by Ashley Levy and Mitch Bach

November is the beginning of tour director hiring season, so now is the perfect time to begin preparing your resume and your strategies for attending the large Tour Director conferences ahead! If you missed our post on perfecting your resume, make sure to read it here! And, if you have no idea what a tour director is, read our Introduction to the Industry!

Think of the entire conference as an interview.

  • Don’t think you’re off-duty and can let loose just because you’re not in your suit and at the interview table. Tour operators will be in the same spaces as you and they are always observing everyone. People have been hired because they turned out to be a fabulous singer in front of a crowd and people have not been hired because of a bad interaction observed at a seemingly innocuous moment. If you get into an elevator and don’t say hello, there is a chance that a tour operator might frown upon that. Their thought process? If this tour director doesn’t speak to colleagues in the elevator, how will they treat guests on tour? If you bump into someone and don’t take a moment to apologize or make sure that person is okay, a tour operator might not take that lightly. These actions, small as they may seem, can be “make or break” factors for Tour Operators during conferences and job interviews.
  • You are also observed and judged by other (future) co-workers. Tour operators often ask valued tour directors for their referrals and opinions. That can go up in smoke if you’re not engaging, polite, and thoughtful to everyone throughout the conference. In this industry, people talk. You are judged by guests, co-workers, and employers every day as a part of the job.

Behave and dress appropriately.

  • You are attending a professional job conference. You should dress accordingly. On interview days, you should be dressing in business professional wear. Be comfortable and be you, but be polished and professional. If you are going to check-in or if you’re going on a FAM tour, business casual is OK. Unless otherwise noted, you should look professional and polished throughout the conference.
  • The stress of knowing that this conference space is where your future as a tour director will be decided can be overwhelming! You may be tempted to calm your nerves with a breakfast martini or that fourth margarita during the evening mixer, but resist! The next morning, everyone will talk about that one person who went absolutely wild the night before. Plus, you never know how nerves, excitement, and alcohol will mix.
  • Don’t gossip. Don’t bad mouth a tour operator because you had a bad experience with them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t 100 other tour directors who love them. Don’t bad mouth other tour directors either. It’ll make you look bad. These are all indications of how you’ll treat your guests on tour. Don’t make generalizations about adult or student tours, or any other kind of tour product. The industry is so tight-knit, which means that you can get labeled very quickly. Remember, you are your own brand in this industry.
  • Don’t look suspiciously or competitively upon other tour directors. There is enough work in the industry for everyone; but, how that work is allocated depends on many different factors. Don’t see other people at the interview table as direct competition, focus on getting the tour operator to know who you are.

Get the most out of the educational sessions.

  • You are paying money to not only interview, but also to learn. What better way is there to learn than to hear from your respected colleagues on relevant issues of the year? You don’t have to go to every single session, but it is important that you pick ones that mean something to you and that you do make an appearance.
  • Take notes and ask questions! You’re there to learn. If you hear something that you want to remember for a tour next year, or something that you want to be able to refer back to at a later date, take notes. No one will ever frown upon your desire to take notes. It shows that you are listening, engaged, and learning.
  • Be aware if you’re asking too many questions, or monopolizing too much time. There is almost always some time for questions at the end of educational sessions. If you have a question about a common issue or situation, by all means, ask away. But nothing gets people more frustrated faster than when people start asking very specific questions that don’t benefit the group. Be mindful of how you are utilizing the session time and your colleagues’ time. An easy way to do this is to always ask yourself: is my question open enough that everyone in the audience will benefit from it being answered? If your anecdote or story doesn’t drive towards a point that is beneficial to everyone, you might be judged as that person who took up the session time thinking their tour experience story was worth monopolizing the room’s time.

This is about networking.

  • Don’t be a fly on the wall. Make sure you’re engaging with people throughout the conference! Remember to ask people about their lives. Tour directors are excellent at preaching sermons to crowds and others, and on the road we often feel like superstars getting asked a thousand questions about our lives. But, remember to give as much as you get and practice learning about others through using good active listening skills!
  • Exchange business cards. In rooms filled with so many people, business cards will be a useful tool to help remember who to follow up with, either as new friends or industry contacts in the weeks and months after the glow of the conference fades. It might feel awkward to whip out a card, but it’s essential. Practice learning that persons name because you will see them out on the road in the future.
  • Your personal tour directing network is where you are going to get a large portion of your jobs. Interview and face time with tour operators is important, but tour operators also use their own tour directors to recruit as well. Get to know your colleagues and let them get to know you. At some point, we all receive tour offers that we cannot personally take, but it’s a big plus to be able to recommend a colleague for the tour instead.

Don’t harass the tour operators!

  • Don’t look too needy or try and occupy all of a tour operator’s time! To a certain extent, you just have to let things happen organically.
  • Tour operators are largely there to scout and hire, of course, but they are also there to socialize and have fun too. If one of the hiring managers of your dream company is in line at the bathroom, don’t corner them and insist upon a conversation in that moment. You should wait until a more appropriate time. A quick “hi, how are you?” will suffice in that instance.
  • Tour operators all know each other and they all talk to each other. They observe and share amongst themselves. If you are rude or standoffish with one, the others will hear about it. Just be your naturally awesome and amazing self.

Be prepared with the tools of the trade.

  • We can’t tell you how many times people tell us they’ve run out of business cards or resumes. Don’t be that person! Buy a box of 500 business cards and print more resumes than you think you need!
  • Your resume. Make sure it’s up to date and polished. Proof read it for spelling and grammatical errors. If you are attending IATDG, you need to bring hard copies of your resume to give to the tour operators during interviews. Your photo should be in color, and your entire resume should be printed on good, quality paper. The design should be clear and concise. We wrote an entire article on this; view it here!
  • Business cards. They’re essential to networking in this industry. Your cards should be updated, have the crucial information that people want to know about you, and should be plentiful! Always have some stored away in your wallet or purse and be ready to give to someone.

Do your research.

  • Take time to really research the companies that you want to get to know. Spend time combing through their websites, blogs, and social media. Look for things that you can connect with personally. And, always know 2 or 3 tours that you could run, by company name and region, if you plan to sit down for an interview.
  • While you are doing your research, think about the question: “why do I want this company?” What is it about the company that resonates with you beyond the itineraries? Is it the clientele? The level of service? The inclusions? The company mission statement? What is it that draws you to that company?
  • Have your elevator pitch down. Whether you are doing Perfect Pitch or not, it’s always great to have a quick little elevator speech prepared for when you meet people. It doesn’t have to be rehearsed word-for-word, but have some top things about yourself that you’d like to share with others prepared. You are going to connect with different people in different ways, over different shared experiences. Understand what makes you interesting and unique, and make sure you’re highlighting those qualities.
  • Be prepared for any and all possible company interviews. You may have your favorite companies but that doesn’t mean they’re the ones who will be interested in you. Another unexpected company might come your way, and you need to be ready to engage with them! Have at least a passing understanding of all the companies at the conference.

Prepare for your interviews.

  • Do a mock-interview with a trusted friend or other tour operator. Have them throw difficult or interesting questions at you, just to get used to replying quickly, succinctly, and with a point in mind. A quick google search for “interesting interview questions” will reveal all sorts of different ways a company may try to get to know you.
  • All of your responses to tour operators’ questions – especially when there are other tour directors at the table with you – should be quick enough that they don’t monopolize the table’s time but long enough that you make your point. More simply put: make sure your responses reveal something essential about who you are, but also make sure you’re not the one taking up all the oxygen in the room. Generally speaking, like a good tour director, you should be a charismatic and engaging presence but also someone who is sensitive to everyone around you.
  • Don’t take a long time to answer and don’t ever say “I don’t know!” or “That’s a tough one!” Tour operators know it is a tough question, which is why they are is asking it. They want to see how you do with the question. When you get a question like “are you more a Spiderman or a Batman?,” don’t dwell on all the unique qualities of each and then spend 5 minutes wondering how it applies to you – just pick one and go with it! You can certainly find a quality in each of them that resonates with you. You should be quick-witted and sharp in your responses because tour directing requires that kind of fast thinking!

There are different types of interviews and interviewing styles.

By structure, these conferences often utilize different types of interviews on different days. Additionally, different tour operators have different styles and ways that they prefer to interview tour directors. We’ve compiled some information and advice when it comes to interviewing at conferences.

Different types of interviews:

  • Perfect Pitch is often a five tour operator to one tour director ratio. During this time, tour directors are meant to deliver a 30 second elevator speech, or Perfect Pitch. Tour operators will then evaluate the tour director and provide feedback. Many tour operators will find tour directors that they love and will hire them based off of their Perfect Pitch.
  • Mixers are a good, informal way to meet tour operators and colleagues. Some conferences might have mixers exclusively for tour directors that are interviewing, while other conferences have mixers that are open to all attendees. Remember, it’s okay to have a drink or two during these mixers but make sure that you know your limits.
  • One-on-One Formal Interviews often happen when a tour operator requests to sit down with a tour director. Perhaps they have seen your resume online. Maybe they’ve heard amazing things about you from a trusted tour director. Or, maybe they have just observed your behavior at the conference and want to get to know you better. Whatever the reason may be, if you have a One-on-One interview, do your homework and be prepared.
  • Group Interviews usually occur with anywhere from three to five tour directors and the tour operator. Group interviews are a great way for tour operators to see how you interact and engage with other tour directors. Get your point across in a concise manner so that you are mindful of the other interviewees, but also let the tour operator get to know you. Engage the other interviewees at the table, and listen to their responses. It is not uncommon for a tour operator to ask you to respond to someone else’s answer.

Different interviewing styles that we’ve seen in the past:

  • Formal Interviewing. This is the standard type of interview that most tour operators will utilize while at conferences. Tour operators and tour directors gathered at a table for a set amount of time. The tour operators spend most of the time asking tour directors questions, getting to know them and how they respond.
  • Allotted time per candidate at the interview table. Some tour operators will literally have a timer and spend a dedicated amount of time speaking directly to each candidate. They might ask the candidates questions about their resumes or about industry experience during that time.
  • Asking each candidate a question then moving on to the next. This is more of a round robin way to approach group interviewing, and most tour operators will utilize it. Be mindful of the time you are spending answering a question, get to your point in a concise manner, and allow time for the other candidates to answer questions.
  • Interviewing games. There are some tour operators that might ask you to pick a number between one and thirty, then ask a corresponding question. Others might remove the interview table from the interview space completely, allowing for an interactive interview experience. Be prepared for unusual interview situations. Think about it as if you were actually on a tour. Expect the unexpected.
  • Rapid-fire questioning. Some tour operators just want to see how you handle a lot of questions in a short amount of time. Why? Think about when you are on tour and you have 40 guests that all have their own questions. If you cannot stay composed and provide a well formulated answer in a controlled environment, how do you think tour operators will feel if they send you out on one of their tours?
  • This or That? There are tour operators that will spend your entire interviewing time going down the line of candidates asking “this or that” or “would you rather” type questions, just to see how you handle yourself. Questions may be as outlandish as “would you rather be a turtle or a rabbit; why?” or, they may be very realistic questions like: “Africa or Europe; why?” Don’t let the questions catch you off guard. This is all about staying composed under pressure and providing a composed, instinctual answer. Don’t sit there and pick the answer you think the tour operator wants to hear. Just be yourself!
  • Dedicating half the time to learning about the company. For some tour operators, it is important to them that you really understand what their company philosophy is all about, and the best way to do this is for them to tell you about what they offer as a company. Do not make a face or get discouraged when that introduction is taking up part of your interview time. If a tour operator chooses to do this, they have a reason for it.
  • Some Tour Operators are not hiring. There are tour operators that come to these conferences just to meet new tour directors and keep an eye out for people that might meet their needs in the future. Some tour operators might actually tell you that they are not hiring this year. Do not get discouraged by this! If a tour operator “isn’t hiring” but sees someone they absolutely love, they can and do make exceptions. Regardless, it is great interview experience and you never know what the future holds.

Some “typical” interview questions that come up in this industry:

  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • What was your path to this industry? Why did you become a tour director?
  • If you could describe yourself in one word that sets you apart from your colleagues, what would it be?
  • Tell me a story that exemplifies why you do this job.
  • Tell me about a time that you’ve had to think outside the box or on your feet while on tour?
  • Describe an issue that you have had with a vendor while on tour and how it was resolved.
  • Describe a highlight or “wow” moment on tour that you have facilitated for your guests.
  • Prepare a good on-tour story to share. If you are new and do not have formal on-tour experience, be prepared to answer questions based on similar personal travel experiences.

A last bit of advice.

Know your upcoming availability and schedule for the next year. It is perfectly acceptable to have your availability written down on a small piece of paper or in a pocket calendar. Some tour operators may offer you work on the spot during a One-on-One interview session, so it is great to be prepared for that. But, please, do not be that person that brings a huge wall calendar to the interview space (yes, it has happened in the past)! Remember, you are conducting and presenting yourself in a professional and polished manner. Everything you do during the conference is being observed by someone; and everyone talks. Be prepared, expect the unexpected, and put your best foot forward during these conferences. And, don’t forget to HAVE FUN!

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