The application process for the Michael Hearn Internship Programme 2013-14 is now closed. We would like to thank everyone who applied for the role. Please see below additional feedback on the applications we received.
Depending on the post being recruited, job vacancies will be advertised in a range of media including environmentjob.co.uk and as well as on this website. We advertise all posts in the interests of Equal Opportunities.
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Feedback on the application process for the Michael Hearn Intern post, July 2013
The application process is now closed. We received a total of 215 applications, and are very grateful to all of those who took the time and trouble to apply for the Michael Hearn Internship Programme. Seven candidates are being invited for interview, and we hope to make an appointment by Friday 26 July, with the successful candidate taking up his or her post on 2 September.
As we are unable to give individual feedback on each application, we thought it would be helpful to give the following explanation of our selection process and general advice to those who were unsuccessful in reaching the interview stage.
The first sift
43 applications were excluded immediately for the following reasons:
• 1 did not include a cover letter (distinct from a personal statement) as requested in the job application pack. A two-line email does not, in my view, count as a cover letter
• 7 misspelled the name “Michael Hearn” or “Save the Rhino”. You might think it’s harsh to chuck someone out for a – let’s be generous – typing mistake, but if someone can’t get the job title or organisation name right, what chance they can do other things well?
• 12 were over-qualified, with a Masters degree. The job application pack set out eligibility terms, specifying that we would not accept students with a Masters (second) degree
• 9 graduated too long ago. Again, the job application pack set out eligibility terms, specifying that we would only accept school leavers or those graduating in 2012 or 2013
• 2 people felt it essential to tell us in their cover letters that they are vegan / vegetarian. Why? We did not specify a requirement to be so in the job application pack. And in fact, if you look at our website, you’ll see that we are in favour of the sustainable use of wildlife, which includes culling, cropping and hunting wildlife. Individuals may choose to be vegan / vegetarian, but it simply is not relevant to a job at Save the Rhino. If you’re applying to PETA, then yes it is relevant. But you need to tailor your letter to the organisation to which you are applying
• 2 arrived after the 6pm deadline on 17 July
• 5 had letters or CVs that were corrupted files and we were unable to open them. You might think this is unfair, but we simply don’t have time to print out each application as we receive them and let applicants know if there is a problem. If you’re not sure (or are worried about pc / mac compatibility), save them as a pdf or email to a friend and ask them to check before submitting
• 5 people had not done their cutting and pasting very well, and sent us their applications for jobs at ZSL or Fauna and Flora International, or to be the Seasonal Quail Research Intern. I’m sure you had great CVs, but if you were to send one of our grant applications to USFWS addressed to DWCF, I guarantee our precious chance to get a grant would be lost
Choosing the seven interviewees
That left 172 letters and CVs to look at in detail and from which to choose 7 candidates for interview; still an enormous task. (Seven is the most people we can see in one day, with interviews starting on the hour at 9am, breaking for lunch, and then restarting again. We can’t afford to spend more time conducting more interviews.)
Our approach was for each of the six members of Save the Rhino staff reviewing the applications to mark each application with a “yes”, a “no”, or a “maybe”, depending on the criteria set out in the person specification and on other qualities for which we were looking.
We ended up with 13 applications that had six yes marks; we then had to select from these the seven to invite for interview, and a further three as reserves in case not everyone still wanted to be considered. This was probably the hardest bit of the whole process, and we focused on making sure that we see the people who have not only got great experience of volunteering at conservation organisations, but also have some admin and fundraising experience. A spark of personality in the cover letter also helped.
A staggering 91 applications had no ticks at all. That’s quite a large number… why?
I have to admit that I got slightly depressed reviewing the applications, as people are still making the same mistakes they were making when we advertised for the first Michael Hearn Intern. I post more-or-less the same feedback each year, and there are hundreds of websites and books offering job-seeking advice, so I’m really not sure why people keep making the same mistakes. There were problems with the cover letter and with the CVs, so I’ll go through each of those in turn below.
Problems with the cover letter
Lots of people didn’t actually set out a proper letter. If you want it to look good, and print out properly, you need to do it as a separate word document or, better still, a pdf. That way it arrives looking exactly the same as when it left you. A proper letter should have your address at the top, be addressed to Save the Rhino, have 4-5 decent paragraphs, and have your typed name (and ideally an electronic signature) at the bottom. It was noticeable that the seven selected for interview had all set out their letter well, which then made us want to read what they had written.
We rejected people with poor written English skills – spelling, grammar and punctuation – because all roles at SRI involve written work for a whole range of audiences, whether a grant application or a blog for the website. We don’t have time to proof-read everything each member of staff writes before it goes out, so if you haven’t bothered to check your letter or CV, what hope?
You need to say why you want the job (we spelled this out in the instructions in the job application pack). Too many people used the space to tell us all over again how brilliant they are and repeated reams of information that was already in the CV. For this post, it should have been really simple: explain why and how the Michael Hearn Internship would be a good introduction to a career in conservation; what skills you would be able to acquire, how it would build on what you’ve already done, what extra you could bring to Save the Rhino. You need to think yourself into the job.
We have some real hates:
• People who started off with “My name is …”. If you lay out the letter properly, there’s no need to write this; we can see your name at the bottom. And apart from that, it’s impossible to continue reading without doing it in the style of Michael Caine
• Preachers. Frankly, we don’t need lessons from people straight out of university on what is going wrong with our planet. It just irritates. We know this stuff, trust us
• People who repeated our mission statement back to us. (Yes, we know what it is.) It comes across as filler because you can’t think of anything else to say
• Gushers. Yes, we love rhinos too, but a cover letter for a job application is a business letter, not a Valentine
• Letters longer than one page. Too much to read. Do the maths: 172 applicants, 1 minute per application, that’s nearly three hours of reading. If you can’t say what you need to say in one page, you’ve lost our interest. Also, there’s nothing more irritating (particularly for a conservation charity) than printing out a letter which spills over onto a second page by one line. I hate a waste of paper
• Tiny font. Please, make it at least 11 point. Pity the poor readers’ eyes!
• Another thing to watch out for: avoid beginning every paragraph with the word “I”. It makes it look as if you are focused on yourself and are not able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Good fundraisers, and good teamworkers, have a wider perspective. Mentally, I call these letter writers “Mimi”
Problems with the CV
One of the main problems was that people talked about their interest / passion / commitment to conservation in their cover letter, and then failed to evidence that in their CV. We weren’t expecting relevant paid employment experience, but we were expecting some volunteering or other signs of interest. Many people seemed to have done an interesting university degree course but not added anything extra. Competition is tough these days and, to be honest, you need to build your CV: lots and lots of people can clearly demonstrate that they have grafted doing mundane jobs to bring in the bucks while volunteering in a relevant area. These people are always going to stand out.
Some CVs were too short. One page isn’t enough to demonstrate your academic and work experience, as well as show your key achievements and giving us a flavour of you as a fully rounded person. When you’ve been working for a decade, I would drop the hobbies and interests, but actually, at this stage in your career, it’s kind of nice to see that someone has a mix of things in their life.
Conversely, some CVs were too long. Anything more than 3 pages smacks of desperation: you’ve thrown in the whole kitchen sink. Edit / select / summarise.
Things that made us smile but we eliminated them anyway
• “…given the chance would put my 110% into this role…” This person a) can’t do maths b) has been watching too many episodes of The Apprentice
• “…having held down two jobs and a horse whilst completing my degree…” We knew what she meant but the mental image was distracting
• “I believe that I can bring some valuable assets to this position including my computer…” Thanks, but we do already make sure our staff have the equipment they need to do their jobs
• "Reasons for why I think I would be a perfect candidate for this position as I have worked with a number of different animals…” Yes, and the team here can be quite a handful too
• “I believe that keeping a positive outlook is the best attitude to have around colleges to keep moral high” Hmm. What morals did his college have?
Next time lucky?
So you cleared all those hurdles, but still didn’t get selected? Things we particularly liked were:
• A succinct letter that articulated well what the person hoped to get out of the experience of working for Save the Rhino, as well as what they would bring to the post
• References to Save the Rhino’s field programmes, events or rhino hot topics, but with some relevance, which showed that the person had done some research on our website or other places
• Reference to a strong interest in conservation or wildlife, not just in the covering letter, but also backed up in the CV. (Yes, we know you’re probably applying to at least 20 other organisations at the same time, but we want to see a tailored letter and CV)
• And people who had bothered to research who Michael Hearn was. With search engines and the internet, it’s really not that difficult!
In this case, when trying to make the final selection, we found that the covering letters were where some candidates really stood out, because they conveyed something of the applicant’s personality, but in a professional and mature fashion. We work in a small open-plan office and, to be honest, we need to feel sure that we’ll like the person we’re about to interview. A well-judged couple of sentences that tell us a bit about you and what drives you, that bring your CV to life, can make all the difference.
I hope this feedback has been helpful, and thank you again to everyone who applied. I wish I’d known at 21 everything I know now.
Save the Rhino International
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