The assessment center for the job as a tour guide

This is how my AC at the largest tour operator in Germany went down

I worked as a tour manager for a tour operator in 8 different destinations for almost 10 years and I don’t regret a minute of it. Of course, there are countries where you felt more comfortable than in others and seasons that were not as great as the ones before. But what I can promise you is that you almost always have the time of your life in the very countries where you didn’t really want to work at all.

But from the beginning. What is the best way to apply? The easiest way is to go to the job page of the various tour operators and find out how and where to send your application documents. Most of the time you have to fight your way through various online forms with many questions and/or upload a letter of motivation and your CV.

At the time, I applied to the three largest tour operators and was invited to the assessment center by two of them within a week. One tour operator turned me down without giving any reason. My guess is that it was because of the question about my desired destinations, which I answered with Asia or other long-haul routes.

The most important tip I can give you for your application and the AC: Be as flexible as possible! Anyone who only commits to a certain destination or rejects certain destinations does not have a good chance. As a tour guide you sign a worldwide assignment contract and declare your willingness to work worldwide. If you want to work only in Greece or if you want to work in the Maldives – it is better to apply at the local incoming agency with which the tour operator works together, not at the tour operator directly. At the local agencies the salaries are much lower than with a German or Swiss employment contract, you have to pay for your own apartment and there are no expenses. You get a small basic wage, but you can earn good commission by selling excursions.

But first, let’s talk about the application process. This is how my AC went:

The day of the AC had come and I started at 06:00 o’clock so that I was sure shortly before 10:00 o’clock on time in the hotel in Munich, in which the AC should take place. My “luck” ensured that despite a driving distance of 2 hours, I arrived at the venue only at 10:10 am – thanks to traffic jams, non-existent navigation system and zero sense of direction. Inwardly, I had already made up my mind about hiring a car and was close to despair after seeing the critical looks of the – let’s call them “examiners”. Totally sweaty and with a fixed smile on my face, I sat down in the circle with the other 19 applicants and consoled myself with the fact that this day would at least be good preparation for my second AC. I had already messed up the all-important first impression. The applicants sat at 7 tables lined up in a U-shape and most of them looked just as nervous as I felt. The 4 “examiners” were people from the HR department, an experienced tour guide who has been with the company for many years and a “trainer” who takes care of the training and further education of the tour guides. At the beginning, the trainer introduced the company with a short film and a PowerPoint. I tried to pay attention as much as possible, although I was still exhausted because I was late. It was good that I had read up on the company’s philosophy and history a few days before the AC. It couldn’t hurt!

Then it was our turn. All 20 applicants had to line up according to the amount of time they had already spent abroad in a foreign language. Among them were: a study semester in the USA, a year in Australia, several seasons on a cruise ship as a guest service…and me with 2 months as an au pair in Italy, which I had broken off because my au pair children were little monsters from hell.

As we stood there in a row, we were allowed to introduce ourselves briefly one after the other. Name, age, which is our favorite vacation country and how we imagine the job as a tour guide. The latter we had to present in one of our chosen foreign languages. Since I speak Italian not badly but my English was a bit better, I chose English like most of the applicants. Some applicants also had to answer another question in the second foreign language, which they had indicated in their application in their language skills. Oh dear, there were a few embarrassing moments after some applicants had to admit that they got their five words of Spanish from the last Malle vacation or had just attended an Italian basic course. Therefore: Honesty is the best policy!



After that we were divided into two groups. With the invitation to the AC we got the task to prepare and present the presentation of an excursion of our choice. We had 2 minutes to do this. Since I assumed that the other applicants would choose excursion destinations in the classic vacation destinations and I wanted to be creative, I chose the flower island Mainau at Lake Constance. At home, I had already colorfully printed out some beautiful pictures from the Internet and laminated them nicely. I thought to myself that shows commitment! So, nervous as hell, I presented my excursion destination to the examiners, trying to look as relaxed and confident as possible.

After I had recited my excursion and was about to sit down again, relieved, one of the “examiners” took off his wristwatch, gave it to me and said: “Sell me this watch”. Great! I knew I could speak relatively confidently in front of a group and I love telling people about foreign countries…but selling a watch? I don’t remember exactly what I said, just that I kind of functioned and sat back in my seat with my head red. Creepy.

Once everyone presented their destinations, we first had lunch and drinks at the bar table. I had the feeling that we were under observation there, too, and so I stood at the table with the others and tried to join in the conversation as best I could, to show that I was sociable and not shy of strangers.

After the break, the groups were switched and we were invited into a room with a circle of chairs. Here, various scenarios were acted out that could await us as tour guides. The “trainer” played a mostly complaining guest and the applicants had to react to him in the best possible way. My role play went as follows:

“Trainer”: howls dramatically

“Me”: Mr. Weber, are you not feeling well?

“Trainer”: Willi is dead.

“Me”: oh, I’m very sorry to hear that. (have no idea who Willi is)

“Trainer”: I want to fly home right away.

“Me”: was Willi a friend of yours or a relative?

“Trainer”: Willi is dead! He is…was my canary.

“Me”: oh, my condolences Mr. Weber. Was he very close to you?

“Trainer”: Yes, Willi was my best friend. I have to go home right now to bury him.

“Me”: Mr. Weber, I understand your pain (…blah blah something about my deceased cat…).

But you know, Willi is in a better place now. And I’m sure Willi would want you to enjoy your long awaited vacation.

“Trainer”: Yes, you think so?

“Me”: Yes, I’m quite sure he would. I’m sure he knew how much they were looking forward to your vacation.

“Trainer”: Yes, that’s right. But I’d still like to fly home.

“Me”: Mr. Weber, what do you think: You go to your room and lie down for a bit. I’ll send up room service with some hot tea. And then you’d better sleep on it. If you still want to fly home tomorrow, I’ll be happy to look into an earlier flight home for you.

“Coach”: Yes, that’s fine. Can you check on me again later.*wink*.

“Me”: Sure thing.

“Trainer”: room 253.

“Me”: *grin* see you later.

Everyone laughs. As bizarre as this situation was – it’s not necessarily about what you say, but how you deal with a guest in distress. It is important to keep a cool head and take him seriously, no matter how ridiculous his complaint or his “emergency” seems to you.

After the other applicants had mastered their difficult situations, everyone was invited to an individual interview with two examiners. The questions I remember were: “How do you deal with stress?”, “Are you more service or sales oriented?”, “Where would you like to work?”, “Are there countries you don’t want to work in and if so, why?

After the last interview, the process was over and we were dismissed. The AC started at 10:00 am and went until 5:00 pm. During this time, we were put through our paces and I was completely wiped out. Despite my lateness in the morning, I now had some hope for a hiring commitment after all, since the rest of the day had gone pretty well emotionally.

And I was not disappointed! 1 week later I received my employment contract by e-mail with the invitation to the tour guide training in Turkey. I could hardly believe it and almost fell off my chair. I had made it!!! And how this e-mail changed my life and me can hardly be described. But more about that soon.

Finally, I would like to give you this on the way to the AC: Be on time (“5 minutes ahead of time is the tour guide’s punctuality”), be completely flexible about your destination, be interested, be fully open to all countries, religions and cultures and be as confident and secure as possible.

Some more info to finish:

When to apply. Most AC’s take place at the end of the year. The best time is therefore in August/September/October.

Is it also possible to have a “normal” interview? Yes, some colleagues applied only in January, February and were invited for a normal interview.

Do you have any questions about the AC at the tour operator? Write it to me as a comment.

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