Animals in the cages. Are we observing them, or are they observing us? That’s hard to say, but one thing is clear: visitors can leave the zoo at any time. Animals cannot. And while I do not support zoos, circuses, dolphin parks, and other venues where living beings are held in cages, I also understand that they play a role in the education of children, in building their relationship to nature and the animal kingdom in particular. Plus they follow some other worthy goals, such as conversation and reproduction of endangered species, or species extinct in the wild nature. Working as zookeeper, you will make sure that animals are well fed, healthy, clean, and basically doing as well as they can within the limitations of their confines.
Interviewing for the job, you can expect a couple of questions about your relationship to animals, motivation, previous working experience, and attitude to different situations that can happen on any day. In some zoos you will need a degree from zoology, or from other related field, but in most places you can actually get this job with high school education only. Let’s have a look at the questions they may ask you.
Why do you want to work as a zookeeper?
You can focus on two things. The positive role zoos play in the protection and conservation of animal species, and on your abilities and personal traits that make from you a fitting candidate for the position.
To such abilities and traits belong: good shape, mental and physical, deep understanding for the animal kingdom, relevant education (if you have one), resilience, and positive attitude towards working outside and with the animals of all kinds and sizes.
Keep in mind though that you should not talk about animal welfare, activism, or veganism at this point. Because these groups oppose zoos and similar places, and people belonging to them will never work in one.
Tell us more about your experience with animals.
Any experience is better than none. And you do not have to talk only about direct working experience. Perhaps you participated on a research work related to certain animal species, or even published one yourself during your university studies. Or you volunteered in an animal shelter, or even worked in the field of some products for animals. Even having your own dog and taking a good care of it over the years is a relevant experience.
If you did some direct work with animals, however, you should mention a couple of duties, ideally such as you will do also in the zoo. For example cleaning cages and living spaces for the animals, preparing food for each one following particular diet prescribed by a veterinarian, and so on. It is also important to talk with some enthusiasm in your voice. Working with animals is not an easy job. But they should get an impression that you can still enjoy it.
In your opinion, what role does research work play in the job of a zoo keeper?
You should always give it some importance, even if you have not completed any higher education. Without a doubt you won’t write research papers in such a case, but you can still participate on the research work, in your own way. They may ask you to observe the daily behavior of animals, and take notice of certain things the academics need for their research.
Actually the “presentation of animals” to public isn’t the most important function of the zoos. They just make money in that way. The most important role is conservation and preservation of animal species. Therefore some research is always going on in the zoo, and you should be ready to contribute to it in your own way.
How do you feel about talking in front of an audience?
In many places, zookeepers play a role in the exhibition of animals to the public, especially during excursions. A bunch of school kids come to the zoo to see some wild animals for the first time of their life, and you will be responsible to tell them some basic info, arouse their curiosity, and answer their questions.
Ensure the hiring managers from the zoo that you are ready to share your experience with the visitors. Without a doubt this isn’t your primary duty, and maybe you aren’t the best speaker. But you can learn your speech, and you should not struggle with answering questions of children. You can even take it one step further, saying that speaking it front of school children adds some nice variety to your work in the zoo, and you are actually looking forward to it.
Is there a specific group of animals you’d like to work with?
In most zoos, keepers specialize in a certain group of animals, such as birds, great apes, or reptiles. And you can definitely have your preference, especially if you’ve worked with, or researched about a particular animal group or species. But you should not say that you cannot work with carnivorous animals, like cheetah or tiger for example, because you are afraid of them. It is not the kind of message you want to convey in this interview.
Another option is saying that you have no preference. Each animal specie is special in your view, and each deserves our attention. Hence you are ready to work wherever they need you. Be it with elephants, bears, chimpanzees, or with all of them…
Other questions you may face in your interview for a job of a zoo keeper
- How do you feel about working on weekends, on holidays, and so on?
- Tell us about the most stressful experience you’ve ever had with an animal.
- How do you feel about participating on the veterinary care when it comes to animals you will be responsible for as a zoo keeper? Do you have any experience with basic veterinary care?
- What are the signs that indicate that we should not approach an animal?
- How do you imagine your career in the zoo, and how long you’d like to have this job?
- After everything we’ve discussed here, do you have any questions, and do you want to add something.
Final thoughts, next steps
Interview for a job of a zookeeper belongs to interviews with average difficulty. The questions are quite predictable, and as you hopefully understood from this article, they won’t be difficult. As long as you show right attitude towards animals and willingness to work hard, and take care of all duties (keeping the animals, lecturing the public during school excursions, participating on research and veterinary care), the zoo managers will be satisfied with your answers.
However, you should realize that jobs in the zoos are advertised rarely, and they always attract applicants from all spheres of life–young dreamers, aspiring students of veterinary medicine or zoology, future animal rights activists, and also common animal lovers from any walks of life. Competition makes this interview relatively difficult, because it isn’t always easy to stand out and get the job when one competes with ten or twenty other applicants…. In any case, I hope you will do well, and wish you best of luck in your zookeeper interview!
May also interest you:
- How to get a job in the zoo? New to the field and lacking experience? Looking for some alternative ways of landing the job in the zoo? Learn what you can do to get in for the first time…
- How to overcome interview nerves – Do not let your anxiety to impact you in a big way, and mar your chances when you finally get some interview in the zoo.