Want One of These Animal-centered Jobs? How Are Your People Skills?

By Paula Fitzsimmons

It seems counter-intuitive that a job involving animals would require good people skills. The reality is that regardless of which animal-centered career path you choose (or heck, with anything in life), you’ll likely need to work with people. Even if it’s just on a limited basis.

This can be a little daunting for those of us who want to work for or with animals. Why do I say that? Because I believe most of us “animal people” tend to be on the independent side. I don’t have any studies to back this up; it’s just a sense I’ve gotten from being around other advocates. And there’s nothing wrong with that . . . everyone is wired differently. I’m an introvert, by the way.

But here’s the thing . . . since animals can’t talk, we have to be able to speak and work on their behalves – and in order to do that effectively, we have to talk to each other, as well as to members of the press, the public, the government, and business.

The level of interaction required is dependent on the tasks related to the job, with some positions requiring more people skills than others. There are indeed, jobs that allow you to spend more of your time solo or with animals. For instance, writing is primarily an independent activity, as is art production, dog walking, animal care, and various jobs in the conservation field. But even in these cases, there’s some level of exchange – person to person – that will need to occur. Writers, for instance, need to be able to talk to their readers, publishers, and clients.

With the rise in telecommuting opportunities, including those being offered by animal & environmental advocacy groups, the actual need for face-to-face communication has decreased. What we once had to do in person or by phone has in many cases, been replaced by email and technology.

Yet even with the growth in technology, there are careers in animal advocacy and welfare that still require actual in-person communication. One thing I would suggest you do when researching a potential career path or job, is to find out if it’s geared more towards extroverts or introverts. This can be a pretty important factor. If you tend to be introverted, would you be happy at a job in which you have to talk to people 75 percent of the time?

Note that having great communication skills doesn’t necessarily mean you need to shine like a rock star or celebrity; but you do need to be able to get along . . . for the good of the animals.

Here’s a look at a few animal-centered careers that require above-average communication skills, and typically more-than-average time spent with people.

Veterinarians

Surprised about this one? I was a little, too, at first. . . until I heard from several vets who name people skills as being a prerequisite.  This makes sense. Aside from having to deal with their animal patients’ humans (animals can’t describe their symptoms, after all) vets also have to be able to communicate effectively with technicians, other vets, and office staff.

If you work in a veterinary teaching hospital, expect even more face time. You’ll be teaching students focused on your every word.

Ditto goes for veterinary technicians.

Fundraisers

Courting donors requires effective communication skills. Asking people for money, especially from big money donors, means you’ll have to talk to them. Nicely. After all, would you want to give money to someone who’s rough around the edges?

Organizing special events is somewhat like planning a wedding or a party, but on a grander, more complex scale. And unlike planning your own soiree, you’re representing an organization, so every communication – with vendors, silent auction donors, corporate sponsors, members, attendees – has to be meaningful.

If you write copy or grants for nonprofits, you’ll be able to work more independently, especially if you work as a freelancer. But  there will still be contact involved, in terms of getting to know potential donors and understanding your clients’ needs.

Animal Adoption Specialists

Yes, you’ll get to spend time with cats, dogs, and other adoptable creatures, but in order to care for them and find them good homes, you’ll also need to interact with an assortment of people. These may include veterinarians, foster caregivers, rescue staff, the public, and potential adopters.

Outreach & Public Relations

The title is a giveaway. Whether doing community outreach for an animal shelter, or working with the media, you’re the face of the organization. Like it or not, there are people who will get their impression of the organization or rescue based on their interactions with you – so each communication has to sparkle.

Executive Directors of Nonprofits

When you’re the head of a rescue or advocacy organization, you may have people working on different tasks and projects, but you’re ultimately in charge of the entire show – from animal care and advocacy, to budgeting & publicity. When something goes wrong, people will look to you. When the media wants comments and appearances, they’ll want to speak with you, not your assistant. Other departments and employees will look to you for guidance.

What we envision about a career or job may not necessarily match the reality of the actual position. If you enjoy working independently, you can still certainly take – and excel at – a job that requires above-average people time and communication skills. It’s just another factor to consider when seeking your dream animal-focused job.

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