You have the perfect job posting, you’ve reached out to all the right places, and you have a list of prospective tour guides to interview. What now? Work experience, education, references and other “hard skills” will only tell you so much about a new hire, and instinct only takes you so far. Here are nine must-have traits to look for when interviewing new guides, and tips on how to find them:
Your guides are ambassadors for your company and your locale, so they need a great diplomatic skill set. They need to be able to communicate clearly and easily with your guests. Strong communicators have language proficiency, a confident voice, effective body language, and attentive listening skills. Yes, guides spend a lot of time talking, but listening skills are just as important. How else will they build rapport, answer questions, or identify the early signs that a guest may be unhappy or in distress?
Interview tip: Pay attention to how a candidate communicates, not just what they say. Do they interact comfortably with everyone in the room, or do they ignore everyone that doesn’t directly lead the hiring process? Can they recover from being flustered or being asked a question they don’t expect? Do they answer the questions you ask, or do they constantly turn their answers back to subjects they’re practiced at discussing?
In a lot of ways, a tour is a narrative, one that takes guests through the story of a place or an activity. A good tour guide can make that story clear to guests, and in doing so, help them build an emotional connection with the experience.
Interview tip: Open-ended prompts like “Tell me about yourself,” give your applicants a chance to offer you a narrative. Most people waste questions like that with basic biographic details or bullet points from their resumes, but storytellers will take any opportunity to try to sell you on their personal narrative.
No tour’s narrative is set in stone, because every experience involves uncontrollable factors. Improvisational skills come in to play every time a guide needs to answer a guest’s questions, and they also matter every time something unexpected happens. Guides who can improvise can even salvage disasters like bad weather or vehicle breakdowns by making them part of a memorable experience.
Interview tip: Interviews are improvisational activities from start to finish, but to really get your candidates stretching their improv muscles, throw a creative curve ball. Have them to make up a story based on a travel photo on the spot, ask an unexpected question, or engage in a bit of guest/guide roleplay with their permission. A word of caution, though: Job interviews are stressful, so give your candidates a bit of slack when going off script, and avoid asking anything that could make someone uncomfortable or that could be against labor laws.
Likability is a hard thing to measure, especially since no one can please everyone all the time. As a rule of thumb, though, the characteristics that make a good customer service representative are also characteristics that make good tour guides. While some of your customers will want expertise and others humor or gravitas, things like caring, authenticity and helpfulness are universally popular.
Interview tips: Everyone tries to put on their best show during job interviews. Pay attention to what the candidate is like after the tough questions are out of the way, just before the interview wraps up. That’s when most interviewees will be more relaxed, and you’ll be able to get the best sense of what they’re really like.
Guests can tell when a tour guide would rather be anywhere but leading their tour, or when they’re hiding contempt, boredom or frustration under a helpful facade. The more genuine enthusiasm you can find in your guides, the better the experience will be for everyone involved.
Interview tips: Passion is hard to fake, so ask your candidates what they love most about leading tours. It’s not a right or wrong question — if they answer with genuine enthusiasm and the answer fits the job, you’ve got yourself a winner. If they can’t think of a single thing they genuinely love about the job, it might not be for them.
One of the best things about being a tour guide is that the work is never completely routine. Each tour is an opportunity to interact with new people, to share new stories and often, to overcome new obstacles. Bad weather, detours, closures and route changes can be a big part of the job, and any good guide needs to be able to adapt to those changes. Flexibility in your guides is also vital if you want to make changes to your inventory, take last-minute bookings, or otherwise allow for change in your business.
Interview tip: Look for signs that candidates can handle multi-tasking, deadline pressure and, of course, improvisation. Ask about comfort with change and consider their willingness to learn new ways of doing things. Don’t expect interviewees to respond favorably to hypothetical scenarios that suggest you won’t respect their time, though – remember, they’re probably considering whether your company is one they want to work for, too.
Get last minute bookings? Need to make scheduling changes? It’s great to have a guide who’s flexible and can handle last-minute adjustments, but only if you can actually reach them.
Interview tip: Make sure your hires are prompt about responding to calls, texts and emails – if a potential job isn’t enough reason for them to ensure they’re reachable, are your tours going to be any different?
Interest and Curiosity
Tour companies often look for guides who have a deep well of factual information about the region, the flora and fauna, the local history and so on, but facts and figures can be taught. A guide who is curious and eager to learn will serve your guests better in the long run than someone who’s memorized exactly what they need to know and is satisfied to stop there.
Interview tip: Rather than quizzing a candidate on their knowledge, ask them what interests them about your tours and activities. Have them consider how they’d learn more about the area or activity.
Any guide you consider hiring should demonstrate a sense of responsibility. Your company’s entire reputation rests in the hands of your guides, as does your guests’ happiness. Since you can’t generally supervise your guides in the field, it’s absolutely critical that you know you can trust them to represent your company, be punctual and consistent, and to treat your guests well.
Interview tip: Ensure that the candidate takes every step of the application and interview process seriously – if they can’t be relied upon to follow instructions in applying or show up to an interview with plenty of time, they may not be a good pick. If their job history has a lot of short-term positions, find out why. A candidate may have perfectly good reasons for a scattered work history, or they may be unreliable. Finally, keep track of how they interact with anyone else who happens to be around during the interview process. Being polite to the interviewer but rude to others is a huge red flag.