Interview Preparation

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Comments (4)

Keeper2Be in Roanoke, Virginia

48 months ago

Hey everyone,
My goal is to become a curator or assistant curator in the next few years, but I have been searching for work as a zoo keeper for the last 2 months or so. For qualifications I have a Bachelors and a Masters in Animal Sciences and I volunteer at the AZA-accredited zoo in my area. Though I do not have as much experience as someone that is already a zoo keeper, I am hoping that I peak enough interest with HR to at least get an interview eventually.
My question of for those who have gone through this before...how long until you heard from a zoo about an interview and what the interview process like? Any additional help would be appreciated- thanks!

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TurkeyVulture in Portland, Oregon

48 months ago

Hi, keeper2be --

Generally curators and assistant curators work their way up into those positions after many years (a decade or more) of work as keepers, then lead keepers, then collection managers, and finally assistant curators.

As you've probably already found out, keeping is very competitive. There are often hundreds of applicants for any given position at the better zoos, and it takes a sharp resume to catch HR's eye.

Your education will definitely help you a lot! That's the good news. The bad news is that experience counts heavily in this industry. Volunteer experience, especially volunteering directly with exotic animals, will be a boost. But what most zoos look for in potential candidates is paid hours at AZA-accredited facilities. For entry-level people, you can often find seasonal keeper's-assistant type jobs posted on web sites like aza.org and aazk.org. These seasonal jobs are usually for the busiest months of the year (May through September at most places) and often involve work such as interpreting exhibits for the public, diet prep, some enclosure cleaning, and locking up after the keepers have gone home (summer hours are usually extended at most zoos). This is probably the best way to get a foot in the door in this industry.

You can also search for internships. There are some paid internships out there, which will rack up your AZA paid hours for your resume...but even unpaid internships are an excellent experience and a good thing to have on your resume. One of the greatest values in doing an internship is meeting people who you can impress with your hard work and knowledge. In this industry, most people know each other, even in distantly separated zoos, and word-of-mouth and referrals are your best friends.

Focus on building paid experience and on developing networking relationships wherever you can. Eventually you can work your way up to a curator position.

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TurkeyVulture in Portland, Oregon

48 months ago

Oh, to answer the rest of your question...I have spent the last two years working at temporary/seasonal keeper jobs at various zoos (be willing to move to another city for a summer!) and am now interviewing for permanent/full-time keeper positions. Once my resume became competitive enough to land a full-time keeper position, I began hearing from zoos within days of the closing date on their job postings.

The interview process typically goes through a lot of questions about your personal philosophy on captive animals, animal care, public interaction, etc. followed by a bunch of "what would you do in this scenario" kind of questions that touch on animal health, emergencies, enrichment, encounters with the public, etc.

Modern zoos are really looking for people who can provide quality care to captive animals AND provide an engaging experience for the public, so mention any experience you've had with customer service, public speaking, drama, performance...anything to make it clear you understand how to make zoo visitors feel welcome and interested.

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Keeper2Be in Roanoke, Virginia

48 months ago

Thank you so much TurkeyVulture for the wonderful information. I recently spent some time chatting with the general curator at my local AZA-zoo and told him I was interested in zoo keeping and later on zoo management. He seemed to be pretty happy with my level of animal husbandry and my veterinary experience (I am currently a vet tech) and subsequently mentioned how he prefers to hire volunteers over bringing in "outside people". He plans to have me read fecals and pull blood in order to help out the veterinarian. My hope is that in the next few months a spot will open up and I can slide into a paid position. It is a very small zoo, but my husband and I are very happy in this area and this would be an excellent stepping stone opportunity....I get the paid AZA experience and my husband keeps his job :o)

Congratulations on the interviews as well! I bet you are very excited at the prospect of moving to a new place and doing what you love. Is there a particular group of animals you wish to work with? (ungulates, herps, primates, etc.)

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