The appeal of working as a countryside ranger is evident to anyone who comes across one: The outdoor life, looking after a tract of countryside as if it were your own, meeting visitors and showing them round, going out with parties of school children to get them interested in our wonderful countryside. It's no surprise to hear of enormous demand for ranger jobs when they are advertised. The task of starting out on this popular career path could be daunting to anyone who doesn't know where to start. The purpose of this little piece is to give some tips on your approach, but first a few words of caution:

You will have to be exceptionally determined that this is what you want to do, and is not just a 'Plan B' for when your first career ideas didn't work. There will be times when the relatively low pay, inconvenient location and hours of work could give you, or your partner, a testing time. For some, the profession represents an alternative lifestyle that means leaving behind the daily routine, regular work patterns and acquaintances, and taking on new ones. For most, the job requires relocation, with all the attendant issues of establishing accommodation and a social network.

You will also need to be a bit lucky, and not be downhearted if the first few attempts to gain employment are unsuccessful. Rangers are not appointed on the basis of luck, but there will be factors affecting any job which you can't anticipate, such as complementing the existing skills in any team, and the nature and strength of the competition.

So, what to do?

Research the field: find out what the job is about, where there are Ranger Services and what they do. This website is a good starting point.

Meet the Rangers: go to public events they host, write to them and arrange to meet to find out what they do, and perhaps to give them a hand. If the direct approach is not feasible, try an indirect one by joining a conservation volunteers group or taking a course of study which includes a period of working with field professionals.

Grow your own expertise: explore, walk, record, sketch, photograph. Go on journeys such as long walks or canoe trips which show you more about the way the world works in the sorts of places you might like to work. Keep a notebook and a diary. Observe wildlife and people (discreetly!) using the countryside. Build up a store of experiences. Try to find explanations for the ones you are not sure about. The Internet is a good place for this.

Collect credits and supporters: for many people this revolves around academic qualifications, but this could be a detour. A high level of academic success doesn't always bring an easy way with people; a scientific training can be a burden. Beware, too, the colleges who might find the supply of trained environmentalists more benefit to their reputation and funding than to the environment. Treat any period of study as a growth period, when the student demonstrates the ability to apply themselves to an objective. This could be more important than the subject matter of the degree. Half of my degree is Pure Maths. Let your potential supporters know about your ambitions, and be ready to listen to what they say. They might be valuable referees in future.

Play to your strengths: there is little prospect of acquiring a job requiring specialist knowledge you don't have. Your preference might be mountains, but you might not have enough experience, so try for something on the low ground not far away. You can always make the transition later, if you still want to. An inexperienced person is more likely to be successful in trying to join an existing team, with the mutual support that provides, rather than take on a lone role or a leader's position.

Spot the vacancy: the only way to get a Ranger's job is to be appointed in a recruitment process, so there has to be a recruitment process, characterised by an advertised vacancy. These are reliably advertised by the Countryside Jobs Service (members of SCRA get access to the dialy update on the SCRA website), and vacancies also appear in local, and sometimes national, newspapers. Applications should conform rigorously to what is required, as there will be many such applications, and the recruitment team will not have the time for mavericks and show-offs.

The first stage is to get through to short-leet and interview. Applications which show understanding of the job, effort on the part of the applicant to familiarise themselves through involvement, training or education and good communication skills are most likely to be selected. Then there is the unknown element of "will this person fit in?" and "does this person bring the qualities we want?" which may slim down the list of possibles. The applicant could address the latter in the application, citing examples of attractive qualities being put to good use. Economy of communication is key. A long hand-written missive is anathema.

At last to interview: if the recruitment team is not offering to show the candidates round, this is something which the active applicant will redress, and later mention at interview. The look-round should be an opportunity for other members of the recruitment team to meet the candidates, and for the candidates to meet each other and form a better idea of the job they might be asked to take on. It will throw up matters which might make for intelligent questioning at the end of the interview.

Candidates sometimes fret about their appearance at interview. In my experience this is less important than demeanour. A slightly tousled genuine enthusiast will always win over someone with equal skills and knowledge who comes over as well-groomed and remote. At interview, the recruitment team can assess intangibles such as personality, verbal communication, demeanour and listening skills, and imagine how well the candidate will cope with the demands of the job.

Doing it for real: getting the job is such an objective and an adrenaline rush that all else is forgotten for a moment, or for a few days. Then comes the realisation that this is not an end at all, but a beginning. At times this can seem daunting, trying to match the expectations of the employer, visitors and needs of the resource. Colleagues and neighbours can become important allies and supporters or intolerable obstacles, and often the difference is made in the first few days. The Scottish Countryside Rangers Association is not at all remote and insubstantial, but can link you to a network of peer contact, training and support. It is still up to the individual Ranger to make the first move and seek it out, though.

So – quite a tall order, or something of a breeze? It's like anything in life. Some people can imagine three impossible things before breakfast; other people set about doing them. If you have sufficient self-belief, it's not impossible.