Most people assume work experience is a chore, something compulsory in Year 10 or 11, to help you understand the working world in your chosen career. However, it does not have to be this way. It can be truly beneficial in helping you get your dream job.
I have always known I wanted to work with animals. Ever since the age of around 4, when I got my first ‘Animal Hospital’ toy set, I spent hours annoying my parents with the made up and often unrealistic conditions which my toys had. From this moment I knew I had found my destiny; to work with and assist animals.
All through school I attended a local riding stables for lessons and animal care days. When I was old enough, at 14 I started teaching and assisting others. I loved this, and spent many weekends and school holidays assisting. Yes, this did include mucking out and it’s fair to say I got used to the smell! This was my first ‘work experience’ and I assisted often until Year 13, when exams and paid work took hold. When I entered Year 12, I applied to several animal establishments such as vets, sanctuaries and catteries, often being told ‘we do not accept anyone under 18, or who has not worked in the industry for 5 years’, but I still kept applying. Finally, a local cattery responded saying they were happy to employ me for summer work, I was getting somewhere! The owners were very accommodating, showing me the ropes and soon, I was left unattended to look after a section. This work was hard, smelly, and I did get a few scratches (although no medical attention was required). I retrieved a few escapees and assisted in medical treatment, it was a right mix of activities, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Two animal work experiences completed and added to my CV.
So far, I had only worked with companion animals, which although very helpful may not be enough to show employers I had experience of a range of animals and could cope in many situations. This was where university came in. At university I study Animal Management, and within the first year our lecturers made sure we got practical experience with a range of animals including, equines (and stud work), farms animals, companion animals, zoo animals and wildlife; giving further opportunities for work experience within our course and extracurricular.
I have also always been keen to assist in animal births and at university this opportunity excitingly arose, despite being overnight on some occasions. After training I was ready, I signed up to assist on the universities on-site farm with lambing! On one particular Wednesday, my day off from university, I arrived thinking I would be surrounded by other keen students. But no, I was the only student who signed up for this day, so more work for me! Luckily, there was two experienced farm staff who guided me through the process and even allowed me to move new-born lambs to their new home with their mother in a small enclosure for family bonding. However, as simple as it may sound, ewes (mothers) do not always want to do as required and this particular ewe did not want to follow her twin lambs. She decided it was more fun to escape and have a jolly around the car park! We quickly put the lambs in the small enclosure locked the gate and went after the ewe. After 5 minutes of looking like security at a festival we managed to retrieve the ewe and place her with her lambs. She did not look amused!
Since then I have assisted at foaling at the universities onsite stud facility, although I always seemed to miss the births! I have also assisted at Essex Wildlife Trust, veterinary clinics, and even went out with an RSPCA Inspector, this is one of the jobs I would love to do.
However, my best experience so far was last summer. After saving up for around two years, I was lucky enough to be accepted to go to South Africa, through university, to work on a nature reserve linked with a local zoo. This experience was amazing, I learnt so much about conservation, specific animal management and environmental issues which are ever more prominent. Even though the reserve was an ethical one, meaning animals come to you, not you to them, which in my opinions is a good thing. I still saw so many animals and felt as though I was in The Lion King (and yes when in Africa the best film to watch is The Lion King). I would definitely do this experience again. If you ever get opportunities like this never say no!
Regardless of career interest I would advise applying and participating in as much work experience as possible, be that an hour a week or a month placement. Each and every experience will assist you when looking for your dream job.
Top tip: do not forget to add each experience to your CV. Even with experience, make sure above everything you work to the best of your ability in education, except all the help you can get, speak to your careers advisor, have rest days and most of all have fun in your experiences!
3rd Year Animal Management Student