Sunday, January 11, 2015

THE Mystery of The Field: How To Become A Trainer (Part 3)

Welcome to the final installment of How To Become A Trainer, where we focus on the Dark Side of the process.  Just what should you do if you get turned down for jobs, or worse...never hear back from a prospective employer after you sent your application in?

If you missed Parts 1 and 2, don't you worry.  Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here (I'd never leave you hangin'!)

So we've talked about the correct attitudes and methods of getting information about a job, resumes, and feedback on your work performance.  We've also gone over the application process of trying to get your foot in the door.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," you may have said.  "I already KNOW all that of that stuff.  That stuff is EASY.  In fact, IMATA has an awesome resource for resume building and interview skills."


You know what? You're right!  IMATA does have some great resources:

Resume Tips
Interview Tips
Swim Test Tips

What you probably want to know is the Secret Formula on how to really get the edge over the other hundreds to thousands of other applicants vying for the same position.  Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you:

1) I am terrible at math, so you'll rarely find a formula on this blog*

2) There ain't no formula

My life in a meme

I like to consider myself a pretty positive person.  When I give advice, I'd rather focus more on what TO do, versus what NOT to do.  But with this particular topic, I've seen more mistakes that have really gotten people into trouble when they're trying to become a marine mammal trainer than I have very obviously WHOA THAT WAS BRILLIANT moments who have single-handedly secured someone a position.

Don't let that get you down, though.  The thing is, hard work, being a good person, learning from your mistakes quickly, and having a great attitude in a team-setting are all qualities that will be rewarded in the long run.  They just don't all add up to a quick journey down the Job Path, you know?  It'd be great if they did, but usually they don't.  Hey, I told you, don't be discouraged!! Be patient, if anything; if you're already good at learning from mistakes, you work hard, and can keep a generally positive attitude about things, you're bound to land a job.

Now it's time to get real, right?  Because most of you aspiring trainers reading this blog right now probably have had your fair share of rejection.  Many of you have sent out resumes and cover letters and never heard a single word back from the facility.  Others of you have gone through the interview process and found out you weren't selected.  Some of you have been at this for years and are ready to give up.  So let's talk about some tips on how to deal with rejection and Black Hole Job Applications.

1) It's Okay To Be Bummed....


If you're not super disappointed or sad about not hearing back from a job (or worse, getting a rejection letter or phone call), you're probably an android and maybe you'd be better off in other occupations such as working on a Star Wars vessel.  Otherwise, if you are convinced for the most part that you're a human, then d'uhhhhhhhhhhhhh you're gonna be down in the dumps.

So let yourself, for a definitive (very, very definitive) period of time wallow in your disappointment.  I'm talking like, a few hours.  Maybe a day.  Do something that makes you feel better, take care of yourself, pamper yourself.  Watch some Netflix, order a pizza, get a pedicure or something.  Vent to your family and friends via phone or in person (hint: NOT on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or any other social media I'm currently completely unaware of because I'm turning 31 in like five days and am officially an adult who knows nothing cool anymore).

2) ...But Your Self-Worth and Future Are Not Determined By A Job Rejection

I googled "I'm pretty great" to boost your self confidence, and I found this image of plush fish suspended in midair.  You're welcome/I'm sorry?

Go ahead and read that again.  Seriously.  Er, the title of this section, not the weird caption to the bizarre photo.

For many of us, hearing we didn't get a job is something we'll experience multiple times.  Moreso than that, our resume will go into Black Holeville.  I applied multiple times to my "dream job" at the time, over and over and over, polishing the resume, the cover letter, trying to get feedback on how to best represent myself in a job application.....and never heard back from them.  Not once.  It made me sad and worried, but it happens.  It's out of your control at a certain point.  And it's not a signal that you totally suck, that your life is over, or that you're never going to work with the animals you've loved for so long.

Here is a quick list of reasons why you may not hear back from a job application:

* You aren't qualified, which does not mean you aren't awesome.  It just means you didn't have the experience they're looking for, specific to their program.  Or, whoops, you applied to the wrong job.

For a thousandddd yeaaaarrrrrsssssss

* You accidentally messed up the resume (once I sent a resume that was four years old to a job.  Four years old.  Like I'd love to have seen the look on the person's face who opened THAT file open.  "Uh, Cat Rust is an idiot.  DELETE."  And hey! Who could blame them?)

You said it, girl.

* Their posting was a formality; some zoos and aquariums post their jobs internally first so they can give their own employees a chance at the position.  It's better to hire someone you already know than a stranger off the street, no matter how awesome the stranger may seem. So maybe they already had someone in mind before they posted the external job link.

Okay seriously google image search? What does this have to do with the keyword "Formality"?!

* You were the awesome stranger (and someone awesome they knew personally got hired)

Okay, we do hire strangers because it's good to get fresh ideas.  But sometimes we go with the people we know.

* You were over-qualified (This may seem weird, but think about this logically from the zoo's perspective: it's risky to bring on someone who is over-qualified, because they may not be satisfied with their job responsibilities and may not want to stick around for very long as a result)

No one is over-qualified to be a chicken, that's what I've always said.

* The job position was eliminated (happens ALL the time, because of funding issues or other things that have nothing to do with you)

And so it goes

A lot of these reasons apply towards why you did not get the job even after you swim tested and/or interviewed, too.  Yes, you may not have been chosen because your interview skills were not as strong (or maybe they were downright mine in my first interview OMG).  Maybe you didn't get a great reference from your internship because you earned a not-so-great reputation.  But that's why it's important to get feedback from your bosses and mentors, so you KNOW what to work on and so you can improve in the areas you need to in order to give yourself the best chance.

If you know you have great references and feel like you're just ready to go to get a job, then it's more likely that, in addition to always improving interview, resume, and swim test skills, you're just dealing with some of the other aforementioned factors.  So keep trying.

3) Don't Go Viral With Your Disappointment

You'll be happier you did!

But for the love of Lord Neptune, DON'T TRASH TALK THE PLACES WHO DIDN'T INTERVIEW OR HIRE YOU.  I have seen people completely annihilate their chances at a getting a job, because they hopped on the good ol' Internet, signed into Facebook and said something like, "Ugh no matter WHAT I DO, NO ONE WILL HIRE ME."  Or, "Such-and-such a zoo just keeps stringing me along."  

When I see that I wince, because why would someone want to hire a person who cannot maturely handle disappointment that almost ALL of us face, or have had to face?  Why hire someone who seems like they just victimize themselves, complain, and/or vent to the world in a way that is totally not constructive?  I'd much rather hire someone who's been rejected, kept their *#%&* off Facebook (and maybe vented a whole lot to a trusted relative or friend on the phone or in person or whatever) and presents themselves as professional and focused on the next step.

If you post your negative feelings on Facebook, even if you think you're being cryptic about it, you have just made it significantly harder to get hired.  The sooner you realize that, the better.  If you realize you're guilty of that, the best thing to do is just move forward.  Hey, maybe every time you feel the impulse to vent on social media, you post a picture of an adorable baby walrus or something.  Or something delicious.  How about we make a thing where we just post pictures of waffles whenever we're sad? Waffles just like, make everything better.


4) Learn, Learn, Learn

I can't stop

Rejection from a dream job is a great time to learn. So after you've house that cheese pizza and posted a picture of a waffle on your Tumblr account, it's time to refocus.  It's time to learn.  

"Okay," you tell yourself.  "Where in this process did I fail?"

If it was the application stage, and you never heard back from the facility, glance over at your resume and cover letter again.  Have someone look at it, not as a general application, but specific to that job.  Go to someone you trust and say, "Hey, I applied for this primate trainer position.  Here's the job posting with the requirements.  Does my resume and cover letter adequately meet those qualifications while showing my best side?"  If you get some good feedback, then just chalk it up to one of the out-of-your-control reasons why you weren't selected for an interview.  But you'll feel better that you took charge of a disappointing situation and turned it into an opportunity to grow and learn.

If you messed up the swim test and didn't get an interview, you know what to do.  Get back to the gym, or pool.  Practice, practice, practice.  The better shape you're in, the easier the swim test practice will be.  And I'm not just talking about physical fitness, I'm talking about the mental fitness you get when you have a healthy lifestyle.  Especially if you bomb your first swim test, remember this: you now officially know what it's like to do the swim test, where before you were just guessing/putting together information from other people.  You have the advantage over other newbie swim-testers next time.  Don't let that knowledge go to waste!!! And for god's sake, reward yourself with a donut after a successful swim test training workout.

Or, um, waffles.

If you got deeeeenied after an interview, it's time to polish up the interview skills.  Some skills can always be improved, such as: drawing, shredding guitar, cooking, and Plants Versus Zombies.  Even if you are an AMAZING interviewee, you can always improve.  Communication is an art form that is honed with practice, but never fully mastered to the point where you can just forget about it.  It's perfectly okay to tactfully ask for feedback from the facility about your interview.  But here's another tip: don't make it their burden to placate you.  Show them you have no hard feelings towards them and that you are eager to learn for your own sake.  Here are two contrasting examples of this:

Not A Good Idea

Bad.  Baaaaaad.

"Why didn't I get the job? I'm just asking because I want to know for next time."

"What about my interview made you decide not to give me the job?"

Those styles of questions put the employer on the defensive and it makes you look like you're whining a little bit.  

A Much Better Idea

The BEST idea

"Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me. I learned a lot from the process and about your amazing facility and staff.  I appreciate you getting back to me about the status of my application.  I am interested in getting feedback on my interview, so that I can continue to hone these skills in order to break into this competitive industry.  Thank you so much in advance!"

This style of writing focuses the attention of the recipient on giving specific, constructive feedback, not giving REASONS why you didn't get the job.  You are showing you understand you didn't get the job, you harbor no ill will (even if you are majorly sad about it), and you are trying to glean opportunities for improvement.

Many facilities will respond favorably to a tasteful, professional request for feedback.  Some won't, so if that's the case with your situation, let it go.  It's a busy field, and sometimes it just doesn't work out that way.  Don't let it make you angry or resentful, because guess what? Those feelings don't help you at all, and you're way too resourceful to give up after only ONE avenue for improvement is shut down.  There are lots and lots of ways to keep improving your game.

5) Have A General Plan

If you pail a flan, then you...flan a pail.  Wait.  I'm no good at this.

It may take you a year or so to land your first paid trainer position.  Plan accordingly.  It's okay if you have to get a job to pay the bills that has nothing to do with animal training while you apply for your dream job.  No one in this field expects anyone at the entry level to do nine million internships.  If you do one internship, and take a job in a doctor's office (like I did!), no facility will look at your resume and go, "Ohhh...Cat hasn't worked in the field for a year.  She sucks, don't call her."

No, they'll understand that you can't work for free indefinitely until you land a job.  It's the fact that you have the internship experience and you kicked ass at it that really matters.  Plus, if you are doing a great job at your pay-the-bills gig, you'll have another great professional reference to send in.  

A piece of advice I got that really helped me was to create a PLAN: a time limit to my job application process.  I decided that I would apply for animal training jobs in the U.S. for one year.  If after one year I did not land anything, I'd apply for internships at facilities that have a higher rate of hiring interns.  Then I'd re-evaluate.  You may want to consider doing something similar, if that works for you.  Just give yourself time.  Sometimes, it's nice to have a general plan for how long you'll try, because it keeps you trying no matter how discouraged you are.

6) Honestly Re-evaluate Your Game Plan If You Keep Getting Rejected

It may very well seem this way.

For most people who are introspective, seek advice and implement it for positive change, and who work really, really hard and stick with it, they get jobs.  But we hear or read about people who just can't seem to get any luck finding a full time position.  So what happens if that's you?

It's time to re-evaluate.  Ask yourself, are you limiting yourself to one geographical area? Species? Basically, are you being too picky?  Have you complained publicly via the internet about your disappointment or frustration?  Do you get defensive when you are given feedback that is less than flattering?  Have you caused some serious drama or trouble at an internship?  I know I can't speak for EVERYONE'S situation, but in my experience....those are usually the reasons why people have a very, very difficult time even getting an interview.

This is why it's SO important to put your best foot forward at your internships and jobs, learn from the inevitable mistakes you make and show improvement, and be willing to hear the harsh truth about your areas of improvement.  Oh, and why it's critical not to use social media as a sounding board for negative, bitter feelings (have I made myself clear on that point yet?).  And if you think you've done some of the things I've just listed in the last paragraph,'ve got a long road ahead, but not an impossible one.

So there you have it, friends.  The conclusion of this massive post in all its three-part glory.  I hope it's helped some of you out.  And don't worry, there will still be blog entires in the future geared towards aspiring trainers and caretakers.  But let this be something to think about; and as always, if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask (me, or your mentors!)

Good luck out there!! 

* If you do, the math is probably totally wrong


  1. This series was a lot of fun to read! Very helpful :) Thanks, lady!

  2. Hi Cat!

    I've been following your blog for a little over a year now. I was wondering if maybe you could talk about how you financially supported yourself during your internships? (ie: Where did you live? How did you afford it? How did you pay bills like car payment?)

    I'm currently looking for internships and this is my biggest obstacle.
    Thanks so much and I truly truly love your blog!!