Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Eliza’s Lessons for Job Applicants

A guest post by Eliza Perry, one of our Hubbard Fellows:

For the past few months, Anne and I have been helping with the process of selecting the 2014-2015 Hubbard Fellows. And OH MAN, being on the “other end” of employment seeking was incredibly enlightening, and I wanted to share with my fellow job-hunters some of the key things I learned that I’ll be keeping in mind during my own upcoming job search. Below these you will find Chris’ response to what I took away from my experience.

Eliza contemplates the complexities of the job application process.

Eliza contemplates the complexities of the job application process.  Photo by Eliza.

1. Get relevant experience. FIND A WAY! Find a way to get relevant experience in whatever direction you hope to pursue after your schooling. That might mean relocating for a summer or volunteering during your already super busy school year.

2. Enthusiasm for every aspect of the position. Especially if you want to work for The Nature Conservancy, chances are your position will include a broad variety of responsibilities. Articulating your knowledge of and enthusiasm for each of these is very important, and shows that you specifically want this position, in this place.

3. Leadership capabilities. Yes, being the head of the outdoors club or the founder of an environmental group is a plus, but it turns out leadership capabilities can be demonstrated in less obvious ways too. It’s easy to assume that only presidents of clubs and captains of teams truly have leadership experience. However leadership, especially in relation to this fellowship, means taking initiative and being the type of worker that others can successfully model themselves after. Both of these abilities can be demonstrated in almost any setting/situation, and both indicate you are equipped to contribute meaningfully to your employer.

4. Don’t be self-serving. Don’t get me wrong, it is really important to ask yourself “What am I hoping to take away from my experiences on the job?” Defining goals and a tentative metric of success and articulating these during all stages of the application process can really make an applicant stand out. However, and this is a big however, there is always a danger of focusing too exclusively (in cover letters and interviews) on what we would get out of the experience, and neglecting how we’d contribute to the employer. Coming off as self-serving, even if inadvertently, can definitely work against you.

5. Engage with your hiring committee and show your personality. Don’t treat the interview process like talking to a wall. Awkward as it can seem sometimes, hiring committees are actually composed of other members of the human species who can laugh at your jokes, respond to your inquiries, and judge your demeanor. There’s no single right way to go about it, but find ways to be who you are while also taking full advantage of the opportunity to hear about the position and show your enthusiasm. Doing so shows your personality, which is a big factor in deciding whether a candidate is right for the job and shows that you are a fellow thoughtful human being.

6. The Hulk Effect. We applicants can get caught up in the job-hunting stress and try to morph into exactly what we imagine employers want. We shed our own skins and turn into The Incredible Hulk, flexing our pumped-up resumes and bellowing “PICK ME!” We’re not meant to excel at every job because we all have different strengths and weaknesses. So the reality is you might not be the best fit for a particular position. If this is the case, it doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the merits of your application. Instead, it might mean the job isn’t right for you (but plenty of other jobs will be). I did not hear this often, if at all, from career counselors or while I was job hunting. I think rejection of this sort tends to make us feel like we’re inadequate in general, but that is simply not the case. What’s more, career counseling can make you feel like you should avoid being yourself, and instead be universally appealing—be The Hulk—but that can be spotted easily in interviews and reference checks.


From Chris:

I think Eliza did an excellent job of capturing some key points.  Everyone evaluates candidates differently, so it’s hard to know what a particular hiring manager is going to be looking for, but I think Eliza’s point # 6 about avoiding the HULK syndrome is really good.  At least for the kinds of positions I fill, I’m not just looking at qualifications, I’m looking for the right fit – in both directions, for us as an organization, but also for the candidates in order to maximize the likelihood of a successful experience.  That “fit” can include a lot of intangible aspects related to personality and interests and how those attributes correlate with our culture and values.

When it comes down to a group of finalists, it’s rare that one person stands out in terms of their experience or other qualifications.  More often, I am left to choose between several very qualified people and I have to try to figure out who is going to meld best with our team in both complimentary and contradictory ways.  As part of that, I have to judge how well each candidate will likely get along with other staff, which is why Eliza’s point about interacting in a genuine way during interviews is so important.  The final stage of the selection process is when someone’s enthusiasm for the position (Eliza’s Lesson #2) really comes into play.  I will almost always choose someone who has the skills to do the job but also REALLY wants to be here rather than someone who might have more experience but sees this as just one of many options.

Having said that, experience is also really important, and I’m astounded by how many college students finish school with almost no relevant job experience.  Especially in the conservation field where there are far fewer jobs than candidates, the idea that you’ll get a good job just by taking classes is ludicrous.  As an employer, I’m looking for people who have the kind of real world experience they’ll need if they work for me.  Often, in my particular case, it’s experience with tools (ATVs, chainsaws, fence repair tools, etc.) or skills (plant identification, herbicide spraying, seed harvest, etc.)

When I’m hiring entry level or stewardship positions, I assume that I’ll need to train a person in the way we do things locally, but if they have at least some experience somewhere else, our training process becomes much easier.  More importantly, if a candidate has gained relevant experience elsewhere, I feel comfortable that they’ll enjoy working with us because this won’t be the first time they’ve spent long hours doing that kind of work.  If they’ve never actually done the work before, there’s a decent chance they’ll find out that it’s not as much fun as they’d hoped, and then both of us will be miserable.

Lastly, when I look at someone’s experience, I’m often willing to forgive a lack of comprehensive experience if it’s clear that they’ve taken full advantage of their limited opportunities to gain experience.  For example, I don’t expect someone just graduating from college to have 2 years of field experience.  But if I look at their resume and see that they’ve spent their summers doing construction work or waiting tables instead of finding work in conservation, I assume they’re not really serious about working in this field – especially if they haven’t compensated by getting conservation experience in other ways, such as through volunteering on weekends or evenings.

Again, not everyone thinks like I do, and hiring decisions are made for lots of different reasons, so Eliza and I would both be curious to hear from both employers and job applicants about your experiences and suggestions.  Thanks!