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Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Getting into ecology - guest blog

Izzy McQuillan is a graduate ecologist at WSP, with a knack for communication. She recently  condensed her experiences of gaining her first steps onto the ladder of professional ecology into a series of LinkedIn posts. They are solid gold advice for anyone looking to follow in her footsteps and Izzy has kindly combined them into a guest blog for David's Bat Blog.

So this time last year, I saw my job role advertised on Linkedin and decided to take the plunge and apply.

I thought it would be useful to target some posts at current students, recent graduates and anyone trying to 'break' into ecology. There are a few useful tips that I wish I had known in my final year, or during my job search.

Want to become an ecologist?

First point...

You need to be able to drive. Preferably with your own car, but having a full-clean licence is the main point which might be tripping up your application.

Also, having survey experience is essential.

I would say, it makes the most sense to focus on bats, if you are looking for a seasonal position. If you have on your cv that you have assisted on dusk/dawn bat surveys, and know how to use a heterodyne bat detector, you are showing you can step into the business and start helping straight away, it makes you a useful asset.

Otherwise, gaining botanical i.d skills and GIS skills will also greatly benefit you. Phase 1 surveys, hedgerow surveys and preliminary bat surveys of trees could make up a lot of your day work, meaning having a grasp of common botanical species will be extremely useful. Understanding GIS will also put you ahead, being able to create a red line site boundary or Phase 1 map will help make you essential in the team. It seems in consultancy, Arc is the one to focus on, but QGIS is free and you can still get these tasks done on Q (I use Q, and am hoping to get my head around Arc this winter).

I wish I had known this, as no one told me this during my degree.

So, here is a big list of useful courses, both free and paid that will hopefully help you feel prepared and ready for the upcoming season!!

🦇Free- Volunteer and join with your local bat group!

For Manchester this is the South Lancashire Bat group


🦇Paid- I am enrolled on BatAbility, the classes have been excellent and there are weekly videos, you can also access all of the past recordings, getting up to speed with everything bat related!!

🦡Free-Useful free Field Studies Council (FSC) Youtube videos:

Mammal tracks-
Hazel dormice-
Water voles-

Paid (subsidised)- I attended several FSC courses prior to getting my role (biological recording, phase 1, QGIS) , and I think this is what gave me the edge with my application. There are funding opportunities for those aged 18-25 which means you can access scholarships through Generation Green in England.

🌱Free- Botanically, I would suggest going out into the wilderness and using an i.d app such as Google lens or Plant net and then getting your head around the species you see around you!

Do you use Linkedin?

OR... are you lurkering around, liking but never posting.

Has your university careers service told you to start using Linkedin but you have no idea what to do?

I was in this position in 2019. I wasn't sure what to do!

But, both of my last two consultancy roles I have found through Linkedin.

Top tips-

⭐Research and find companies you would like to work for. Look at the employees who work at your desired office and send connection requests. You are more likely to see if these offices are hiring as these people will be the people posting the roles you might want.

⭐Post! If you are nervous, start by re-sharing content. This gets your name out, and potential employers might recognise you, making you more likely to get the interview.

⭐Leading on from my last point, create content. This is the best way of getting your name out and noticed. I use Canva, it is free and there are lots of tutorials on Youtube. In a perfect world, posting 3 times a week is best, most people don't post that frequently. A way of hitting these targets is using scheduling websites, such as Hootsuite or buffer.

⭐Engage! Comment, like and engage with content created by people on your network.

⭐Use emojis as bullet points and line breaks, they will make your posts more visually appealing.

How much have you thought about your CV before popping it at the end of your application...

Following the application, where you have to fill in several boxes on 'How you align with the company ethics' and 'What skills do you have that make you suitable for this role', often you can overlook your CV and cover letter, when it fact, it could be the reason you are being overlooked yourself.

Some companies filter through job applications just looking at the cover letter, if you just have a few lines, your job application is going to get rejected.

So, some tips for your application from someone who has applied for lots and lots of jobs...

⭐Have you recently left university? Make use of their careers service, I went to the University of Manchester and we had 2 years post graduation to make use of the service. Get your CV checked, have a mock interview, speak to them about potential companies you should target.

⭐ Tailor your application. Make sure your CV is relevant to the job you are applying for, look at the words used in the advert and translocate these into your CV. Answer the points in the advert 'Must show excellent team-working skills'- use STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Response) and show HOW you have developed these skills. Problems I have seen with some graduate CVs is that they have one line about their degree. You've spent years, and thousands of pounds on your degree, make it work! Use bullet points and make everything cohesive, clear and accessible.

⭐The cover letter. What have you put in it? I was following the University career services guide on what to put in my cover letter, and it was actually causing me issues applying for ecology roles!

The format I previously followed was Paragraph 1- Where I had found the job, 2- What I know about the company and why I am suitable to work with the company, 3-Why I was suitable for the role. Then I changed my cover letter and I got an interview for my current role. As survey skills are so important in ecology, if your cover letter is missing these points, you won't be selected. In your opening paragraph, mention the experience I have mentioned previously is so important. Bullet point these skills. For example:

'Thank you in advance for taking the time to read my application. I have found XXX role advertised XXX. I am extremely keen to secure my first ecology role, as such I have recently developed skills in:

🦇Bat call sound analysis, using Kaleidoscope.

🗺️GIS skills, including the production of red line boundaries and Phase 1 maps on QGIS.

🌱Botanical skills, including identification of common hedge species such as Hawthorne, blackthorn and woodland indicator species such as Lords-and-ladies.

(All the above are free skills you can develop over the winter in order to be prepared for the upcoming ecological season)

So you're on Linkedin, you've found a role and company you want to work for and you've tailored your CV, now what?

How do you ensure you apply and can secure an interview?

Applying for roles can honestly feel like a job in itself. Each application can take hours; ensure you shift through the roles appropriately and allocate a few hours for the initial application. With consultancy, you will also likely have a skills based test post-interview which is still a part of your application.

Prior to my first graduate consultancy role, I was asked to produce a desk study of a site. Be prepared for this additional assessment when you put in your application. I was given a week to produce this report. During this week I was working full-time and it was also my birthday so I had to allocate time appropriately in order to ensure I didn't miss this role with a poor application. I visited the site in question, conducting a site walkover in addition to the desk study, this strengthened my report and impressed my future bosses. I secured the role.

During my ecology interview, I had a species test. I would say this is quite common within ecology. As a seasonal this should be common species you might see out on site (tracks or species images). Be prepared for this, have a research on Linkedin seeing what your potential future colleagues might share around species, you might be pointed in the right direction on what they might test you on.

And my last piece of advice?

Be yourself!

Remain professional but don't hide parts of your personality in order to 'fit in'.

If you are pretending to be someone you are not in order to secure this role, you will not feel comfortable at work. If you get rejected for being yourself, it isn't the end of the world. You are one step closer to finding a team that is perfect for you!

Don't be dis-heartened, I applied for so many roles over the years. I'd come close, had interviews but never got past that stage until 2020. Hopefully, these ideas help you.

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