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Guide to Outdoor/Environmental Careers

Outdoor Action Guide to Outdoor/Environmental Careers

This job resource guide is from a workshop on Outdoor and Environmental Careers given to students at Princeton University. It is made available to the Internet community as an educational resource. We hope that the information here is helpful to others interested in these fields. We are not able to provide personal job counseling across the Internet so please do not send mail asking for specific leads to positions. Thank you.

Many OA Leaders are interested in combining their enjoyment of the wilderness with summer jobs or careers. There is an extensive range of possible career options with this type of focus. Early spring is the time to start looking for summer positions or, for seniors, post-graduation job opportunities. This guide is designed to briefly present some of the issues and resources for starting a career in the outdoors on the environment.

Table of Contents

Finding Your Career

One of the great things about careers in the outdoors or the environment is that they are everywhere. You can fins just about any position and create connections to the outdoors and/or the environment. However, that sometimes makes it harder to know where to look. I recommend two approaches to those who are trying to identify what type of career to focus on. Try one of both of these.

  • Fantasy & Deconstruction Approach - spend time fantasizing about the ultimate job for yourself. Think about responsibilities, populations you would work with, daily tasks, goals, etc. You may have multiple "fantasy jobs." Then, after the daydreaming, do an analysis of why that fantasy job is so appealing. Deconstruct the position and determine what parts of the job make it so great. You can now start to generate a list showing what the important parts of a future job are. You may not find your fantasy job (or maybe you will), but you may find a job that meets many if not most of your criteria. Now you can take these pieces, prioritize them and build them back up into a potential job description. Knowing what you are looking for and what's important to you is have the battle of finding your job.


  • Look at Real Jobs & Deconstruction Approach - similar to the approach described above. Look at some of the many job newsletters mentioned below and see what jobs really excite you. Now do the same deconstruction analysis to take the job apart into the important components for you, and put those components back together in one of several ways to create potential jobs. The other valuable thing about looking at real jobs is that you can see the qualifications people are looking for.


  • Inventory Your Skills - do a thorough inventory of all your skills--outdoor skills, first aid, writing, art, music, teaching, sports, research, computer, etc. By looking at either real jobs or your fantasy jobs or both, you can compare your list of skills against the requirements of the job(s). This will also help you identify areas where you need to acquire more skills.

Types of Careers

Below is just a small list of some of the types of careers you can be involved in.

  • Teacher - secondary school focusing on outdoor/environmental issues through literature, science, history, politics
  • Teacher working at a school with an outdoor program
  • Educator at an Environmental Center
  • Educator at an Outdoor Center
  • Management Consultant focusing on corporate challenge & development
  • Outdoor Trip Leader - Outward Bound, National Outdoor Leadership School, or similar program,
  • Program Director/Manager for outdoor center, environmental center, environmental organization, conservation group
  • Scientist - University setting, private foundation, environmental organization, state or federal government
  • Lobbyist for an environmental organization, conservation group
  • Engineer working for an environmental consulting firm, environmental organization, conservation group, state or federal government
  • Lawyer working for an environmental consulting firm, environmental organization, conservation group, state or federal government
  • Urban Planner/Architect working on a state or local level
  • Forest Ranger working for state or federal government
  • Fund Raiser for an environmental organization, conservation group, foundation
  • Researcher for an environmental organization, conservation group

Career Examples


  • Department of Environmental Protection (State by State)
  • National Park Service
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • US Geological Survey
  • Justice Department


  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Sierra Club
  • National Audobon
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • Greenpeace
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • The Wilderness Society
  • American Rivers Conservation Council
  • Friends of the Earth
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • League of Women Voters


  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Annapolis, MD
  • Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Bozeman, MT
  • Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Hopewell, NJ


  • Outward Bound, Greenwich, CT
  • National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander, WY


  • Project U.S.E, Red Bank, NJ


  • Princeton Education Center at Blairstown, Blairstown, NJ
  • Chewonki Foundation, Wiscassett, ME
  • Manice Education Center, North Adams, MA
  • Sargent Camp, Peterborough, NH
  • Hulbert Outdoor Center, Fairlee, VT

SECONDARY SCHOOLS (With Outdoor Programs)

  • Albuquerque Academy, Albuqueque, NM
  • Gilman School, Baltimore, MD

Because of the diversity of positions it is hard to get too specific about requirements and training. There are a few thoughts you should keep in mind.

Outdoor Program Jobs: The training and trip leading you have with OA is excellent preparation for working as an outdoor educator. There are a number of OA leader alumni working at NOLS, Outward Bound, and other programs. Over the last 5 years OA has developed a good reputation for having a solid leadership program. The one universal prerequisite is solid first aid training. HEART offers a good course but one that is not recognized outside Princeton. Most places are moving to Wilderness First Responder (a 64-hour course) as the minimum standard for outdoor instructors. This course is taught by groups such as Solo in New Hampshire and Wilderness Medical Associates in Maine. The 32-hour Wilderness First Aid Course that was taught over intersession may be acceptable to some organizations. Other skills include basic backpacking and minimal impact camping skills. Good leadership and group interaction skills are essential as well as the ability to work with different populations. Some places require specialized skills like rock climbing, canoeing, etc. However, many places can train you. Experience with high and low ropes courses can also be a good selling point on your resume. Cradlerock will be offering training courses this spring.

Environmental Jobs: This is a catch-all for any position which doesn't involve leading groups in the wilderness. As the list above shows this can be almost anything. You should be able to push your Princeton academic experience with writing, research skills, organizational and time management skills as well as your specific academic training. Computer literacy is also a big selling point these days. If you don't have much computer experience, take advantage of some of CIT's free training courses before you graduate.

Internships & Volunteer Positions: These can provide you with both job experience and specific skill training, a chance to experiment with possible career options, and, in some cases, a lead to future employment. For example, the Student Conservation Association offers positions in the National Parks. You get room and board and a small stipend. A number of people have parlayed their experience and being a known entity into a regular job with that park in subsequent seasons. With NPS jobs being scarce, this is one important entry into that structure.


Basic Job Questionnaire

One way to approach looking for a career is to ask yourself what types of actual work you like to do. Answer the following questions and you may think of other questions like it to ask yourself.

1. These are questions about your workplace environment. Add your own.

____I want to work with people.

____I want to work independently.

____I want to work as part of a team.

____I want to outside.

____I want to work with ______ age group (could be all).

____I want to work with urban/rural/disadvantaged/handicapped/ behavioral problem/other ________________or none of the above.

2 Below are some of the types of activities you may be involved in with an outdoor/environmental career. Check those that interest you.






____environmental issues


____work in the outdoors

____work with my hands


____fund raising


3. Below are some skills which may be important in working in an outdoor/environmental career. Check those which you have experience with or would like to develop more.

____writing skills

____research skills

____public speaking skills

____teaching skills

____outdoor skills (backpacking, canoeing etc.)

____environmental education skills (knowledge of biology, ecology)

____fund raising skills

____managing people

4. Another important area in looking for a job are lifestyle related questions. Below are some examples. Think up your own.

_____I want to live near the wilderness.

_____I want/don't want to have a house/apartment.

_____I only want to work 40 hours per week.

_____I am willing to work more than 40 hours/week.

_____I want flexible work hours.

_____I want/need to make $________ per year.

5. Another technique is to fantasize about what you would love to do such as do field research on baby seals in Antarctica. Then analyze why this is so intriguing. The reasons may point to other types of jobs that will satisfy those goals/needs/desires.