Most jobs in wildlife, especially those that involve working hands on with wild animals, require that you have experience with wild animals of a variety of species. You’ll need experience feeding the animals, cleaning cages, and building habitats. Volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center, zoo, or other animal facility is a prime opportunity to gain this experience. And if you stand out as a volunteer, doors will open for you to a paid position. The key to advancing from volunteer to employee is to take your volunteer job seriously and treat it as if it were a paying position.
As a volunteer you will probably be given a regular weekly day and hours to work, such as Wednesdays from noon to five. Too many volunteers do not take these hours seriously and show up late or not at all. Show up five minutes early and stay five minutes late and your supervisors will notice. Show up every week for your scheduled shift on time and you will stand out amongst the other volunteers.
Call in Sick Only When Necessary
If you truly can’t make it to your shift, do call as soon as you can to let the staff know. Not showing up without notice can make it difficult for everything to get done that day because you were counted on to volunteer and do a share of the work. Just don’t call in sick on a regular basis. Good volunteer programs will fire volunteers that do not show up for their workday or call in sick too often.
Your title may be that of volunteer, but you are there to work. Don’t think this is time you can spend slacking off or chatting with other volunteers. And you can expect the work to be grunt work when you first start. Like any other staff member, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. But you will also be learning all aspects of animal care or how the organization works. From that you will learn that the grunt work, such as scrubbing cages or hauling dirt or pulling weeds, is part of everyone’s job no matter their position because the animal care, habitat preservation, or other mission of the organization comes first. If you don’t like scooping poop, pulling thistle, working in the hot sun, or maintaining trails now, then you may want to rethink your career goals. As a volunteer you are doing the same work that staff does. If you truly enjoy the work, and give 110% during your volunteer shift, you’ll have staff begging you to come more often.
If you’ve followed all this advice to be a stand out volunteer, then you will become a staff favorite. The downside to being one of the more reliable and hard working volunteers is that staff will want you to work more shifts, longer shifts, and take on more responsibility. Do so only if you can keep those commitments with the same enthusiasm and dedication that you’ve shown in the past. If you know you do not have the time to contribute more, do say so. You want to make a good impression, but don’t take on responsibilities you know you can’t live up to. This is a benefit of being a volunteer, you can say no and keep your job.
Organizations that have volunteer programs do so because they need extra help and cannot afford to hire more staff. If you want a career with wildlife, view your volunteer positions as if it were a paid position from day one. You can be certain that supervisors notice volunteers that go above and beyond. You can also be certain that giving anything less will also be noticed.