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Wildwood founder recalls his early search for a job

It can be a tough task for current students to land a job after completing their studies at university, with dozens of job applications, CVs to prepare and cover letters to write. But imagine applying for 500 jobs, attending hundred of interviews, and applying for countless PhD programmes – only to be turned down every time. That was the story for Wildwood’s chief executive and founder Peter Smith, who found himself facing the dole queue after completing a master’s degree at the University of Kent in 1994. He had studied at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) department at the university in Canterbury, prompting him to write an article about his experiences looking for work. When he returned to give a lecture to current students last month he was presented with the article, which detailed the challenges ecology and conservation students face. Mr Smith said:

“It was in the middle of the last recession and the country was still coming out of it. There weren’t many jobs around, and I was looking to get into the conservation world. I was also applying for various PhD schemes. In the end I was writing and sending CVs to every conservation organisation in the country. Half of them were purely speculative. I had my own little computer filing system so I could send off CVs left, right and centre.”

It included 214 speculative applications, 357 job applications, and 67 PhD applications. He gained interviews for five jobs, and eight PhD schemes. But gallingly they all proved unsuccessful. So he adopted a change of tack, and looked for volunteer schemes to get his foot in the door. He began volunteering in his native county of Durham for the Northumberland Centre of Ecology. Then he was offered the chance to write a report for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He said:

“In the end I basically had to make my own job.! raised the cash for my own salary through a campaign. I did well and was offered a full-time post.”

Gradually Mr Smith has learned more campaigning skills, public relations knowledge and fundraising. He set up the Wildwood park in 2002, working to conserve native British species at the site off Canterbury Road in Herne Common. The park takes on a number of students every year to learn about working in the industry while getting their living expenses paid. He added:

“We have students working with us, and one of our ex-apprentices has now moved on to be living and working with hyenas in Africa. For me, getting in to the game was difficult. It is a totally different industry now. Back then there were virtually no jobs and conservation was lower down the priorities. But now it’s tough because government funding cuts are starting to bite, so it’s definitely not easy for current students.”

For more details on Wildwood visit www.wildwoodtrust.org
To see Mr Smith’s lecture to current students visit www.renegadeecologist.blogspot.co.uk

Herne Bay Gazette, April 9th 2015

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