If you’re thinking of applying to be a holiday rep, you might be wondering about the recruitment process. I applied and interviewed back in 2012 and it was the most thorough interview I’ve experienced before or since. After deciding to go for it and apply, I basically completed application forms for any and all travel companies I could think of and I was thrilled when I was offered interviews with three of the major tour operators in the UK.
My first interview took place in Birmingham. It would be a full day affair, starting early in the morning, so rather than stress out getting an early morning train on the day, I stayed overnight at a hotel. I was still stressed out, but at least I only had the interview to worry about and not whether or not Arriva Trains Wales was going to be on time that day.
Before my interview I’d done loads of research into the company, and spent ages planning my responses to the interview questions, as well as the presentation I had to perform (more on that later!). Despite my preparations, I was still terrified, but I told myself that if this didn’t work out, at least I had a couple more interviews in the pipeline. By the time I arrived at the hotel where the interview was taken place, I felt so nervous, and when I walked into the meeting room to see about fifty other wannabe reps milling about, my nerves tripled. I’m a bit shy in those kind of situations, and I find small talk really awkward, so this was terrifying.
I knew from what I’d read beforehand that the interviewers would be watching you throughout the day, even when you were just sat about, so I tried to join in the conversations with the other interviewees. I reminded myself that we were all in the same boat, and once I started chatting, I realised everyone was just as scared as I was! The other candidates were really friendly and that put me at ease.
First, we were introduced to the team who would be interviewing us, a combination of resort managers, office staff and current reps. There was a short presentation about what to expect as part of the company, and this started to get me excited. The company I was applying for was a small company, and they seemed like a little family, where everyone knows everyone. That really appealed to me – it’s easier to feel valued in a smaller organisation, in my opinion. It made me all the more keen to impress at the interview.
The first challenge was a group activity, designed to test our teamwork skills. We were put into small groups and had to follow instructions to create a tower. The recruiting team were strolling about watching us and offering advice. In these kinds of situations I find it easy to clam up, but I knew that wouldn’t look good. Equally, someone who’s too loud and boisterous just looks like they’re not a team player. I made a big show of reading the instructions we had been given and helped out with the activity. Afterwards, I felt like I’d done OK – I’d definitely shown teamworking skills.
In some tour operator interviews, at this point, there’d be an X Factor style elimination where the weakest would be sent home. Luckily, the company I was interviewing for didn’t work that way. Everyone was there all day. This made the interview a lot more relaxed. I’d have been devastated to have spent money on a train and hotel only to be told to shove it after one activity.
Next were the dreaded presentations. We had been told to prepare a presentation about either our local area or a holiday destination, including a sales pitch for an excursion, which had to be three minutes long. Eeek! I’d spent hours rehearsing and had created a poster (which looked like a five year old had drawn it, but at least I could write some notes on the back instead of fumbling with a piece of paper). Even so, I was shaking like a nervous dog when I got up to do my speech. I took a deep breath and off I went, telling everyone about where I come from and selling a boat trip. My practice paid off – it went without a hitch and despite my trembling hands I didn’t drop the poster. Many others overran with their speeches and were cut off as soon as the clock struck three minutes, but I’d rehearsed enough to know that wouldn’t happen to me. At the end of the speech we were then asked two questions about what we’d spoken on, and I was glad I’d chosen my hometown because I was able to answer confidently.
Phew! Now that was over, I could relax. Kinda. There was still half the day to go. During the day we had a few breaks and this was a good opportunity to speak to the interviewers about their lives abroad. Hearing them talk about the places they had worked and lived was fascinating and I asked a few questions in the hope they would remember me at the end.
There was then a short written test, which covered your knowledge of the company, a few simple maths questions (think currency conversions and working out commission) and what you knew about their destinations. This is where it came in handy to have investigated the company beforehand, and I’d spent a long time on their website, reading about their background and where they travelled to. I know I didn’t get 100% but I felt I’d at least shown I’d done my homework.
The final part of the interview was our one-to-ones. This was the bit I felt most comfortable about simply because I’ve done one-to-one interviews before, so I knew roughly what to expect. Everything else had been a new experience. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous, though.
While we waited to be called in to the interviews, there was a chance to have a Q&A session with a current rep. This was a great opportunity to find out what life overseas is really like. Again, I forced myself to ask a question, so I could look like I wasn’t just that shy, invisible girl in the corner. While it was really cool to hear her stories of her first season, I was secretly willing them to call my name so I could get the one-on-one over with!
The one-on-one featured the normal kind of interview questions. There were some situational questions: “what would you do if you were faced with an angry customer”, that kind of thing, as well as questions about times you’ve delivered great customer service and so on, pretty standard for a customer facing role. I remember there was one question I stumbled on – I can’t recall what it was now – but I ended up not answering it and thinking great, blown it now! But obviously it didn’t ruin my chances in the end.
After the one-on-one we were allowed to leave. I was relieved. I didn’t feel too disheartened and felt I’d done an alright job, but I didn’t let myself get too excited. I knew that competition was fierce and the company was hard to get into. No point getting my hopes up, I thought, as I headed homewards for a well deserved glass (OK, bottle), of wine.
The week that followed was interminable. I was desperate to hear how I’d done. On Thursday, I knew some other candidates had heard yes or no, so on Friday, I was filled with anxiety as I waited for that phone call. I was at work, but no-one knew I’d gone for an interview, so I was sat trying to look at my phone discreetly at every available moment. At lunch, I saw I had a missed call, and I was so keen to hear if I had the job that I just had to call back straight away.
When I was told I had got the job you couldn’t have wiped that smile off my face!
But my journey was only just beginning. I still had the training course to conquer, and I knew that was as much a part of the recruitment process as the interview had been. My dream job could still be taken away from me if I failed at training…