So you’ve managed to talk to a bunch of strangers and make a spaghetti tower together; congratulations on surviving phase one of your zookeeper assessment day. Hopefully you’ve had an opportunity to stand out as a leader while being courteous and respectful of all your teammates, adhering to all safety standards and squashing the nerves you’ve felt every time you see the assessors looking at you, scribbling away on their notepads. And hoorah, you’ve survived the cull and been shortlisted again; you’re through to the next phase, the interview panel. Feeling intimidated? You should. The 3 people sitting opposite you will now determine your final fate. You’re so close… so, how to not stuff it up.
Firstly be polite, respectful, open-minded and eager. They’ve had a long day too. Firstly they had to remember everyone’s name (or create crafty acronyms, like GJBH&G for the girl in the “Grey Jumper with Brown Hair and Glasses”). Then they had to judge everyone on countless menial tasks, like how well you raked the sand compared to STMB (the guy in the “Striped T-Shirt with the Man Bun). This is all hard work for the assessors, and there’s still 25 of you left; plus they didn’t get a proper lunch break and they know they have that important meeting with their supervisor tomorrow. So, how can you keep them smiling and nodding for just a few more minutes?
Well, highlighting your enthusiasm and passion for the job are a great start. Show them you can be flexible; you understand you will have to work weekends, short contracts, maybe volunteer and even do further studies. Show them you understand you may not get to work with your favourite animals; even better, don’t have any favourite animals. Let them know you’re happy to work with ANY animal; invertebrate or mammal, native or exotic. This also shows you are ultimately capable of accepting the reality of the position; a mandatory requirement for passing the interview.
But how to get an edge? Well, if you’ve prepared by finding out a little bit about the organisation as a whole, you might have noticed they have several catch-phrases or key words they like to use. It may seem corny, but finding a way to (genuinely) slip these words into your conversation may help you stand out and give you the final tick of approval. In moderation. Answering every question with “wildlife warrior” and a chest thump- even when they just asked for your date of birth- won’t win you any points. Remember, these key words often revolve around conservation goals of the organisation, projects and campaigns the organisation is working on, safety, or something similar.
Other questions like “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” are common, and require a level of modesty. If you answer with “hopefully working at this organisation, building up my knowledge and skillset on an array of taxa, having completed my Certificate 3 in Captive Animals and maybe even assisting in some fieldwork with your endangered species should the opportunity arise”… you nailed it! What don’t they want to hear? Things like “overseas, taking a year-long vacation in the Bahamas”, or “well OBVIOUSLY I’ll be a senior specialist in baby tigers by then”, or even “I’m not sure, I haven’t given it much thought” are all unacceptable answers. If I have to explain why, forget it.
And hopefully after this long, traumatic, emotionally and physically exhausting day (think raking and beep tests), it’s over. You receive the phonecall in the following days letting you know you have made the final cut. You’ve done it (medical pending). You are now in prime position to begin your zookeeping career. Congratulations. Big celebrations. Did someone say champagne? Sorry. Reality check. All of this was just the preliminary warm up. That marathon I was talking about? Well, that race hasn’t even started yet. It’s literally only just beginning…
* I am posting in a personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed are my own and do not represent those of the organisation I work for.