I am often asked how do you get started in ecology and how do I stand out from the crowd. I have worked in ecological consultancy and in academia so I have seen the graduate ecology market from both sides. Hopefully, you will find a few of my tips and suggestions helpful and it will help you land your first ecology role.
OK, so you are taking a Batchelors degree within the conservation and ecology sector, which is a great start. But is that enough? It does seem that a lot of employers are looking for more from potential candidates in the current job market and having a Masters is starting to look like the baseline position. However, my personal feeling is that completing a Masters is going to add at least £10,000 to your study debts which may not be offset by your future earnings straight away. If you are looking to go into conservation research roles then having a Masters is fairly standard, if not essential, but if you are wanting a graduate ecology role then I’d say a Masters is a nice to have. If you have your heart set on a Masters then consider taking one in a related but complimentary field such as GIS or Environmental Planning to broaden your skill set. Or think of doing one part-time at a later date whilst you are working and have more experience to build on.
Top Tip: Follow the rest of the tips in this article as a cheaper alternative to helping you stand out from the graduate crowd without the expense of taking a Masters degree.
You want a job but don’t have the experience, but you can’t get the experience without a job. This is an age old chicken and egg problem faced by graduates but there is a solution to the issue.
Volunteering within the conservation sector is a recognised way of getting experience an d has several benefits. Firstly, by volunteering during your degree you are building your experience and adding to your portfolio, Secondly, you are helping cash-strapped conservation organisations carry out essential and vital work. And thirdly, if you are unsure which part of the sector you want to work in, volunteering gives you a try before you buy way of finding out what suits you.
Organisations such as wildlife trusts and NGOs are always looking for volunteers so check out their websites to see what is available.
Top Tip: If you already know what organisation you’d like to work for when you graduate (e.g. the RSPB) then try and find volunteering opportunities with them, that way you are gaining experience and also making yourself known within the organisation.
3. Create a LinkedIn Profile
Every graduate should have a LinkedIn profile. It is a great way to gain access to jobs, recruiters and companies and to build your online brand and portfolio.
Top Tip: For more information about creating a LinkedIn profile, check out my article here.
If you are looking to work as an ECoW then you need to hold a CSCS card or similar. Although some employers will help you get one of these, if you have one when you are applying for jobs then you will stand out. On a similar note, having a valid First Aid Certificate is a good box to tick.
Top Tip: Getting a CSCS card is easier once you are a member of a professional group (see item 7).
5. Protected Species Licences
Obtaining a protected species licence can really help you stand out from the crowd. If you are interesting in birds then considering undertaking volunteer surveys for the BTO, which would help build your experience and help you get the references you need for a Schedule 1 Bird Survey application. If you are into bats then think about volunteering with your local bat group to gain experience, likewise with newts try your local herptology society.
Top Tip: A lot of organisations will be happy to help you with your training, but make sure you give something back. All too often I hear of a local bat group getting volunteers, helping and mentoring them and then when they get a licence they ditch them never to be seen again. Don’t do this, its just not cool.
6. Driving Licence
So many ecology jobs require you to have a driving licence. As much as we’d like to be able to ditch the car and use public transport, unfortunately it just doesn’t seem possible in ecology as many of the locations you are working will be remote and far from public transport routes. Getting a driving licence may not help you stand out, but not having one will put you at a disadvantage.
Top Tip: Once you have a driving licence, consider taking a 4×4 driving course to add something extra to your CV.
Being a member of a professional body such as CIEEM, IEMA, Institute of Environmental Science or Association of Environmental Clerk of Works shows you are serious about your career and the professional code of conduct associated with it. Getting membership isn’t always easier and may require you to find a sponsor who will sign off your application and vouch for your skills. The most simple way into each organisation is through their graduate membership option, you can then work your way through the ranks using CPD and other work-based learning options.
Top Tip: Ask around your contact group and see what professional memberships they have. Getting the inside line from someone who can then second your application will make the process easier.
Trying to break into the ecology and conservation sector can be tough as a graduate but there are several ways you can enhance your CV and make your job application stand out from the crowd. Getting certifications and memberships, gaining experience through volunteering and enhancing your portfolio with additional skills such as 4×4 driving or first aid will all help to get your foot in the door. Remember that your first job doesn’t need to be your dream job, look at it as a stepping stone to greater things in the future.