Dude Ranch Employment Practices

Know the Dude Ranch Application & Hiring Rules:

  • Call the ranch to determine their hiring schedule (each is different)
    • Most northern ranches start accepting applications around Thanksgiving (end of November)
    • Most northern ranches start making hiring decisions in December
    • The southern ranches have a very different schedule
  • No one reads resumes when they ask for applications
  • No one bothers with applications that are incomplete or that are hard to read.
  • It is perfectly acceptable to call a ranch to be sure that they have received your application. It is not a good idea to pressure the ranch for a decision.
  • Be aware that ranches sometimes share their applications with their neighboring ranches – this sounds crazy, but other ranches are neighbors and friends as well as competitors. Don’t be surprised if you hear from a ranch that you have not applied to! Grab the opportunity, study the ranch quickly, and sell yourself!
Beautiful Mountains at Dude Ranch in Colorado

Couples and Friends:

Except for certain management positions, most dude ranches are hesitant to hire couples or friends who come in pairs. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • It complicates the hiring process
  • It complicates housing
  • It complicates the team bonding process that is so important to the dude ranch culture
  • It complicates resolving problems if one half of the pair is not fitting (this is not uncommon)

A Word to Foreign Students:

Many or maybe most dude ranches enjoy the “spice” that foreign students add to ranch life, and welcome applications from them. The rules for foreign students include:

  • You must have a reasonable ability to speak English
  • You must be ready to adapt to a culture that may be very different than you own
  • You must be ready to adapt to a climate that may be very different than your own
  • You absolutely must have the appropriate J(1) visa.
  • Do not approach the dude ranch with a “work in exchange for room and board” idea using a tourist visa. U.S. law requires that all persons who are doing equal work must given equal pay. A “room & board in exchange for work” relationship is classified as “slavery.”

Know Your Target:

Decide the characteristics of the ranch that would be your ideal ranch – these are discussed at some length on another page of the dude ranch jobs section.

When you have selected ranches that would be a good fit, learn everything you can about them.

Study the ranches that are close to that ideal. Ranches now have enormous amounts of information about themselves on the internet. Also, don’t hesitate to call them with brilliantly crafted questions.

  • What makes them different from others?
  • What is their hiring schedule
  • What are their requirements? (e.g., videotape?)
  • How many of last year’s staff are returning this year?

Shop ranches – pretend you are taking the vacation of your dreams, and call them with your questions.

When you apply, make it clear that you have studied the ranch as a potential employer – it shows them that you are serious. When a cover letter addresses the owner by name (which is very easy to get from the ranch web site) it makes a much stronger positive impression than “To Whom It May Concern.” Collecting this information takes only a few minutes, but can pay you big dividends.

Follow Ranch Hiring Practices:

Most ranches have very few people to review lots of candidates. You want to stand out from the crowd, while meeting the needs of the folks who are wading through all of the pages and pages of information.

  • Follow ranch practices – if they have an application form, use it – don’t just send your resume. If you do, it will not be considered.
  • Use that ranch’s application, not a photocopy of another ranch’s application! As an example of laziness in extreme, it will be thrown in the trash! If you even consider doing something this slothful don’t bother – you won’t last in this industry.
  • Many ranches now have their applications on their web sites. You can download, word process, and email a sharp, crisp, neat document that employer can print.
  • Some ranches prefer that you complete the application by hand – they want to see your handwriting, which gives them clues about your sense of neatness.
  • One ranch requires you to call and talk with an owner before they will mail you an application. This is like a mini-interview to screen out the unprepared – be prepared!

Make it Easy for the Ranch to Check References:

Most ranches consider all employees to have contact or potential with children. They will do a thorough check of your criminal history, and they will want as thorough a set of references as possible.

  • If you have any kind of “history with the law” tell the ranch on your application. Give them a full explanation. If you have been convicted of a crime of larceny, violence or having to do with children, then you will not be bondable, and should not waste your time in this industry.
  • It is the potential employer’s responsibility to get references. It is your responsibility to help that employer as much as you can – you want to make it easier for them to hire you than to hire the next candidate.
  • Many previous employers will only confirm dates of employment. This is not acceptable to most ranches. If a ranch has a candidate with good references given by supervisors and/or co-workers and another candidate who has only confirmed dates of employment, then the ranch’s decision of whom to hire is an easy one.
  • Before you start filling our applications, list all of your previous jobs – this is your reference check battle plan. Then contact your supervisors at those jobs, and ask them if they will be willing to give you references. Some may not be allowed to do so by company rules, but they may write you a letter of reference, which might list their home phone numbers or non-work email addresses. If you can’t get a supervisor, then maybe a co-worker – someone who actually knows you and has seen you work.
  • Teachers always say good things about their students – don’t bother unless the teacher knows you well.
  • Pastors and church folks always say good things – don’t bother to list these people at all.
  • Keep digging until you have a list of folks who know you, have seen you work and who will “brag on you.” Remember, we are talking about real people here, not clerks in human resources departments.
  • Complete all parts of the application. The ranch will need these persons’ names, phone numbers, fax numbers, email address and snail mail addresses. Any other information that you can give the ranch that will make it easy for them, such as best times to call can put your application at the top of the pile
  • Attaching letters of reference is a very good way to do this. The ranch then simply calls the author and confirms that the letter is authentic. This saves everyone a lot of time.

Remember – applying for a dude ranch job is a form of sales – you are selling yourself. You want to make the ranch want you, and you want to make it easy for the ranch to hire you. To do this you don’t want to make a good impression, you want to make a great impression!


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