Dude ranches. Guest ranches. Whatever you call them, they offer incredible experiences with potentially life-changing benefits. And we’re not just talking about for the guests. For the people who come to work, there are tremendous opportunities and experiences as well . If you’re doing it right, being a part of a guest ranch staff is being part of a whole new family—a RANCH family—who share a common goal of providing an unforgettable vacation for others, while having an unimaginable adventure of their own.
Can you picture it? Waking up on a cool morning to the sounds of horse feet (unless you’re one of the wranglers and then uhhh…YOU’RE LATE!) coming in, getting a hearty breakfast from the kitchen and then spending your days laughing and sharing with the ranch guests you’ll want to keep in touch with for years to come? Eating your lunches out on the trail with your horse? Spending evenings listening to music and relaxing by a warm fire with others equally exhausted from the fulfilling day of hard work and fresh air? Do you love the outdoors? Do you love to meet new people? Do you enjoy walking just a few minutes to work? Being paid to ride horses? Lounging by the pool on your breaks? Getting served 3 meals a day? Being surrounded by beautiful countryside just waiting for you to explore it?
Sounding pretty good, huh?
Well that’s working on a dude ranch for ya. It’s all that and more. So you’re probably thinking, “That’s what I want to do! Sign me up!” But hold on their pardner. Because although working at a dude ranch might seem right up your alley, there’s a bit more to consider and some pretty tough competition out there. And although it might sound like a holiday, a guest ranch job is HARD WORK. So since most ranches only hire a certain number of positions every summer (if they hire at all—since many of their staff may be returning), you need to be sure that you’re right for THEM.
So maybe you answered yeses to all the questions above, but let’s check out these ones, too. Really think about these ones. Can you work long hours and be counted on to do your part? Can you be relied on to do other people’s parts if you’re needed without complaint? Can you smile even when you’re having a bad day and leave your personal problems outside of work? Can you stop whatever you’re doing to make time for your guests’ needs at the drop of a hat? Can you be ON TIME and ready to go every morning and throughout the day? Can you give the same genuine smile from morning til night? Can you work in a team, but be dependable on your own? Do you keep your word? Hold yourself to a high standard? Take pride in your appearance and your performance? Have a willingness to learn and become better?
Ok, so who’s still with me? If you are—GREAT!!!! It’s possible you’re a good candidate for potentially the BEST job you’ll ever have. It’s not likely going to make you a fortune (sorry), but I am talking one of the best summers of your life. But remember all of those cool, exciting scenarios I mentioned at the beginning? They’re mixed in with all of those things I mentioned afterwards. Working at a guest ranch can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll do and remember forever—or it can be one of the most miserable experiences of your life. Like anything—the choice is YOURS.
So let’s talk more possibilites.
You might be thinking, “I would love to come to the mountains! I have a great work ethic!” And that’s awesome. That’s step one. But I mentioned before that the competition is thick and the positions open are few. Every ranch is no doubt different, but we personally get hundreds of applications every year for just a handful of open positions. So weeding through them to narrow down our best candidates is our first task. Just because you send in an application doesn’t mean we’ll be calling your references and contacting you to let you know our decision. Unfortunately there are just far too many applications for that and we’re busy booking reservations for the next season as well. So when an application comes in, most ranches will likely be filing them or deleting them according to a couple of specific qualifications. And I’m going to do you a favor—I’m going to tell you how we do that. For two reasons: 1)For us: It might make the quality of our applications coming in to ranches better and 2) For you: it will hopefully help you put your best foot forward if you are indeed a great match for a guest ranch position.
So let’s get to it!
Ok, so as I mentioned, every ranch is different, but for the most part, these same points are going to be key factors for EVERY ranch no matter what. So although I’m listing these generally in the order that’s most important to us, other ranches might put them in a different order of importance for themselves. Still essential to consider when you’re filling out that application though-- so listen up!
We ask you when you’re available to work. It should be noted that some ranches stay open year-round and have a rotating staff while others are only open a few months. Those with shorter seasons likely have a more defined period of time they need staff for and if you’re available for 6 weeks in the middle of their season? There’s a pretty good chance they aren’t going to choose you. So BE FAMILIAR with the availability needs of the ranch you’re applying for. Most ranches have their season listed on their websites and post dates that they prefer staff be available. If you don’t see it, don’t be afraid to email and ask. But if you can’t be there from the beginning and stay until the end, expect that you’ll be lower on the list to be contacted. Now don’t think that rules you out just because you’re in college. Many ranches have staff that leave mid August to head back to school and that works well because there are fewer guests once school starts for guests as well, but always be as generous with your availability as you can be. For the year- round ranches, find out what their ideal seasons for hiring are and then decide if it’s a commitment you can make. No one wants to invest a lot of training to someone who can only work 6 weeks. They want you to come be a PART of something. Our season starts in May and ends in September. We have some people (particularly the ones working with children in both the Kids Program and the Riding program) who leave mid August and a few of our crew as well (since we don’t need as many with fewer guests), but essentially everyone else is needed until the end including our kitchen help, maintenance and the adult wrangler positions. There are always a few exceptions, but remember : ASKING never hurts.
2) Position Applied For.
At Bar Lazy J we ask you to put your top 3 choices. That doesn’t mean you have to put three different things if you don’t have 3 different things you could do for us. If you’re only applying for wrangler, then it’s ok to put just that. Those other spaces are for people who legitimately could work in 1-2 positions other than their first choice. And it’s possible if we aren’t hiring for your first choice, we might need you for #2.
Unfortunately (but fortunately) we don’t have 20 positions to hire every summer. And most ranches are probably the same (although their number of staff will vary). That’s because we are lucky enough to have several of our employees from the previous year, want to join us again (and again..and again…) This is GREAT news for us and is a reflection of the great work environment, but it’s not so great news for all those anxious applicants. Sometimes, quite frankly, we aren’t hiring the position you apply for. Regardless of how qualified you are and the dates you can work, we simply aren’t in need of filling that position. Staff in good standing that are asked back ALWAYS have first dibs of coming back to work for us again—even years down the road sometimes. So once again, find out what positions are available and don’t be afraid to do so by asking. It might be there is only one position and 100 applicants, but those odds are obviously better than if there are ZERO positions, ya know? So do some research and be honest about what you might be open to doing and are qualified to do. It should be noted that even best laid plans sometimes change, so putting in an application even if there isn’t a current position open can sometimes still work out for you. Ever so often, life happens and our staff need to back out. We hold on to all good applicants even if the position they applied for is filled, just in case one of these situations arise. And they sometimes do.
There are all kinds of jobs done on a ranch—some have specific titles and some fall all together to be done by everyone—but no matter WHAT your title, a willingness to be able to help in ANY position needed, is necessary. Does that mean we might ask some of the wranglers to come help in the kitchen one night if we’re late getting done with dinner and are trying to get to staff show? Yep. Does that mean a crew member might answer the phone for a short time while the office manager runs out to help with the Breakfast Ride? You betcha! Does that mean we might ask the maintenance guy to take an Adventure Ride out to a place he’s not familiar with? Absolutely not. (You were worried there for a minute, weren’t ya?) Obviously we would never ask you to do anything outside of your area of expertise that wasn’t safe. Some of our staff are extensively trained in areas for good reason. So don’t worry—we won’t ask you to lifeguard for the kid’s program, drive the horse trailer, or run the BBQ unless you’re appropriately qualified to do so. (But hopefully you already knew that.)
3) Experience and qualifications.
If you made it past 1 and 2, this is where one of the major final cuts gets made. For good reason. Almost anything can be taught and a willingness to be able to learn is essential in any job, but experience will trump eagerness almost every time. Almost. (I’ll explain shortly.) Every ranch—and essentially every job you ever apply for in your life—reasonably prefers the best qualified applicants for the job. It helps cut down on their time spent training and can considerably help with the transition of hiring new employees. But although we’re happy to fine tune skills for our staff, as you’d expect, there are some things you just can’t start from scratch on. Some of the positions require you have a certain level of knowledge in, while others may be flexible enough for on-the-job type training. So let’s talk about the main kinds of job available through the majority of ranches. Of course some will have more and others possibly less, but for the most part, there will always be some capacity of the following.
A. The first category we’ll mention is our wranglers. Let’s be real. Fudging your horse experience will be of no benefit to anyone. Trust us. It’s easily revealed and dangerous to you, your co-workers and our guests. So wrangler positions are carefully chosen and extensively combed over to find the very best. Most ranches typically get FAR more female than male applicants, so male wranglers often have a better chance of being considered, but have some tougher hoops to jump through. If you aren’t guest-oriented and don’t have an ease to talk and share with the guests, don’t think you’ll be hired just for your horse/ranch experience. Being a wrangler is more than just riding horses. It’s about the entire experience for our guests and your personality is EVERY BIT as important as your ability to saddle a horse is. That goes for both males and females of course, but an outgoing cowboy is often harder to find than an outgoing cowgirl. Just telling you our personal experiences. So for wranglers, general horse knowledge (saddling, feeding and handling), riding ability, work ethic and attitude/personality are the top contenders.
B. If you don’t have horse experience, but you love to work with people and want to work in a guest ranch atmosphere, a crew position might be right for you. Here’s where other ranches will probably vary a great deal, but essentially the jobs are similar if not the same. Some have an extensive amount of guests and may therefore hire specific individuals for housekeeping or waitressing, kitchen help and laundry. Here at Bar Lazy J, all of those positions fall under what we call our Crew. There is a rotating schedule to help in all of these areas so that everyone has a chance to contribute in various ways and avoid the boredom of solely washing dishes, folding napkins or making beds all summer long. Of course each ranch will vary in their level of expertise they require, but it’s reasonable to expect that individuals—both male and female—with more experience in the hospitality field would be considered over those with none. One of the most important attributes required for this position--specifically for us—is a willingness to carry your weight, an attention to detail and a great disposition to please and serve our guests.
C. Those with culinary and kitchen experience would find room to express their artistic love of food in our kitchen assisting our chef and helping to prep the delicious meals we serve here at the ranch. We imagine larger ranches have more kitchen help, but we manage with just a handful of folks responsible for the main duties of prep, cooking and baking. But daily tasks also include helping to plate the sit down dinners and setting up for barbeques and buffets and such. Then of course there’s the almost full-time job of keeping our bottomless cookie jar actually bottomless. (Although we think a few of the wranglers might be partially to blame for the overtime….but we account for them too!)
D. If you’re handy, it would be handy (see how I did that?) to know what maintenance positions are extended at the ranch you’re applying to. There may or may not be multiple areas of building maintenance, mechanical maintenance or grounds maintenance. It goes without saying this is an area where experience is going to be necessary as well. But just because you haven’t spent 5 years running your own business doesn’t rule you out. Even if you haven’t had “professional experience” so-to-speak, we understand skills in these areas are often acquired over time in various circumstances. Like the others, these positions are for the hardest of hard workers and those with problem-solving minds. A strong back and a willing hand are high on the list as well, but don’t think you can hide in the shadows and fix pipe leaks all day. Everyone on a guest ranch interacts closely with its guests and a smaller ranch particularly. At Bar Lazy J, you’re one of the first people our guests meet as you help them move their belongings to their cabins and are often meeting many of their little cabin needs as they arise. So once again, we’re looking for those hard working individuals who love people every bit as much as their work and the great outdoors.
E. The last area would be office workers who are the front line of every guest ranch. (Undoubtedly different sized ranches may have various other positions available, but we can’t even guess what all of those might be. DO YOUR HOMEWORK and find out. It shows you’re interested particularly in their needs when you do. You can assume the more specialized the position, the more experience that will benefit you.) Office staff make reservations, answer questions, phones and emails and are often people’s first interaction with the whole guest ranch experience. While computer skills are a big plus, people with integrity and the ability to multi-task the meeting of needs for all guests, are especially considered. This is one area where your people skills are all on the table so a great attitude is a MUST. If there are no reservations, there is no need for any of the other positions, so don’t underestimate the importance of working in the office! You are who the guests will rely on to know all the answers, so be ready to think on your feet and to handle lots of requests with a desire to serve and always with a sincere smile.
Ok. So if you feel qualified for any of the above listed positions, keep going!
4) Tell Us Why WE Need YOU.
Most applications have an area to write additional notes about why you’d be a great candidate (the best!) to work at their ranch. We know ours does, so please USE that space to sell yourself! If you grew up riding horses and fixing tractors on your uncle’s ranch, but you never worked in an actual paid position doing that, TELL US in that area! We’re looking for your experience and if your jobs don’t show us what that is because you’ve been volunteering for free teaching riding lessons, then how else will we know to consider that? That space is the last “taste” of you that we get and often is the final qualifier for highlighting you to call or filing you as a backup. If you want to stand out, THAT is your chance to do it. There is often no chance for us to meet you in person, so lay all your cards out that you’d like for us to see. It might take you some extra time—YES. Write it up once and copy and paste it to multiple ranches if you’re applying to several, but don’t cheat yourself in this area. We want to know why you would be great for US---not why we’d be great for YOU. So although we love hearing that it’s been your dream to work at a dude ranch your whole life, make sure we know why what YOU want would be of benefit to what WE want. It’s great that you want to try something new. It’s great that you want an adventure. But tell us why that makes YOU the best candidate over anyone else. And nothing is more UNmemorable than 1-2 sentences saying you’d just really like the chance or worse—leaving that section entirely blank. That’s our opportunity to hear “your voice”. A lot of personality comes out in the way people write, so let us “hear” it! And we aren’t insinuating you have to be an excellent writer to win us or anyone over—just that taking some time to thoughtfully articulate your desire to add your talents to a ranch’s program is far more impressive than not.
With that said, remember earlier when I mentioned that it’s not often enthusiasm is considered over experience, but every now and then…..? Well there are a few times when a persuasive applicant was able to “write their way” into being considered. Because ultimately, the right attitude is one of the most important things about working at a guest ranch. And this one I can tell you from experience. Because this was me. 15 years ago. Young and although I had worked with horses throughout my life, I would have considered myself less experienced than probably some others who were applying. But my desire to offer everything I could for the good of the ranch came through in my words and got my foot in the door. Then my willingness to learn, earnest hard work and love for the guests kept me here.
15 YEARS ago!
(I was uhhh….10…..ish. Okay maybe not.)
So…….I guess that’s the other thing about Bar Lazy J. Prepare to fall in love! With the owners. The land. The history. The horses. (The bottomless cookie box.) And especially the guests. It may quite possibly be the best summer of your life. And it may even change you forever. If you’re doing it right…and if you’ll allow it.
So a few extra pointers about our ranch specifically. Be prepared to have a lot of fun, but be prepared for all the responsibility that comes with making EVERY week the BEST week of the season. From your first day until your last day, there must be diligence in proudly presenting yourself as the face of Bar Lazy J’s excellent program. There is PLENTY of time to play. Our staff eat the same delicious meals we offer our guests and have full access to the range of our activities on and off the ranch. Jerry and Cheri are incredible people to work for and will literally treat you like family while you’re here and even well beyond your summer job here when you’ve done your best for them. So if you’re lucky enough to come and work in the mountains—make the most of it by living up to the standard we saw you at. Any job worth doing, is worth doing RIGHT.
We work hard and we play hard. Yes, you may be asked to lay your pride aside to make children laugh. Yes, you may be asked to help with something during your “off-time”. Yes, you may get frustrated now and then living and working with the same people day in and day out. But we are a family. And if you aren’t “all in”, then you’ll entirely miss the point of what we do, what we give to our guests, and what we are blessed to take with us when we go.
So let’s be honest. If you’re envisioning your summer would look like this, this and this:
You are absolutely right.
But it will also be this:
Plenty of these:
And more than anyone’s fair share of THIS:
We can easily promise it’s all worth it for YOU,
but we can also tell you that the
moment you’re finally “there”?
Is when you realize that what made it worth it for you…
….was discovering what it meant to THEM.
Applications are available through our website at: http://www.barlazyj.com/contact/employment-application.html
Maybe we’ll see ya there.