Georgia Garrard, the co-coordinator of our subject Graduate Seminar: Environmental Science, arranged for Cathy Oke and Al Jones to discuss how recent graduates can increase their chances of getting an Environmental Science job. Cathy Oke is currently a Greens Councillor at the City of Melbourne (PhD in science and with lots of recruitment experience). Al Jones is a recent graduate of the Environmental Science stream of The University of Melbourne, and is now employed in the graduate program of GHD. They provided valuable perspectives on recruitment.
Here is a summary of what I heard in the discussion:
Applications should be tightly focused on the specific selection criteria;
Employers are looking for people who are smart, have initiative, can communicate well (including effectively dealing with conflict, and can write and speak clearly), are self-motivated, are committed, and can learn quickly and independently. Some technical skills are helpful, but many positions will involve training. That might be depressing for students who have completed 5 years or more of study, but employers use academic performance as an indicator of some of these attributes;
Use examples and narratives that illustrate the attributes that employers are seeking, and that address the selection criteria. Be prepared to talk about these examples in an interview;
Don’t expect recruiters to read every word of every application – your application needs to be to the point and engaging. For example, be aware of what (how little) people read of CV’s;
Do background research so that you undertand the organisation and the role;
You will need to be persistent – some jobs will have dozens of applicants or more;
Take advantage of networking opportunities. Seek out mentors in relevant organisations who can help identify opportunities; and
Gain experience via volunteering and vacation employment in relevant areas.
Edit on 30 Oct 2012: I have just have a Twitter conversation with @Dr24Hours and @ChemJobber about volunteering. It is important that you think carefully about what you might volunteer for. You need to genuinely think about whether the skills being gained are worth the time being spent. There is the real risk that the volunteer might be exploited unfairly. In fact, even in paid work it is important that one isn’t being exploited. As @Dr24Hours put it: “There’s a difference between volunteering for an organization because you believe in their goals …and being force to volunteer because the people with the keys to the kingdom won’t pay you.” While it wouldn’t be a primary reason to help, volunteering for an organization because you believe in their goals can also help your career. Depending on what you do, these benefits might include experience with organizing people and projects, managing budgets, learning about leadership and teamwork, etc. Having examples of these skills and experiences outside of life as a student can help for some (most?) jobs.
Also, I just read this article about internships in The Age: http://www.theage.com.au/national/unpaid-internship-code-for-modernday-exploitation-20120410-1wn1o.html. These seem different from what I had previously regarded as internships where students gain academic credit towards a degree via their internship. Am I right? But I can see why @ChemJobber and @Dr24Hours were less enthusiastic about volunteer positions – the style of internship in the article seemingly crosses the line towards exploitation.
And this too: http://www.theage.com.au/small-business/managing/all-work-and-no-pay-20121015-27luu.html
There are probably lots of other points that have slipped my mind, but these seem to have been the key ones.
Edit (12/11/2013): Here is some advice about getting a job in conservation: http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/blog/help-i-want-to-get-a-job.html