BACKPACKER RECRUITERGlobetrotting may be interesting, but talking (about it) with other travelers while you are doing it all too often is not—at least not at the start.

Even moonlit exchanges in exotic locations tend to be tediously formulaic —or non-existent, given the competing glow and mesmerizing enticements of attention-sucking, isolating smartphones.

That, I believe, is one of the conclusions to be drawn after being on the road as long as I’ve been—now more than four months (in Asia). It could be a whole lot more interesting, if only so many of the backpackers wouldn’t stick to the worn-out script of “So, where are you from?”, “How long have you been staying here?”,  “Where are you going next?”, “How long have you been traveling?”, “You haven’t seen the….yet?” (“Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyaa…I have!”), “How did you get here?” (As though either of us is likely to be back anytime soon.)

This latter question is as predictable, pointless—given that you’ve all already arrived, and uninteresting as the staple of ritualized guy-talk with the in-laws who’ve just arrived for a visit that already seems too long, even before you get into, “So…..did you take the I-5? Ah…the expressway to junction 13A would have saved you 15 minutes, unless you caught the rush-hour traffic at the bridge, in which case you could have…”

Above all, in general, the one kind of question or topic that rarely pops up is one that invites thought—especially thinking out of the box or diving more deeply into it.

Yep, if only the backpackers included more job interviewers and recruiters. Then things would get really interesting.

The Backpacker Recruiter

Here’s a sample of what I imagine that would be like, were HR professionals running the hostel conversations. To apply these questions in job interviews, just adjust terms as required, e.g., replace “traveler” with “colleague” or “employer” and “trip” with “career” or “task”, as I have in the following illustrations:

  • “Hi…Where do you wish you were from?”

Interview: “What route would have been, or, looking ahead, would be, the ideal career path for you?”

  • “What’s your psychological itinerary (been)?”

Interview:  “What are your planned or experienced personal development milestones associated with your career trajectory?”

  • “What skills have you acquired, tested, confirmed, lacked or recognized you need during this trip?”

Interview:  “Describe the relevance and completeness of your skill set to the task challenges you’ve had to deal with in your career.”

  • “Are your interactions with other travelers uniquely tailored to them or formulaic?”

Interview:  “In telephone or in-person sales, what is the proper role of a script? Which would you favor as a manager or as a front-line sales rep?”

  • “Which is the scarcer resource on this trip: time or money? Why?”

Interview:  “What career tradeoffs have you made or are willing to make between having more time and having more money? Why have they been or would be necessary?”

  • “Do you prefer triangular or direct interactions with other travelers (“triangular” having a focus on something other than the other traveler, e.g., the spices in the local curries)?”

Interview:  “In your sales approach, do you make the client, or, instead, the product/service, the focus? Why?”

  • “Is your travel primarily achievement-oriented (e.g., a checklist of famous tourist sites), relationship-oriented or focused on something else? If so, what else? What has determined which it is?”

Interview:  “What relative weight do you assign to task-orientation and workplace relationship-orientation or something else, respectively?”

  • “How have time limits imposed on your travels shaped your interactions with people, places and cultures?”

Interview: “Do you plan your job tasks well enough to ensure that unfavorable impacts of time constraints on performance are minimized?”

  • “To what extent do you feel you have been pulled or pushed into this trip by something?”

Interview:  “To what degree do you feel you are being pushed out of or escaping your old job vs. pulled by us?”

  • “Do you tend to see the average traveler as a potential collaborator, useful resource, obstacle, irritant, parasite, competitor, stimulating, irrelevant or what?”

Interview:  “How do you feel about others, including potential rivals, working in the same position or career at your workplace or in general?”

  • “Where do you see yourself traveling in five years and why?”

Interview: The “why” takes the conversation beyond the conventional question that lacks it. So, ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years and why?”

  • “How long will you stay here, even if it doesn’t deliver everything you are hoping for?”

Interview:  “What career deliverables are essential for you to actually get, in order for you to stick to a job?”

  • “How do you deal with travel-related stress? Any differently from other stress?”

Interview:  “Describe your most effective job stress-management techniques. Are they any different from those you use in your private life?” (“Booze” being the wrong answer in at least the job context.)

  • “Do you think backpacking at its best involves teamwork or purely individual effort?”

Interview:  “It’s one thing to be a capable team player; another to be an eager one. Are you one, or both?”

  • “Why are you traveling alone/with friends? Which do you prefer and why?”

Interview:  “Have you been working independently/on teams by choice or preference?”

  • “Do you prefer a trip with challenges, or not? Why?”

Interview:  “How important are job challenges and a good skills-challenge match for you? Why?”

  • “Which of your values, beliefs, attitudes and expectations has this trip tested, confirmed, disconfirmed or created and which most strongly?”

Interview: “Has your career most strongly impacted your values, beliefs, attitudes or expectations—and which ones?|

  • “Do you subscribe to the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy of travel, e.g., hiking up mountains in sweltering temperatures that you shrug off or are proud of?”

Interview:  “Do you believe that real career success shouldn’t be easy?”

  • “What are the resources you have depended upon and consider essential for this trip and past trips?”

Interview:  “What career resources have been valuable or essential for you? Have any been lacking?”

  • “Do you prefer being in control of what happens on a trip, or just to ‘see what happens’? Or do you think the former is actually the best way and reason to allow the latter?”

Interview:  “Do you believe that micro-management and planning today are essential to a ‘bring it on’, “que sera, sera” attitude tomorrow?”

  • “If you were to self-critique your backpacking style and planning, what improvements or other changes would you consider making?”

Interview: “Would every workplace change you’d propose as a manager have to be offered as an improvement?” (This could jump-start a conversation about and help identify “change-for-the-sake-of-change”, “bull-in-a-china-shop” managerial candidates.)

  • “Are you enjoying or merely coping with the pace of this trip?”

Interview:  “Did you enjoy or merely cope with the pace of your last job? Tell me about it.”

  • “How have you coped with disappointments, setbacks, obstacles, etc., during this trip?”

Interview:  “When faced with a broken work situation that you believe can’t be fixed, how do you respond to it, if you don’t quit? Can you tell me about a past instance?”

  • “Is this a trip that is fulfilling a life script, or one that is more like a random run through a maze?”

Interview:  “Would you describe your career path as a kind of exploration, roaming, a disciplined march or destiny?”

  • “To what degree do you ‘go native’ or travel in a familiar ‘bubble’?”

Interview:  “In previous employment, have you tended to try to (re)create the conditions you are familiar and comfortable with, or adapt to whatever is a departure from those?”

  • “Has your attention to travel details been sufficient, deficient, perfect or excessive?”

Interview:  “How much attention to detail do you think is enough or best?”

  • “Have you underestimated or overestimated anything important on this trip?”

Interview:  “In your employment history, is there anything that you have underestimated or overestimated more than once?”

  • “Tell me about the innate talents and acquired skills that have motivated or facilitated this trip.”

Interview:  “How has your work history reflected or served your natural talents and inclinations?”

  • “How have you handled any conflicts with other travelers?”

Interview:  “What are your preferred conflict-management strategies?”

Of course, this is, despite its length, just a sample list. Nonetheless, it can serve as a template or motivate reflection on what to ask as a job interviewer or as a backpacker traveler. In fact, I can think of one situation in which it will be twice as valuable as for either one of them.

In interviews for on-the-road writers for Lonely Planet.



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