If you're interested in working in the great outdoors, but aren't sure where to start, you've come to the right place. Whether you're a school leaver, a new graduate or considering a career change, we've put together some practical advice to help you secure your perfect countryside role.
The breadth of countryside roles out there is huge. Take a look at the list of employers on the right and you’ll see a few of the organisations which recruit in this sector. Perhaps you have an interest in forestry, river catchments, or ecology? Or maybe you fancy being a National Park ranger, a field studies educator, or a conservation officer? Whatever your interests, your best chance of getting the job you want rests on you having relevant experience. So how do you go about getting it?
The countryside sector relies heavily on volunteers to carry out its work, so there are lots of volunteer opportunities available for budding countryside workers. Voluntary roles come in all shapes and sizes, from just a few hours a month, to full-time internship-style positions. Many organisations offer weekend opportunities, so you can gain new experience alongside your regular job. Although lots of voluntary roles are advertised, this is not always the case. So don’t be afraid to get in touch with organisations and discuss what they’ve got on offer, especially if you’ve got a specific interest that you’d like to explore.
For a great list of conservation volunteering opportunities see the environmentjob.co.uk website. It lists both conservation volunteering and paid conservation jobs. You can also sign up for their very useful weekly email update of all the latest vacancies.
Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people, build a network of contacts in the sector, and get an idea of what a job involves. Most importantly for job seekers, it will help you gain experience in the core areas that are often mentioned in job specifications. Amanda Morgan, Technical Team Volunteer Coordinator at the Canal and River Trust has helped lots of volunteers gain work-place experience for their CV and move onto their first paid role in the environmental sector: She explains;
"If people are willing and able to volunteer and can get skills in a real working environment then it is hugely valuable. You learn a lot at university, but being in the workplace is very different, and volunteering shouldn’t be underestimated. It gives an insight into the workplace, being around people and able to benefit from colleagues’ experience is very useful. It’s these sorts of skills which can help you get your first step on the career ladder."Amanda Morgan, Technical Team Volunteer Coordinator, Canal & River Trust
You might find that volunteering also gives you access to valuable training options. Jump on any opportunity that you are offered; building a comprehensive skill set is really important in this competitive sector.
Countryside job skill set
- Field skills (e.g. plant & animal identification, survey methods)
- First aid qualification
- Chainsaw/brushcutter certificate
- IT skills (yes, even for an outdoor job!) e.g. use of GIS
- Minibus or 4x4 driving
- Good communicator, able to work with a wide range of people
- Environmental education experience
- Trailer licence
- Working with volunteers
- Understanding of countryside issues
- Physical fitness & willingness to work outdoors, whatever the weather
Many longer-term volunteer positions offer participants the chance to enrol in work-based diplomas or similar schemes as part of their role. But these courses are available to everyone, not just volunteers: TCV offer a wide range of short and long courses in environmental conservation and land-based skills which are a great foundation for anyone wanting to get into this line of work.
Check out Project Lemur which offers funded bursary placements supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. These fantastic placements offer professional experience and mentoring over 9 months to kick-start your career in the environmental sector.
Similar funded traineeships are offered by a range of organisations, such as the Wildlife Trusts, TCV, the National Trust and some National Parks. Other organisations, such as the Natural England and the Environment Agency run apprenticeship schemes. These are great opportunities to get yourself a paid entry-level position and learn on-the-job.
Many traineeships rely on external funding so it can be hard to predict when the next batch of opportunities will be advertised. Keep an eye out for any announcements and apply early, these kinds of roles are usually extremely popular and well subscribed.
"You have to be really determined as it’s a really competitive field to get into.
I think you can forget sometimes what an amazing job it is when you’re doing it on an everyday basis, but when you get to go out onto the amazing sites that we look after – you realise how lucky you are to be doing the job. It’s definitely one of those careers that you do because it means something to you; you don’t do it for the money.
Having a lot of determination, particularly initially when you’re trying to get that first break, or that first paid job, and even more so now when everything is more competitive with the difficult financial climate that we’ve had.
And a lot of enthusiasm – it can be really challenging – everyone has their own idea of what conservation should be, whether they know much about it or not, so you can be doing something really good but you can get a lot of negative responses from people for what you’re doing. So you need to work in a good team that understands that and can offer support too."Emma Reece, Community Ranger, National Trust
Looking for jobs and applying
There are some great job sites out there that specialise in advertising careers in the countryside and environmental sector. If you’ve got a particular organisation that you’d like to work for, go to their website and sign up to their vacancy alerts so you’ll be notified straight away when something new comes up. It’s worth keeping an eye on twitter too, as upcoming roles are often tweeted about. For a wide selection of vacancies in the sector, follow @environmentjob who tweet every paid position they advertise. The British Ecological Society @BES_careers feed is a really good source of information on training, events and opportunities as well.
- Don't be put off a job because you don't fit the person spec. 100%. The ideal candidate rarely exists and employers realise this.
- If the application process involves a person specification make sure you answer every point and relate your answers to your experience and qualifications.
- CVs should be kept brief (but not too brief). Two pages is good.
- Start with the most important achievements of your education or working life.
- Tailor your CV for every post you apply for.
- Preparation is the key to a successful interview. Use the web to find out as much as you can about the organisation you are being interviewed by.
- Try and work out what you might be asked by referring to both the person specification and job description.
- Ease those interview nerves by chatting to someone beforehand so you can begin the interview 'warmed-up'.
Once you’ve found a job you’re interested in, take your time completing the application form. Job applications can be really dry, so try and inject some personality into it if you can. But make sure you keep it formal – it will be read by your potential employer, so it’s important to give a professional impression of yourself. Although it’s time-consuming, it’s really important that you outline how your skills, knowledge or experience meet the requirements of the person specification. Go through each point and be explicit; generic applications won’t get you anywhere!
If you’re successful in getting an interview, don’t skimp on the preparation! Do your research around the organisation by looking at their website and make use of social media and blogs too, as this is often where you’ll find up to date information and recent news. It’s worth preparing some answers to some of the more standard interview questions which often crop up too. e.g. ‘Give us an example of when you’ve worked well as part of a team’ or ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?’ Have a think about how you’d answer these and it will boost your confidence when going into the interview.