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Looking for your next role in Marine Science and/or Conservation? Courtesy of our friends at The Reef-World Foundation, keep reading for top job application tips and tricks to help you obtain it! Reef-World uses the most powerful tool available to us all, education. They provide strategic capacity building assistance, based on sound science to local environmental champions who are well positioned to spread this knowledge within their community or industry for conservation action. Their primary project, Green Fins works with the marine tourism industry. Scuba diving and snorkelling attracts millions of people from all over the world and the industry itself employs a vast number of people, both foreign and from local communities. By targeting this community to spread our messages, they effectively helps to protect local ecosystems and build a sustainable tourism industry.

Marine Conservation is Competitive

You’ve heard time and time again that Conservation is a notoriously difficult sector to break into. I was told this when I began my career in 2012, and frustratingly, not much has changed since then. NGO work is not the only way into a career protecting the environment, but it is the most common route.

Unfortunately, many NGOs are funded through grants, and these grants rarely offer budget lines for salary. The result is not only a low paid sector doing work critical but fewer job positions creating a very competitive industry.

The lack of staff capacity in these organisations makes it hard to take on entry-level candidates. There simply isn’t “time” to train and supervise new staff without key skills. Such key skills include writing skills, relationship management skills and organisational capabilities. So, it leaves entry-level candidates with few options. These include internships, pay-to-volunteer trips, or short-term contracts. However, many of these do not end up providing the skills and experience for individuals to graduate to paid positions. It’s a tragic Catch-22 situation that serves no one.

However, as competitive as our sector is, the way you apply for jobs is absolutely critical. I was recently inspired by Conservation Careers who are trying to help candidates dive into conservation employment. Applicants for jobs rarely receive personal feedback, especially if they don’t make it to the interview. Coupled with a lack of work experience options, it leaves a dead zone where people cannot learn how to write successful job applications.

Their solution is to write general feedback to all applicants – and so for our recent posting for the role of Programmes Officer, we did just that. The overwhelmingly positive response we received from candidates has inspired us to share these lessons even wider.

Interview Criteria

We received a total of 119 applications for the role of Programmes Officer. Two staff read through each application and we shortlisted 8 applicants to interview for the first round.

We then used a recruitment rubric similar to this example to assess these candidates (and check our biases). This was according to indicators for the following criteria:

  • Analytical mindset and penchant for managing socio-economic data
  • Passion for our mission & alignment to our core values
  • Able to undertake our implementation work
  • Culture fit

From this, we shortlisted three candidates for the second round of interviews. These candidates were also set a task involving Green Fins data analysis. This involved pulling lessons from the data, professional growth and prioritisation of tasks. All key skills for the role.

In the end, our chosen candidate scored highly in the interviews, rubric and in the task.

However, what really impressed us was their analytical thinking – their approach to taking lessons from data to feed into implementation. Their passion for marine conservation was another contributing factor. Finally, their experience with the diving and snorkelling industry (our main stakeholders) was hugely advantageous.

Come in, We're Hiring! Neon Sign. Tips and Tricks blog from WiseOceans

Our Top Tips and Tricks – Applications

  • Cover letters are a critical component to show the potential employer who you are. We refer to it at each point in the selection process. Happily, 94% of applications for this role did send a cover letter. We did not consider those that did not submit one
  • The strongest cover letters outlined the following: their motivation for conservation work, what lessons or skills they picked up from their experiences, how that would benefit the specific role and associated responsibilities, and how they align with the organisation’s culture, mission, and vision
  • Avoid writing a cover letter that is just a narrative of your CV. You are just replicating information already available. Don’t make the reader work to connect your experience and the role. They only have a few minutes to review your application in the first screening.
  • Every one of us is passionate about the work. Set yourself apart by demonstrating your passion through the impact you’ve had rather than stating it.
  • And a last note on cover letters – don’t forget to change the job title and organisation to the specific position! Never copy-paste from another job application.
  • We received a high number of applications focusing on hard science experience (restoration, reef monitoring etc.). However, that is not the work that we currently do or was appropriate to the position posted. So, for this type of role, it is critical to highlight transferable skills from that are relevant for this role.

Avoid writing a cover letter that is just a narrative of your CV. Don’t make the reader work to connect your experience and the role

Our Top Tips and Tricks – Interviews

  • Take the time you need. If you need to pause to collate your thoughts, then do! Also, if you would like to start an answer again, say so. A good employer won’t hold nerves against you.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the responsibilities and job role advertised. Including location, contract type, salary etc.
  • Yes, we do want to hear what you would get out of the role. However, spend more time focusing on how you will add value to the organisation or the work.
  • If you don’t have experience in one area , talk about transferable skills that would add value to that area as you learn. E.g. Do you have any MEL experience? No, but I have proven planning skills through X job and am comfortable working with databases which are necessary skills for MEL work; therefore I think I will be able to learn MEL easily.
  • Ask questions! Not everyone did, but you need to establish if the organisation’s culture is a good fit for you too.

Good Luck!

We’d like to thank each applicant for taking the time to apply to Reef-World. We know the hard effort and dedication that you put into applying and we do appreciate it. We hope these tips and tricks are useful and wishing you the best of luck in your careers!

WiseOceans Marine Biologist Bernard undertaking OKAY symbol underwater alongside damselfish

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