“This is how we hire”
(straight from our CEO)

An inside look at building a successful team and how you can get involved

Simon Varley

Simon Varley

Now is the time of year that our inbox becomes filled with students looking to join our program at every wrung of the ladder. For us, from putting together each season’s leadership team right through to offering opportunities to join us as a full-time, we aim to offer value and passion at every level. In order to do this, we need to be constantly evolving and building on the lessons learned from each round of decisions we make.

So I thought that as we step from one travel season into preparing for another, it would be a good time reflect on what we look for when making these decisions and offer a bit of a guide to anyone looking to make the next step themselves or just offer an insight into how we create our teams for those looking to do the same in their own field (or even as a campus leader looking to build your own team).

To intro this, I want to say that we are indescribably lucky. The close relationships we are able to form with our student teams has always been one of the reasons I have loved being part of Choose a Challenge. This in turn, allows us to forgo some of the normal recruitment and hiring processes as, without fail, we have students we already know well looking to pursue further opportunities with us. This is indeed our aim. We want to ensure that not only will every one of our climbers, hikers or runners have such a memorable experience that they will always speak favorably of their adventure but that some will trust us and believe in our mission enough to offer to represent us. It would only be fair for us to value this journey equally as that of every one of our adventurers. This journey starts for us with recognising the responsibility we hold of laying down a transparent and detailed road map of success. Building this scene starts with four key steps;

Step 1: Opportunity

It all starts with making sure we have the right offering. We offer three roles for current students and one role for recent grads or sabbatical year students. These include our flagship Campus Leader program, our fledging Brand Ambassador program, our in demand In Country Operative program for current students, and our full-time Graduate Placements. Although there are very different requirements for each of these roles, we always ask the same two questions when designing the job descriptions each year:

1. Would we want to take on this role?

2. Does the role have genuine value for us and genuine value for whoever takes the role?

Step 2: “What’s in it for you?”

Once we have this set, we look for ways to manifest genuine reward and value to the programs. It is great to be able to promise gaining valuable experience, professional, and personal skills, but it’s also important to package everything in a way which is actually going to be valuable and transferable in your career. This is normally weighted against a fine balance of ensuring people are appropriately rewarded for the efforts, but not creating a program which is so lucrative that we have people applying who are doing it purely for the reward. Once we’ve found this balance it’s ensuring the actual rewards are tied to the mission of the role. By this we mean being able to offer travel incentives for leaders who are already planning on traveling or recognized presentation and marketing training for student ambassadors who have applied to join us to further their interest in marketing, presenting and sales. As a team at HQ we live this still with all full time members of Choose a Challenge taking on annual challenges themselves. After all; you can’t talk about being on top of Kilimanjaro without being there (or just about being there in my case).

Step 3: Finding the right fit

Once the foundation is in place, it’s time to find the people who are going to provide the structure. Finding the right representatives with the right blend of skills, personality, and credibility paired with a thorough understanding of our mission, values and offering is the hardest but most rewarding part of the process. Passion, transparency and alignment with cause and values are the three building blocks for us (most other things can be taught). Beyond this, we do not have a standardized list for what makes a “good team member” and the core traits in one good Choose a Challenge rep can greatly vary from another, however the unofficial checklist we tend to work off includes questions like:

  • Does this person have a proven record of reliability?

  • Do you feel a personable connection? Would they honestly share their thoughts if things were not going to plan?

  • Do their day-to-day actions reflect our values?

  • Are they knowledgable and passionate about what we do?

  • Do they have an awareness of how our brand currently is marketed, what it represents, and how it works?

  • What experience do they have which aligns with our brand?

  • To what extent do they agree with our values?

  • Do they have realistic expectations and an appreciation of the process?

  • Do they have a passion for building and growing relationships?

  • Do they display strong leadership traits?

  • Is this person willing to push themselves outside of their comfort zone?

I don’t write these here to help prepare anyone for interview but more to demonstrate that for us, soft skills, passion and shared belief influence our decisions much more than experience and qualifications. I’ve always found, being part of a small but powerful team, that a common core of values coupled with a firm direction is much stronger than anything else.

Step 4: Valuing each team member & their journey

And finally it’s valuing the journey. This breaks down to two parts:

Firstly this means recognizing that every person who joins our team is on their own journey. It’s our job to make that journey as smooth as possible. We do this by offering formalized training, not just on our standard business processes, timelines and expectations of working in the travel industry, but also what it means to be an ethical, sustainable travel provider operating in the third sector. It’s also understanding that the journey doesn’t necessarily end when their time with us concludes, but it’s only a wrung on a lifetime of adventure.

Secondly, it’s appreciating that we ourselves are on a constant journey. No program is perfect. Neither is any particular product or service. Although we always strive for it, not every interaction and experience we provide will be a positive one, and it’s normally our ambassadors and teams who will be most open about this. We know that the information we hear fed back to us is key to our improvement and as such we operate a constantly evolving program. For the 2020 travel season we have already introduced new roles, new training opportunities and are making a concerted effort to ensure we meet everyone who represents us face-to-face. All of this means the Impact of our student volunteers and extended team can be as impactful as possible and ultimately that is our end goal.

And for me, that’s the first steps to building a successful team. So now, as we move out of our first departure season of 2019 and into the beginnings of 2020 I want to thank everyone who has chosen to take a journey with us this year, or even those who took their own journey and just shared a few steps with us. I’m excited to carry on this journey with our new cohort of team members, campus leaders and adventurers and stand expectant of some new and exciting lessons to learn.


Simon Varley

Simon Varley


P.S. It wouldn’t be fair to write this without opening up to genuine feedback so feel free to send it directly my way at simon@chooseachallenge.com or connect with me on Linkedin.