Job and Career Prospects - Geography - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Careers in Geography

Working in Geography
Weather station, student glacier work
The job market is a competitive environment where good grades and a flexible attitude can make all the difference. In the past many who graduated with a geography degree went into teaching. Today the spread is far wider, with research, planning and management careers in government, the commercial sector and regional councils providing many positions. The skills acquired in any general degree training (being literate and articulate, well organised, clear headed and with plenty of initiative) go down well with all those employers. The particular skills acquired in geography courses (the ability to synthesize disparate types of information, to design and execute research projects, and some numerical and analytical capacity) are valuable credits in the job market.

Recent and not so recent geography students are found in places as disparate as the Treasury, New Zealand Tourism Board, GIS and GPS companies, the Police, local authorities, and in their own consultancies and businesses.

Getting a job

A Geography degree provides employers with good evidence of being able to conceive, execute and complete self-driven work, while the choices you make about specialised areas of interest to study and links with potential future employers via vacation work can often lead to jobs.

What do employers look for?

In many cases, there are two recurring underlying expectations. One is knowing one's stuff. This means having a good degree (i.e. a good grounding in a specific discipline or disciplines), and being able to show that one has applied it in university projects, vacation or part-time work whilst still at varsity. Be prepared to get up to speed on the job, and to pick up extra qualifications or skills when required and as opportunity presents.

A second thing is good communication skills. Being able to write and speak clearly are invaluable attributes: that's why geography students write essays, present seminars and work collaboratively in lab classes.

How do career paths develop?

One striking thing is that geographers these days are only sometimes sticking to one specific job for very long. Many are building up a range of skills in a variety of jobs, and often they attribute their ability to do this to the flexibility and 'worldly wise' nature of their geographical training.

The workplace is increasingly structured in ways that encourage or require this sort of flexibility. Government jobs for instance are no longer 'for life' in a particular department, but in research or policy positions through which people move, to gain added experience, in a variety of agencies. It is notable that many geographers shift back and forth between the public and private sectors.

Working in Geography
Analysing snow layers

So where are the jobs for Geographers?

There will always be a wide range of jobs open to well trained and motivated geographers. These can include research oriented jobs (for those who have graduated either with Bachelors or with Masters qualifications), ranging from the Waitangi Tribunal to Antarctica, as well as policy oriented jobs in government, such as employment and Maori affairs.

The environmental field is wide open: the Resource Management Act has created a vast market for geographers in consultancy, regional and local government. Those who gain technical expertise in areas such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing can be in heavy demand from both the public and private sectors.

Others find work overseas, for Foreign Affairs and the United Nations. Then there are jobs that are particularly people-focused, where communication skills are critical, as in the union movement, teaching and in personnel. A number of geographers become self-employed in their own companies, in the environmental field and publishing for example, whilst others enter big companies, in electronics and tourism.

Where does one start to get a job?

Do the right courses, get a good degree, and make a good CV. Your CV will often have to speak on your behalf, so ensure that it's well laid out, thoughtfully constructed and tells potential employers, concisely, what you consider your attributes and experience to be.

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