It pays to get paid: Factors influencing wildlife-related employment success
Individuals who are interested in wildlife-related careers take unpaid positions to gain experience and remain competitive in the job market. However, unpaid positions may not provide the same training, skills acquisition, or long-term success as paid positions. We surveyed 796 graduates of wildlife-related bachelor's degree programs from accredited U.S. universities to assess how experiences and skills gained in paid and unpaid positions affected long-term employment or educational success. We found that respondents with more paid employment experience were more likely to obtain full-time employment in a wildlife-related field than those who had worked more unpaid positions. Further, respondents reported gaining more skills associated with long-term success from paid positions than unpaid positions. Our results highlight the importance of both paid work and experiences that provide valuable skills training for success in wildlife-related fields. We urge wildlife-related employers to offer more paid positions in lieu of unpaid opportunities. We further suggest that job-seeking, early-career scientists carefully consider the skills they will gain from particular jobs, and critically scrutinize the potential for long-term benefits before accepting an unpaid position.