A Few Tips for Finding a Job After Your Thru-Hike

The following is a guest post courtesy of Barbara “Firefly” Matthews, a 2015 AT section hiker.

This is dedicated to those future thru-hikers who will be seeking a new job when they return home, especially those that have worked in the same job for many years prior to their hike.

A little more preparation before the trail would have made things a lot easier for me when I returned home. When planning for my attempted thru-hike I focused on budget, training, taking care of stuff at home while I was gone and of course gear. I was quitting my job of 15 years as a Certified Nursing Assistant and knew I would have to find work when I returned home but didn’t give that aspect a lot of attention. I was thinking of a career change and was taking the approach that the trail experience might help me decide what to do next.

Flash forward to the return home. Everything I have is in boxes. I need to find a job sooner rather than later, because let’s face it no one comes back from the AT with more money in the bank. After time on the trail and away from my “stuff”, it felt a bit overwhelming to have to deal with this mountain before I could even start the job hunt.

The whole job application and hiring process has changed quite a bit in the last 15 years, even at my former employer. The old way of walking in, filling out an application and having an interview is long gone. Maybe I am the only one that didn’t realize this, maybe not. It seems you can spend days submitting online applications that appear to get swallowed up in the black hole of cyberspace. Most employers in my area of California don’t want walk-ins or phone calls about jobs, they outsource the whole process to recruiters. This applies not just for professional positions but for dishwashers, store clerks, and basically jobs at every experience and education level. The end result is a much longer time frame from application submission to actually putting in the first day of work and ultimately getting that first paycheck. Of course the competition for jobs is also a huge issue.

So if I had it to do over again what would I do differently before my hike?

First I would put together a current resume and generic cover letter and left a printed copy easily accessible. I would also download a generic job application and fill it out, finding all those pesky dates, details and addresses. Put together a list of references with current contact information. Get credentials in order and scanned on to my computer, such as a diploma, CPR card, certificates, etc. Then put that bundle of stuff on a flash drive or upload to cloud storage, whatever works so that it is accessible. Know where my Social security card or passport is and be able to find it easily when I got home. Establish an online resume and cover letter on one of the job search websites or your local employment development office before leaving so I was able to submit online job applications before I got home or while traveling home if a promising job popped up.

I took a lot of my job skills for granted. Getting any skills certified can give that extra edge over the competition. If I could do it over, I would have gotten skills certified prior to leaving since most certificates are good for at least a year. When I got home I took keyboarding and 10 key certification tests. These are usually offered free at local career or job centers. Since almost all jobs now have some component of computer use, that keyboarding certification can be hugely helpful.

I would also take a good look at potential employers who I think I might be interested in working for and find out about their hiring process and standard requirements. I now know school districts require first aid/CPR for everyone from the janitor to the principal and most jobs with food require a food handler card. Neither thing is difficult to obtain but those requirements have to be met in order to apply. Had I known that most recruiters run ads for 3-4 weeks before even starting interviews, I would have started the job hunt a little sooner. I would also budget for an additional 10 weeks (or more) of unemployment, which seems to be the minimum average time from successful application submission to first paycheck in my area. Also factor in money needed for purchasing clothes to interview in and work in, what’s in the closet most likely won’t fit anymore.

My thru-hike attempt ended early, but what an incredible experience it was! The transition home has had its ups and downs. Hopefully sharing my experience will help out some of the future thru-hikers have a less stressful transition and job hunt when they return home.

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Comments 1

  • gottanewname : Aug 29th

    I’m glad this article was written because its a very important topic for thru hiker awareness.
    When I returned to civilization following my 2014 thru, I foolishly updated my tech sector resume to reflect my thru hike. Following 13 years of technical hands-on work with 1 year leadership at a Fortune 100 global finance firm, I thought the thru hike would demonstrate a higher level of determination and ambition. In addition, I had much to discuss and share about teamwork, patience, planning, etc. Here’ what happened:

    I traveled up and down the east coast from Florida through Washington, DC. Technical recruiters and hiring managers would either ignore me or call me in to meet in person with intent to lambaste me about taking six months off to hike. One employer, let’s just call that company “Tech Systems,” literally said “what makes you think you can take 6 months off to do this?” Needless to say my post-hike depression tripled. Even in the Appalachian corridor I was being rejected. A well-known Seattle-based national outfitter rejected an opportunity to interview me after an initial screen without providing reasoning to help me along (so if you think they are going to want you for anything other than retail after your hike, think again.)

    Here’s what I did to solve this dilemma: I lied. I changed my resume to reflect self employment by establishing an LLC for $125. Lo and behold, my resume went to the top of the list and I was getting same-day offers for six-figure salaries. My skillset didn’t change, the market didn’t change, so the obvious conclusion is that hiring managers are irrational, and according to an industry veteran in Silicon Valley, are flat-out jealous. I’m now back in a lead technology role and I still know more than my peers, even though I spent six months in the woods and several more seeking work.

    Prospective thru-hikers should know that the AT is going to show them a side of humanity that can only really be found on the AT. Vanquish any fantasy that the world is going to appreciate your enlightenment and just prepare to play their game. Have plenty of post-trail savings and as the author said, grab as many certifications before your departure as possible. It’s a jungle out there.

    Remember: “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”


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