You’ve spent enough nights sleeping under the stars, breathing cool mountain air, and daydreaming back in the office to know that it’s time for you to make your passion your career: it’s time to get a job in the outdoor industry.
But how do you make it happen? Here are some guidelines to get you closer to your dream job:
1. Choose where in the outdoor industry you want to focus.
What aspect of the industry are you most drawn to? If you want to share your passion and skills with others, guiding may be the route for you. If you are a total gearhead, then working in retail or for a gear company may be the perfect place to showcase your enthusiasm for camping stoves and state-of-the-art ultralight fabrics. Alternatively, if introspection and emotional growth are priorities for you, then wilderness mentoring or working in outdoor education might be the way to go. Consider a career in search and rescue or wilderness medicine if you’re inclined to fast-paced, high-stress problem solving.
Know any friends with jobs that you’d love? First-hand experience is an excellent way to learn more about the different areas of the outdoor industry. Reach out to friends and acquaintances and ask them about their experiences. What have their jobs been like? What have they liked and disliked? These conversations can help you get a fuller picture of what the outdoor industry can offer, and you will be able to more clearly picture yourself in a particular job. If you’re not totally sure where you’d fit best into the outdoor industry, then evaluate your strengths, try a position for a while and see if it energizes you. If it doesn’t, it’s never too late to try out a different outdoor industry job. There’s really no right or wrong answer—it’s all about gaining experience in a field that you love.
2. Beef up your resume with personal trips.
Get outside, do what you love, and build your competence in it. Whether you need to rack up miles on the trail or build out your knowledge of up and coming gear companies, the more practice you get, the more confident you’ll feel with your skills and the better you’ll be able to communicate your passion and knowledge to potential clients and employers.
3. Compile your resume.
Put together a resume of your personal trips and technical skills or weave those experiences into your professional resume. In the outdoor industry, it can be just as important that you hiked the Appalachian Trail or sailed to Japan as that you received the “Employee of the Year” award at your last job or graduated magna cum laude from college. A valuable skillset will get you in the door, but experience and love for the outdoors goes a long way for a cultural fit in an outdoor company.
You don’t need to necessary list every day hike you’ve ever taken with your dog or outing club, but by listing your larger accomplishments or wilderness leadership positions and being able to explain what you gained from those experiences, employers will be able to more clearly see what you can offer in terms of both competence and enthusiasm.
4. Apply for jobs.
Ideally, you already know a few companies that you’d like to work for and how they operate to accomplish their mission. These companies typically have a wide range of open positions posted on their website. If these openings aren’t posted, consider contacting the company directly to ask if they can point you in the right direction. Take the time to explore companies you aren’t familiar with, too, to make sure that you don’t miss out on any unexpected opportunities.
If you happen to be a NOLS alumni (if you aren't, you should think about taking a course), the Alumni Job Network is a valuable email digest that you can subscribe to for free. Employers in the outdoor industry who seek to employ NOLS alumni post job openings on the digest, which gets sent out several times a week. The positions listed are located throughout the United States and even internationally, and they cover an enormous range of job titles including Wilderness Instructor, Ski Patroller, State Park Ranger, Sled Dog Handler, and Operations Manager. Research the postings that appeal to you and apply, apply, apply!
5. Prepare for your interview.
Be yourself, be enthusiastic, and be confident. Talk about what you love and talk about what you know. It’s a good idea to practice responses to common questions ahead of time, too, so you don’t need to work out your answers in the middle of the interview.
With that said, don’t be afraid to admit to what you don’t know and let employers see that you’re eager to learn. Many aspects of the outdoor industry are based on experiential learning, and by getting any form of experience in the industry, you’ll learn something. You might not land the first job you interview for, but you’ll get a little better at interviewing each time. Take lessons from each interview, apply them to the next, and eventually you will connect with an organization that’s a good fit.
6. You got the job! Now what?
First, congrats! Second, don’t think that the process is over. Depending on which field within the outdoor industry you go for, employment is often a continuous process of applying for seasonal jobs, working contracts, reflection, and applying for the next job. It’s not uncommon for outdoor educators or guides, for example, to be continuously weaving together contracts with two or three different organizations at the same time. These seasonal positions can encourage a nomadic and sometimes spur-of-the-moment lifestyle. That’s just part of the adventure.
Stay on your toes, keep up with your contacts, stay on good terms with a variety of companies, and remain flexible. Keep in mind that the outdoor industry, though different than other industries, is still a job market; you may find it difficult at times to nail down a job that is your “dream job”. Be patient, be kind to yourself, and keep going. Remember that no matter where in the outdoor industry you are, you have a chance to learn and grow. So get in it and get out there!
Cover photo: Nathaniel Polta
This article was originally written by Megan MacKenzie for the NOLS blog.
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.