This article has been provided by Kerryn Humphreys at Countryside Jobs Service (CJS), which is one of Green Jobs for Nature’s Content Partners. This article looks at the topic of how to choose the perfect career for you.

How do you choose the perfect career for you?

The countryside and conservation sector is really rather large and the range of jobs and careers on offer can seem overwhelming when all you know is that you want to work outside or with animals, you enjoy bird watching and want to help wildlife in some form, or you’re right at home in a woodland and think that something to do with trees might be the way to go.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. However, the caveat to this often-repeated phrase is perhaps something you’ve not previously encountered: But you’ll never have a day off. People are now approaching career choices in a different way than before, wanting to obtain a good work-life balance. This could mean that you have a job that you enjoy, and that makes a difference but you still manage some time for yourself, avoiding career burnout and that “Sunday night” feeling of dread at the thought of another working week.

What does this have to do with choosing a countryside career?

Although you’re dreaming of an idyllic outdoor job or working with animals, perhaps it won’t be the best lifelong job for you. This is probably not something you’ve heard before. There are many aspects to consider when picking a career that you’re going be in for (you hope) the next 40 years and it may be better to look at what you’re good at, what you enjoy and what you will gain satisfaction from rather than the perfect job of your dreams.

If you’re a committed birder, spending all day every day watching and counting birds sounds like a heavenly job. But then if that’s what you do for work every day, then what do you do when you’re not at work, count more birds? However, think about everything you do when you’re out birding, maybe you’ve learnt which tussocky plants to stand on to make your way safely across boggy ground. Or you’ve been able to tell fed-up children that the boring brown duck is a mallard hen, and that lovely one over there with the green head is a boy mallard, and you went on to explain their important role in the wetland ecosystem and remind them not to feed them bread but lettuce and peas instead.  A birder who’s good with plant ID could be an excellent botanist. Or, getting children excited about wildlife might be the foundation for a life in education – indoors or out.

When we say all weathers we really mean it. Wet and windy mountain path maintenance on the Isle of Rum National Nature Reserve (NNR).  Wet feet streak; 13 days!  Keeping it real (©Georgia Hancock)

Making the choice

Think about what you are good at:

Can you stand to be outdoors in all weathers (and I mean all weathers)?

Can you explain complex concepts in simple terms to people of all ages?

Are you a people person, good with words?

Would you be OK working alone in isolated locations at odd times of day and night?

How strong are you?

Can you carry heavy kit over long distances across rough terrain?

How diplomatic can you be?

Are you a steady, accurate worker able to pick up on the smallest of differences?

Good at the difficult, tough decisions?

You need a little of all of these skills in most countryside jobs, but these are some of the main ones for: practical land and estate management; environmental education and interpretation; publicity, membership and marketing; field surveyor; tree planter and footpath worker; ranger; ecologist; wildlife rescuer/rehabilitator respectively.

If you can put a smile on small faces like this one (budding professional tree climber, Henry), then maybe environmental education and interpretation is the one for you. (Photo by Henry’s mum: Laura Snell at National Trust Lanhydrock)

How do you know which career role is for you?

There is no easy answer to this, other than to try it on for size. You can narrow down your choices by reading career profiles here with CJS, with the National Careers Service and from the professional associations. You can also look at job adverts and job descriptions. Eliminating options by what you can’t or don’t want to do is often a better way to find the right direction for you.

Once you’ve got more of an idea of what you’re going to be — e.g. a ranger, an ecologist, someone who works with wildlife or trees — have a go on a volunteering day or conservation task. This doesn’t commit you to anything more than a few hours and you might find that being out in the rain all the time or having to decide if it’s sensible to try to save an injured animal doesn’t sit well with you. With luck, you’ll love the whole time you’re volunteering and find that you gain a great sense of satisfaction from a job well done and know that you can do this every day and be good at it.

Not all sectors have short-term volunteering. However, there may be opportunities to talk to or even shadow someone already working in your chosen field. Professional associations, and CJS of course, are good at connecting you with organisations in your area who might be able to arrange this for you.

Find a job you’re good at, that you enjoy and you’ve got a career for life.

This is my kit for a day carrying out ecological bird counts. It’s very similar to a day’s environmental education, minus the very heavy bag of example fossils! You need to be prepared (and able) to carry all you need with you. (© Kerryn Humphreys)

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