Here at Zoox, we receive many applications from people looking to dip their toes into the bright blue world of marine conservation. Because building your professional profile is at the core of Zoox courses, we ask you to apply for the Zoox Experience Programme as you would a job; we want a CV and to hear what you have to say about yourself during the application process through the means of a (dreaded) cover letter.
It need not cause you so many hours of agony that by the time you have finished writing it you either can’t be bothered to proofread it (so the employer receives a typo-full, badly worded rendition of your life’s work), or you have decided you no longer want the stupid job anyway!
But let me reassure you of one thing. We have all been there. Job hunting is a torturous process but here are some of our most useful tips to catch the eye of your prospective employer and ensuring your application is not overlooked.
DO NOT skip it, and DO tailor each one
If the employer has asked for something, they are expecting it. Your application may not be accepted without it.
If the application asks for a cover letter, whatever you do, do not send the application without it. By disregarding the instructions, you are already showing the employer that you are unable to follow standard procedure and protocols and your application will probably end up in the trash.
The employer wants to feel like you really want the job – so tailor each cover letter to their job specifically. Use their organisation name, refer to any of their work that relates to your experience. Please, please avoid copy and paste wherever you can. There is nothing worse than including another organisation’s name or project. It shows that you haven’t done even simple background research and have terrible proof-reading skills. Not exactly employee material.
In a Conservation Careers blog detailing the employer’s side of the application process, approximately 10% of applications were immediately excluded as their application was missing a part, or because their copy and paste efforts were inaccurate!
Set it out properly!
Look up the correct way to do things and then do them well – Google is thy saviour!
Letter writing has become a sort of lost art form as technology has developed and email has made communication faster and more reliable. But this does not mean you should skip the letter writing norms. Use an easy-to-read font, no smaller than 11 with 1.15 line spacing.
At the very least the letter should include your name and mailing address in the top right followed by the name, job title and company (if known) aligned left underneath. Date goes on the right again.
As in an email, include a reference subject line above the “Dear…” part of the letter. Then you can address the reader directly.
- If you know their name, go ahead and use it in full, prefixed with Mr. or Ms. (better not to assume female marital status).
- If you don’t know their name, never assume the person is a man. We live in 2016 now and Dear Sirs, is simply not a good way to address a potentially female recipient. Best to stick with “To Whom it May Concern”.
The correct way to set out a cover letter.
Include no more than five well written paragraphs, keeping it to one page, or what can be read in 90 seconds. Too long and the reader will get bored, or simply have to move on to the next applicant. Attaching the letter as a PDF document to the email allows the reader to print it out if necessary. Avoid typing the cover letter in the email body.
To end the letter, you will have different practices depending on where you send the letter.
Americans use Yours Faithfully and Yours Sincerely different to the British. As a broad British rule, if you addressed the letter to ‘Dear Mr …’ the sign off is ‘Yours sincerely’. If addressed to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern’, then ‘Yours faithfully’ is correct.
By following these guidelines, you are demonstrating that you have strong writing and communication skills. As email takes over as the preferred communication method, it is encouraging when an employer sees good form is not forgotten.
Never just write that you “love the ocean.”
We all do, that’s why we are here. It doesn’t make you stand out
Instead of simply stating the obvious, think about what really motivates you. What particular part of the ocean do you love? Focus down your interest.
Are you interested in monitoring marine life? Tell the employer that you would like to use (or develop) your marine survey skills to fuel effective ocean policy based on sound science.
Enjoy teaching others? Tell your employer that you want to get (or how you have previously been) involved in local community projects to inspire people to change their behaviours and protect coral reefs, in the same way you yourself were inspired.
Love Dolphins? … I’m afraid we can’t help you there!
Jokes aside, make your writing stand out from the crowd while simultaneously informing people about your previous experience. We like to see that you are an inspired, capable and professional individual who will bring something unique to the team, not just a generic love of the oceans.
By adding specific details, you are also addressing why you are applying for that specific role. This shows you have more motivation and drive than a one-size-fits-all attitude.
During the Zoox training we always ask our volunteers “why do you do what you do?” This isn’t just for our staff to get to know them, but it starts the critical process of figuring out what drives you, and where you want to go. Ask yourself the same question, write down the answer and keep it in mind when reading job descriptions – how can you tie your goals into the requirements for the job?
Show your dedication through experience and your successes
University teaches us a lot, life teaches us more; never underestimate transferable skills.
Any experience you can demonstrate, even if it’s not in a related field, can be used to make you a better candidate than someone with no applied knowledge.
By providing specifics, employers know exactly how good you are at those tasks. ‘CV exaggerators’ will often leave out facts and figures, so include them, and be proud, no matter how small.
If you are coming mid-career from another sector, try and identify how your skills are transferable. Organising corporate events, for example, will have you using your project planning and time management skills, leadership skills and people management. These are needed for every career path, including conservation.
If you are coming from a degree, you will want to show your understanding that you need to gain work experience and are willing to put in the time to develop the necessary skills. Detailing any related experience from University clubs, field work, or volunteering will help you. Your Saturday job may have seemed unimportant but being able to evidence good personality traits such as the ability to deal with workplace conflict, or excellent customer service will enhance your CV and prove that you got more from the job than a wage.
Including detail about what you hope to get out of the job will also show your ambitions. If you are applying for an internship, state what you hope to do afterwards. It shows that you will be motivated to do well in the job so that you can achieve more, later. If you invest in your future, so will your employer.
See what your temporary position can do for you…
PERSONAL CASE STUDY: During my years before conservation (and more recently, to fund my conservation habit) I worked as the Assistant Manager-Elf of a Christmas Grotto where children meet Father Christmas. Now that you have stopped laughing I can tell you I developed team management skills (Oversaw and coordinated a 30 strong team of ‘elves’), dealt with stakeholder conflicts – customers would get angry they waited in line for 3 hours! Successfully interacted (worked) with young children during the visits and reached the company target of seeing close to 37,000 children during a six-week period. This unofficially made us the biggest Christmas Grotto in the world. Not bad skill development for a temporary job over Christmas!
Research the company, (sparingly) use their buzzwords against them!
Make their mission statement, your mission statement – and it may well become so
Thoroughly read the job description and pull out their buzzwords (like the ones I highlight in bold throughout this blog). Then write your CV and cover letter using these words.
Many conservation organisations have a mission statement. It is what keeps our work on track so that we are always achieving the original goal. For example, our sister charity Reef-World’s mission is:
“To inspire and empower people to act in conserving and sustainably developing coastal resources, particularly coral reefs and related ecosystems”
When applying to The Reef-World Foundation they will be looking for situations where you have been inspirational and empowering in the context of conservation with particular focus on coral reefs.
Recognise that, tell them how you have those skills, how you want to use those skills in the future, and what about their current conservation efforts interests you the most. It shows you have read the website, understood what they do, what you are expected to do, and taken enough of an interest in their activities to write to them.
Most of the information can be found on one or two pages, and its addition can really enhance your application. Simple!
And that is all there is to it!
Want more professional guidance to get your marine conservation dream job? Or just need more experience to write about? Check out what it’s like to spend 8-weeks in the Philippines doing both on the Zoox Experience Programme!