Whether you’ve dreamed of helping wild animals since you were a child or you’ve come upon your calling later in life, there’s good news — the world needs wildlife management specialists and conservationists. If you’ve had a previous career, the industry can use professionals with skills in business, education, public relations, law, engineering, accounting and more.
However, while it’s easy to have a passion for wildlife, it’s not so simple to turn that passion into a career. Doing so requires the right education, the right experience and some knowledge of the conservation job market. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Choose a Career Path
Just like any other field, there are many career paths you can take as a wildlife management professional. Before you choose a career path, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the field and find out what your options are.
To learn more about the field, consider volunteering through organizations like The Wildlife Society, the Student Conservation Association or the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Become a citizen scientist. Study the conservation job market to learn about positions in the field, and ask yourself how excited you would be to perform these tasks day in and day out. Consider whether you would like to work in the university environment, teaching and doing research, or whether you’re more interested in other aspects of the field, such as community outreach, organizational administration, budgeting or policy making. Use your volunteer experiences as a chance to network and talk to mentors about your options.
As you learn more about the conservation and wildlife management field and the positions available to you, you’ll learn about the academic credentials you might need to do the work you aspire to. Many positions require a master’s or doctorate degree in biology or a related field, but that’s not true across the board. If you want to do research or work in an academic setting, you might need at least a master’s, if not a Ph.D., but other positions might require only a bachelor’s degree or even just a certificate in wildlife management.
Let’s say, for example, that you have a background in accounting. You could work for a wildlife management organization, helping them operate on a limited budget. You could earn a wildlife management certificate online to get current on the needs of the industry, but you’d be relying mostly on your previous training as an accountant to land and perform the job.
Not sure what credentials you need? Pay close attention to the degree qualifications listed in job postings you’re interested in. Ask others working in the field, especially those working in positions that appeal to you, what academic and other credentials they hold that helped them get there. Some may have advanced degrees; others may have extensive field experience; many will have both.
To get your first wildlife management job, you need to get experience. It can be tough to get experience because it usually involves volunteering or working at unpaid internships. There’s not a lot of money in conservation, and wildlife management organizations typically can’t afford to pay interns. If you’re starting out in the field with no experience, you’re probably not going to find a paid position anyway. This means you’ll have to find some other way to support yourself while gaining experience.
Many aspiring wildlife management professionals use their time as students to volunteer for expeditions, work with faculty mentors and participate in internships as much as possible to gain valuable experience. Create opportunities for yourself. Many aspiring professionals do this by blogging about their career progression and experiences in the field; attending workshops, events, lectures and conferences; networking and asking new contacts for introductions and working to maintain a positive reputation.
Land Your First Job
Your first job in wildlife management may well be the hardest to get, but it’s an essential first step toward the career you want. Once you have educational qualifications, experience and contacts, the rest is just a matter of learning to interview well and keeping your fingers crossed. Remember to keep networking, keep volunteering and keep educating yourself on advances in the field, no matter how discouraged you get. Don’t give up; you’ll get that first job eventually.
Breaking into the wildlife management field can be a great way to make a difference in the world, whether you want to travel to exotic locations for work, spend your days in a lab or pursue a role in a more traditional office setting. With the right credentials and experience, doors will open for you — you just have to be ready to enter them.