How to Get a Job After a Thru-Hike

Rainbow Stream Lean-To, 100 Mile Wilderness, Maine Appalachian Trail

Rainbow Stream Lean-To, 100 Mile Wilderness, Maine Appalachian Trail

If you’ve just completed a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, the CDT or the PCT, or you’re planning one for next year, finding a new job after your hike, might be easier than you think.

As a former hiring manager with a big staff, I was always impressed by job applicants who’d taken time off to pursue a long hike because it told me something about their character beyond their job history or qualifications. That they probably had:

  • An ability to overcome obstacles while working on a long term goal
  • Good self confidence and knowledge of core values
  • The ability to focus on tasks that were difficult to achieve
  • Flexibility in dealing with unfamiliar situations
  • Enjoy of sense of community with the people around them
  • An aversion to highly structured tasks or environments

In my industry, where employees were constantly faced with many new situations and challenges, and had to work together constantly in dynamically forming teams, finding people with these characteristics was a huge boon. So whenever I saw that someone had put a thru-hike or even an attempted thru-hike on their resume, they would definitely rise through the clutter and get my full attention.

So if you’re worried about quitting your job in order to do a hike of any significant length, my advice is not to stress out about it too much. Put the fact that you attempted a long hike front and center on your resume and brush up on background statistics and anecdotes to take with you when you start to re-interview.

Hiring managers will want to hear your story and what the trail did for you (see those bullets above). If you can spell it out and explain how these personal qualities will benefit you in the job you’re applying for, it can really make a big difference in the likelihood you get hired.

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  1. This is a really timely post – there’s a thread going around on the PCT-L about this topic. I handed in my resignation letter this Monday and the company came back with an offer of extended leave. Even though I had inquired with them about this option multiple times over the last few years (to a very cool response), when I showed that I was willing to resign in order to hike they found a way to keep me on. I work for a large company so I know this won’t be possible for a lot of folks, but I guess my point is that you might be surprised about how employment opportunities are influenced by a thru-hike!

  2. I also quit my job to hike the AT in 2007 with no ill effect. I think of it in terms of this; in senior years I will look back I will feel more proud of taking the risk to hike than I would knowing I didn’t miss a day at work.

    One additional detail is it is highly dependent on the work you do. If the president took a year off to do the AT I suspect it would not help his carer any. Those working hard to find (or rare jobs) or those that are hard to keep probably going to make the decision tougher.

  3. I also hear this advice pretty often, and it seems heartening. On the other hand, I wonder if multiple through-hikes over time have quite the same effect. I need to find more hiring managers like you, Phil. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t found the right kinds of jobs to pursue just yet…

  4. I agree, and thaks for giving me some hope… but I find that my “aversion to highly structured tasks or environments” is not necessarily appreciated by my superiors in general…

  5. Certain industries will be more open to this than others. Caveat Emptor in taking this advice. If you work in a Union job you may not get a lot of sympathy from your rep. Likewise, if you’re in an institutionalized business (Banks, Law Firms, Government) or any industry that is highly structured… they may look down on the cogs displaying wanderlust.

    Basically, some industries are inherently more structured than others (or conversely, less dynamic). I would consider my situation carefully. If you’re in a field that allows you positions in many industries you may be more mobile or flexible than in others that require linear progress. No one wants to find themselves back on the ground floor after a thru hike. Or maybe you do.

    Just like trek planning, gear lightening or house building…. measure twice and cut once. :)