Tag Archives: ABWAK

Career Advice & Preparing for job interviews

In my career I have interviewed a few hundred candidates, and gone through several thousand CVs and application forms. Fortunately, I have been on the other side of an interview just a few times. So it was good to use this wealth of experience and help create the first ABWAK Associate Members Careers Workshop held at Sparsholt College in mid March 2017.

Alongside presentations and activities from ZooStephen on my career, understanding job adverts, CVs, application forms and interviews, the day included advice on volunteering and networking from ABWAK Council member Daniel O’Loughlin (Sparsholt) and career case studies and question time with Kathy Doherty, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and Meg Fieldhouse, Marwell Zoo.

The delegates, mostly at the start of their ‘zoological’ careers, engaged in discussion and activities designed to help them improve their own CVs, understand the recruitment process better, and prepare for their future careers.

The day was also designed to provide an honest appraisal of the job situation and employment in the ‘zoo industry’, and so delegates were made aware that jobs are very competitive, salaries still low, especially at junior level, and that many are using ‘volunteering and internships’ as additional routes to employment (but there are no guarantees, and risk of working for nothing). Sometimes being an excellent candidate is not enough, there is an element of what some call luck – being there at the right time, knowing the right people etc. Being the best candidate on paper doesn’t necessarily mean being the best person for the job. Unfortunately it is also true to say that the best person for the job may be passed over – and this may be because on paper they don’t have the best qualifications or experience, or they are over-qualified etc. It’s life, and it’s not always ‘fair’.  Be persistent, pursue the dream and passion… but be prepared to alter path and modify goals in the light of experience.

Feedback from delegates showed that 81% strongly agreed that the presentations and activities were excellent (with the remaining 19% agreeing excellent).  And comments included:

Really informative, found all of the talks really interesting and helpful.

Really interesting day to give insight into a process that is frustrating and usually comes without any feedback.

Really enjoyed the day. Excellent information about CVs and interviews which is really relevant.

The day was very beneficial to help me understand the positives and negatives of zoo work. Also have new ideas and changed path to achieve my goal.

Absolutely fantastic! I don’t think it could have been more helpful!

Thanks to Sparsholt College for hosting and to Daniel, Kathy & Meg for their input and to ABWAK.
More ABWAK Career Workshops are planned, and I offer careers talks as ZooStephen.

The importance of networking – in praise of ABWAK

For 160+ keepers, 4-5 March 2017 was a very full weekend of networking, talks, workshops and activity held at Colchester Zoo. The annual ABWAK Symposium was once again a huge success, and I was proud to be Chair of the meeting, and complete my term as Chair of the Association and be honoured with the new role of Vice President.

The weekend featured many different topics and taxa, but was framed around our theme of expanding knowledge and networks. The two keynote talks – David Field, Zoological Director ZSL and new ABWAK President on day 1, and Lesley Dickie, CEO of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (& Jersey Zoo) on day 2, focused upon both the importance of knowledge and of networks – but also the pitfalls of ‘fake news’, having trust, responsibility, ethics and honesty and having ambition, learning from failure, and being brave in career choices and development.

The network of zookeepers (and private keepers, along with those aspiring to be keepers through courses etc) has significantly advanced and grown since ABWAK was founded in 1974, not least with the development of the international network ICZ which held its first meeting in 2003.

I joined ABWAK in March 1987 when small groups of keepers met occasionally including for social activity such as inter-zoo quizzes, & the keeper training course (national extension college) was well established, but the network was small. However, over the years and especially so in the past decade, the association has become praised for its symposium and knowledge sharing, alongside its training role with well received workshops on a diversity of topics.

The ABWAK / keeper network is important and now has over 1000 paying members. It has directly helped many participants in both developing their own knowledge and practice but also in career moves. It is often those ‘casual’ relationships and conversations that lead to opportunities, and knowing who might be willing to volunteer to help on a studbook or have ideas and advice … as well as those that may be possible new employees or employers.

To this end, I’m delighted to be helping ABWAK deliver its first Associate Member workshop on 18th March at Sparsholt College, focusing upon careers and helping those aspiring to become keepers to improve their job selection, application forms and CVs, and interview techniques. Then once they have entered the profession to utilise the network effectively and contribute to the development of their profession into the future.

ABWAK – supporting keeper development

I’m pleased to announce publication of the March issue of RATEL, the Journal of the Association of British & Irish Wild Animal Keepers (ABWAK).  I have edited and produced RATEL for over 10 years now and it is great to assist the UK, Irish & International zookeeeper community to share knowledge and expertise.

March RATEL features articles including: Barbary macaque conservation; operant conditioning in otters; positive reinforcement for lions; anthropormorphism in a zoo; and mixed exhibit of warty pigs and spotted deer.

This issue comes out as we prepare to meet for our annual ABWAK Symposium at Folly Farm, in South Wales (5-6 March). Over 160 people will be gathered together for a weekend of networking, presentations, training. Guest speakers include TV vet Steve Leonard and Barbary macaque conservationist Sian Waters.

RATELMarch2016