Tag Archives: leadership

One Fatal Mistake of Team Leaders and Managers

Hey there, fans and followers. After a long hiatus, I am back on the scene.

Let’s get right down to it: here’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen managers and team leaders make over the years.

Not taking advantage of a team member’s passion and skills.

I know, it seems so obvious. And you might be saying “who is this kid to be telling me what mistakes my managers are making (or me)”?

Well you’d be right to question me up until recently: I’ve spent the last few summers running or managing (both maybe?) wilderness and adventure based trips programs.

Sure some of you have more years in the saddle than me but, as Frank Turner would say, “I’m the one who’s got the microphone here, so just remember this”.

Time and again I go into seasonal work and, either as an employee, or as a team leader I find that potential is lost because people in positions of leadership do not take the time to ask what their team is good at and passionate about.

Don’t just assume that you know everything about your employees.

Let’s use me as an example:

Just because I got on-boarded as a backpacking instructor doesn’t mean that I don’t have other skills. So many trip leading organizations are micro companies, often desperate for tangible skills.

I’ve been recruited to fix networking and WordPress issues for a company that hired and employed me as a Wilderness Programs Supervisor.

I’ve done mechanical work for nature education programs while technically working as a naturalist.

When you take the time to get to know your team (and I mean really know them) you’ll be better able to bring their skills and passions to bear in helpful ways.

So many times I have been asked by an employer to do X task when really my skills and passions are much more aligned with Y task. And there are many times when, no matter your job title, you have to put on whatever hat your employer asks of you and get the job done.

But I’m not talking about that. Let’s say you’re developing summer curriculum with a team of a dozen people. Find out what they’re all knowledgeable and passionate about and help guide them in ways to bring those skills in line with your program so that both your employee and you can benefit.

Got someone with wild edible plant creds and passion? No wild edible plants class in your lesson book? Well then sit down with them and build a new class for them to teach!

The level of investment from your instructors and return from your students will go through the roof when you empower your leaders to teach skills and information that’s already waiting to burst out of them!

I think you’ll be amazed the next time you’re leading a team and you take the time to truly get to know them. Find ways to let their passions merge with their position in your team or company.

Don’t forget; this works wonders when you’re leading trips on trail, too. Get to know your students and give them opportunities to merge their passions with your course so that their impact on the trip and other students (and yourself) can be exponentially magnified.

You’ll be happy you took the time.


If you’re still with me after my hiatus and still reading, PLEASE leave a comment. I really want to get to know those of you I’ve been able to help and to bring you better content personally.

Happy Trails, friends.


How to Get Hired as a Ski Instructor (With No Ski Experience)

Impossible, you say?

Nay says I!

Prior to the 2012-’13 winter season I could count the number of times I had skied at a resort on one hand. On the other hand I could count the number of times I had backcountry skied. I think it’s fair to say that I had only enough ski experience to know I enjoyed it and wanted a job doing just that: skiing all day!


A strong wind picks up on Bald Mountain at Deer Valley Ski Resort.

It’s actually possible to start your first season in the ski industry as an instructor even with little to no prior experience. Don’t let people tell you that you have to start by bussing tables and earn your way to the top.

This article will give you some insight and inspiration on how to become a ski instructor with little or no time on skis.

The first key to success is to have experience teaching in the outdoors. Your resume needs to key in on your prior teaching experience, since the skiing creds are going to be little to none.

The second key to success is to find “apprentice” ski instructor jobs or entry level jobs teaching kids. Many resorts have instructor positions open to novice skiers as long as you’re willing to work hard to improve your skiing and teaching.

The third key to success is to really play to your strengths in the interview. For example you could tell your prospective employer “I have a lot of experience teaching in an outdoor setting, I am able to ski green runs, and greatly look forward to improving myself as a skier and instructor.” My guide on How to Phone Interview for an Outdoor Job should help a lot.

The final key to success is to be honest about your abilities, apply to as many positions as possible, and be ready and willing to go wherever work is available. That means you may have to move somewhere for the winter season in order to get that dream job.

Let me tell you, there is no better, or faster way to learn how to ski than to jump right in to it. If you have tried skiing and know you love it, get yourself in to the industry and you’ll improve rapidly! Plus you get to ski every day for work, and you can ski the mountain on your days off as much as you want.

Read more about the outdoor industry here.

Outdoor Education Industry: Trends and Opportunities

The following is a question and answer type interview with Darran Wells, M.A. Assistant Professor Outdoor Education and Leadership, Central Wyoming College and long time NOLS instructor.

Q: What brought you in to the outdoor education industry? When did your passion turn into a career?


Darran Wells, Assistant Professor of Outdoor Education and Leadership.

I became interested in the outdoors through mountain biking and distance running with my father while I was in high school. We also took annual trips to Colorado to ski in the winter. The first time I went up to the mountains in the Summer, I knew that was where I wanted to be.

It wasn’t until after college, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer living in central Africa, that I learned about NOLS and started thinking about a career as an outdoor professional. Some other PCV’s I met in Africa told me about the NOLS branch in Kenya. The more I looked into NOLS after my Peace Corps tour, the more I was sure I wanted to work there.

Q: What opportunities are in the job market today for outdoor educators that may not have previously existed or been as prevalent? Which areas of the industry are growing the most and shrinking the most?

Stats show that more traditional outdoor activities like hunting and fishing have been shrinking a bit over the last decade. There are a number of emerging outdoor activities that are seeing a lot of growth—Stand up Paddleboarding, Adventure and Obstacle racing, Kite surfing and kite skiing, snow biking, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, etc.

Outdoor organizations and programs which are nimble and well funded have been able to adapt these new activities as they have grown in popularity.

There continues to be a lot of growth in programs which can be run close to large urban centers. These usually involve artificial environments like climbing walls and human-made whitewater parks or ice parks.

Jobs in academia, either as faculty or recreation staff, have been steadily growing over the last decade as colleges and universities recognize the value of experiential and co-curricular education.

Q: Which categories of jobs (counselor, naturalist, guide, etc.) might be the most profitable places to begin searching for someone wishing to turn their outdoor passion into a career?

The harsh reality is that no outdoor jobs really pay as well as we might like. It is truly a lifestyle choice to work in the outdoors. As you might guess, the best paying jobs in the industry involve running large organizations that make outdoor equipment or provide education or recreation opportunities. But those higher-paying jobs usually to not get to spend as much time in the field.

The best paying jobs which do involve time in the field usually cater to higher end clients, like up-scale adventure tourism or resort guiding. There is also potential for good money in outdoor film-making.

Q: If you could prescribe a recipe for going from “zero-to-hero” to aspiring outdoor educators, what would that process entail for someone looking to move up the ladder in the industry?

It seems hard for me to get this point across to some aspiring outdoor professionals, but I’ll try again here…the most important thing you can do for your career is identify what you LOVE to do. Whether it’s teaching, guiding, or

something else, if you don’t love it, you won’t last. So many young people with or without college degrees just bounce from job to job to job throughout their 20’s. That is fine, but it means that it will take you longer to reach your niche, that place where you are really self-actualized and happy with your work. If you can spend some serious reflection time trying to identify that thing you love to do while you are younger, you will have more time to become the master of your field.

What gets people from zero to hero is their love of the work they are doing. If you are passionate about it, you will gravitate toward the best mentors in your field and you will eventually become a master yourself. If the passion for your work isn’t there, you might as well be on Wall Street making real money because you are going to need it to be happy.

The recipe goes like this: 1) Find that thing you love to do; 2) Identify the person or organization who is currently doing that thing the best in the world; 3) Go to them and offer to start at the bottom of the ladder. Don’t take no for an answer. If they require a degree or certification, go get it. 4) Have fun while working your ass off as you move through the organization.

If running a business is part of your passion, then you may be better off leaving and starting your own at some point. But don’t own your own business just because you think that is what success is. You will never be happy running an outdoor business unless you like the everyday work of running a business more than you like actually being outdoors.

Q: In your opinion, which certifications are the most valuable for an outdoor education job applicant? Which certifications might not be worth an aspiring outdoor educator’s time and money?

Wilderness First Responder certification has become an industry standard for any programs which run overnight wilderness trips or visit remote locations.

Today, there are so many certifications out there for the various outdoor activities you might participate in that it is nearly impossible to sort them all out. Certifying bodies include: ACA for boating, AMGA for climbing, AIARE for avalanche education, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute and SOLO for wilderness medicine training, PADI for diving, etc. etc. Which of these certifications you choose to pursue depends on what skills you are interested in. My best advice here is to simply avoid the start-ups. If you are looking for a certification, you want a proven organization that will be there in the long-run to stand behind your training. If they aren’t more than a couple of years old, they may not last and your certification card won’t have quite the same luster.

Q: How do I know if Central Wyoming College’s Outdoor Education and Leadership degree (or other institutional degrees) is a good option for me as a career building block?

In general, employers like to see 2 things on your resume: Formal education and experience in the field for which you are applying. That formal education may mean a college degree or some specific skills certifications or both. Degree programs which also provide an internship opportunity and expedition experience will set you up best for the job market.

If you want to work in academia, you need to be thinking about graduate school. I got my BA and worked at NOLS for 7 years before going to graduate school. But grad school wasn’t part of my plan until I’d been working in the field for 5 years and started thinking about a family and settling down.

If you aren’t sure if a college degree is highly valued at the place you would like to work, give them a call and ask. How many of their employees, on average, have an Associates degree or higher? What did they study?

Q: Will a NOLS course or Outward Bound course make me more valuable to employers? How do I decide which course to enroll in?

The simple answer is yes. If you are looking for a position that involves leading people in the wilderness, employers will be very happy to see NOLS or OB experience on your resume. That is a known quantity for them and they like to know you have been trained to take care of yourself and others in the outdoors.

As for which course to enroll in…that will vary a bit depending on the skills or environments you are hoping to work in. Obviously, if you want to eventually get a job sea kayaking in Baja, take the NOLS course which offers you some experience sea kayaking in Baja.

In general, the Outdoor Educator Semester courses that NOLS offers are the best choice for aspiring outdoor educators. Very comprehensive and usually attract a great group of very motivated folks who are also interested in outdoor careers.

Q: What is the best way to increase personal marketability for job seekers?

Remember that you have 2 things to market: your formal education and your experience. If you don’t have both of those, you may not be qualified yet for the dream job. You may need to go back to school, get specific skills training, or get some experience with an entry-level position at a second-choice organization.

Have a great resume which documents both your professional and outdoor recreation experience and send it far and wide. Use social networks to let people know what you are looking for. Linked In seems to be popular for career networking these days. Ask people to recommend you on Linked In. Post your resume on internet job boards and listserves wherever you can. And email all of your friends and past contacts letting them know what you are looking for.  Conferences and umbrella organizations like AORE and AEE are great ways to make connections as well. Go to these conferences and bring copies of your resume!

The squeaky wheel really does get the grease here. Don’t be too afraid of “bothering” potential employers. Keep pestering them until they realize how qualified and serious you are about working for them.

You can read more about Darran Wells and Central Wyoming College’s Outdoor Education and Leadership degree program here.

How to Phone Interview for an Outdoor Job

Let me begin by saying that there are a LOT of basic, universal, phone interview tips out there. Jobsearch.about.com suggests a few basic, yet useful tips here.

The key to getting that dream job is preparation. I filled out 6 applications for various jobs at ski resorts for the ’12-’13 season. Five of these landed interviews, four of these offered me full time, competitive jobs. You can have the same success.

Here’s how to land your next job:

1. Research

This is the biggest secret and most overlooked aspect of landing a job. Before you send out a resume or cover letter (yes, always send both), visit your prospective employer’s website. Print the job description, as well as any web pages pertinent to your desired job.

Now grab a highlighter, go through and highlight keywords. Examples might be “Risk Management”, “Fun”, “Transference”,  or “Leadership”. There are many more, but use your judgement to decide which are most pertinent. Then, make a list of these terms, numerically deciding which are most important to your employer.

Now, keep this list and use these keywords in your phone interview! Employers love it when you display a clear understanding of their program’s mission, goals, and values. Also, the keywords help give you prompts to answer questions. Don’t know what to say? Glance at a keyword and build your answer from that!

One of the most invaluable aspects of doing your homework pre-interview is increasing your familiarity and confidence in understanding exactly what you’re interviewing for. If you know what kind of qualities your prospective employer is seeking, you’ve got a major leg up over the next guy!

2. Communication

First impressions are crucial. Always spell check your email of introduction. Be polite, formal, and sincere but also let the employer know that you are a unique job seeker, give your fist email a little spice to set it apart from all the others. Oh yeah, make sure your cover letter and resume are attached!

“Thank you”s and closures on emails help a lot as well. Such as “Thank you for your time, (insert name)” to close your email.

3. Interview

Preparation for the interview extends all the way up until you answer the phone. Put yourself in a quiet, clean, organized environment. Close the door and tell your wife, kids, grandparents, and the police to leave you alone until you’re finished.

Lay out your resume in front of you, with key points highlighted on it. If I were applying for a backpacking job, I’d highlight everything pertaining to hiking and leadership on my resume (which should be most of it, since each resume you send out should be tailored to the job position).

Have a tablet of paper, and several pens (in case one goes dead).

Have a list of pertinent certifications in front of you. You should also have a well composed list of all your personal experience pertaining to the job position (any backpacking or hiking trips you’ve done). You can expect the interviewer to ask about your experiences.

Be conscious of your tone of voice, cadence, and inflection. There is significant indication through research that the outcome of any verbal “debate” can be predetermined by analyzing the tone of voice, cadence, and inflection (The Silent Language of Leaders,  Carol Kinsey Goman 2011). Speak clear, concise, well articulated sentences. Use those keywords!

Another good idea for any interview is to have a prepared list of possible questions and a few bullet points for answers. Things like “What is your biggest accomplishment” and “What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made” are common interview questions, the interviewer is getting a feel for your personal, professional, and ethical qualities. Don’t be caught off guard. Also, don’t write a full paragraph response and then try to read it back, it will be obvious and clumsy.

Ask them questions! Ask them questions like “How does (company) take care of its employees” and “What opportunities for advancement are available”. This shows that you have a genuine interest in the company and job position and are knowledgeable enough to ask insightful questions.

4. Follow Up

This is a classic, so I won’t beat a dead horse. But, if you really want the job, follow up by email or phone within a day. Be sure to ask your interviewer when you can expect to hear back from them. Remember, you can never say “Thank you” too much! Obviously, try to change up the exact phrasing of the ingratiation.

Do you have any tips or tricks for phone interviews, specifically in the outdoor industry? Let us know! Leave a comment.