We receive lots of letters and CVs from graduates looking for ecological consultancy jobs. In a competitive job market, your CV needs to stand out from the rest by having lots of practical experience, rather than just three years of theoretical classroom learning. Yesterday we tweeted some tips on making your CV stand out. Here is what we said.
1) Email is generally the best means of contact. It means you can attach a CV electronically, for potential employers to peruse when it suits them, and to keep on record.
2) Skills and experience should be prominent on a CV, in a language that is readily applicable to the jobs market. Distil all your skills and practical experience into a list of transferable skills. Write concisely and factually.
3) Read some Phase 1 survey and general ecology reports on the internet. See what skills are needed by an ecological consultant.
4) On your CV, list all the species groups for which you have identification skills or survey experience. If you are proficient at bird ID or recognising calls, say so. If you're not too bad on butterflies, and trying to learn a few dragonflies, again say it.
5) Give prominence to any survey licences you have. They're needed for surveying many protected species, so if you don't have any, start seeking experience and applying for some. Bat licences are quite convoluted to achieve; mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates less so. Depending where you wish to operate, survey licences are administered by Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural Resources Wales, and the Northern Ireland Department of Environment.
6) Make use of the wide array of professionaol guidance that the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management provides (www.cieem.net), and regularly check job sites such as Countryside Jobs Service (www.countryside-jobs.com). Remember: volunteer opportunities are often a foot in the door, and can lead to other things. Similarly, short-term contracts can be a stepping-stone to other jobs.
7) Employers quickly scan CVs looking for relevant nuggets of information, and can search them electronically for keywords. For example, if I am looking for reptile surveyors for a project, I do a word search for "reptiles" in all CVs. Have you mentioned keywords reflecting all your skills? A short bold list or bullet-points works well. This makes it easy for a potential employer scanning a load of CVs to stop at yours.
8) Gain as much practical experience as you can - not just habitat work – but species identification, survey methods and an understanding of their ecology. Go out on your own if need be, take a beginner's field guide, and start learning some new species groups.
9) If you aren't proficient at identifying any one species group(s) in the UK, then why not? It sounds harsh, but you will need such skills if you want a job in ecology, and it's your responsibility to learn. So show willing and initiative, get out there, and gain some new skills. Learning new species ID skills can be daunting but also addictive. It's best to be ambitious, as you never know when new ID skills might come in handy.
10) Seriously consider paying to attend some training courses. CIEEM coordinates dozens of courses every year, ranging from the conservation of lichens and mosses to great crested newt survey skills.
11) Lastly, don't forget to check your CV for grammar mistakes, typographical errors, and bad English. Poorly-written CVs are a big turn-off for employers, and good writing skills are important, as is an attention to detail. Before you send out your CV - proofread, edit, and proofread again. And finally....don't pretend your life's dream is to work for a company; no one believes it.
Admittedly, the winter is the worst time to apply for an ecology job (not that people really have a choice), so making the best of it is the key. While the wildlife hibernates or is less conspicuous, the consultancy industry concentrates on office-based work. There are fewer jobs, and unemployment in the ecology sector increases, so you have to target your applications accordingly.
Although not the ideal season, Phase 1 habitat surveys are often carried out in the winter. Winter bird surveys, some mammal surveys, and habitat management work continue in the winter, so if you have any of these skills, make use of them. Also do lots of reading. Read field guides, reports, CIEEM resources; and learn about the Local Records Centre (LRC) network, the county Wildlife Trusts, and the numerous national and local species recording schemes such as the Amphibian and Reptile Groups (ARG-UK).
See if any of the recording groups and other wildlife NGOs have activities for volunteers over the winter. If so, sign up. You will pick up new skills, and absorb knowledge by osmosis, just by being around other keen people with experience. And get in the habit of recording wildlife while you're out on walks. Take a notebook, and a GPS if you can (they're about £80), and submit your records regularly to your LRC, Wildlife Trust, or other recording groups.
I've concentrated mainly on ecological consultancy careers here, but there are ecology and conservation jobs out there with a whole array of wildlife and nature conservation NGOs, from RSPB to the Eden Rivers Trust; and in government, from national bodies like the Forestry Commission to local authorities. So if this hasn't put you off an ecological career, good luck and happy job hunting.
Chris Gleed-Owen, Director & Principal Ecologist, CGO Ecology Ltd