As I write this article, the Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing, with restrictions starting to slowly lift.

Over the past 18 months or so, gaining any kind of work experience has been close to impossible. Even before the pandemic struck, work experience was difficult to get hold of. In an industry such as conservation where experience is so essential to successful job applications, times have been tough. I completed my MSc in Zoo Conservation Biology at probably one of the worst possible times, just before the first national lockdown. I felt like I was at a standstill, and couldn’t move forward with achieving my dream career. Even now, as things start to get back to normal, it is still uncertain as to whether taking on volunteers is safe, especially if they will be working indoors.

If you are feeling frustrated and eager to gain more experience to push forward your conservation career - this blog post is for you. I’m going to take you through the steps I used to create my own work experience, leading to my first paid job in the sector - and explain how you can do the same.

#1 Start social media accounts specifically to network with people in your industry

I started my Instagram account @adayinthewildlifesoph to share my wildlife photography and knowledge of conservation. I follow many other conservation related accounts in order to learn from them. This is probably the biggest game changer I have experienced in terms of opening up opportunities.

Having an Instagram feed separate from your personal account, tailored to your chosen causes and interests, is so useful, as you are constantly learning more, whilst staying up to date with all relevant current events and issues in your field.

In the field of conservation especially, ‘who you know’ can give you a huge advantage when job hunting. Some smaller charities may only announce jobs on social media to save money on advertising. Plus if you are a familiar face, who they know cares about their cause and actively supports them, you are much more likely to stand out in a sea of applications. Therefore interacting with them on Instagram is a great way to widen your network and make connections that may be useful to your career in the future.

Perhaps unexpectedly, I have received some of the best career advice I have ever been given through Instagram. Following people who are currently working in your dream job is an amazing way to get inspired and gain ideas about how to get there. Reaching out to these people for advice might seem like a long shot, but they could surprise you. Almost everyone I contacted responded with extremely helpful tips (even a few successful photographers and film-makers with large followings). Some of them were even kind enough to look over my CV and give detailed feedback!

As well as all of these benefits, having an account where you can share your knowledge and support your community shows your interest and passion for your work. It also allows you to connect with like minded people, who make great friends!

Sharing my wildlife experiences on Instagram

#2 Start a blog

Depending on the aspect of conservation you want to get involved in, blogging might not be for everyone. However, writing and communication are always useful skills to have on your CV. For me, my blog was a way to keep my connection to conservation and research through lockdown as well as trying to raise awareness. Even just writing informally about your personal experiences with wildlife or travelling can showcase your passion and excitement about the natural world.

If, like me, you want to pursue a career in writing and communications I highly recommend blogging and getting your voice heard. Volunteering to write for other blogs, brands or charities is a great way to practise different styles and tailoring your writing to a variety of target audiences, as well as getting your name out there. I ended up landing my first paid writing job through doing this, as an employer reached out to me after reading my blog on another website.

#3 Learn a new skill

Look into the skills required on job advertisements for roles you are interested in. What don’t you have? Is there any way to teach these skills to yourself? For example, I have always loved photography, and wanted to incorporate this into my career - but I didn’t know how to edit my photos. Before the pandemic I had never got around to learning, now it’s a skill I put into practise almost every day and use in my blog writing and social media content creation.

I stopped myself from posting photographs from my trip to South Africa for three years because of this, but I decided to subscribe to the Adobe Photography Plan, and learnt to edit through their free tutorials and YouTube. When I finally uploaded my photographs, I received amazing feedback and managed to tell conservation stories through them. This has given me the confidence to drive my career forward in this area and keep learning more.

Learning how to ID species is also a fantastic skill for fieldwork, and can be learnt from your garden or local park. You can teach yourself through books, apps (like iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID) and getting outside to explore!

South Africa

#4 Set up a camera trap

I purchased a camera trap over lockdown for fun, however being able to use one is a fantastic skill to have on your CV. Knowing how to set up, operate and analyse camera trap footage is extremely useful in field work. Going through the footage gives you a new-found appreciation for the wildlife on your doorstep, as it is always interesting to see what you can capture near your home. Your tracking and ID skills can also come in handy - if you find footprints or faeces in a certain area, you can figure out the best place to set up your camera trap. Making a hedgehog house or bird box and setting up a camera nearby can help you keep track of your visitors and really feel like you’re making a difference!

Photographing my local wildlife

#5 Volunteer online

There are plenty of volunteering programmes online. You can help out in real scientific research from the comfort of your own home. Websites like Zooniverse and Giving Way allow you to volunteer for a variety of projects. Not only can you gain experience but you will be making a big difference for your chosen cause. You can help out with anything from social media, to grant writing, to counting penguins on camera footage.

#6 Raise money for your favourite charity

What are you good at? Baking? Drawing? Photography? Sharing your talents with the world is great fun, and if you are combining this with a passion for raising awareness and funds, you’re even more likely to attract people willing to donate. I have met many people through Instagram who have turned their hobbies into successful small brands which also help the environment. For example Pigments by Liv, a young artist who set up a brand creating sustainable clothing whilst also raising money for conservation. Even just doing this on a small scale or short term (you don’t have to start your own business), will make a difference, and help showcase your passions. It also gives you fundraising experience, which you can transfer into many conservation roles.

In my happy place - taking photographs of wildlife

It is fair to say that the perfect work experience opportunity is unlikely to be handed to you, even at the best of times. Finding something that ticks absolutely all of the boxes you need to land your dream job, and is readily available to you, is difficult. Sometimes thinking outside of the box and figuring out ways to gain skills on your own is the best way forward. Being creative in doing so, and using your initiative in the process, is an attractive trait to employers in itself. One experience will lead to another, and before you know it you will be building up a portfolio of valuable skills. I hope that this post will inspire others to start creating their own opportunities!

🦔 Follow Sophie:

Instagram -  @adayinthewildlifesoph
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