Looking for a job in the outdoors? Read this first.

AMC Regional Trail Coordinator Matt Moore sifts through more than 100 applications each year to fill four Ridgerunner positions on the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and southern Massachusetts.

You can’t get much more outdoors than the jobs he hires for: Ridgerunners live on the trail all summer, working 10-day shifts, hiking about a dozen miles a day, and camping out at campsites along the way. The job involves much more than hiking, however. Ridgerunners talk to an estimated 5,000 trail users each year, making them “the eyes, ears, and public face of the AMC and the AT,” as the job description puts it.

I contacted Moore recently about great jobs in the outdoors and asked what he looks for in an applicant. His answer, I think, is worth sharing in its entirety. It contains advice and wisdom that all young job seekers might benefit from — no matter the job.

Here’s what Moore said:

“I aim to fill the four spots with enthusiastic, qualified, personable, and capable individuals. The key is standing out from other applicants.

A prerequisite for these jobs is that the applicant be comfortable in the woods, and have a proven drive, enthusiasm, and skill set applicable to the position. The best demonstration of those skills is experience, and in my mind the more independent and self-motivated the better.

I want to see an applicant for whom being outdoors and in the woods is a necessity — someone who has done several substantial overnight backpacking trips. Anyone can sign up for and endure a week-long organized backpacking trip, but not everyone has the drive to go out and backpack 15 weekends a year, or hike for a month with their mother or father, or organize and lead an outing club trip, or even to run trails 3 times a week.

Younger teens might not be able to strike out on independent hikes, but they can, say, do several AMC volunteer trail crews, or maybe hike and trail run regularly in their town, or be researching an eventual group or solo trip. As they get older, their love of the outdoors should be demonstrated by time spent in it. If they organize group trips or are active in an outing club, their application is even more competitive.

In short, the best way to bolster your qualifications is to get out there and do what you love! Demonstrated expertise and a passion for hiking, biking, paddling, skiing, climbing, etc., makes you competitive for these jobs.

The second factor is professionalism and work ethic. Applicants need to know how to write a structurally sound sentence in a professional tone and how to use spell check! You'd be amazed at how many grammatical and spelling errors I find in applications. They often stray into far too casual a tone. I'd say more than a third of the applications I receive are disqualified on these grounds.

For any job interview, even at a summer camp, applicants should practice. Anticipate the questions that will be asked — they are usually quite predictable — and think about how you would answer. What makes you unique? What are your strengths? What are some examples from your life that demonstrate these strengths? Think about this stuff and practice articulating it. Avoid scripting it or memorizing answers: You need to sound conversational, not rehearsed. Research the job and organization and think of questions to ask the interviewer. Even simple logistical questions make you sound invested and prepared. A half-hour spent brainstorming can vastly improve how you perform in an interview.

Last piece of advice: Work hard at whatever you do. Show up on time. Strive to understand instructions and to follow them. Ask questions when you don't understand. I think teenagers greatly benefit from having a job, any job. In my early part-time job career, I consistently got high marks from supervisors and I never understood why. All I did was show up on time and do what was asked of me. Now, as a supervisor, I recognize that very simple skill is sorely lacking in many, many folks. Learn how to work - anywhere — and gain good references.

I'll use one Ridgerunner as an example. At 19, he had managed — a month here, a week there — to hike 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail. He researched and made his own gear. It absolutely lit him up. He had to work to make money for these trips. In high school, he worked at a local sub shop, pulling extra shifts over a hot grill on 100-degree summer days. He held this job for three years. His application included a reference letter from the sub shop. It described how valuable and reliable the candidate had been, how he kept busy, was thorough, went above and beyond, and was like family.

That young man stayed with the Ridgerunner program for three years, gaining additional responsibility each year. It was one of the easiest hires I ever made.”

Learn more
- Hut Croo and More: 10 Great Outdoor Jobs.
- "A Day in the Life" of AMC's Ridgerunner program.
- About applying for the Ridgerunner program.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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