How to Get Hired
5 Steps to Getting a Job in Animal Activism (or any other field)
IDA invites you to read this column on our Sustainable Activism Blog, “How to Get Hired” by guest blogger Hillary Rettig, author of “The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way” and “The 7 Secrets of the Prolific.”
One of the most frequently asked questions Hillary received after starting this column is how to get an actual, paid job doing animal activism. It’s terrific that so many IDA supporters want to make helping animals their profession!
Helping people get jobs and do career shifts is one of Hillary’s professional specialties. She has helped many people get animal activism-related jobs and is highly qualified to answer this question. She wrote a 50-page ebook entitled “It’s Not You, It’s Your Strategy: The HIAPy Guide to Finding Work in a Tough Job Market,” which you can download for free. It explains some of the pitfalls of job searching and will help you avoid them. Please check it out, and feel free to share it with others.
Here are five tips to get you started:
1) Realize that Getting an Animal Activism Job is No Different Than Getting Any Other Job
There’s nothing special about applying for animal activist jobs, compared with other jobs. Sure, there’s a lot of competition, but that’s true for any good job these days. Instead of dwelling on the competition, focus instead on transforming yourself into a fantastic job applicant. (If you do that, the odds of getting an offer are probably far better than you realize, as I explain in #4, below.)
The first step is getting good, up-to-date information on how to conduct a job search—and unfortunately, while there’s some good information out there, it often gets drowned out by the vast flood of bad information, some of it coming from people who claim to be experts. You’ll usually find excellent advice in the Wall Street Journal career columns, and don’t forget to check out the 2015 edition of Richard Bolles’s classic book, “What Color is Your Parachute?” (And don’t forget to read my ebook!)
2) Be Strategic
Don’t apply willy-nilly for every job that comes up. Instead, work strategically—meaning, figure out what your ideal job would be and work backwards from there.
First, figure out what you’re best at, whether it’s writing, numbers, program management, fundraising, or something else. Find organizations that hire people with that skill, and download a job description. (If there’s not one on the website, email the human resources department and ask them to send you one.)
Then, do a self-assessment to see how strong a candidate you are. Don’t worry too much if you don’t have every single requirement for a job, or if you come from a nontraditional background. So long as you have the basic skills and experience needed, or can easily acquire them, you should apply for any openings. (Hirers often value nontraditional candidates for their fresh perspectives and ideas: however, don’t forget that it’s your job to make it explicitly clear why your nontraditional background is a plus.)
After you’ve done the self-assessment, ask others who are informed about the animal activism job market to assess you. This is a key role that mentors play; here and here are articles on how to find, keep, and use mentors. Another useful technique is to set up an informational interview with people associated with organizations you might want to work for.
Finally, it’s important to figure out whether you’re willing to move, get a degree, or take any other big step that might be necessary. If not, that’s okay—it’s totally your choice—but you should accept that that will probably narrow the pool of potential jobs you can apply for. In that case, don’t forget that there are lots of “non-animal-activist” jobs out there that will still allow you to help animals. You could, for instance, work for a business that sells vegan products, or a wellness or personal care center that uses them. Or, you could work for an environmental, food justice, or other social justice organization. By representing animal interests in those realms, you’d be making an important contribution. For many years, for instance, I did nonprofit microenterprise work; and in those jobs I always reached out to vegan and animal-activist entrepreneurs to see how I could support them. Once, I even organized a panel discussion on how to start an animal-related business. The panel featured a groomer, a trainer, and a petsitter; and more than 40 passionate, would-be animal entrepreneurs attended.
3) Proactively Integrate Yourself Into Organizations You’d Like to Work For
Waiting until an organization posts a job opening and then applying for it is a weak strategy. Your application will be one of dozens or hundreds, and barely noticed, if at all.
But getting to know the people in an organization you’d like to work for, so that, even before an opening comes up, they’re thinking, “It would be great to work with Miriam!” Or, “Muhammad would be perfect for this new job we’re creating!” Now, that’s a strong strategy.
If there are organizations you’d like to work for, start volunteering for them in ways that demonstrate your skills and attitude. Let them see the fantastic job you do managing a project, organizing a meeting, writing a newsletter, raising money, or taking care of animals; and they’ll feel safe and confident in offering you employment.
4) Details count
It’s well known among human resources and career coaching types that around 85% of job applicants screw up their application process. 85%! It sounds incredible, but it’s true. People screw up in all kinds of ways:
• They send in resumes and cover letters with typos, bad grammar, or bad formatting.
• They send generic resumes and cover letters instead of customizing them for each job they’re applying for.
• They apply for jobs they’re not qualified for.
• They show up for interviews late, badly groomed, and/or unprepared.
• They don’t send thank you notes. (C’mon people!)
• They select the wrong people to serve as references, and/or don’t prep their references so that they make the best impression.
These 85% of applicants are basically disqualifying themselves from consideration—which means that, as long as you’re not among them, your competition is much smaller than you realized. So work to perfect every step of the application process.
Of course, it takes time to do that—lots of time. Which brings us to…
5) Don’t Worry, be HIAPy
There are two basic ways to apply for work:
You can broadcast the same “generic” application to hundreds of potential hirers, with each application having a near-zero chance of success. Since hundreds of applications multiplied by zero odds still equals zero, your chances of getting hired using this technique are close to zero. Or,
You can apply for a handful of highly desirable jobs with great focus and attention to detail, so that your odds of getting hired for any one of them are significant. When I coach people, for instance, I aim to have at least one quarter of the resumes they submit lead to an interview, and one-quarter of the interviews lead to an offer. That means one offer per sixteen resumes submitted—far better odds than “zero.”
I call the strategy of applying for a few jobs in a highly customized way, and with great focus and attention to detail, the High-Intensity Application Process (HIAP). HIAP increases the chances, at each stage of the application process, that you will be moved to the next stage, so…
• HIAPy research and networking should increase the chances that your resume will be seriously considered.
• A HIAPy resume and cover letter should increase the chances that you land a phone interview.
• A HIAPy phone interview should increase your chances of landing an in-person one.
• A HIAPy in-person interview should increase the chances of your being short-listed for the position.
• And all of these plus your HIAPy references should greatly increase your chances of getting an offer.
Another advantage of HIAP is that you are using your brain throughout the process (instead of just routinely sending out resumes), so that your application skills, and chances of being hired, should improve over time.
Any job you really want is worth applying for HIAPily.
Depending on your situation and prior experience, the above steps might take you anywhere from weeks to months to years to achieve. That might be disappointing, if you want an animal activist job now, but it’s not unusual—many top activists took years to get to where they are. Never doubt that the effort is worthwhile, however. Along with the wonderful privilege of helping the animals, there is no substitute for the joy and satisfaction of getting to live your life according to your values.
PS – The above steps are crucial, but there are also many others, so don’t forget to check out my free ebook!
Hillary Rettig is the author of “The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way” and “The 7 Secrets of the Prolific,” the latter a bestseller in Amazon’s productivity category. Hillary teaches online classes, and offers discounted productivity and time management coaching to activists. For more information about Hillary and her work, along with many free articles, visit: www.hillaryrettig.com. Hillary always welcomes your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.