How did this beach-going Southern Californian girl wind up working as a guide in a small and mountainous Alaskan town? The simple answer is this: I told the company I wanted to work for them.
Now here is the slightly longer version:
During one of my college courses, a previous student came to talk to my class about the line of work she had gotten into after graduation and the company she was working for. She was working as an international river and mountain guide for AMG. Sounds awesome, right?!
After hearing what she was doing, I decided I wanted to be an international mountain guide too. I started researching into the company. I found that to guide internationally for them, they required you start off guiding day, and some multi-day, trips based out of their headquarters in Alaska.
I sent them an e-mail. It read something like, “Hello. I am very interested in working for your company this upcoming season. I have just graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Outdoor Recreation, I have valid Wilderness First Aid and CPR certifications, and I would really love to be a guide for you. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.”
Turns out, they were already all hired up for the summer and asked me to contact them again next hiring season. But before I could even get back to them, they contacted me that winter!
They asked if I was still interested (yes). We went through the application and interview process. A few months later I was headed northbound to Skagway, Alaska.
So what is the take away for you?
Don’t wait for something to just fall into your lap. Go out and make it happen.
Here is a breakdown of 6 simple steps to help you make it happen.
Step 1: IDEA PHASE
What do you want to do? Where do you want to go? What are your short-term goals right now? What are your long-term goals for later (if you have any, and if you don’t that is totally fine too)?
Think about it.
Get an idea of where you want to go, who you want to work for, &/or what kind of work you want to do.
Step 2: RESEARCH
Talk to people you think might have some good information or tips for you (friends, peers, relatives, strangers on the internet who write about the things you want to do.)
Get on the computer and start researching.
Find a company, or better yet, three or five or ten, that are offering the kinds of programs you want to be involved in.
Look into what their programs are specifically offering, the clientele they are offering it to, and where they do their work.
Feel out your options.
Step 3: CONTACT
Start reaching out to companies you think you might be interested in working for.
Send them an e-mail, give them a phone call, or better yet show up to their office (if you can.) You do not need to wait for a ‘Now Hiring’ ad to ask about employment with a company.
In fact, you reaching out to them before having to be prompted by a hiring ad gives you a couple of advantages.
Advantage one – It makes the company feel good because you sought them out and are interested in them, and if you make someone feel good they already like you a least a little.
Advantage two – You start the foundation of building a positive relationship, plus it shows you can take initiative and have some confidence in yourself.
Advantage three – The hiring manager has a real person to attach to your application versus a blind resume of someone they have never spoken to, and people like to hire people they know.
Step 4: ASK QUESTIONS
Have a few questions ready before you contact the company.
First question that is always good: Are you hiring for any new guides for the upcoming season?
Other good questions: Do you train new guides?
Ask about the living situation they offer, pay, the length of the season, what they are looking for in a guide, what tasks the guides perform, does this position require any special certifications and if so do they offer the class for it.
Step 5: FOLLOW THROUGH
If they say yes, they are hiring and send your resume over, do it as soon as you can. Do it as soon as you get off the phone. Do it while you are fresh in their mind and before you forget. Prompt and timely responses are a valuable characteristic in a person/future employee.
Even if the company is slow to respond, you should still be timely and on top of your game.
Step 6: DON’T STOP
Keep searching and contacting companies until someone says yes; until someone you want to work for says yes.
It is likely you will hear a lot of no’s or that you are not yet qualified for certain positions. I guarantee you though, with a positive attitude and willingness to learn and be great, there is a company out there that will be willing to teach you. And once you get your first guiding gig it will be much easier to get others.
OTHER HELPFUL TIPS
- Get basic medical training and certifications.
All guiding companies are going to require medical certifications: Basic First Aid and CPR are the minimum. I highly recommend putting the time and effort into getting your Wilderness First Responder training and certification.
- Practice positive and professional communication.
If you are nervous or feel you are not good at cold contacting companies via e-mail or phone, do a practice call on your friends and family first. Ask someone who’s judgement you trust how your e-mail looks and sounds. Plus, the more you just do it the better you will get and the more comfortable you will feel. Being able to portray yourself as having good communication skills is huge because a large component of guiding will be communicating with your clients and fellow guides.
- Be prepared.
Have a resume, three references, and an easy to adapt cover letter template ready to go. That way you can send it out upon request easy.
- You can do these jobs even if you hardly have a clue about what you’re doing.
You do not need a degree in some faucet of recreation. You do not need to have taken a NOLS course. You do not have to be a professional outdoors person before applying for your first guiding position. Those things help, undoubtedly. What you really need is a love of being in the outdoors and a willingness to share and shape positive experiences for other poeple. Having some level of basic fitness really helps too.
I still follow this process today and not even a month ago put these steps into action.
I decided I wanted another seasonal job for the summer, somewhere warm where I could go swimming a lot. River guide in Arizona it is, I thought. (The international mountain guiding thing did not work out because I found that I do not like mountaineering. At all.)
Then came the research, looking into a ton of different companies that guide in the Grand Canyon. I made phone calls and wrote e-mails. Eventually, I found that with my complete lack of river guiding experience I am far from being qualified to guide on such a popular and regulated river as the Grand.
That did not stop me. I just re-routed my plan. I searched for companies running other rivers until I found a guiding company in New Mexico willing to train new guides.
So I called the owner. I asked him questions and learned about the company. He asked me questions and learned a bit about myself. Sent an application and some references. A few days later it was settled that I am heading to New Mexico this spring to be a river guide for the season. Simple as that.
If you want it, make it happen.