Okay, so you’re not getting that zookeeper job but you’re doing all the right things: you’re volunteering at a zoo, you’re crushing it as a zoo volunteer and you’ve got qualifications or you’re currently studying. You’re working your ass off but you’re not getting offered a position and you’re at your wits end.
The reason you haven’t been offered a job yet could be something as simple as not having your driver’s license, to something more complex. We’ve made a list below of the more likely reasons, so let’s see if we can troubleshoot this thing together.
Simple reasons why you’re not getting that zookeeper job
If you’re not getting a job but you’re doing all the right things, it might be because:
You don’t have a particular prerequisite the zoo requires
Some zoos have certain prerequisites for their zookeeper positions, such as a driver’s licence, a first aid certificate or a particular tertiary qualification. Talk to your volunteer co-ordinator or a member of the human resources team to ensure there are no prerequisites you’re missing.
You haven’t finished your qualifications yet
Studying to get a qualification relevant to the zoo industry is a real advantage over other job applicants, but if you’re going up against applicants who already have their full qualifications, this could be your problem. Don’t worry, you’re on the right track. Patience and perseverance are your friend.
There haven’t been any suitable positions available
It might be simply that there haven’t been any entry level keeper positions available of late. Some zoos have a high turnover of staff, but in others it can take a long time for a position to open up. Remember, too, that employers will look for a new employee whose personality is a good fit with the existing team. Just because you were passed over for that reptile position doesn’t mean you won’t be top of their list the next time a mammal position opens up. Be patient and keep doing all the right things for when that position comes along that’s right for you.
You’re being unrealistic
If you’ve only been volunteering for two months, then you’re being impatient. It can take much longer to get employed in the zoo industry. However, If other volunteers are getting jobs that have been at the zoo a shorter time than you and have similar experience, it might be time to take a good hard look at your situation.
You keep overstepping your position
Whether you’re being too cocky, getting dragged into the social politics of the workplace or overstepping your responsibilities, make sure you step back and think about your actions and ensure you’re not jeopardizing your own chances of getting your dream job. Here are our suggestions on how to be an awesome volunteer.
Most zoos need their zookeepers to be flexible and available to work weekdays, holidays and weekends. There are early starts and potentially late finishes. The harsh truth of the matter is, if you’re not willing or able to make yourself available whenever the zoo needs you, there will be someone else who is. If you have commitments that can’t be moved to accommodate zookeepers’ hours, it might be best that you wait for a time in your life when you can provide the availability a zoo needs.
More complex reasons why you’re not getting that zookeeper job
Despite most zoos doing the right thing by their volunteers, there are some vols that get taken advantage of. They may never get a job in that particular zoo. You might not be getting hired because:
You’re too old
Unfortunately ageism is alive and well in many workplaces. Zoos are no worse than anywhere else, but there’s no denying zookeeping is hard, active work that requires a decent level of physical fitness. Make sure you put your hand up for the more physically demanding tasks so you can demonstrate that you’ve got what it takes and then some, and watch for opportunities to subtly mention any relevant experience you’ve acquired in your years working in other fields that would make you an asset to the team.
You’re not suited to that particular zoo environment
This is a hard one. I’ve seen some volunteers who just don’t mesh with a zoo’s philosophy, or the temperament, shall we say, of the current employees. This can sometimes be the case with volunteers with big personalities. Management may be wary of taking on someone who could unintentionally rub others the wrong way. Sometimes personalities just clash and there’s no easy fix.
The manager doesn’t like you
Unfortunately favoritism does happen and both of us have seen it in the zoo industry. If you think this is relevant to your situation, you still have a couple of options.
What you can do about it
Firstly, if you think any of these things relate to you, don’t lose heart; there are still options for you. If it’s one of the simple reasons we’ve listed above, those are pretty easy to fix. If it’s a more complex reason, here are your options:
1. Stick at it
You can stick it out and showcase your strong work ethic and dedication and hope that it changes their minds. Curators and managers can also leave, giving you a clean slate with the person who takes their place.
2. Ask for feedback and be direct
Asking for feedback may be the only way you find out if you have any chance of getting a job at that zoo. You can ask for feedback any time but after an unsuccessful job application or interview is the best time. Just remember they probably won’t tell you directly if they think you’re too old or the manager doesn’t like you etc. Make sure you’re looking for body language clues, and other signs that they’re ‘just not that into you’ like giving you insubstantial reasons why you weren’t employed. This could be a good indicator that you’re wasting your time at this zoo.
3. Try a different zoo
We’ve tried to give you a heap of indicators to help you judge if you’re wasting your time at this zoo. If you’ve tried everything and you’re still not getting hired, it might be time to try volunteering at another zoo. All the experience you’ve had at this zoo will still look great on your CV, and if you’re feeling frustrated, jaded or cynical where you are, a fresh start might be just what you need.
Many zookeepers have been in your position, working our butts off for free and wondering if it’s ever going to pay off. I know how badly you want this, and how badly you want it now, but this is your dream job we’re talking about here. You’re in this for the long haul. It’s okay if it takes a little longer than you might have liked, because when you finally do get that keeper job, you’ll be doing it for many years to come.