Jun 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm #1304107
There is a local REI in Santa Rosa. I have applied there 6 times over the past 3 years (every holiday/spring seasonal) and I have never once been called in for an interview. Not even an initial group interview.
Every time I tried to hand my resume directly to the manager.
I always end up in there after they have hired. They always have a couple of new hires who have enough retail experience to act like they are knowledgeable about the gear that they are selling but they really aren't knowledgeable about the gear they are selling.
I'm not by any means an expert on backpacking gear but I can explain to you what goretex is or tell you the advantages and disadvantages of wool over polyester. Some of the people working there will recommend goretex shoes for stream crossings to keep your feet dry (I'm completely serious, I saw this happen).
When I put on my resume that I have experience with backpacking gear and I backpack all the time and I never even get acknowledged while they continue to hire people who have no experience with what they are selling, I know there must be something going on.
Does REI not care about hiring knowledgeable people?
Does REI prefer to hire college graduates?
I have returned a lot of things to REI because they didn't work out for me, more than I should have. My record of purchases/returns probably looks bad. Are they looking at my REI account?
I want enjoy going to work every day and sell what I'm passionate about.
I feel like I am being automatically filtered out.
What the hell?Jun 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm #1995797
Take Ian's advice.Jun 11, 2013 at 8:50 pm #1995800
I'm not sure but I'm guessing you are in your 20s. I'm not trying to be passive aggressive but being 42 I suspect I'm a decade or two ahead of you when it comes to job hunting frustration. If I'm barking up the wrong tree then please forgive me.
Things I've learned along the way:
1) If you look like you know what you are doing then people will tend to believe you know what you are doing. It is possible to overdress but I've worked everything from waiting tables to retail to law enforcement and wearing a jacket and tie has never prevented me from getting a job and in every case has given me an edge. Dress up when you pick up the application, when you drop it off, of course for the interview, and any follow up meetings with the manager. A sports jacket for REI would probably make more sense than a three piece suit.
2) Provide a letter of interest and resume with your application. They aren't going to spend much time looking over your application/resume so you want to be perceived as highly interested and motivated. I've done this for my jobs listed above plus many more and it worked well for me.
3) Return a week or two after you drop off your application/resume and ask to speak with the manager. Tell her/him that you are very interested in working for REI and would be happy to answer any questions they might have about your resume. I got hired on the spot using this technique.
4) Don't crap where you eat. Don't return any more merchandise to that store and always look like a model employee when you shop there.
5) Networking is key. I'm not telling you to stalk their employees but if you know someone that knows someone…. play that card. If you meet an REI employee outside of the store, explain to them that you want to work for that company and don't be cynical when you explain your unsuccessful history applying for that job.
I can't begin to tell you how many jobs which I was highly qualified for where I was passed over. There's always someone out there who has an edge on you by either their resume or through networking. The most important thing is to stay optimistic and keep at it.
I really hope that none of this came across as patronizing and hope that some of this might help.Jun 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm #1995802
Excellent advice Ian. Need to take some of it myself.Jun 11, 2013 at 9:33 pm #1995812
Great advice Ian. I'm 20 and I really look like someone who would work there.
Several times when I have asked to talk to the manager, the person up front just took my resume and said they would call. Once I tried to directly approach the manager and was blocked by someone else who took my resume. This has happened many times at different places.
Ken, I don't want to make a big deal out of it. That's why I posted this in Chaff. But if they keep hiring people with no real knowledge of outdoor gear, I might try and email someone higher up.Jun 11, 2013 at 10:13 pm #1995826
Hang in there Justin.
FWIW I'm mid-career and can retire when I'm 51. My post retirement plan (following my PCT through hike) is not to chase another career but to work at REI. This would give me an awesome excuse to talk gear all day without freaking out my coworkers.Jun 11, 2013 at 11:09 pm #1995839
@backpackerchickLocale: Planet Earth
I just went to my local REI to return something that I bought a month ago that didn't work out. Every one was new. I didn't see any of the awesome geeky types who have been there for years.
They were replaced with really pushy nasty employees who verbally attacked me for returning an unused gear box that had been sitting on top of my car so it had a few dead bugs on it. They spent about a half hour lecturing me! I did get my credit card refunded…eventually!Jun 12, 2013 at 5:57 am #1995872
@geokiteLocale: Southern California
I can't imagine not preferring to hire a college graduate. It usually, not always, makes discourse and level of discussion higher.
My wife and I always can usually notice a non-college grad due to the qualities above. Again, not always. No hard and fast rules.Jun 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm #1996010
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Yeah, that what, the college graduate is $50-100K in debt and working for barely minimun wage at REI? Not a good career move.
Please, don't over indulge yourself guessing who has a degree or not.
As for the OP question on REI. Honestly? You can do better. If you want to work for them, don't work in a retail store. Retail is a road to nowhere but bitterness. The REI jobs that pay are the ones behind the scenes for corporate.Jun 12, 2013 at 4:25 pm #1996038
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
"The REI jobs that pay are the ones behind the scenes for corporate."
+1 I know several of them, but they all have college degrees.Jun 16, 2013 at 10:45 am #1997158
Justin, you probably have a few strikes against you, plus a few things you are doing may be adding a few more.
One: 20 years old. REIs target market is college students and yuppie types. Real backpackers used to be a part of their market, but increasingly less so. Check pct gear reports to see what I mean. You don't represent that. Most of my local REI employees are mid twenties to older.
I assume no college. When I used to hire for a normal job, that did not require anything more than reasonable intelligence and problem solving ability, I hired liberal arts college graduates first, always, because they were always easier to deal with and train, and generally more pleasant to interact with as employees.
When you have a huge pool of unemployed college graduates, as we do now, there is little to no reason to pick someone without a degree.
Your skillset does not really match REI customers, they are not looking for a slightly odd mix of bushcraft and very very low budget backpackers, there is no money in that market. See Point Reyes on a 3 day weekend trip for a perfect, near, cross section of ideal REI customers.
Strategically, your idea of tracking down the manager and forcing your resume on him/her may be the nail in your coffin, when someone did something I found out of the norm or annoying when my first contact with them occurred, I would write one of several things on their resume, on top:
1: do not hire for any reason
2. hire only if desperate
3. too young, hire only if desperate
organizations have a way to do things, and it's important that you understand what that way is, the easy way is to simply ask the person you give the resume to what the best way to get your resume seen is. You may however be too young. If you try to interrupt the way organizations do things to gain an edge, it may seriously backfire and result in a permanent 'do not hire' comment on your name.
For what it's worth, I'm seeing the average age of REI employees rise steadily. Almost none know UL at all. One guy was in his mid 20s I'd guess, maybe 30, hard to judge, and was an obvious gear geek, and used tarps, trekking poles, and knew what the stuff did and what made it good or bad, but I see very few people like him.
Also keep in mind that REI has 4 major departments, maybe 5, backpacking is only one of them, cycling is another, climbing is a small one, and overpriced clothing / shoes that most people wear around town is the biggest by far section.
It's sad the real gear shops like Marmot, the old Sierra Designs, in this area, are now all gone. Even Wilderness Exchange folded some years back, across from REI in berkeley. There's however another store, not high end, nothing UL at all that's worth looking at, but you might have better luck there, Any Mountain. Engage the local staff in conversation, see if you can get some tips from them what would make getting a job there easier or more likely. Again, however, real backpacking gear is a small part of the store, skiiing a bigger part, no cycling. Not the most clueful either in my experience, had no idea of using running shoes for backpacking for example.Jun 16, 2013 at 12:00 pm #1997185
"Strategically, your idea of tracking down the manager and forcing your resume on him/her may be the nail in your coffin, when someone did something I found out of the norm or annoying when my first contact with them occurred, I would write one of several things on their resume, on top:"
Obviously people skills comes into play here. If you come in when the floor is filled with customers or with a sense of entitlement then yes, the manager is probably not going to appreciate it. If you come in when the store is slow and respectfully explain to the manager that you are very interested in working for REI then you may find different results. As previously mentioned, I was once hired on the spot using this technique.
Just realize that if hired, you're not there to turn every customer into a ULer and selling 5lb tents will be one of your job expectations. I've found REI employees to be knowledgable and ethical. I've never had an employee try to push a product on me that wasn't what I was looking for.
I was going to keep my mouth shut about college but alas….
All things being equal, a college degree will never hurt as long as you don't bankrupt yourself in the process. Should you pursue that now or in five or ten years? Should you pay as you go or use student loans? Well that all depends.
What are your long term goals? Are you going to college for personal development or to get a job? What financial resources are available to fund your college degree? How much money will you realistically make when you graduate? Will your degree qualify you for a professional license (eg RN)?
Accumulating 40k in student loan debt to work at REI is foolish. Taking on 250k in debt to work as a physician makes perfect sense. If you just want to go to college to better yourself, then I would suggest paying as you go.
In my career field, we are expected to understand the law and the prevailing case law which modifies how we enforce it. We need to understand the Constitution to ensure we don't violate someone's civil rights; try finding five attorneys who will agree as to what curtilage is or isn't! If I make an error on my report today, a defense attorney will rip me to pieces on the stand tomorrow.
With all that being said, I do not place disproportionate emphasis on an applicant's college degree (in my agency, officers interview applicants). There are other characteristics I'm looking for from my partners:
Are they ethical? College degree does not answer that.
Are they a leader? College degree does not answer that.
Do they have a good work ethic? College degree does not answer that.
How will they react under fire? When they have to deal with a child molester? Someone who murdered their pregnant girlfriend? When a baby dies in their arms following an MVA? College degree does not answer that.
Are they intelligent and a critical thinker? A college degree certainly does not answer that!
A bachelor's degree tells me that the applicant achieved what nearly 1/3 of all US adults have achieved. I found college to be a very rewarding experience but I can only recommend it under well defined conditions. I certainly do not judge anyone by whether or not they have a degree.
BLUF I think REI is a great job for a 20 y/o who loves the outdoors and I wish you the best of luck.
Edited to tone down some snarkiness.Jun 16, 2013 at 3:47 pm #1997242
Ian Bloom, you skipped the key word: liberal arts. Actually for regular jobs like REI, I'd consider any focused degree a negative, not a positive, in other words, someone from MIT's advanced computer learning centers is unlikely to stay around very long, or someone with a law degree, or whatever, and if they are looking for a job at REI something is probably not right in this picture. The qualities you listed were precisely why I made that criteria, though leadership was irrelevant in that case. There's actually a major not to be named by me midwest firm with a huge website that hires based on similar criteria, ie, they don't care at all if you are a computer science person, they prefer very smart liberal arts students, better thinking skills, better general openmindedness, they just train them to do what they need. You're a bit quick to discount the preselection value of something that only 30% of americans accomplish, even if it has become uselessly generic. Depends on the job, if I was hiring a sewer, for example, or gear designer, the last thing I'd look for would liberal arts degree, I'd look for real world demonstrated skills and achievements, nothing theoretical, but that's not REI, you're selling mostly average stuff to weekend people or just regular yuppies who like walking around in expensive patagonia, or cheaper rei branded, gear..
However, I was talking to a woman last night who reminded me, she is about to send her son off to college, that there has been a major change in our school system, deep, and profound, over the last 20 years or so: you could go to school and get a degree with very little money in the past, up about the early 90s. Now you cannot do that, you need to be spending multiple 10s of thousands for public universities here, so the debt you'd have to take on makes it a much worse proposition as a business practice, or even as a general idea, so the type of person who has that now may have changed, almost certainly has. That's 'progress' and short term thinking in its finest US style for you, of course…
However, what I was talking about was not theoretical, I hired a lot of people, and that's what I ended up using as my main criteria, and it worked really well, consistently, over years. These weren't life time career jobs, so there were differences between that and REI. College however does do some actual things, which non college educated people sometimes simply are not aware of, one of them is to learn on demand, another is to generate reports etc, on demand. Not perfect, but given the generally pathetic US educational levels, it may matter more than you think.
I think if I were to try to get into somewhere like REI, I'd find one or two people in the sections I liked, on a slow day, and try to talk to them, you can fake it a bit by asking them some stuff one day then coming back another if they are there, though scheduling there makes it hard to know where or when someone will be around. But talking to a person you find you can relate with and asking them what they think it would take to get a job, that's worth a lot more than bugging a possibly overworked and harried manager, who probably doesn't even do the hiring in the first place. Not sure how REI does their hiring, but I wouldn't guess, I'd just ask someone who works there.
I know the times I've been to my local REI, there are no young people working there. The age is growing too, that could reflect declining overall sales volumes, hard to say.
But your basic point is right, your job in rei is to roughly know the gear, and to be able to answer questions about it, it's not to sell UL concept, or bushcraft concepts, though they do have in my local one paid weekends that teach 'ul' techniques, but what they could actually teach as REI affiliated instructors is beyond me, almost no gear you'd use is available at REI in the first place, so that is already pretty questionable.
Why tone down the snark, this is chaff, we all already know who we want to hike with or not hike with after all, which I have been informed, is in the end the real reason to post in/ read chaff… certainly works well I have to say.
However, no matter what, anything is better than reading or posting in rog's chaff ramblings, so why not snark a bit for good times?Jun 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm #1997245
Harold, we probably agree more than we disagree but we are both a product of our experiences and I see things differently.
Edit: "..but I can only recommend it (college) under well defined conditions." best explains my position. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from college but it's certainly not a one size fits all solution.
I've seen someone foolishly take on >100k in student loan debt for a job which paid less than 40k per year. This wasn't a trust fund kid with a parent who would pay off their tab when everything was said and done. She's unemployed at the moment but still having to figure out a way to make her monthly payments.
I honestly believe that student loan debt will become another mini financial crisis here in the U.S. in the relatively near future.Jun 16, 2013 at 6:22 pm #1997291
Ian Bloom, I agree, we agree, it was a product of times, that's correct. In the 80s most people when motivated could not only go to a decent college, they could graduate without much debt, as long as it was a bachelors. Certainly a tolerable level, that's what struck me talking to that mom last night, your 100k number is quite realistic for an average school, particularly because apparently now it's very difficult due to shortages of teachers to actually graduate in 4 years, 5 or even 6 may be required. There does remain a pretty massive overestimation of what a dorm is worth, but that's because people don't know how to live with little money, that's a social problem, not an economic one, you can live fairly easily on half of what many dorms charge you per year with roommates.
Since now you cannot do that, so my observation there is dated in terms of what is desirable to do on a practical level. But I do wonder if REI actually has a big enough pool to pick from, particularly in the West Coast, of graduates, I mean, UC Berkeley churns out its thousands of useless BAs yearly despite the cost, those people are still here, in the job market, that's just a fact of life on the west coast, lots of good schools, lots of students, and that just can raise the bar to employment even if it's not fair to people without degrees.
Since Justin is in the market, it's useful to be aware of such issues. You can get around it, and I think getting to know people who work there is the best way to do that, if it's possible, because then you can often just skip some steps, depends on how they are in terms of inner policies with hiring, I don't know, judging from what I see, ie, the ages of most employees, the type of employee, I'd say the bar is fairly high re both age and education. Not certain though, sometimes the checkout clerks seem to be totally normal type people, not outdoor types, so it's hard to know how it all works inside the company.
Times don't get more fair with tight job markets, and a useless BA in terms of practical skills with its student loan burden doesn't make employers pay you more, it's not their problem, I agree re the potential for a major failure of the student loan system however, I see no way you can pay off that level of debt unless you get a corporate job that pays at least 50k a year right out of college, and those are harder to come by now.
But sadly these macro things have little to do with decisions made by a hiring person, if they, like me, realized that with a large pool of people available with BAs there is little reason to not exploit that social reality, then they will do it, that's what I did when it was up to me, it worked well as a strategy. I never followed rules like this absolutely, and made huge exceptions, to a degree most people would not even have dreamed of, but I had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted re hiring, it's almost certain REI people don't have anything like that, they might have a book or something that defines who will be considered based on factors we don't know, it's not unusual for corporations to form such policies, even nice ones like REI. Someone who has worked there could provide more useful information however.Jun 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm #1997942
I have a job with good hours/pay, so I'm not looking for anything right now. I was just confused about why someone with backpacking experience isn't even invited to a basic group interview for a seasonal position at a store that sells backpacking equipment.
I don't even like REI. There isn't much in there that I want. I just go in there often to pick up some iodine tabs or basic supplies.
Even so, I think I would enjoy working in any kind of outdoor store. I tried getting a job at the new Dick's but I butchered that interview. I also hunt and fish so I would have fit in well there.
I do agree with Harold. Someone who sleeps under a tarp, buys hiking clothes from thrift stores, wears flimsy shoes, drinks untreated water, and cooks over a campfire is not really in line with REI's ideal backpacker model. I would feel guilty about trying to sell heavy goretex boots and dome tents to new backpackers.
My town is not a college town. Everyone from my high school has moved away for school It's not like the East Bay. I would rather have an uneducated backpacking enthusiast helping me with gear than a college graduate who is just kinda outdoorsy.
I plan on working until next spring and going to school to get a degree in Ecology. It's a field that would require education and hopefully have employment opportunities that won't make me feel like a miserable corporate drone.Jun 21, 2013 at 3:49 pm #1998752
Justin Baker, if it's not clear, if I went to REI and met someone like you there, I'd be very happy. But I'm like you, I don't like REI, I buy almost nothing there anymore. I did meet one guy there who did clearly do UL backpacking himself. But I suspect that a clerk that would make my happy to deal with would not be a good clerk in general for REI to hire, heh. Like, yeah, we don't have any good trowels, why not try giwiz.net ti trowels instead? They have darned tough socks too by the way, which are fine socks for hiking. There's about 6 things max maybe that I would buy there, maybe only 4, all small, not sure. Not a lot of stuff.Jun 28, 2013 at 9:43 am #2000512
@namelesswayLocale: Mid Atlantic
Perhaps apply to other outdoor retail stores in the area at the same time. I worked at REI for 7-8 years, starting in my early 20's, but I don't believe for one second that I would have gotten the job if it weren't for my prior experience working at a local competitor in my late teens. (And as irony would have it, my REI store manager turned out to be my old manager at the other store – five years earlier!)
Retail experience, even from a "parallel" market, is likely going to be seen as relevant.
good luck, friend.
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