I was motivated to try to help Richie get a foothold on his dream career because no one offered me any help when I faced a similar position 10 years ago...

 I had relished being a tank commander in Britain’s finest Cavalry Regiment, the Royal Dragoon Guards, but left aged 29 to start a more family friendly career path. I worked for 3 years for a supposedly great multi-national but in roles that didn’t inspire me, when out of the blue, everyone in my building was given a month’s notice of redundancy. The decision had been taken to move the business to Belgium.  It waRichie meeting Tristrams 4 weeks before Christmas 2001 and the company didn’t give a stuff. It was a shock, particularly with a new baby on our hands. But I saw the situation as opportunity. Here was a chance to take control of my future and do something that I could feel passionate about. But what?

I read a fantastic book called ‘What Colour is Your Parachute?’, which helps identify your dream career. I highly recommend it to anyone who is not sure what to do in life. Its research showed that people tend to be more successful if they follow their passions. I loved the outdoors life and enjoyed physical work, as part of a team. I started researching outdoor opportunities, which led me to set up Go Ape, a forest based tree top adventure company. We opened on 24th March 2002, and we’ll be celebrating our 10thbirthday later this month, plus the 30 courses and 450 jobs we have created across Britain, and now in USA too.

So, from the notes I had been sent, I saw in Richie, someone who had been wise enough at the age of 19 to understand that he should follow his passion for climbing and adventure, and set his mind on becoming an outdoor instructor. Both his maturity and his hobbies appealed to me and I looked forward to meeting him, in the hope that I could help steer him towards achieving his goals. Rather than Richie travelling to meet me, I suggested that it would be more productive if I travel up to meet him at Go Ape course at Matfen Hall, just outside of Richie’s home town of Newcastle. The idea being that Richie could meet some of the Go Ape team and benefit from their advice on how to become an outdoor instructor. Richie could also go round the course which we thought would be fun for him and give us an insight on his aptitude and fitness.

My first impression was positive. Richie looked the part. He was wearing clean outdoors kit, and was smartly turned out. Straight away however he came across as quiet and a man of few words. It was up to us to lead the conversation and we had to coax information out of him. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but in an interview situation, you have to make the most of the opportunity and make sure you get your message across. Richie needs to work on this.

Another thing that struck me about Richie was how impressively sorted Richie was, despite having had a very difficult and unsettled upbringing. I knew he had grown up in the Care system and had been moved between 15 different foster homes between the age of 10 and 14. Yet he seems amazingly together, and has a sound plan to get to where he wants to go. I am sure I would not have coped so positively myself. Richie’s plan is to enroll in an Outdoor Instructors’ College course this September, to gain the skills and experience to get into the industry. This seems an excellent and wise plan to us, and is the route taken by many of our team. It will also give Richie access to the college’s contacts within outdoor activity providers, and lecturers may well feel able to put in a good word for him to prospective employers, if he impresses on the course.

Richie has also enrolled on a 3 month voluntary work trip to Africa, departing later this month. This too shows good initiative and will stand out on his CV, but means that he is unlikely to be taken on by an outdoors activity provider for just a few weeks. Knowing that Richie is not realistically in the market for a full time job this season, we thought it would be constructive to nonetheless give him some feedback as if he were. Barry Hobbs, manager of Go Ape at Matfen Hall, was asked how he would have scored Richie as an applicant. Barry said that on the strength of Richie’s CV, he would not have been asked for interview. A CV needs to stand out. To do so it needs to be written in plain English, for the  specific job being applied for, demonstrating that it meets or exceeds all the skills and experience cited in the job description. It also should be accompanied by a letter which gives the applicant the chance to get his or her passion for the job across, plus the opportunity to show that they have done some research about the company. Go Ape recruits around 250 seasonal instructors each year from over 1000 applicants. Candidates with relevant experience have an advantage. But this presents a chicken and the egg problem for young applicants such as Richie. He needs experience to improve his chances of getting a top job, but how can he get relevant experience without the job? We gave him some suggestions to improve his chances of being interviewed, and securing a job in the company of his choice:

  1. Research which role he ideally would like to have
  2. Research which company he ideally would like to work for.
  3. Ask anyone he knows who might know someone in that company, and ask them to make an introduction
  4. Make contact and ask them:
    1. Whether there are any unadvertised roles going (70% of jobs never get advertised)
    2. Who would be the person responsible for recruiting instructors?
    3. Write, don’t email, to that key contact, politely asking whether he or she might be able to spare half an hour at their place of work for their advice on how to enter the industry?
    4. If they agree, and I’d be surprised if at least 25% didn’t, then:
      1. Turn up on time
      2. Look appropriately turned out
      3. Impress them with your knowledge of their business from the research you have done, and why you particularly want to work for that company
      4. Get across your passionate for the role
      5. Listen to their advice
      6. Ask whether and when they may be recruiting in future, or key recruitment dates within the calendar year?
      7. Ask whether you could be allowed to get work experience with the company if no immediate roles are vacant
      8. Bite their hand off if they say yes, as

i.      It shows commitment ii.      You will gain the experience you are missing on your CV iii.      It will give you a chance to impress them iv.      You are much more likely to be taken on, or at least be interview the next time a vacancy arises

  1. Write a thank you letter promptly, explaining:

i.       what you found useful ii.      reflecting back the advice you were given and what steps you are taking to put it into action iii.      reiterating that you would be very keen to work for the company should a vacancy arise iv.      saying that you will keep in touch and asking whether you can keep in touch by emailing monthly to see if any vacancies have arisen. Go Ape is a customer serving businesses. A key quality we look for in all our instructors is an inner confidence and strong ‘people’ skills. A good instructor is something of a performer. He or she need to be natural encouragers, to be able to talk to groups of all ages and backgrounds, and be good communicators. Richie needs to work on this as he is very quietly spoken. He needs to project his personality more to give prospective employers confidence that he can hold a groups’ attention with natural authority. That said, Richie came across as a nice lad who is putting into place a sensible plan to achieve his ambition. Confidence will likely come with the college training he plans to enroll on. Whilst we would not offer him a place today, we might well consider it once he graduates. If I were Richie, I would keep in touch with contacts made at Go Ape and leverage them when looking for a job more seriously. Tristram Mayhew, Chief Gorrilla, Go Ape!  www.goape.co.uk

This is a guest post from Tristram Mayhew who took part in the 'NOISE Young & Jobless' radio documentary series, broadcast over 4 months on BBC 5Live in 2012. The programme followed four unemployed young people as they looked for work, hooking them up with mentors and advice on their journey. For more information about this project, the participants and mentors--See Here--