Why we Spend 4 Months Hiring Summer Program Leaders
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Why we Spend 4 Months Hiring Summer Program Leaders

Each December, we start the four-month process of narrowing our pool of more than 1,000 Program Leaders candidates to just a few hundred.

About half of our Program Leaders return to lead teen travel programs for another summer with us in 17 countries from June to August, limiting the number of positions available to about 100. These Program Leaders don’t just lead trips. They mentor and teach our students, keep our students safe, help our students process the experiences they’re having—Program Leaders have a direct impact on the success of the program and a student’s experience.

The hiring process takes four months because we want to make sure we hire the best possible people to work with our students and community partners. Our Program Leaders will be mentors, teachers, role models, friends, caregivers, risk managers, discussion facilitators, ambassadors, first responders, photographers, DJs, translators of culture and language, creators of positive energy and transformation, and so much more. And we expect them to be able to fill all of these roles for every one of our students.

Here’s how we fill those four months:


Rustic Pathways’ Program Staffing Team reads every application, which typically includes a résumé, cover letter, short-answer questions, and copies of relevant certifications, to see if the candidate has what it takes to lead Rustic teen travel programs. Do they have the passion to carry out Rustic’s vision, something we try to assess during every stage of the hiring process? Do they have experience working with high school and living abroad? Do they speak Swahili or Burmese? Are they a certified Wilderness First Responder or a nurse?

Once they make it past the initial screening, candidates’ applications are sent to the Country Teams where we feel they’re best suited. Our hiring is done continuously, so screening starts as applications come in.


If the team in that country agrees that the candidate is a good match, they’ll schedule video interviews. Here we look for energy, authenticity, passion, and adaptability. We ask candidates to engage in a role-play in order to measure their real-life response and engagement. We ask candidates how they would respond to dynamic, complex scenarios taken from real service trips for high school students. During these interviews, we give candidates more information about the specifics of the job and ask in what areas they think they’ll excel and in which they think they will struggle. This is also when candidates have a chance to ask more questions about the job, the organization, the students. There is a minimum of two of these video interviews with various members of the Country Team.


If both the Staffing Team and the Country Team feel that a candidate possesses the skills, experience, and passion to work with Rustic, we match them to a program. If they have experience teaching Spanish and traveling in Costa Rica, we might place them in a program there. 

We want to make sure we’re hiring adaptable, versatile trip leaders because our staffing needs change throughout the summer. While one Program Leader may lead Marine Life and Coastal Restoration in the Dominican Republic all summer, another may lead four different programs in Thailand. We hire enough Program Leaders to maintain a staff-to-student ratio of 7:1.

References and Background Check

Before we complete the hiring process, even after we’ve looked over applications and interviewed candidates at least twice, we check their references. We ask former employers detailed questions about past performance, how candidates handle certain situations, and any reservations the reference has about employing that person to work with teens. The official background check comes next.

Click here if you want to learn more about how we train Program Leaders.

If leading teen travel programs isn’t right for you, check out other open positions with Rustic Pathways. 

About the Author

Ellery Rosin

Program Staffing and Training Coordinator

Going on her father’s university field trips to Costa Rica as a child, Ellery learned the value of experiential education and travel at an early age. She has been working in travel, adventure, and education since before she graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in culture, health, and the environment. Before assuming her role on the program staffing and training team, she worked as the New Orleans Program Manager, led programs for Rustic in five countries, and spent two years in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps volunteer.