Interested in a career in wildlife? As you likely know, it’s a competitive field! Use these tips and tricks to make yourself stand out from the crowd:
- The idea of hiring someone who appears not to have stepped foot outside is a bit daunting. If you don’t have outdoor experience, get some! Volunteer for a field project, go on a hike, get involved with a local wildlife group. Although professional experience goes a long way, personal experience can be just as important as it shows interest and aptitude.
- If you’re applying for field work in the desert, and you grew up hiking in the desert, make sure that’s clear in your resume. Area specific experience and knowledge can be important for various reasons.
- Be confident, but not cocky. You are not an expert. Even if you are an expert.
- Once you have an internship, take advantage of your time to learn from biologists. Wildlife projects, the inner-workings of the organization, and professionals’ work history are all much better topics to discuss on a 3-hour drive than the most recent episode of American Idol, or your hair care regimen.
- If you want to stand out, learn how to harness tech that’s widely available to conduct or improve for wildlife work. Master Excel formulas and experiment with coding; build an iNaturalist project targeting a specific wildlife question; learn your way around Google Earth and ArcGIS Online.
- Be early, not late. Don’t be the person always looking at their watch and seeming like you’d rather be somewhere else. Instead, be the person who is always looking for more ways to help. Volunteer for the menial tasks, and you’ll end up on the short list for the cool ones.
- Socialize with professionals at events. Just don’t get tanked or be a jerk. Those things aren’t forgotten.
- Don’t submit a resume with track changes on it. Always, always, always proofread!
- The days of the good ol’ boys are gone. If you say or do something that can be used in a training video of how not to behave at work, you won’t be around long.
- Lots of different volunteer experience is great to have and builds a resume quickly, but repeated volunteering for the same project can show a commitment and carries a higher probability of professionals remembering your work.
- Be prepared when you show up for volunteer opportunities. Pay attention to information the volunteer leader provides beforehand. For example, flip-flops are rarely the right footwear for field work, and water is a necessity no matter what you do (if the leader doesn’t say it’s provided, bring some). If you have any doubt about what is appropriate for the event, it’s better to ask questions than to guess wrong.
- Take the opportunities around a campfire or other field settings to get to know the biologists with whom you’re working. We’re just as vain as the average person off the street and it doesn’t take much to get us to talk about how we got there. By the time I get past 5 tangents, I’ll have spent 20 minutes telling you how I landed my first wildlife job (spoiler: AGFD was desperate).
- Don’t put your picture on your resume. These days hiring supervisors are probably checking your Facebook account anyhow.
- Don’t bail on scheduled activities without ample notice/coordination with your supervisor or a legitimate emergency
- Be eager to learn new skills and help on other projects. Internships are a huge opportunity to learn.
- Ask questions when you need clarification, take ownership when you can.
- Become proficient or even an expert in something (a field skill, a data management technique, etc.)
Show up for an interview in person if you can; over the phone is acceptable for out-of-state entry-level positions and typically for other city internships. And being in the field is a totally acceptable reason for not being able to make an interview in person.