Education alone will not land you your conservation dream job. Hands-on experience, solid training, and knowing the right people are valuable assets. Of course, persistence, patience, and hard work are equally important. Follow this practical advice to jump-start your career.
Update your resume
The first step to gaining relevant work experience is to take a good look at your resume. Be sure it clearly reflects your interests, skills, and career objectives. At least two people should proofread your resume. Although personal contact with employers is always more effective, your resume provides a written snapshot of what you offer. Use it to sell yourself. It should be clear, concise, and specifically tailored to the job you want. When you've found a specific job to apply for, consider creating a table illustrating concrete examples of experience you have for each skill the employer is seeking in the ideal candidate. As you gain experience, consistently update your resume – you never know when you'll have an opportunity to put your resume in a decision maker's hands.
Network, network, network!
The old adage "it's not what you know, it's who you know" can be a frustrating reality. However, developing a good network of contacts can be easier than you think. Stay in touch with professors, students, and career counselors from your college and grad school days – they often provide great leads. University alumni offices can usually connect you with other grads who may already be working in the field of your choice. Contacts made during internships, volunteer jobs, and work-study programs are also highly valuable.
You may need to put the phone down and actually go to events such as trade shows, conferences, or seminars to meet environmental professionals face-to-face. You can find out about these events by checking industry websites or by subscribing to trade publications. Lastly, don't overlook friends, family members, and neighbors – you never know who might be in their networks.
Be an intern
Internships, short-term work experiences in a field or office environment, are the number one way to get real-world experience and valuable networking opportunities that can't be obtained in the classroom. An internship might also be known as a work-study program, a co-op work experience, or an independent study. The more internships under your belt, the more marketable and desirable you become to potential employers. It is your responsibility to research and find the right learning opportunities and then apply and interview. Many government and not-for-profit conservation organization internships are highly competitive – even ones that don't pay – so it is important to begin the research and application process well in advance of the internship's application deadline.
If internship hours are inconvenient due to work or family commitments, volunteering evenings, weekends, and holidays can reap similar benefits. Volunteerism is a great way to sharpen skills, learn more about an industry, and meet influential contacts that can help you reach career goals. Many government agencies and environmental organizations rely heavily on volunteers to maintain routine operations.
Choose the organization or agency you're interested in and conduct research to find out which volunteer opportunities are available. When applying, be very clear about the hours you can give and the type of work desired so that your experience is maximized. Once you begin work, meet regularly with as many professionals as possible to learn about their job duties and typical days. Keep your eyes open for part- and full-time openings.
Join a professional society
There are dozens of societies and organizations that unite professionals in a particular field, such as the American Society of Landscape Architects or the Association of Conservation Engineers. For an annual fee, members receive newsletters and publications, access to job openings, updates about conferences and seminars, and invitations to attend local chapter meetings. Professional society memberships provide excellent networking opportunities and a simple way to stay current with industry news and trends.
Subscribe to key industry publications
Newsletters, journals, and magazines, such as Earth Week, can really pay off during a job search. Not only are they loaded with news, career advice, and industry trends, but they also feature listings of current job openings around the country. Find out which publications are considered the best in your field of conservation and subscribe.
In addition to education, training, and work experience, some environmental professions also require certification. For example, arborists and educators can both require certificates before you begin work. Getting certified basically means that you complete formal training and pass a standard industry test. Check with industry professionals or career counselors or do some research to find out requirements for working in your prospective field.