – but very rarely does an applicant hit all the criteria.
- Do you understand how to apply (and have time)? Keep in mind that it can take several days to draft, review and submit a strong application! It is far better to submit fewer better applications, than lots of poorly-suited ones…
- Does the role fit with your current career goals? Whether you’re after your dream job, a foot in the door with a great organisation or a chance to develop specific skills, you should be able to articulate why this job is right for you now.
A bit of research up front saves lots of time later. If you decide to apply, this research will be useful for your application and interview.
Still not sure if you should apply? Check out these tips.
Tip: If the job has an online application process, do a quick trial run. Sometimes online forms have extra questions that you need to prepare for. Others ask you to upload your CV/resume and cover letter in pre-determined templates – which means you can avoid spending hours perfecting PDFs.
2. Don’t leave it to the last minute
Preparing your application early gives you time to review and polish the final product. Plus, the earlier you make contact with the employer, the better your chances of having your application reviewed and being offered an interview ahead of other candidates.
How long does it take to write a successful job application? Allowing for prep work, the actual writing and having it checked by friends, family or peers, the answer is often several days.
3. If you’re not sure about something, ask
Not only is it important to have all the details before applying, reaching out to the employer early can help you start to stand out in a crowd of applications. It puts you in direct contact with the person who has the power to hire you and shows that you’re serious about the role, organised and not about to waste anyone’s time.
Important: only do this for REAL questions that can’t be easily answered via the job description, employer website or online.
4. Craft your career success stories
Research shows that you’ve got 20 seconds to impress a potential employer. You need to stand out from the crowd from the word go and stories are your key to doing it.
Rather than telling the employer what you can do using empty words (“I’m a great team player and work well to deadlines”), stories show them by proving what you can do deliver with facts and evidence.
They highlight how you can meet an employer’s needs, solve their problems, relieve their pains and bring unique value. Sell yourself using storytelling and you’ll quickly stand out as the best – or only – candidate for the role.
Career stories are based on the STAR technique: Situation, Task, Action Result. It’s commonly used for responding to interview questions – but if you use it in your application, you’ll have a much better chance of landing an interview in the first place!
To craft your own career success stories, check out page 7 of our guide ‘How to apply for a conservation job’. You’ll find exercises that will help you identify your best evidence for the role you’re applying for and transform your evidence into career success stories.
The stories you create from these exercises will form 80% of the content of your cover letter, your CV/resume and – if successful – your interview.
Crafting your career stories is the most crucial step in your application so it’s worth setting aside some time to do it properly. Plan to do it when you’re feeling fresh, inspired and have a couple hours to spare!
Tip: You might be surprised, but often seemingly unrelated experience can make great evidence and relevant stories for an application. Don’t believe us? Check out this podcast with Dominic Jermey OBE, who served as a British ambassador to Afghanistan before switching into wildlife conservation as the director general of the Zoological Society of London.
5. Build your CV or resume using your relevant, impressive evidence
We’ve broken down the process of writing your CV/resume into a series of short steps.
But first, let’s clear up any confusion about CVs vs resumes.
What’s the difference between a CV and a resume?
If you’re applying for a job, chances are that ‘CV’ and ‘resume’ refer to the same thing.
In Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the term ‘CV’ or ‘curriculum vitae’ usually refers to the document you use to apply for a job. In North America, this document was traditionally called a resume.
These documents are concise summaries of your education, experiences and competencies and are used to apply for a job, internship, work experience or networking.
In North America, CV traditionally referred to a comprehensive document that covers your whole career and includes ALL of your education, experiences and competencies, including a complete history of awards, grants, presentations, certifications, professional affiliations, etc. It’s used when applying for academic positions, post-secondary teaching positions and post-secondary study.
Today, the terms CV and resume tend to be used interchangeably. When applying for a job, you can safely assume that you should send a concise document (2-3 pages of your most relevant evidence) unless an “academic resume/CV” is specifically requested.
5.1 Choose the building blocks for your CV or resume
Goal: Decide which elements you will include in your CV/resume.
Each job is unique and so is each CV/resume. Your goal is to strategically craft your CV/resume to showcase your best evidence in the most impressive and easy to find way.
You should always include the essential sections and you can then add optional elements from the list below to showcase additional evidence.
Name and contact: Your full name, current address, email address and telephone number, plus optional LinkedIn profile URL, website, blog and/or relevant social media handles.
The ‘hook’: A concise, catchy summary that conveys why you’re the ideal candidate and showcases your personal brand.
Work experience: A summary of relevant professional work experience, including position title, employer title, location, date range and success stories.
Education: A summary of your tertiary (and occasionally secondary), education.
Volunteer/Intern experience: A summary of relevant volunteer or intern experiences, including your position title, employer title, location, date range and success stories.
Training / Professional development / Qualifications / Certifications: Courses, workshops or certifications that demonstrate your skills (e.g. project management, proposal writing, first aid, etc.). Bonus: these show your commitment to ongoing learning and development.
Skills: Relevant skills to the role applied for, which might include technical, computer/IT, social media and other industry-specific skills.
Awards: Relevant awards received for tertiary education or other accomplishments.
Languages: Languages you speak at a basic level or above. Try to indicate your skill level in speaking, reading and writing.
Publications: A list of (select) publications relevant to the role you’re applying for. You can include a live link if they are available online.
Presentations: Presentations given in professional, academic or other contexts. It’s a good idea to include who you presented to, audience size, location, etc.
Professional membership: Relevant professional organisations that you belong to.
Interests: This is a great opportunity to show your personality and provide an interview ice-breaker. You can use it to show that you’re well-rounded, physically healthy and include any other skills missing elsewhere in your CV.
Referees: Include this only if specifically requested and if approved by your referees.
Tip: You can combine small sections under single headings, e.g. ‘Selected skills and accomplishments’ or ‘Publications and presentations’. This is especially useful if you have important details that don’t merit a section on their own.
5.2 Structure your CV or resume story
Goal: Order sections and information by prioritising your most relevant, impressive evidence.
Decide how best to tell your story by thinking like the employer. You want to put the most relevant, impressive evidence in the most prominent ‘real estate’ on your CV/resume. For example, you might:
- Leave ‘Education’ to the end of your CV if it is not part of the employer’s criteria.
- Include voluntary roles in your professional experience if they are relevant to the role.
- Place voluntary roles in a section called ‘Community involvement’ at the end of your CV if you just want to show that you’re engaged in your community.
- List an award together with a university course/degree or in a separate awards section.
Tip: Avoid duplication. With the exception of your ‘hook’, each piece of information should only appear once on your CV. Space is of a premium – don’t waste it.
Three CV and resume formats
There are three broad CV/resume formats that are useful when planning your structure, each of which suits different applicants.
|How it’s structured||Lists your work history in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position.||Highlights skills and abilities up front (often as examples within themes), either followed by a brief list of jobs held (e.g. job title, company, dates) or without a chronological work history.||Combines the best of the chronological and functional formats: highlights relevant skills and accomplishments up front, followed by a chronology at the end to provide context.|
|Who it suits||Applicants with a consistent work history that is relevant to the job desired.||Recent graduates, career changers, applicants reentering the workforce, applicants with large employment gaps, frequent job switchers.||Recent graduates, career changers, applicants reentering the workforce, applicants with large employment gaps, frequent job switchers.|
|Pros||The most common format: straightforward, organised, easy to follow.||Downplays negatives in your work history such as employment gaps, lack of relevant experience or job hopping, while highlighting your skills, strengths and value.||Offers the best of both worlds by putting the focus on relevant skills and achievements while still including your work history information.|
|Cons||Can call attention to negatives or red flags in your work history.||Less common format can be harder to follow; may still raise red flags.||If not structured in a clear way, it might turn off employers.|
Tip: To create a functional or hybrid resume, break your experiences down into relevant transferrable skills that match the employer’s essential criteria (e.g. project management, communications, marketing) and showcase evidence examples from across your employment in each section.
Not sure which format is best for you? Check out page 67 of our guide ‘How to apply for a conservation job’ to see an example where we’ve adapted a CV/resume into chronological, functional and hybrid formats to illustrate the key differences between them and the advantages/disadvantages of each.
5.3 Name & contact
Goal: Nail the first section on every CV/resume.
This section sits at the top of your CV and should include:
- Your full name.
- Your current address. If you’re concerned about privacy, you can skip your street address and give your city and zip/post/postal code.
- Your (professional) email address (not your current work email address).
- Your phone number.
- Optional: Your Skype name.
- Optional: Your LinkedIn profile (as a live link).
- Optional: Your website and blog URLs.
- Optional: Your photo. This is great personal touch, but be aware that some employers may eliminate applications that include photos. Research the country, company and employer culture before deciding to use one. If you’re not sure, skip it.
Tip: Include your LinkedIn profile, website or blog.
LinkedIn allows you to expand on your career story and personal brand, while providing verifiable proof of your skills, experiences and attributes. This is a great way to showcase work samples, articles you’ve written or even a portfolio.
Make sure you give yourself a short, professional URL on LinkedIn and include it as a live link on your CV. If your LinkedIn profile needs some work, check out ‘Ten tips to help you create the perfect LinkedIn profile.
5.4 The hook
Goal: Hook the recruiter from the start of your CV/resume.
The top of page 1 is the most important ‘real estate’ on your CV/resume. The ‘hook’ pulls the best evidence from the rest of your document and puts it right below your contact info, quickly demonstrating your fit for the role and convincing the recruiter to keep reading.
- Title: You can choose a title such as Highlights, Professional profile, Summary of skills, Key experience, Personal statement, or skip the title altogether.
- Format: The most common formats are: 3 to 5 short, easily-scannable bullet points. Less is more!
- A personal statement. Don’t waffle! Limit this to 3 lines and 2 sentences max. This works well in third person (Passionate conservationist seeking…) or first person for a more personal CV/resume (I am a passionate conservationist…)
Tip: Be passionate and purposeful, never arrogant. Don’t hesitate to display your passion for conservation. You want to show that you know what you’re talking about, without sounding too arrogant and risking putting the recruiter off.
Customise your application with your personal brand
Goal: Identify and communicate your unique value in a memorable way.
If you’ve already defined your personal brand – congratulations, you’re off to a great start.
And if you’re thinking to yourself, “But I don’t have a personal brand…”, don’t panic!
Everyone has a personal brand – you may just not know it yet.
“Put simply, [your brand is] who you are.”
Your brand is the combination of your personal values, drivers, vision, mission, purpose, passions, strengths and attributes, which differentiate you and showcase your unique value to an employer. Put simply, it’s who you are.
Just like organisations have unique visions, missions and values, so do their employees. Your brand might just be the key to showing how you fit with a company and role. Whether you have five minutes or five hours, the exercise in our guide will help you define yours.
If you want more on personal branding, these online resources can help:
Tip: Brand for your target audience. Each job application is an opportunity to (re)brand yourself for the job you want, using your unique voice. You may wish to focus on different aspects of your brand or highlight keywords relevant to your target audience – the employer – but your brand should always be a genuine, authentic reflection of you.
Applying personal branding to your CV/resume
The ideal place to showcase your personal brand is right after your contact information, as part of your hook. Here are a few different approaches:
|Headline||Key skills (what you do)||Attributes (how you do it)||Branding statement|
|What it looks like||A position title in larger/bold font, usually followed by a statement, bullet points or adjectives.||3 specific skills that highlight what you can do, below your contact info.||3 specific attributes that highlight how you work, below your contact info.||A brief 1-3 line sentence that communicates how and what you do, and why.|
|Pros||Highlights a very close fit for a role or similar past experience.||Highlights skills that are a close match for the role.||Compliments your skills and experience in the hook.||A chance to define exactly who you are.|
|Examples||Communications specialist; Wildlife ecopreneur||Strategic planning, relationship building, project management.||Driven, adaptable, engaging.||Helping conservationists find careers that benefit wildlife.|
For examples of what personal branding and the hook could look like on a CV/resume, check out our guide ‘How to apply for a conservation job’.
Tip: Once you’ve defined your brand, aim to communicate it clearly and consistently across all channels, including your application, LinkedIn profile, website(s), social media platforms and communications. You might even choose to create an email signature or logo that reflects your brand.
Make sure you avoid overused, empty statements like ‘team player’ or ‘motivated self-starter’! Use our brand adjectives (page 21 of the guide) to choose specific, unique adjectives that describe you.
Goal: Showcase your education in the most effective way for the job.
- Keep it simple and accurate.
- It’s okay to omit negative grades and focus on the positives.
- Prioritise results. You can include reference to relevant modules (courses), but you should focus on proof of what you can do, such as your thesis or significant projects.
- Include qualifications you’re currently working towards.
- Leave out secondary school education if you’re at university, or keep it very brief.
Tip: If you haven’t finished and don’t plan to, you can still include your education by e.g. listing where you studied, dates attended, credit hours/courses/modules completed. Just be careful not to mislead the employer by suggesting that you received a degree.
5.6 Work experience
Goal: Showcase your work experience using success stories.
Unless you’re using a functional format, your work experience is the bread and butter of your CV/resume. It’s important to get this section right. You’ll want to:
- Give enough context to the role including name, job title, location and dates. If the organization is not well-known, describe what it does briefly in brackets.
- Choose 2-3 (maximum 5) success stories per job and include them as brief bullet points.
- Be selective. Older roles only require a brief summary and you don’t need to include every job you’ve ever done.
- Include some key buzzwords listed in the job advert in bold.
- Be strategic in how you showcase your information. Are the organisations you worked for well-known and relevant? Put them ahead of your position title or include their logo as a graphic. Is international experience key? Put your job location in bold to help it stand out.
Here’s an example of how powerful it can be to turn a responsibility into a success story:
Responsibility: Responsible for a large team and fundraising for international projects.
Success story: Built and led a collaborative team of partner, government and community members across eight countries, developing donor proposals and securing over 2.5m from 47 submissions.
Responsibility: Managed email and social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter).
Success story: Built online communities from scratch on Facebook (17k), Twitter (18k) and email (10k), increasing sales by 50% in just two years.
Want some examples of what work experience looks like using success stories? Check out the guide ‘How to apply for a conservation job’.
Ready to create your own accomplishment statements? Check out page 28 of the guide for the exercise ‘Crafting accomplishment statements – your bite-sized career success stories’.
To make your application more specific, dynamic and compelling, you can select action verbs that describe your interpersonal, business and self-management competencies. Check out our list of ‘Action verbs for killer applications’ on page 29 of the guide.
Goal: Create a clean, professional CV/resume that showcases key information.
CV/resume design is very personal, but it’s a good idea to follow these tips:
- Embrace white space. Instead of filling every square inch with information, allow the information to breathe.
- Be consistent with clean formatting. Whether it’s text size, heading size, colours, fonts or use of borders, make sure it’s consistent and clean across your CV/resume.
- Choose a clear, legible font such as Avenir, Calibri, Cambria, Constantia, Didot, Helvetica, Lato, Verdana, Garamond, Gill Sans, Book Antiqua or Trebuchet MS. Skip Arial and Times New Roman for a more original look. If you must submit a Word document, choose a font that will work on all PCs and Macs.
- Make your font size at least 11 or 12.
- Aim for 2 pages (1 minimum, 3 maximum).
- Include and highlight job-specific keywords. Bolding keywords is a powerful way of focussing a recruiter’s attention on the information they’re looking for.
- Use graphics/visuals effectively and sparingly. Graphs, testimonials, pie charts and text boxes are optional ways to add interest.
- Only use high-quality photos. Use simple formatting to direct attention. Bolding, shading, borders, lines and/or italics can direct attention to specific information.
- Format your branding section to stand out – using bold, larger font, etc.
- Consider using colour strategically to grab attention or emphasise your brand.
Need inspiration? Head to Section 3 of our guide, type ‘CV template’ into Pinterest (www.pinterest.com) or choose a template in Canva (www.canva.com).
6. Create your cover letter to showcase your best evidence
Goal: show case your best evidence to motivate the employer to learn more about you from your CV/resume.
Your cover letter is the first step to quickly capture an employer’s interest. Don’t believe that it’s important? Check out this blog post by WWF’s Head, People & Culture Europe & Recruitment: Cover letters – to bother or not to bother?…that is the question.
Your cover letter should:
- Highlight how you fit the specific position – how your skills, experience and attributes match the employer’s needs.
- Compliment, rather than reiterate, your CV/resume, expanding on key evidence.
- Demonstrate genuine interest in the position and knowledge of the organisation.
6.1 Have fun!
Goal: Commit to enjoying the process.
For many people, writing a cover letter is more daunting than writing a CV. Relax and follow these steps: you know you’re a great match for an organization and role and this is your chance to show it!
Tip: get the first few words down on paper, don’t worry about aiming for perfect at the beginning and the rest will flow more smoothly.
6.2 Prepare for success: know your audience
Goal: Tailor your cover letter to the organization and role
There is no one-size-fits-all cover letter and you must tailor your cover letter for each position and employer. Before you start:
- Research the position, employer and latest industry issues so you can clearly show you understand their needs and can bring unique value.
- Check: you should be able to describe the ideal person they’re looking for.
- Be able to articulate: why you want the position, why you’re the best candidate and what the employer should know about you. Review your matrix and identify your most impressive evidence that you can expand on to prove fit.
When asked what makes someone stand out from a large pool of candidates, talent recruiter for WWF International, Laurence Najem said “The experience and background are definitely the basis. However, it is then the fit for the organisation and the team that will make the difference.”
Tip: Start your research with the employer’s website and social media but consider meeting with someone who is familiar with the organisation. This research also helps give you an idea of the company’s culture and so you can match your language in your letter.
To really stand out, rather than ‘parroting’ an organisation’s own words back at them, try finding a recent, relevant piece of news (e.g. a campaign, achievement, project, etc.) linked to the job and mention how it interested or excited you.
6.3 Include the key elements
Goal: Ensure your cover letter ticks all the necessary boxes.
Cover letters are personal documents that reflect our unique differences. While you have lots of flexibility, you should always include these elements:
1. Your name and contact details.
- Your full name, current address, email address, phone number, (LinkedIn profile).
- This section should match your CV to be cohesive and present your ‘brand’.
2. Date the cover letter was submitted (note the date format of the country you’re applying to).
3. Organisation’s name and contact details.
- Recipient’s full name (see below).
- His/her title and/or department.
- Organisation’s name and address.
4. Subject/reference line to indicate the position you’re applying for.
- “Re: Position name/number”, “Subject: Position name/number” or simply the name of the role.
5. Dear Mr/Ms/Mrs/Dr First name + Last Name.
This section is very flexible, but successful cover letters should include:
- An introductory paragraph – to hook the reader.
- Body – your key evidence.
- Concluding paragraph – your call to action.
- If you’re applying to a UK organisation, use “Yours sincerely” if you started with their name or “Yours faithfully” if you started with “Dear Sir/Madam”.
- If you’re applying to a non-UK organisation, use “Sincerely”, “Sincerely yours”, “With best regards”, “Best regards”, “Respectfully yours” or similar.
- Leave 3 lines of space (press Enter 4 times) and type your name.
- Insert your digital signature above your typed name.
6.4 Write your introductory paragraph – the Hook
Goal: Hook the reader so they read the rest of your cover letter.
This is your (only) chance to grab the recruiter’s attention instantly through evidence, originality, personality and motivation – while keeping it professional. Put your punchlines at the start!
You should include:
- Who you are, why you’re writing and what position you’re applying for (and how you heard about it).
- Your motivation.
- A brief summary of why you’re a good fit – a preview of what’s to come.
- A unique and memorable touch.
- A link to the organisation’s mission/vision or similar.
- Mentions of any connections with the organisation (e.g. experience or someone who referred you to the role).
Optional: consider using something unusual to grab attention – a specific accomplishment or point of interest (understanding company culture helps judge what is appropriate).
Tip: Always try to address your cover letter to a specific person. If you weren’t given this information in the job posting, contact the HR department or receptionist to ask if they can provide you with the name of the appropriate person. Only as a last resort, use “Dear [Name of organization/department/team]”, “Dear Sir or Madam”, “Dear Hiring Committee” or similar.
6.5 Write your body paragraphs
Goal: Demonstrate how you fit the role and what value you will bring.
- Go back to your best stories demonstrating the key experiences, skills and attributes that make you a great fit.
- Choose the top 3-4 stories that showcase your strongest, most relevant evidence against the employer’s criteria.
- Ensure these stories show specific problems you’ve solved. Even better, if you know a problem that needs solving, use your top stories to show how you can help solve it!
- Connect your past experience to what the employer does and needs. Show that you understand the industry, organisation and relevant issues.
Tip: At least 90% of your cover letter should focus on the employer’s needs and how you can benefit them. You can say what you hope to gain from the position (this shows you’ve thought about how the role fits your career goals), but what you can do for the employer is key.
Structure and style. You have flexibility here. You might:
- Focus the first paragraph on your suitability for the role and the second on what you can do for the employer.
- Pull out bullet points to highlight key achievements or skills you can bring.
- Identify three key themes within the job/criteria and structure a paragraph around each one (e.g. Communications, Project management, Research).
- Used bolded keywords/short phrases to highlight key skills/attributes from their criteria.
- Include hyperlink(s) to examples of work, like a portfolio (e.g. articles you’ve written).
6.6 Write your conclusion
Goal: Motivate the reader to read your CV/resume and request an interview. This is your call to action!
- Restate your interest in the position and your motivation.
- Cover any ‘extras’ required (e.g. driver’s license, citizenship, residency).
- Thank the organisation for their time.
- Politely ask for an interview.
6.7 Finalise formatting
Goal: Make it clean, sharp and professional.
- Aim for one page.
- Align text left (justified text can look messy or outdated).
- Use multiple, short paragraphs.
- Use the same style and font (at least size 11) as your CV to keep it cohesive.
- Keep it simple, elegant and clean, rather than cramming too much onto the page.
- Embolden keywords to make them stand out.
6.8 Write and edit like a communications pro
Goal: Show that you’re a skilled communicator.
Communications skills are valuable in every role so make sure your cover letter demonstrates that you can communicate effectively.
- You have limited real estate! Every single word should serve a purpose. If a word/phrase doesn’t contribute anything and can be removed without changing the meaning, remove it!
- Keep it professional. Present the ‘facts’ and skip phrase like ‘I feel’.
- Write confidently! Be honest and highlight – never downplay – your skills.
- Be excited, enthusiastic and genuine, never way over the top.
- Let your personality shine through your motivation and stories.
- Vary sentence structure and read out loud to check flow.
- Be the opposite of boring – help the reader to enjoy it.
Need cover letter inspiration? Check out Part 3 of ‘How to apply for a conservation job’ for three example cover letters in different styles.
You can also see an example of a cover letter that went from average to stand-out on page 53.
Or check out this article: How to write the perfect covering letter: ten top tips.
7. Edit everything brutally
Edit everything in your application to make it super simple, elegant and clean. Lose the fat. Be especially careful to:
- Avoid any duplication of evidence (with the exception of your hook).
- Check for any spelling and grammar mistakes. Read it backwards!
Ensure you say as little as possible to get your point across.
8. Get your friends and family to check it
Don’t be shy! If you’re serious about your application, share it with as many people as you can to get feedback and improve it. You should aim for at least three. Make sure you provide them with the job posting and key criteria so they can check your application against them.
Once you incorporate the feedback you like, re-check spelling, grammar and formatting; remove all comments and tracked changes; name your files sensibly and convert them to PDFs. Then check them again!
9. Submit it exactly according to their guidance
Always send your application in PDF format unless otherwise stated. This ensures that it can be opened and read – without being distorted – on any computer. If you’ve used live links, double check that they’re working before submitting your PDF.
10. Get feedback
After a reasonable time-frame (e.g. 2 weeks), it’s okay to reach out to the recruiter to check on the status of your application. Be polite and organised, but not pushy. This gives them a gentle nudge that you’re still there and shows that you’re really interested in the job.
That’s it! Don’t let your next dream job slip through your fingers. Follow these ten steps well to apply for a conservation job and recruiters won’t even consider putting your application in the bin.
Want more? Check out our detailed step-by-step guide ‘How to apply for a Conservation Job’ for:
- Exercises that walk you through each key step of crafting an application.
- Real examples of well-tailored job applications, including how they went from average to stand-out.
- Example CV/resume and cover letter layouts for ideas and inspiration to design your unique application.
- Example chronological, functional and hybrid CV/resumes so you can pick the format that’s best for you.
You can also check out these quick reads:
- Top ten CV mistakes to avoid at all costs – part one
- Top ten CV mistakes to avoid at all costs – part two
- Optimising your CV for a career in conservation
- Six things every potential recruit for WWF should know
- How to get a conservation job? Version 2.0
Need some help to secure your dream conservation job?
Knowing how to apply for a conservation job is a key part of being a professional conservationist. Unless you fully understand how to submit a successful application that stands out from the crowd, you won’t be able to be competitive in order to land your dream job and be happy and impactful in your career.
A big part of this also is understand yourself. What do you love doing? What are you great at? What are your biggest needs right now?
At Conservation Careers we’ve helped hundreds of people just like you to get clarity on your career options, to form an actionable plan of action, and to get secure your dream job.
If you need our help, we’re here for you.
Useful Links and Free Stuff
- You want to work in conservation but you’re feeling lost, disillusioned or confused?!? Check out our Kick-Starter training designed to help you understand the job market, to navigate your career options, and to get hired more quickly. It’s designed for students, graduates, job-seekers and career-switchers. We’re proud to say it also has 100% satisfaction and recommendation ratings. We know you’ll love it. Find out more about our Kick-Starter – Online Course.
- You need answers to top questions about working in conservation? Check out our free Ultimate Guides covering topics like the Top Conservation Skills, Top Conservation Internships | Paid or Free and Marine Conservation Jobs, and answering questions like How to Switch Careers into Conservation, Do I need a Master’s Degree? and much more! Or download our free guides to keep and read later!
- You feel ready to be applying for jobs in conservation? Check out our membership packages for job seekers which provide access to the world’s biggest conservation job board – with over 15,000 conservation jobs shared each year – plus a range of other benefits. Check out our monthly memberships here.
- You’re submitting applications, but failing to get many interviews? Check out our FREE eBook Conservation Jobs: The Step-by-Step System to Get Hired as a Wildlife Conservationist – available on Kindle, EPUB and PDF. We can also review your applications, and provide 1:1 advice on how to improve them. Check out our application support here.
- You’ve got an interview (well done!) and would like our help to prepare for it? We know what employers want, and have helped many people prepare for and deliver successful interviews. Check out our interview preparation here.
- You’re feeling stuck, struggling with a career decision or something’s holding you back from pursuing the career of your dreams? Our 1:1 career coaching can help you gain clarity about your next steps and form a plan of action. Check out our career coaching here.