by Ashley Levy and Mitch Bach
Over the past year we’ve spent many hours helping new tour directors perfect their resumes, and talking to tour operators about what they like to see. This article is an attempt to share our advice and perspective with the wider tour directing community! It’s important to remember, however, that there’s no single, perfect solution for every tour director. But we lay out some principles below that you can follow in your own way!
Note: We focus here on the tour director resume; if you’re a local tour guide, much of the advice still applies, but you’d want to change things up a bit to focus on the city-specific nature of your work. You can download our resume template at the bottom of the page.
The Tour Director resume is important … and different!
Whether you’re meeting a tour operator face to face and handing them your resume, or you’re simply sending out your info in hopes of landing new work, your resume is one of the most important ways a tour operator gets to know you. And yet: they receive so many every day that it’s hard to stand out! For many of you coming from a non-travel industry background, you might be tempted to send out your corporate-style resume, with loads of descriptions of your previous jobs, your knowledge of Microsoft Word, and your career objectives, etc. The professional tour director resume is different: it’s an expression of your personality, and showcases first and foremost who you are. If your resume doesn’t express your personality, then very little else matters.
Let’s start by looking at some do’s and don’ts for this crucial document…
- Keep it short and sweet! One page is almost always enough. Remember you’re sharing a story, not a play-by-play of your entire life.
- Be clear. Don’t get bogged down with elaborate descriptions of jobs with corporate jargon. Let the tour operator know how your work and life experience have given you skills that can translate into the tour directing world.
- Include a photo. Your image should express the kind of person you are, and be appropriate for the kind of tour directing job you’re applying for.
- Show destination and tour directing experience. Don’t just list every place you’ve ever been, or the tour operator’s first question will be about when and how you led tours there. If you have experience tour directing, don’t describe each individual job’s requirements. Tour operators know what the job is!
- Include your training and education. Do you have training credentials, from a guiding school, TripSchool, or another certification program? That should obviously be highlighted.
- Share relevant work experience. Be concise about your previous jobs! And don’t include every one; if you’re including the job, think of how it reveals a trait that relates to you being a great TD.
- Let your personality shine through. The whole document should be a story about who you are. Include hobbies, passions, and jobs that express your individuality. Ask a good friend: does this document give a good sense of who I am?
- Make it long and monotonous. It should be easy to scan, and to-the-point.
- Get page-happy. One page. Seriously.
- Describe the role of tour director to a tour operator! The group tour industry is small and cozy; everyone knows everyone else, so don’t describe what your role at another tour operator encompassed. They know.
- Include “objectives.” We get it: you want to be a tour director!
- Clutter your presentation. The resume should have enough white space that it’s not overwhelming to the reader.
- Get cute. Getting too swirly and curly with your fonts, too colorful with your paper color, or adding decorative elements to your resume can cause you to stand out but for the wrong reasons. Keep everything high-quality, and still in the realm of the normal. Stand out with crisp prose and a clear presentation.
Here’s our recommended resume design.
We’ll break down each section of the resume below, but let’s make an important caveat: there’s no industry-wide single, perfect way to display yourself to tour operators. There are many different styles, and tour operators each have their own individual preferences. Plus everyone’s looking for different features. Our goal with this design was to make your information as clear as possible, and easily scannable by a busy tour operator who may be looking for just one particular attribute you might have, like language ability or experience in a certain destination.
Our superstar TripSchool grad Ashley Levy was kind enough to allow us permission to share her resume, so we can share our philosophy!
Remember: Again, one size does not fit all. This is just one example of a clear, well-designed resume. The information categories should be adapted to you. For example, Ashley has a “Meeting and Event Planning” category. Yours might be: “Teaching Experience” if you have experience as an educator. At the bottom of the page we have a few more examples of other resumes, too.
Let’s break it down.
- The photograph. Make sure to include a photo. It’s the industry standard. And make sure it’s big and bold, shows your face clearly, and your face should be evenly lit. We like environmental shots–a little bit of something in the background that puts you in the world, instead of a plain, drab background. Whatever photo you choose, make sure it’s expressing who you are, and an appropriate photo for the tour operator you’re courting. Don’t be in a suit and all buttoned-up if you’re applying for an adventure guiding or student tour operator! And it’s a good idea to have multiple resumes with photos and information tailored to that corner of the industry. If your dream job is leading National Parks tours, don’t show yourself in the middle of Times Square! Finally, your face should take up most of the photo. Don’t show an image where you’re a small part of the frame.
- Personal information and training/licenses. This section is pretty straightforward. Tour operators want to know your name (which should be bigger than the other information, and bold), address, nearby cities where you’ll fly from, and your industry-based certifications (tour guide licenses, guide academy training). Another good thing to include: a personal website and video. Your personal website can be very simple (here’s mine) but they can be an easy way to share online what you can’t on paper, and when a tour operator is looking at your resume online, they should be able to click on it as a hyperlink (but make sure to remove Microsoft Word’s default blue/underline formatting, which is tacky).
- Destination experience. This might be the single thing a tour operator is looking for, because they have a tour to fill, quickly. We’ve chosen to make destination experience a sidebar all its own, so it gives you space for your experience on the left. This sidebar is shaded and easily noticed by a tour operator. We’ve broken down destinations into their regions, and notice the very important top part: I have led tours to the following destinations. Don’t cheat on destination experience by simply listing everywhere you’ve been. Notice Ashley also has “adept destination knowledge” at the bottom. Call it what you want, but if you’re newer to the industry, you can list places you’ve traveled to all your life and feel comfortable leading groups to, but clearly and honestly label those sections. In this sidebar Ashley also put her FAM and TripSchool training classes; that’s great… any category related to destination knowledge/learning you’d like to add can go there. There’s no hard and fast rule.
- Tour director experience. If you’ve got it, lead with it. Notice Ashley has clearly delineated between student and adult tour operators. She has experience in both. Also, don’t get so mired in naming the exact years and tours done for each tour operator, unless your experience is so little that you need something to pad your resume (which is fine, everyone has to start somewhere). Don’t over-describe your role. Everyone in the industry knows what leading a Washington D.C. student tour means. We get that you handled logistics, interacted with teachers and vendors, delivered commentary to large groups. That’s the job! And tour operators can follow up with you about specific questions they may have about your experience.
- Education, Language and Certifications. If you’ve attended a guiding school, university, speak Korean, studied abroad in Tahiti, and know CPR, all of that should go here. If your destination sidebar is too full, put some FAM and TripSchool training experiences here, too. Make sure all your education expresses something translatable to the job. Put your high school if you attended a performing arts high school, and you’re trying for a job leading performing arts tours! Otherwise leave it off. Languages are a big one, but again, don’t cheat. Explain whether you can lead tours in that language, or do a meet-and-greet, or simply order ravioli.
- Other relevant work experience. This area will contract as you get more tour directing experience, and expand if you haven’t worked in the industry a long time. The jobs you put here are telling a story of who you are. And that story should sell you as a person that’s right for leading large groups around the world. Ask yourself, or a friend: does this experience make me look interesting, worldly, engaging and someone you’d like to know? If you don’t think your job as a barista fits into your narrative, leave it off. Tour Operators don’t look at a resume like an HR department, where they think you’re insane if you have a 2 year gap between jobs. In this industry, they’re looking for people who are interesting. And since often we’ve done several things before finding this career, share with us who you’ve been! Look at Ashley’s resume again: she’s highlighted her work as a student coordinator (great for student tours!), her work organizing a large conference, and managing projects for a study abroad program. In each case, those are skills that make sense in terms of what she can bring to the table for a group tour.
- Personal interests. We think this is really important. In the same vein as work experience, these interests should be specific, and carefully chosen to express the (honest) version of you that will make the tour operator fall in love with you as the right person for the job. It’s really, really great if you love knitting and petting cats and sculpting bonsai trees. But, do those interests line up with the kind of tour operator you’re attracting? Chances are no, since a tour director should be engaging, outgoing, interesting, funny, personable and communicative. Maybe talk about your love of half-marathon running (since that’s basically what being a TD is), or the history and architecture of Italy (like Ashley), since endurance and love of history are excellent traits in a tour director! Choose the variety of interests that highlights your tour director-ready qualities. And the more specific, the better, since just like a good novel, details make a character come alive. On my resume, for example, I noted that I’ve taken editorial photographs that have appeared in the New York Times, and composed an opera and an off-Broadway show. Those are way more interesting statements than “love of photography and music.”
Some final thoughts
Your resume tells the story of you. It is a space for you to find a theme that is threaded through all of your experiences and who you are, and to showcase that theme. Think about the company that you are applying to and the story that you want to tell them about yourself. Try to find consistency and commonalities in each area of your resume to share with the company you are applying to for work. Think of creating your resume as if you are painting a picture. What picture do you want to share?
In addition to finding a theme for your resume, you should cater to the company that you are sending your resume to in order to demonstrate your understanding of their needs. This means that it is more than okay to have a different resume for your student tour companies and your adult tour companies. If the companies that you are applying to cater to different markets or provide different experiences for guests, your experience and resume should be tailored to that those niches. You are not locked into only having one resume photo, either. You should feel free to mix it up with your resume photos, just remember to still keep them professional.
Your resume should remain simple and professional, yet reflect who you are. We highly recommend that you pick a font that easily distinguishes between its regular (or “light”) and bold weights. Being able to have a strongly bolded header or title that naturally pops off the page will make your resume easy to scan and read.
Finally, remember the small stuff counts. Make sure your paper quality is better than simple inkjet paper. Don’t make it so thick and luxurious that it stands out as too ostentatious, but make it think enough that it doesn’t feel cheap. I shouldn’t be able to see the room I’m in when I stare through it. Printing quality is important, too. Clear, crisp, black text and a very high-quality color photo. Print them at Staples if you have to, and make sure when you do print that you’re choosing the highest quality dpi (dots per inch), and clicking “text as black” if you have a color printer. I know one tour director who even makes her paper size slightly smaller than standard, so it psychologically stands out just a bit from the pack.
Last thing: ask your friends and other tour directors for honest feedback! Ask friends in the industry who will really be honest. The sooner you can get used to real, constructive feedback about yourself, the sooner you’ll learn what you need to adapt/improve to excel in this career!
Some examples of TD resumes newer to the industry…
If you’re afraid that you don’t have travel-related experience to fill a resume, take a look below and see how these two individuals worked in their previous work experience, and their destination knowledge and trainings. (Click to enlarge them.)
Free Resume Template!
If you subscribe to our TripSchool mailing list, as a thank you we’ll send you a Microsoft Word template to update your own resume easily! We promise we’ll never share your information, and won’t email that often.
If you’re already a TripSchool grad, you can access the template from the Resource Portal.