I knew I wanted to do a year in industry even before I had chosen to study at York. Hearing about the opportunity at various open days, I knew it would be good for me and would boost my rather low confidence before leaving university. I became even more certain of this partway through my first year as I decided I want a career based around conservation and ecology, and experience in this sector is highly valuable.
Having a focus made the decision of where to apply to much easier. I only looked at organisations with a link to conservation, and I was particularly interested in those at zoos. The main decisions came when choosing between placements offered by these organisations, as most had several positions. To start with I was really distracted by all the different, amazing sounding opportunities and didn’t think too much about what I actually wanted. I ended up making a list of everything I wanted to get out of the year – fieldwork, experience of international conservation research, the chance to learn GIS etc. – and used this to keep my search focused. I don’t think any placement I applied to had everything on the list, but it meant I could identify those which would allow me to get as much as possible out of the year.
CVs and Cover Letters
I began working on my CV after first year exams, and I must have rewritten nearly every sentence about three times before I was happy with it! Doing a lot of work on my CV before second year started was definitely a great decision. It took a lot longer than I expected and I would not have had enough time once term had started.
I found writing a specific cover letter for each application really hard work but knew it was important to give myself the best chance of standing out to the organisation. Asking for advice is one of the most helpful things you can do. My Year Away Mentor was amazing (big thanks to Merle), as was the careers team. Seriously, ask as many people as possible to give you their feedback, because they will all say something different. But don’t use every suggestion – choose those you agree with as, after all, it is your application.
Interviews and Rejections
In total, I sent eight applications and I got five interview offers, three of which were video calls. Before these, I was really nervous about not giving as good an impression of myself as I would in person. I found it hard to talk naturally but during the interview, it was helpful to try and focus on the conversation rather than the fact the interviewers were on a screen.
After every interview, video or otherwise, I was completely split between being certain I had failed miserably and being really pleased with how it went. There were questions in all of them I know I answered terribly – my number one top tip would be to do your research beforehand. Most of the questions that caught me out were because I didn’t know enough about the organisation or their work, and it is so embarrassing to sit in an interview and have to say you don’t know the answer.
I was rejected from my first five applications, either before or after the interview, which was tough. It was pretty demoralising getting turned away time after time, especially after the excitement of getting an interview offer. I started to worry that I would never get a placement. It seemed I was not alone though; I spoke to several other students feeling the same. This made me feel less terrified and encouraged me to carry on sending off those applications.
After a second interview and an anxious wait, I had some amazing news – the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust were offering me a placement! It wasn’t at the top of my list – it had a few more downsides than others I applied for – but sounded really good and was infinitely better than no placement at all. I was so excited I didn’t know what to do next. Unexpectedly, the thought of accepting the placement was really scary. I had been wanting it for so long and I kept thinking about other placements that I hadn’t heard back from yet or that might come up in the future. But once I had got myself together, I wasted no time in accepting the offer. Commence 6 and a half months of nerves and excitement until the placement began!