How to Get a Job in the Outdoor Industry

Posted by: Megan Mackenzie on Aug 17, 2015

You’ve spent enough weekends sleeping under the stars, breathing cool mountain air, and dreading Monday morning back in the office to know that it’s time for you take the next step:it’s time to get a job in the outdoor industry.

But how do you make your dream a reality? Here's some guidelines to get you going.

Keelboat Sailing NOLS New Zealand

Gain confidence in your skills so that you can talk about them articulately on your resume and in interviews. Photo by Cass Colman.

Choose Your 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 lightweight stoves and state-of-the-art waterproof fabrics. Alternatively, if introspection and emotional growth are priorities for you, then wilderness therapy or 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.

An excellent way to learn more about the different areas of the outdoor industry is to talk to people who are already in it. 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.

Not totally sure where you’d fit best into the outdoor industry? Evaluate your strengths, then 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 job. There’s really no right or wrong answer—it’s all about doing what you love.

Beef up your resume with personal trips

Wilderness EMT Scenario

Consider a variety of options in the industry, including gear development, guiding, and wilderness medicine. Photo by Justin Alexandre.

Get outside, do what you love, and build your competence in it. Especially if you're interested in working in the outdoors, take the time to gain experience.

Rack up miles on the trail, days at sea, lead climbs, or nights in the backcountry. Know how to efficiently pack a backpack, roll a kayak, build a natural rock anchor, or choose a low-impact campsite.

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.

Compile your resume

Spend time putting together a resume of your personal trips and technical skills, or weave your experience 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 from the coffee shop or graduated magna cum laude from college.

No, it’s not necessary to 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.

Apply for jobs

Research the postings that appeal to you and apply, apply, apply!

Start by researching companies you’re already familiar with. Ideally, you already know how they operate and what their mission is. These companies might have job postings on their website for anything from internships to positions for trip leaders, program supervisors, and managers. 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.

Alumni JobsNetwork is a place where you can post resumes, search jobs, and research potential employers. The positions available 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.

NOLS Rock Climbing

You can have a job in the outdoor industry in a variety of ways, focus on the part that brings you the most fulfillment. Photo by Kyle Duba.

Prepare for The 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. If you're interviewing by Skype or by phone, keep a picture of something that makes you smile close by. Interviewers will be able to hear the smile in your voice, and it will help you feel more relaxed, too.

Don’t be afraid to admit to what you don’t know, but 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, and eventually you will connect with an organization that's a good fit.

You got the job! Now what?

First, congrats! Second, don’t think that the process is over. Employment in the outdoor industry 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.

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 a good fit for you. 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!

Editor's note: Updated September 2017.


Get more stories like this in your inbox: Subscribe to the NOLSie News.

Megan was a NOLS Rocky Mountain Intern and graduated from a Southwest Outdoor Educator course in 2013. She recently graduated from Colby College, where she studied Psychology, Environmental Studies, and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She enjoys eating vegetables and is learning to mountain bike.