How to Start a Career in Fisheries with Texas Parks and Wildlife

Christopher Mace Ph.D. | Coastal Fisheries Division
How to Start a Career in Fisheries with Texas Parks and Wildlife

Frequently, I meet people who express an interest in working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), especially when they find out I work for the Coastal Fisheries Division. Considering the Coastal Fisheries Division manages the diverse marine fishery resources of Texas' four million acres of saltwater (which include the bays, estuaries, and the nearshore Gulf of Mexico), it should be no surprise that hundreds of people apply for vacant positions with Coastal Fisheries every year. TPWD is a great agency to work for, as we receive competitive pay and benefits package. But more importantly, much of our staff spend a significant amount of time outdoors on the water sampling and speaking with anglers like you. After all, "Life's Better Outside"!

It seems like it was just yesterday when I was an enthusiastic student thinking about how great a job in fisheries would be. But I was looking for more than a job, I desired a career. So I put on my best shirt and tie and went down to a local fisheries management office to inquire about a Fisheries Technician position my ichthyology professor mentioned in class. Fast forward more than twenty years. I now work for TPWD and find myself on the other side of the table, looking to hire someone to work with my fisheries management team.

As I review the applications we receive, I see a lot of missteps and repeated mistakes. Although I am not a Human Resources expert, in the last few years I have hired six permanent employees, two seasonal technicians, and a handful of summer interns. So I'm getting to know the process pretty well. You might find it interesting to know that we received 292 applications for a recent Fish and Wildlife Technician position. Due to logistics and time restraints, only the top 5-10% are typically offered an interview. With so many applicants for one position, statistically speaking, over 99% of applicants will not get the job. So what can you do to improve your odds at landing your dream job? Here are a few tips to help you apply for a Fish and Wildlife Technician or Natural Resource Specialist (biologist) position with the Coastal Fisheries Division of TPWD.

The Online Application

TPWD uses an online application process which operates through NEOGov. Begin here by creating your application: Once you've saved your application, it is easy to apply for future vacancies. Checkout what's available at: Please read these vacancy announcements completely, and pay attention to the job description and working conditions. Most of our positions work long hours in potentially adverse weather conditions and require some weekend work.

The TPWD hiring process is formal and structured. Candidates are evaluated and compared to others in the applicant pool. The online application is the first and most important item we utilize to select candidates to interview. Applicants are rated by their work experience, education, and sometimes licenses or certifications. They earn our consideration by demonstrating they have: a) the minimum qualifications; b) the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) listed in the vacancy announcement; and c) the preferred qualifications (if listed). Veteran's preference is granted to qualified candidates who provide their DD-214 discharge paperwork.

So how do you make that final cut? First and foremost, make sure your application is well prepared, spell checked, and completely filled out. If you have a relevant degree, attach an electronic copy of your transcripts to your application. Be advised; obtaining an official copy of your transcripts from a university takes time and most of these positions are only open for a brief period (10-15 days). Order your transcripts now so they are handy. It is not necessary to have the university send the hiring manager a sealed official copy. Consider also attaching a well-formatted resume to the online application, although this is generally not a requirement. Finally, you can also include a cover letter to introduce yourself and include any information not usually found in an application or resume.

The vast majority of applicants eliminated in the first round are those with no fisheries work or boating experience. One excellent way to gain experience is to contact your local fisheries office and volunteer. It's a win-win activity; our staff gets to share knowledge of field techniques with you, and we benefit from your valuable assistance with our field efforts. The TPWD web page has a "Volunteer Opportunities" section you should visit to see if there are opportunities in your area. You may contact the hiring manager directly if you have a specific question about volunteer opportunities, the position, or the application process. However, calling for basic information previously listed in the job announcement is akin to pestering and, hiring managers are very busy people. Consider an email if the question is not time-sensitive.

Research the position you are applying for and study relevant topics. You should customize your application's "Objective" and "Work Experience" sections, listing the most relevant experience you have. Many list their work history in chronological order, with most recent first. Don't make the hiring manager hunt around for your qualifications, but avoid going into unnecessary detail about previous work experience that is unrelated to the job you are applying for. Review the preferred qualifications and KSAs listed in the job announcement and focus on them in your application. Fish and Wildlife Technician positions are field-work positions and as such, at least in Coastal Fisheries, duties are usually conducted on marine vessels. Boat operation and maintenance experience are important to convey, as well as any fisheries work experience you may have. Natural Resource Specialist positions require a college degree in Fisheries, Marine Biology or a closely-related field, and may have a preferred qualification of statistical analysis experience.

Final Steps

Provide CURRENT contact information for your former supervisors and professional references. Speak with your references prior to naming them to let them know what the position entails.

When you receive the call for an interview, try to make yourself available in person if at all possible. Take some time to learn about TPWD, the Coastal Fisheries Division, and the specific area in which you would be working. For example, if you are applying for a job working in Aransas Bay, you should take the time to learn a little bit about Aransas Bay if you aren't already familiar with it (e.g. geography, fisheries, ecology etc.). This may seem obvious to some, but many candidates overlook this step. Finally, dig out that clean blouse or shirt and tie, and prove to us you are the best person for the job!

About the Author:

Dr. Christopher Mace is the Ecosystem Leader for the Aransas Bay ecosystem team in Rockport, Texas, where he has worked for the last seven years.