10 Tips for Finding a Job in Conservation

There’s a lot I love about my job at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). Working on endangered species, landscape planning and protecting some of Canada’s most important habitats is not a bad way to spend the day.

I also like sharing our work, especially with students who are pursuing a career in conservation. Whenever I give lectures, I always get great questions from students like, “How do you measure conservation success?” But I know this is all a preamble for the question that they all have: “How do I get a job in conservation?”

So, here are the key skills you can develop and the tips to make your resume stand out when you’re applying for NCC’s Conservation Internship Program or other jobs in conservation.

Volunteer measures tree root collar diameter with calliper. (Photo by NCC)

Volunteer measures tree root collar diameter with calliper. (Photo by NCC)

1. The value of volunteering

Sometimes it helps to work for free before you work for money. Volunteering with a conservation organization can add few lines of real-world experience to your resume, and lets you learn more about their conservation work. It shows you are ambitious and a self-starter. It’s also a great opportunity to build your network and meet with practitioners so you can learn about their jobs.

2. Be good at project management

It’s critical to demonstrate you are effective at managing your time, meeting deadlines and dealing with multiple requests. Experience in team work and developing budgets is also an asset. There are many training programs out there on project management. I know, you want to be an ecologist and not a project manager, but remember that good project management skills will help you to do better conservation.

Social media networks (Illustration by Wilgengebroed, Wikimedia Commons)

Social media networks (Illustration by Wilgengebroed, Wikimedia Commons)

3. Your network is key

Start building you professional relationships now. Follow conservation organizations on social media to learn about their projects and culture. Personal connections sparked at professional association events or conferences are better.

4. Understand how the system works

To solve our current biodiversity crisis we need to make sure that good science gets integrated into supportive policies. It’s important to understand the frameworks for government decision making at the federal, provincial and municipal level, and the key role of Indigenous peoples in conservation. Learn about environmental policies and regulations, and be able to link them to your work and interests.

Conservation Volunteer Kali planting marram grass plugs (Photo by Sean Landsman)

Conservation Volunteer Kali planting marram grass plugs (Photo by Sean Landsman)

5. Be ready for big and emerging conservation issues

Align your studies with real-world conservation needs and issues. Fortunately, there are lots of pressing research questions in conservation, such as species recovery, climate change, invasive species, restoration ecology and sustainable land and water use. Check the websites of places you want to work before you start your academic project and align it to their needs.

6. Have some field skills

Cataloguing biodiversity on NCC properties is an important aspect of monitoring ecosystem health and alterations. Here, Mitchell MacMillan takes a photo of a plant to ID and record during an assessment on Holman's Island, PEI (Photo by Sean Landsman).

Cataloguing biodiversity on NCC properties is an important aspect of monitoring ecosystem health and alterations. Here, Mitchell MacMillan takes a photo of a plant to ID and record during an assessment on Holman’s Island, PEI (Photo by Sean Landsman).

It’s so important that you know the species and habitats that you want to conserve. The best way to learn new field skills is to be in the field with people that are smarter than you, such as hiking with local naturalist clubs.

There are many new apps that can also help you identify and learn about species. Make sure iNaturalist and eBird are on your phone and that you use them. Look for courses such as rangeland health assessment and ecological land classification. Many jobs in conservation require licences and certification, such as chainsaw and boater safety licences, first aid and pesticide application training.

7. Know how to communicate your work

Being able to communicate your work and share your passion is critical to build awareness and support for conservation. Take every opportunity you can to tell people about your thesis or project and why you believe it’s important.

Find sites where you can post a blog, such as NCC’s Land Lines. Tweet about it. Join Toastmasters. Lead a hike. Make sure you can tell it to your science colleagues, but most importantly, make sure you can tell it to your grandma. Learn to communicate clearly and without jargon. It’s not dumbing it down it’s communicating smarter because more people will understand your message and be inspired.

8. Learn to listen and link your work to people

You can’t be a good communicator if you aren’t a good listener. You especially need to listen to people outside of your regular circles. This might include farmers, business people, hunters or politicians. No matter how far apart you are in opinion, there is always some shared common ground. People may not care about measuring groundwater discharge rates in wetlands or the dispersal distance of bumble bees, but they might care about drinking water and pollination.

9. Learn to fundraise

The truth is, without funding there’s no conservation. Be able to communicate what your project is and why it should be funded. Almost all career trajectories in conservation will get you to a point where you need to help fundraise.

When applying for any job in conservation, it’s good to show that you have raised money and have reported on how it was spent. This could be a scholarship or a grant for a community project. It’s also helpful to know what some of the key funding sources are from government, foundations and corporations for conservation.

10. Don’t blow the interview

You were picked out of potentially hundreds of applications because, in addition to your great education, your resume highlighted how you’ve communicated your work, joined a local naturalist club to bolster your species identification skills and met one of the interviewers at a conference. Share what you’ve learned at past jobs, and link those experiences to the skills you can bring to the job.

Interviewers also want to get a sense of what you’d be like to work with. Be professional, but relax! Demonstrate how your skills make you qualified, show that you know something about the organization, ask questions, but it’s also important to show your personality and let the interviewers get to know you.

This post was written by Dan Kraus and originally appeared on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s blog, Land Lines.

Post photo: NCC staff at a Conservation Volunteers event at Barr Property, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

74 comments

Marie W
Marie W3 months ago

Thank you very much.

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Megan S
Megan S7 months ago

practical experience is key

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Megan S
Megan S7 months ago

thanks for the tips

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Anne F
Anne F8 months ago

Great advice: make sure you get certifications, develop skills, work with others

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie8 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie8 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie8 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O8 months ago

learn as you do

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O8 months ago

th

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Danii P
Past Member 8 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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