I’m in a hugely fortunate position to have one of the best jobs in the world, helping an amazing team of people to Scale Conservation. As a result of their work and the culture they’ve built we are regularly approached by people wanting to be part of the Oxygen Conservation adventure and / or asking for advice about beginning a career in the environment sector.
Whilst it’s always lovely to hear from people that have been inspired by our journey, it’s just not possible for us to speak to each and every one of the people that reaches out but I do endeavour to reply to every message I received.
In an attempt to offer those I can’t meet with some advice as they begin their efforts to find a career in conservation here are some things you might like to consider…
1 – Follow Your Passion
My advice for anyone thinking about their career is don’t, think about the life you want and focus your time, efforts and energy on what you love. Find a way to do more of that and be the best in the world at doing that. Find the thing you’d pay to do and then in time figure out a way to get paid to do it. Imagine the professional surfer, do we tell them to surf less, no we say what an amazing adventure that must be!
And if you’re a professional surfer, please do put that on your CV. I always read the last part of the CV first. I want to see adventure, environment and impact in what you’re doing. If you’ve achieved amazing things in any aspect of your life it tells me that if you decide you want to achieve something you can and will. It doesn’t matter if its elite sport, music, adventure or academics – just being exceptional in what you do will make you stand out.
It so important to be authentic about your passion, today working in the environment sector is increasingly popular and one of sexier / cooler career paths to follow. The realities of the competition, sacrifices and hard work you have to endure to succeed really test if this is your real passion or you’re following or someone else’s.
If you love being outside, if you long to climb hills, swim in rivers and lakes, and wake up with the sun then the world of conservation has some incredible career paths, but you’re going to have to work exceptionally hard to get one of these rare opportunities.
2 – Be Relentless
Once you find that passion become obsessed about it, spend every minute surrounded by nature, take every opportunity you can to get involved in every aspect of the subject – be relentless.
We are surrounded by information on every subject possible, read everything that inspires you, listen to everything that excites you and watch everything in any time that remains. If you don’t choose to consume everything you can about the subject someone else will, and instead you can reach out and ask them for help about a career in conservation because they’ll be living your dream.
The level of relentlessness you need extends to the fact that, unless you’re incredibly talented AND incredibly lucky, you will experience a huge number of setbacks. Your CV will be ignored before it’s even rejected, you’ll have to fight to receive feedback. That feedback will feel harsh and somewhere between unfair and unpleasant. You’ll have to smile and pick through the bones of that uncomfortableness, likely from someone not qualified to give you feedback to learn and improve your materials. You’ll have this very same process through screening interviews, and panel interviews and presentation, pitches, fire side chats and a whole range of random likely disconnected experiences until finally you’ll be offered an unpaid volunteer opportunity, where you’ll be expected to work extremely hard likely for little or no pay.
Did I do this – yes.
Should I have done it – probably not.
Will it help your career – probably.
This is one of the worst things about the environment sector and one that I would recommend you don’t do without careful consideration. Do not work without pay, do not do a job that is presented as a volunteer opportunity, it is undermining the entire sector and disrespecting your time and efforts. We do not do unpaid internships at Oxygen Conservation – if you work, we pay you and pay you fairly.
This doesn’t mean don’t have unbelievable experiences and adventures – please do; as I’ve said these are the things that jump off a CV and make a recruiting manager or an interview panel want to meet with you.
One final great piece of advice comes from our wonderful ecologist Esme who started with us an intern before securing a permanent role with the team. Make sure you stay in touch with a ‘dream company’ even after a rejection. If you’ve been warm, humble, welcomed feedback and acted upon it, then be relentless in your pursuit of the company too. If it truly is a company you want to work for then a position may open up in the future – staying in contact with them will put your name at the top of their list.
3 – Adopt a Growth Mindset
One of the many contradictions I’m going to recommend here is that whilst being passionately obsessed about what you do, you must also be open to a range of ideas, opportunities and experiences. It is only by gathering a wide spectrum of different experiences that you can begin to develop your own unique offering in any role and really add value.
The easiest way to do this is consume information, have conversations and listen to people that know more than you and then apply these learnings to your passion. Earlier in your career you’re going to need to pick up books, podcasts, watch YouTube clips following inspirational people in the industries where you want to work. Open your mind to their ideas, challenging your own and together collaborate as you develop your thinking. Beg, steal and borrow everything you can from everyone, listen to it all, pick and choose what you think will help and let the rest wash over you; albeit I assure you there will be some gold in their shared wisdom, you just aren’t ready to see yet.
As you learn more, revisit your CV, your interview preparation, your LinkedIn profile and the way you see the world, constantly seek to grow and improve. You are your own marketing team now if you want to build a career in one of the most competitive sectors.
4 – Work Incredibly Hard
I will always remember reading a quote from Leigh Halfpenny, the Wales and British Lions fullback whose grandfather, also an international rugby player, taught him.
“You don’t have to put in the work but someone else will!”
I’m that someone else. As much as I might have liked to be the best athlete on the teams I played in the reality is I never was. The part I could control was how hard I worked and I’ve simply outworked everyone else I’ve ever been around, and that has given me a huge number of opportunities and in the process increased the surface area for lucky.
In finding an opportunity in the environment sector your willingness and ability to work hard will be tested in so many ways. I’m writing this piece in the back of a vehicle travelling back from a week on the road with the team, visiting potential acquisitions, spending time at our own sites and helping in a series of interviews for new roles in the team. The hardest workers stood out.
These people were prepared, they researched Oxygen Conservation hard, they were relentless in their planning, they were incredibly passionate about what they wanted and could articulate effectively and enthusiastically. They had ideas about how they would contribute to the team, help us progress to the next level, and they knew and understood the realities of what that would take. They had discussed the compromises, and sacrifices they would get to make and discussed this with their partners and families.
They were relentless in their preparation.
This commitment to hard work must continue once you get an opportunity too. Unless you’re in a very unusual situation, you’ll have to do many of the low value, routine tasks a long way away from the fun and excitement you might imagine. Through this period remember you’re learning how to succeed in this context and environment. Every one of the team at Oxygen Conservation started at the bottom of their respective industries, took the bins out and continues to do so today, and by outworking everyone else in the room they’ve risen to the top of their respective specialisms and fields (literally and figuratively).
Here are the minimum requirements you need. A LinkedIn profile, a well prepared and visually attractive CV. Five interesting stories or experiences and the ability to talk about them confidently and inspiringly – these are about you and you are the world’s leading expert on you; and answers to the questions what do you want and why you? Oh and a willingness to jump at an opportunity – include something you don’t yet know how to do.
5 – Ask for Help
You will almost certainly need a great support network around you. Some people are lucky enough to have hugely supportive friends and families, unfortunately others aren’t. This doesn’t mean you can’t build that support network. Some people talk about virtual board rooms, others say mentors, coaches or trusted advisors – I prefer to call them friends. My advice to anyone early in their career is to give a lot more than you expect to receive, do lots of favours for lots of people making friends as you go, and be very selective about the people you keep close to you over time. The reality is as your career progresses time is the most limited resource you have. The Navy Seals talk about being very selective about who you let into your boat because you’re going to have to paddle hard for them and you need to know that they will paddle for you too.
As well as your support network, if you’ve followed each of the steps above then you’re in a good spot to reach and ask for help from experts in the conservation sector. Reach out to the people you respect and admire, tell them why and ask for any thoughts or advice they would offer you from their perspective. Make this approach only once you’re prepared, make it relevant to the individual personally and professionally, and be open to them being too busy to respond, at least not quickly.
Throughout this journey you will have to become resilient along the way, learn how to see positives in each rejection, setback and failure. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in this process too, but do so knowing that everyone else is fighting their own battles that you know nothing about and maybe they don’t have the time to help right now, but they might in the future.
Earlier this year, I received a LinkedIn message I’d sent years ago to someone that had inspired me and never received a reply. It wasn’t until they reached out to message me that we were both reminded of the message I’d sent many years earlier in my career. It was polite, it was complimentary but it wasn’t the right time. It is however now and I’m excited to share ideas and opportunities with this person moving forward.
And let’s get one more key point…
I’ve been hugely lucky in my career so far, anyone that has been even a little successful will tell you that despite all the hard work, the miles, the sacrifices and the failures we all need luck along the way.