Good Oak News

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Eleven Tips for Getting a Job in Natural Resources, from the Perspective of an Employer

      With graduation coming up soon, and the summer work season looming, I thought I'd share some advice for finding jobs and making a career in conservation. The advice ranges from the basic mechanics of applying for a job (which most people are not very good at) to to general self-improvement. I hope I'm not too blunt!

      Getting a job in the natural resources field isn’t easy. There really aren’t many jobs, and there are a lot of us that are drawn to this kind of work. On the other side of the coin, employers like myself actually have a hard time finding well-qualified candidates to fill our position. A lot of people want to work in this field, but few have the necessary skills and experience, and most aren’t very good at presenting themselves for these position. And so, for your benefit, mine, and the benefit of the future of the planet as a whole, here are my tips for applying for a job, and developing yourself as a professional.

1) Don’t apply for jobs you’re not qualified for. 

I get a lot of people who just graduated for college applying for manager positions, even though it says on the application that we require a minimum of 3 years of experience. Or people with forestry backgrounds applying for a landscaper position. This is a waste of my time, and yours, and it does not reflect well on you. If you want to get on our radar, but don’t see a position that fits you, then just send a general job inquiry with your resume. If we like what we see, we’ll be in touch.

2) Follow the instructions on the job announcement. 

We have simple instructions for job applicants: submit your resume and cover letter in PDF format. We end up getting every file type from .doc, to .rtf, I’d say less than 1 in 4 are .pdf files as we request. The fact that you send me the wrong file type says one of two things about you: A) you don’t have basic competency with a computer and can’t create a PDF file or B) You didn’t read the job announcement carefully and follow instructions. Neither looks good.

3) Put your resume and cover letter in PDF format. 

The reason we have the above mentioned instruction is two-fold: First, it’s much easier to just deal with one file format that can be opened and view on any device. Second, it’s really easy for someone to alter a text file. Do you really think it’s a good idea to be sending your resume out into the world in an easily manipulated file type?

4) The filename for your resume and cover letter should include your name. 

I get a lot of cover letters with the document named something like “good_oak_cover_letter.doc”. Seeing as I work at Good Oak, I already know that you’re submitting your cover letter to Good Oak. What I don’t know, without opening the file anyway, is who you are or what position you are applying for. Think about the perspective of the person receiving your information. What do they need to know about you? What will make it easiest for them to view and organize your information? Using your name in the file name for your resume and cover letter make it easier for me to hire you.

5) Make yourself stand out. 

Thinking about the perspective of the person reading your application is a good rule for the content of your resume and cover letter too. It needs to be easy for me to glean relevant information from your documents. Since I may be reading dozens of similar applications, they all may end up blurring together after a while. So make yourself stand out. I still remember when Tim included in his resume that he was on his college football team. As we were going through the application process, we thought of him as “the football player”. We remembered who he was and were able to identify him as an individual whereas other applicants were perhaps not as clear in our minds. What is special about you that you want us to remember you for? It could be anything, the woman who worked at The Nature Conservancy, or the guy who plays ultimate frisbee. Give us something to hang onto, preferably something that is relevant to the job you’re applying for, but barring that, anything interesting about you will do.

6) Your college degree doesn’t really do anything for you. 

This is a tip for recent college graduates. You’re schooling, while a good foundation for the knowledge and skills you will need for a successful career in natural resources, does not, in itself, mean you’re a qualified candidate. In Wisconsin, thousands of people graduate with degrees in ecology, forestry, natural resources, wildlife biology, etc. every year, and apply for the few hundreds of jobs available. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are knowledgeable in this really broad, really complicated field. Don’t wait until after you graduate to develop actual experience in the field.
    What about graduate school? An M.S. on your resume certainly opens doors, and in my experience seems to impress upon the average person that I must know what I’m talking about. It does show you're a intelligent, hard-working, capable person able to take on a challenging project and stay committed to see it thorough. But if its just more schooling for the sake of schooling, it may not make you qualified for any jobs, aside from research, of course. Is your research relevant to the job you are applying for? Experience trumps education.

7) Get experience in the field, an internship, or anything

Getting a good, permanent job in this field is hard. But getting an internship or basic entry-level job is not. If you can’t get the coveted Audubon Society summer internship, a job mowing lawns and planting trees for your local parks department at least gives you experience operating small equipment, working outside. Go from seasonal job to seasonal job for a while if you have to, eventually you’ll build the experience, and connections, to land a full-time position.

8) Volunteer. 

I view someone with volunteer experience as much more valuable than someone with an equivalent amount of job experience. First, this shows you are passionate enough about this work that you’re willing to do it in your free time, because its what you want to do. Second, most of the volunteer groups around here are run by our regions leading experts in ecology, prairies, botany, weed management, etc. So by volunteering, you get to work with these experts and learn from them. You’ll make great career connections, and it doesn’t hurt to have some of the region's leading experts on your list of references.

9) Invest in your own training. 

People with wildland fire S130/190 training, a pesticide applicators license, chainsaw training, etc, go right to the top of my list of applicants for any job. I don’t need to spend time and money training you, and I know you can get to work right away. This shows you have either experience, forethought or both. People who know how to operate skid loaders, tractors, ATV’s, GIS applications, or know how to repair small engines, or have advanced botanical training, etc. are especially valuable at any level of an organization.

10) Be passionate. 

Spend time outside in natural areas. Learn plants, learn birds, learn soils, learn whatever sparks your interest. Go to conferences. Read books, read articles, read classic environmental literature (Pro Tip: if you don’t know where the name of my company came from, you probably shouldn't be applying here.) Study off the internet. Get involved in environmental groups. Your time is limited, use it wisely. Through all this you will learn more, become more confident in the importance of your work, and I hope, share your passion with others. When meeting job applicants, its pretty obvious who is passionate and who isn’t.

11) Don’t give up. 

Looking for fulfilling work is hard. It can be demoralizing. If you're really passionate about this work, if you really think this is the best way you can make a positive contribution to this world, don’t give up. You may need to apply for dozens of jobs and/or move from one low-paying, limited term job to another for a couple years. Keep pushing forward. Incorporate hard work, study and networking with the tips above and you’ll get the job you want eventually. Its worth it.