Have you always had a passion for wildlife and want to work in nature conservation, but don’t know where to start? You might be working in a totally unrelated field right now, and need some clarity on what’s needed to switch careers into conservation.
We’re here to help you understand the conservation job landscape, and where you might fit in – especially with all your lovely transferrable skills – and to help you form a plan of action to make your dream career a reality.
“People who want to work in wildlife and environmental sustainability don’t need necessarily to be biologists and natural scientists. That is the big difference from just twenty years ago” said WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini. “Today a diversity of competences is needed to achieve sustainability in the environmental arena, and in wildlife conservation the reality is so much more complex and interdependent.”
In this detailed guide we answer the top ten questions we get asked at Conservation Careers by career switchers. We also share the advice from some of the key figures in the industry, and provide links at the end of the piece to our free resources and ways to get support in your career journey. If you want to switch careers into conservation, you’re in the right place!
Table of Contents
What skills are conservation employers looking for?
“I feel that the key skills that we need are completely outside of the conservation community. They are in the private sector”, said Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International. “I love the fact that I actually now have 3 top people in my corporate team that come from private companies and have a completely different mentality on how to push us forward”.
As a career switcher, you have a distinct advantage over graduates and early-career job seekers. Your career to date.
Through your career you’ll have accumulated lots of skills and knowledge which may be transferred into conservation, and are sought-after by conservation employers.
For example, here is a list of transferrable skills valued by employers:
- Verbal communication – Expressing ideas clearly and confidently in speech.
- Teamwork – Working confidently within a group.
- Commercial awareness – Understanding the commercial realities affecting an organisation.
- Analysing & investigating – Gathering information systematically to establish facts & principles. Problem solving.
- Initiative/self-motivation – Acting on initiative, identifying opportunities & proactively putting forward ideas and solutions.
- Drive – Determination to get things done. Making things happen & constantly looking for better ways of doing things.
- Written communication – Expressing yourself clearly in writing.
- Planning & organising – Planning activities & carrying them through effectively. Being able to manage projects effectively.
- Flexibility – Adapting successfully to changing situations & environments.
- Time management – Managing time effectively, prioritising tasks and working to deadlines.
Chances are your work and experiences to date provide lots of evidence to potential employers that you have what they are looking for in terms of transferrable skills, to help you switch careers into conservation.
Check out our Ultimate Guides Top Conservation Skills and Switching careers into conservation | A snapshot of jobs to learn about the top conservation skills employers want, and why career switcher skills are often in demand.
In addition to these softer skills, conservation employers will often be seeking knowledge, skills and experiences related to each specific role.
For instance, if you’d like to work in Countryside Management and work as a Warden or Ranger, then you’d need to demonstrate a knowledge of relevant species identification and often hold specific licences (e.g. chainsaw, nap-sack spraying, etc).
Understanding which role is right for you to target – and will provide a rewarding, challenging and fulfilling career – is a vital step in order to understand what training or additional knowledge you may need to acquire in order to become employable.
Do I need a master’s to switch careers into conservation?
The requirements for each role varies, so having a clear target job will help to understand if you need a master’s.
Employers tell you what they require in their job descriptions, so get clear on your target job and study entry-level job descriptions to see if you have what’s needed in terms of education, skills and experiences.
That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that conservationists are a clever bunch.
In a survey undertaken by Conservation Careers, when asked what their highest ranking qualification is, survey respondents stated:
- Doctorate 19%
- Postgraduate 42%
- Undergraduate 34%
- School level 6%
So 61% of conservation professionals have a master’s degree or higher.
Attaining a master’s degree takes time and money, but it does make you more employable in the sector and also helps to build your knowledge of the industry.
What jobs are there in conservation for career switchers?
The industry is likely to be much bigger than you might imagine when seeking to switch careers into conservation.
It’s a professional industry offering a dizzying array of conservation job types for job seekers. On Conservation Careers we’ve listed over 33,000 conservation jobs which cover over 15,000 different job titles…
When finding your niche is so important to becoming competitive – and enjoying your career – a good starting point is to check out our ‘15 Key Conservation Jobs | Ultimate Guide for Conservation Job Seekers’. This ultimate guide to conservation jobs covers the 15 key conservation job types to kick-start your career journey. Download this uber-guide here which will walk you through the key roles in order to help you to understand where you might fit in.
What are the different types of conservation employers?
There are five main employer types in the conservation industry, as follows:
- Academic – Higher education establishments awarding academic degrees and research-focussed organisations. An example would be The University of Cambridge.
- Charity – Social activity undertaken by organisations that are not-for-profit and non-governmental. These are the largest employer type by far. An example would be WWF.
- Business – Part of the economy made up by companies which are profit-driven. An example would be Thompson Ecology who specialise in ecological consultancy.
- Public – Part of an economy that is controlled by the Government. An example would be the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
- Social Enterprise – An organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximise improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits. An example would be Conservation Careers.
There are some key differences between the five employer types, as follows:
- Pay – How well does the sector pay? The highest paying is the business sector.
- Security – How secure are the jobs? The most secure jobs are the academic and public sectors.
- Job Diversity – How many different types of roles are there? The greatest diversity of jobs are found in the charity and enterprise sectors.
- Career Path – Is there a career ladder to progress up? The clearer career paths are found in the academic and public sectors.
- Dynamism – Does they respond quickly to opportunities? The most dynamic employers are the social enterprise and business sectors.
- Flexibility – Do they provide flexi-time, home-working, etc.? The most flexible employers tend to be the academic, public and social enterprise sectors.
Understanding what is most important to you will help you to find the right employer to suit your current needs.
Which conservation job is right for me?
If you’re switching careers into conservation, you’re probably looking to follow your passion, have career impact and enjoy happiness. A role which will enable to you be super competitive, motivated and happy in your career. But where to start?
“My advice would be, to think about if you want work within the environmental sphere, choose a stream of work and a discipline that could contribute to it but that also reflects your passion. It doesn’t have to be necessarily a technical, biological science”, said WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini.
At Conservation Careers we encourage people to start with themselves. We go through a process of self-reflection to identify what makes us happy, what we’re great at doing, what our day-to-day needs are, and much more. To create a ‘career compass’ which provides direction and clarity.
We then need a really clear view of all the employment options, to explore and identify which conservation job(s) could provide your Ikigai. This step is so important and needs to be done well.
“Figure out what skillsets you already have that are unique, and the things that you are interested in, curious about and passionate about, that are not conservation, that you can bring with you to the sector”, said Cheli Cresswell Sinclair, Director of Conservation Optimism and career switcher from Disney.
“Because some people, when they are looking to make a career change, want to get out in the field doing safaris and all of the, you know, trekking through the wilderness, which is amazing and I’m super jealous of those people. We can’t all be those people and the skills that you have built up in a different career track actually have a lot of valuable currency within conservation … I think that it’s really important for people that are looking to make a change into conservation, before they completely throw the baby out with the bathwater, [to] have a look at what they’ve built up to this point in their careers and think, how could the skills that I currently have be used to further benefit conservation?”
The conservation sector is vast, dynamic and growing all the time. It’s easy to become totally bewildered and lost!
In our Kick-starter online course, we break down the sector into five conservation employer types and 15 conservation job types. We outline their pros and cons, the duties, entry-level requirements and much more. We also go through a series of practical tasks, all with the goal of helping you to clarify your target conservation job. If our course isn’t currently open, you can save a place and be notified when it next opens it’s doors.
Do I need to start again?
You might not be willing to start your career again – rather use your transferable skills to enter the conservation sector at a mid or senior level. Is this possible? Yes.
In order to do so, you’ll need to find a role and employer where you can use your experience and expertise to date within a conservation context.
For example, if you’ve been working in marketing for Virgin Media then a good option for you might be to look for mid-career marketing roles within a conservation charity. You’ll take a pay cut, but it might help to align your career expertise with your passion, and stop you from starting again.
“Don’t be shy!” said Dominic Jermey OBE who worked as a senior British diplomat for over 20 years in countries such as East Timor and the United Arab Emirates, ultimately serving as British ambassador to Afghanistan. From there he switched careers and moved into wildlife conservation as the Director General of the Zoological Society of London.
“As I looked at ZSL from afar and thought, gosh that Director General job looks really interesting and that would really speak to my values and perhaps I could bring something to it, I was a little held back a bit by thinking, Ah but they wouldn’t want anybody who didn’t have a professional conservation background for that. And then actually I looked at what was relevant, what the organisation was looking to do and to had some conversations with the people involved and decided, you know what? I could really add value here”.
“And I think for anybody who has an interest in conservation and knows they have particular skills that they can offer, it is always worth having that conservation. Don’t hold back, don’t self-censor, would be my advice and I’m really glad I didn’t”.
How much can I earn as a conservationist?
You don’t work in conservation to get rich, and if you’re currently working in the private sector you’ll likely take a significant pay cut to work in conservation.
That said, you won’t be on the bread-line either, and you’ll be working in a rewarding career – knowing your time is being well spent protecting species, habitats and sites that need your help and that you care about.
However, if money is a constraint, some conservation jobs do pay more than others. Within the various conservation jobs types, roles which can attract a higher wage are Ecotourism, Ecological Consultancy, Environmental Economics and Fundraising & Development. Working in the private sector is also likely to attract the larger salaries, and in the charity sector the lowest.
In the middle-paying band of the conservation job market are roles such as Communications & Marketing, Community-based Conservation, Mapping & GIS, Marine Conservation, Photography & Film-making, Policy & Advocacy, Programme & Project Management and Science & Research.
Finally, at the lower end of the salary spectrum are conservation roles such as Animal Welfare, Countryside Management, Wardens & Rangers, and Environmental Education.
Can I switch careers into conservation after an employment gap?
In short, yes.
So long as you have a demonstrable passion for wildlife conservation, and the right skills and experiences for target role, then you have what’s needed to find work.
When applying for jobs and preparing for interviews, it’s good to position your career gap in the most positive light.
For example, what things did you do during your time which may be of relevance or interest to the employer? Don’t forget your transferrable skills. You’re likely to have been doing things which have made you more employable for your chosen role, but you might have to dig deep and be creative to identify them!
Check out our guide ‘How to apply for a conservation job‘ for a step-by-step system and tips to present your experience and skills in the best possible light.
Do I need to do some volunteering or internships?
Volunteering or interning are great ways to get hands-on experience of your target job. They provide evidence to employers that you can do specific jobs, and help you to build your network within the industry. They also clearly display your commitment to the cause.
However, they do come at a price in terms of time and money.
We recommend that you use volunteering and internships as a great way to test drive different roles in order to identify which one suits you best, as part of your career exploration.
Once you have your target job clearly identified, you can then more easily identify any employability gaps you might have (in terms of skills, experiences or knowledge specific to the role) and then see if volunteering or interning may provide you the best way to fill your gaps.
We can walk you through this process as part of our Kick-Starter – Online Course.
Where can I get help to switch careers into conservation?
At Conservation Careers we’ve helped lots of people make the switch to a more meaningful career protecting nature. To help you navigate your options, please select which best describes you:
- 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 and Kick-Starter – UK Workshop.
- You need answers to top questions about working in conservation? Check out our free Ultimate Guides covering topics like the 15 Key Conservation Job Types and Switching careers into conservation | A snapshot of jobs, and answering questions like Do I need a Master’s Degree? and much more! Download your free copy here.
- 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 10,000 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 guide 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 (and we don’t cost the earth). 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 feel stuck, are struggling with a difficult career decision, or need some clarity about your next steps? We can help you form a clear plan of action so you can feel confident and take the next steps to make your dream career a reality. Check out our 1:1 career coaching here.