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Get a job working in the countryside industry
Naturenet shows you how.
o, you want to work in countryside management? Naturenet spills the beans on how to succeed in your quest. There are a lot of people looking for paid countryside work, and not that many jobs. We've compiled a list of essential facts to ensure you can measure up your CV before that vital application... and know what to do after that. So read on to make sure you get your fair chance.
You might wonder, "who are you to tell me how to get a job?" Just in case, here's the brief answer. The author of this article, Matthew Chatfield, is Parks and Countryside Manager for the Isle of Wight Council. He started his career as an unemployed volunteer and got his first job as a ranger after a lot of unpaid work. Since then, he has worked as a senior ranger or manager for various countryside organisations and local authorities, and has advertised, interviewed and appointed 28 full time posts at the last count. So he's the chap sifting through all the application forms and, just maybe, picking out yours. That's not to say he knows it all, but it's a start anyway.
Hard TruthsDon't you just hate it when people in a cosy job sit back and say how hard it is to get a job? Well here goes:
• Countryside jobs are few and often poorly paid, partly because there are always high quality people so keen to do the work they will do it for next to nothing. This has always been the case and seems likely to remain so.
• Paid countryside jobs often involve doing lots of boring, non-countryside stuff, such as litter picking, toilet cleaning, sitting through meetings, and administration. Nice outside tasks are very often done by volunteers, and as volunteers are unlikely to want to fill in forms all day or whatever, that leaves paid staff to do it.
• Working in the countryside does not mean 'getting away from it all'. Although a few jobs do mean this, most of them involve lots of people, much of the time. If you don't like people, think hard about what you really want to do.
• You don't often get free\subsidised accommodation with the job any more - this is now a lot rarer than it used to be only a few years ago.
• If you work with visitor attractions your busy times are going to be weekends and bank holidays, and your busy season will be the summer. So say goodbye to taking time off in the school holidays or nipping off for a weekend break at the last minute - you're on the rota to sluice down the bogs on Christmas Eve!
• A lot of countryside work is a bit 'vocational' - meaning there are likely to be heavy demands on you out-of-hours, at weekends and evenings, being accosted by people whilst walking down the street and so on. These extra hours are hardly ever paid. This can make things like raising a family or going on holiday quite difficult. Very few countryside jobs are purely 9-5.
Soft TruthsBut of course it's not all bad news...
• Countryside work can be very rewarding, great
fun, and a really good way to live.
• You get to meet the most extraordinary people and see the most extraordinary places.
• Countryside staff are well-thought of (mostly) and most people are interested in what you do and why. Think of it this way: it's better than being in banking..
• Just occasionally, once in a while, you get to wander around in a wonderful bit of countryside and get paid for it. Without a shadow of a doubt that makes it all worth while.
Qualifications and ExperienceNumber One question - 'What qualifications do you need to become a countryside worker?' Regrettably, there is no easy answer. Jobs vary a lot, and so do employers. As a rough guide, most people getting a countryside ranger job at about salary £17,000-19,000 per year might be expected to have the following:
• A relevant degree or at least HND or equivalent (relevant means life-sciences, or an applied degree like countryside management).
• About 6 months full-time equivalent employment experience or volunteering/unpaid work in a relevant field.
• Driving license (see why here)
• Chainsaw card (NPTC or equivalent)..
• First aid training (not necessarily a qualification).
• Experience in practical conservation tasks - not just labouring on a building site or farm.
If you've done some other things in your life, think about the skills you've picked up which could be useful to the people you want to work for. Make sure you tell them, but from their point of view. They don't want to hear about the details of your window-cleaning business, but might well be interested in the fact that you managed the books yourself and taught an apprentice. The following things would probably also be very helpful - and need not necessarily all be countryside-related. For some jobs they will be essential - check the job description:
• Basic computer skills.
• Basic report writing skills.
• Biological recording skills.
• Ability to talk to a group of people.
• Experience of organising guided walks and school groups.
• Health and safety training.
• Experience of operating machinery e.g. tractors and implements.
• Media experience (e.g. writing press releases) and simple graphic design.
• Some experience of supervising others, e.g. volunteers or students.
There are also two particular assets that, if you have them, you should flaunt: a clean, recent CRB check, and a driving license that allows you to tow a trailer. Most new graduates won't have either of these, so if you have, for most typical ranger posts you're already ahead of the field. The reason they could be important is that it costs your prospective employer time and effort to get them, and until they do you may not be able to do all the work of the job.
Some jobs will need particular skills or experience, and many will need a different balance of some or all of the above.
Just to make things even more confusing, in the UK job titles in the countryside industry are far from standard. A job called 'Ranger' can vary from a basic estate worker with no qualifications or experience, to a senior officer in charge of multi-million pound projects. Even the Queen (yes, really) has 'Ranger' as one of her titles - I think it's something to do with Epping Forest. So the only real answer is to look at a few adverts and job descriptions for posts you would like to be in and compare them to your own CV. Send off for application packs even if you don't think you'll get the job - then assess what comes back and see if you fall short. You might even be able to persuade a few countryside workers to show you their own job descriptions.
What you don't needDo not confuse 'countryside management' with 'environmental activism'.Here are some things you can forget - I'm fed up of reading about them:
• Any experience overseas which is not directly relevant. Just because you've spent a lot of your hard-earned cash going cycling in Mongolia don't think it'll get you a job - even if it was all for charity. Conservation work outside Europe is very unlikely to be relevant unless it's in a comparable climate and habitat to where you want to work. We don't want to hear of any more Camp-America people who spent weeks saving grizzly bears with their bare hands. OK?
• We know you love the countryside. That's why you're applying, right? Don't waste valuable space telling us about how much you love the birds and the bees.
• We don't want to hear that you are looking for 'a quiet life' or 'a less stressful job'. You think it's easy, huh? Shows how much you know... well, actually, you may be right. Even more reason not to mention it.
• Do not confuse 'countryside management' with 'environmental activism'. We may well have strong views about bypasses and fox-hunting, but they do not usually come into our professional work - in fact, it's important to keep them out of it. Don't make assumptions about any political issues unless it's very clear what your prospective employers think about it.
Filling in the FormSo, you've got the form. What will you do with it? You've probably heard all the usual advice about not letting the dog at it, and so on. Here's the advice you may not have heard: Read the job description and everything else they send you.
• Read the job description and everything else they send you. If there's a pile of guff with the form, read it ALL. Sometimes you might find something very interesting tucked away in a corner. Also read the advert. You'd be surprised what appears in the advert that might not appear in the application pack.
• Make sure you cover every point on the job description in your application. Even if it's just to show you've read it. So if it says 'occasionally take minutes of meetings' make sure you mention how you used to take minutes for the Brownies or something. It might not mean much to you but if the job is assessed with a point-scoring system it could count for as much as a chainsaw card. If you get sent a document called a 'Person Specification' or something similar this is a sure-fire indicator that the employer will be assessing you by ticking boxes. Make sure you cover every single item on the list.
• If it says 'you can ring up for an informal discussion' then do so. Most people don't. Do it as soon as you can. If the person on the end of the phone has said it all twenty times they will be a bit jaded. Make sure you're one of the first. Remember, the call is to listen to the employer, not really for you to show off (except your polite telephone manner). Don't try to impress with the phone call, don't try to recite your application on the phone, but listen to every word you hear. Ask some open questions to get them talking and make notes. What are the key issues? What was the first thing they said?
• Get this: some organisations really frown upon employees using work email systems to look for jobs. Using email properly can show that you are computer literate and up-to-date, and that's very important. But if you do communicate with your prospective new employer by email, make sure you use your own email address. Don't use a work one, in case either your present employer or the future one doesn't like it! It goes without saying that if you have some oh-so-witty email address like email@example.com you should consider using a different one if you want to be taken seriously!
Naturenet reader Lisa Kerslake from Swift Ecology adds: "Having worked in conservation and ecology since 1985, I've done more recruitment than I care to remember, from local authority posts to wildlife trusts to consultancy. As well as the things Matthew has already mentioned as being pointless or worse, annoying, (all of which I totally concur with) I'd like to add two more. Firstly please try to avoid meaningless phrases that everybody uses - e.g. "I would relish the opportunity/challenge" is one in particular that has me reaching for the sick bucket, particularly when it relates to a job that might involve, as Matthew points out, cleaning toilets or emptying bins. Secondly, and more importantly, please ensure your form/CV is spelled/punctuated correctly. This may seem minor and unimportant if the job does not involve much written work, but believe me it isn't. For starters it's all part of creating a good impression, and bear in mind your form may well be assessed by a pedantic sod like me (I have been known, when particularly riled, to circle all the errors in red and send the form back to the applicant - well you would think that applicants for a conservation job would be able to spell dormouse - seriously - wouldn't you?). Secondly you don't know what the recruiters know about that job emptying the bins at the bird hide - it may be that they are thinking "if this person is good they may be able to replace the bird hide information officer when she goes on maternity leave" - a job that would require good written skills. If you are no good at spelling/punctuation then get someone else to check the form for you (preferably someone who can spell/punctuate). If you're dyslexic, point it out in your covering letter - but get someone to check your application anyway - it shows you have made every effort."
Preparing for the InterviewSo, you got the interview did you? You clever sod. You've got us to thank for that, you know, so listen good whilst we tell you what to do now. Some of the following won't help you get the job, but might help you avoid it! If you can afford it, consider visiting the site/area, even if you are fairly familiar with it.
• Do a bit of research. The internet is ideal for this. Look up the site and organisation online. Look at the parent body's website and see if there's anything happening elsewhere in the organisation that might be relevent. Check out what else is happening in the area, and what the big issue of the moment is. Read the local paper (that's probably on the web too). Find out if there is anything controversial going on. Have a nice safe opinion about it ready to bring out.
• If you can afford it, consider visiting the site/area, even if you are fairly familiar with it. If it is a visitor facility, go informally, as a visitor, and experience the site/place as a visitor would. Follow the brown signs and park the car in the public car park. Use the facilities. Go and ask slightly awkward questions of the reception staff, look behind things, go where you shouldn't (within reason) and see what really goes on. Do the staff look miserable? Do they look happy? Is the place running well, or not? Are the bins empty, is the toilet clean? If there's trouble brewing (and there occasionally is when jobs are changing) you need to know. If you still want the job, be prepared to tell the interviewers about how you might work within a disenchanted team, work with 'difficult people', and so on. Don't forget - they might not know/care that there are problems so don't mention it unless you are asked.
• Who was the last post-holder? What happened to them? If you can, try to speak to them. If you can't, or they won't, then you might wonder why. If you can, get the lowdown from them - after all, they should have no reason to hide anything. Naturally, you'll ask 'Why did you leave?'
• Do you know anyone who works in the same organisation, perhaps at another site or department? Don't let them off lightly either. They might know all sorts of interesting background.
The InterviewThe big day. You've decided to go. So what now?
• Get there in good time and, if there's some nice countryside around (and lets hope there is) go and settle yourself in it for a few minutes.
• What to wear? Always difficult. Especially if there's a site visit involved. You might get a chance to change, you might not. If there is a site visit then be sure not to be caught out with no decent shoes - it will look terrible. If you are concerned there's no harm in ringing up beforehand and asking what would be appropriate footwear. As far as the rest is concerned it's hard to advise but if you've done a reconnaissance visit (see above) you might have seen the staff then. Note their garb.
• If you get to walk around with a member of staff (a common practice) don't give them your prepared speeches and clever answers. Impress them with your personality and character - that's what they are looking out for. Listen to them as well as talk. Act like a fellow professional being shown around. Be interested in where you are and what the staff are showing you. Don't criticise it - you are the guest. If you are in a group with other interviewees don't, whatever you do, get drawn into an argument or competition to impress (unless you are told you should). It's better to say nothing.
• In the interview it's your chance to shine. Make sure you know who the interviewers are, and what they are likely to be interested in. If you can find this out beforehand so much the better. Don't forget that a lot of countryside staff rarely interview and so they might be as nervous as you. Be prepared to make an effort to put them at their ease (yes really) if you can. Many organisations now insist on a personnel officer being at an interview. They are really only there to see fair play in most cases, so if they seem a bit quiet don't worry.
• Prepare answers to these (stupidly predictable) questions without necessarily being constrained by honesty:
1. What are your strengths? Answer: a few credible things taken from whatever the job description asks for.
2. What are your weaknesses? Answer: "I'm very hard working, sometimes too hard working. I love to see something finished and hate to leave a job half done".
3. Why did you/do you want to leave your last job? Answer: "I love/d my job but working for your organisation was just too good an opportunity to miss because...". Note: however provoked, do NOT slag off your previous/present employer at all. Don't even hint at it.
4. Why do you think that you would be suitable for the job? Answer: same as 1.
For extra homework see also "25 Questions to Think About Before Your Next Job Interview" from The Simple Dollar: clever interview ideas which are mostly just as relevent on this side of the Atlantic.
• After the interview, if you're not in tears or throwing up, try to remember the questions that were asked. Write them down if you can. It's also worth asking yourself 'What was this question trying to get at?'. Sometimes the answer is obvious - if not, that's probably the fault of the questioner, not you. Looking back at these notes is a good way to practice and prepare for the next interview - assuming you ever need one of course - as you are likely to be asked very similar sorts of questions.
And now...Sit back and wait for the jobs to roll in...
GOOD LUCK! Let us know if it works.
If you've got any more tips, send them in to us. We might just add them to our list.