How NOT to get a job in Conservation

Recently I have been helping a friend go through job applications for some seasonal survey work this summer. Having previously been in charge of recruitment when I used to work in IT, it came as a shock to me at how poor some of the application forms were.  In a limited job market and a very competitive sector such as conservation, applicants need to give themselves the best chance possible of getting to the interview stage. Here are a few of the common mistakes to avoid.


  1. Spell Check

This is such a fundamental for any job application, yet it is amazing how many people seem to either forget or not bother to do it. If you are using MS Word it even underlines words that are spelt incorrectly so there really is no excuse. When you are applying for jobs that require attention to detail and careful observation (such as surveying jobs) then sending in an application contains errors may make the recruiter think you are sloppy and careless. If you rubbish at spelling, get someone else to look through it.


  1. Proof-read

You wouldn’t believe some of the errors I have seen in applications.  For example, one applicant assured me they were “a committed conversationist”, which would be great if I was looking for someone to have a chat with, but I’d much prefer them to be a conservationist! Again, get someone else to proof-read your application if possible.


  1. Passion

Out of the last fifty applications I have read, forty-eight of them have told me they are passionate about conservation or wildlife.  This is all well and good but if you then don’t demonstrate this on your application, they are just empty words. Do you volunteer for a wildlife organisation, do you have a wildlife-related hobby like bird-watching or maybe you raise money for the local hedgehog hospital? All of the above would highlight a level of passion and/or commitment. If you graduated several years ago and have done nothing since that demonstrates your passion, perhaps you aren’t as passionate as you thought?


  1. Read and answer the questions carefully

Another fundamental of the application form. Recruiters set questions in different formats to see if you are paying attention. For example, if you are asked to “List three things” then they expect just that, a list of three things, not an essay where they have to pick out the key points. Similarly, if a question asks what you will bring to the company, don’t answer it by telling them what the company can do for you!


  1. Firing Blanks

Sometimes you may think you don’t have a good answer for a question, this doesn’t mean you should leave it completely blank or just write “N/A”. Try to think of a different way of answering it, look to your personal life for transferable skills that may be relevant or explain how you might do something to enable you to give a better answer in future.  My favourite example “Can you describe a situation where you worked in a team?” which was answered with a succinct and honest (but sadly unhelpful) “No”.


Some of the above is slightly tongue-in-cheek and some of the examples have been changed slightly to protect the guilty. Hopefully it may help someone who has recently graduated and is looking to get into the conservation sector and I am sure others will have advice they could post below. Even if you get all of these things right, it doesn’t guarantee you an interview but it may help you not go in the bin prematurely.

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Andrew Whitelee
Conservationist, lecturer, field ecologist and birder. Organiser of the Norfolk Sponsored Bird Race.
Andrew Whitelee

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