I originally met Ken Bevill last year when he filled in as manager at my rock climbing gym while waiting for construction to be completed on our local REI. He was friendly and very helpful to me and I enjoyed getting to know him. I am so thankful that he agreed to this interview. Ken has a lot of great tips and ideas for teens on how to get a job at REI. Much of this info can be applied anytime a young person is looking into how to get a part time job at any retail location. Thanks Ken!
Me: How did you get started with REI?
Ken: Well, I will try to keep it short because it is a very long story. I had a job with inside sales. I was bored so I started working part time at a local climbing gym. When the manager of the gym left I was fortunate enough to get that job. I did that for about 6 years – helped open a gym and even got to participate in the building of the gym. Towards the last part of those years I started thinking about my professional career. Even though I loved my job I had no long term career goals and I was not building towards a future for my family. I realized that one of the things that I enjoyed about my job at the climbing gym was selling gear at the pro shop and my mind kept returning to retail. I started doing a lot of research about outdoor retail and quickly ran across REI. I found that the company was a great company and met many employees that were very happy and satisfied with the opportunities that they have had with REI. This really meant a lot to me and I decided that REI was a company that I wanted to work with. My wife and I moved out to Colorado and I quickly got a position with the local REI that turned into a permanent full time position. After leaving REI for a time to gain management experience that I needed my wife and I found ourselves back in Florida to be closer to family. REI was opening a store right here and so the timing was perfect for me to come back – which was my goal all along.
Me: What specifics do you look for in a teenager who applies for a job at one of your stores?
Ken: I have the same expectations for all applicants. The disadvantage that teenagers could have is little to no work experience. I don’t hold that against them. I look for applicants who understand customer service and genuinely want to help our customers.
Me: What type of training does REI offer to someone, like a teen, that has no work experience?
Ken: That’s just another thing that I like about the company. Everyone goes through the same training with REI as a new employee and it will blow your mind the amount of information that you learn about the industry as an entry level employee. We start the process with something we call ‘base camp’. This gives you a foundation of knowledge about the company and who we really are as a business. Then there are several steps such as sales and service training so that you know exactly how to treat customers, what questions to ask and how to ask those questions so that you can be truly helpful to the customers. From there it gets department specific pretty quickly. You will have about 4 hours of training for each category so that you have full knowledge about your area from day one.
Me: Are you looking for someone who already has a basic knowledge about the products that you carry?
Ken: Sometimes, but I wouldn’t say that is always the case. The reality is that generally we look for people who care about the customers needs and genuinely want to help those customers. It’s easy to teach someone about equipment. We conduct group interviews and managers take notes about the interactions of job applicants during the role playing that occurs during the interview. Are you participating? What kind of ideas are you throwing out? This gives us a really good idea about how you will interact with customers.
Me: What can a young person do to make their application stand out from the crowd?
Ken: Sell yourself. Often, with little to no work experience, the application is mostly blank. Have a resume with your accomplishments. Whether it’s a school club that you’ve lead or a volunteer organization that you support, sell yourself. We need to know who you are and what you do. With some idea of who you are, we can get an idea as to whether or not you’d be a good fit with us.
Me: How important is that first impression when a teenager comes into the store to drop off an application?
Ken: Extremely. We do all of our applications online in order to reduce our carbon footprint. However, if there is no job available we may not see that application for some time. Dropping off a resume and introducing yourself is a great idea. I have had people show up in flip flops and a scruffy tank top wanting a job. I definitely keep a mental note of people when they come in. How they present themselves lets me know if they are really serious about wanting a job. Even if we are not hiring right then, if you present yourself well, then management will remember you when an opening does come available.
Me: What common mistakes do teenagers make as employees?
Ken: Over the years, I’ve seen teenagers clam up in an interview. Could be that they have never interviewed before. Can be intimidating. I’d recommend practicing so you have an idea of what to expect.
I have had an employee who was great with customers and really cared about helping them. However, the more tedious aspects of the job sometimes got overlooked. When restocking product, it isn’t okay to leave a box of items on the floor while helping a customer and never return to properly put away those items. These kind of details can be easily overlooked by people of any age – but those details matter. After following up with that employee on this issue we were able to stress the importance of those details and he was able to make the necessary adjustments.
Me: What is the best single piece of advice that you can offer to a teenager looking for a part time job?
Ken: Have a good understanding of the job your applying for. Do some homework on the company. A teenager with the right attitude and knowledge of the job and company could get the job over someone with 10 years of work experience. Other than that, be confident in yourself.
Me: What opportunities does REI offer it’s employees? Does the company have a scholarship program to help with college expenses?
Ken: REI does offer a tuition reimbursement on courses that relate to our business. As far as other opportunities, there are too many to list. If a career with REI is something you are considering, the sky is the limit. We do believe in promoting from within. You’d have the option of working up through the store or, depending on your back ground/experience/passions, you could work at our Head Quarters (HQ). At HQ, there are SEVERAL options. Marketing, Accounting, Direct Sales, HR, Photography, Logistics, and the list goes on…
Me: Does REI offer long term opportunities and if so, why should a young person consider a career with REI?
Ken: As I mentioned, there are several possibilities. You don’t have to be a sales associate forever. The benefits are excellent. After 15 years of service, you get a one month sabbatical, and yes, it’s paid. Of all the companies I’ve worked for, REI truly cares about their employees. One of our core values is Balance. Having a company that supports your work/life balance is big for me. They want me to go play or enjoy time with family. REI is an industry leader in the Outdoor Industry. I find my job both challenging and rewarding at the same time. Being in the Outdoor Industry now for 13 years, I can honestly say that I look forward to coming to work every day.
Me: Do you have any other tips or advice for a teenager looking to get a part time job?
Ken: Finding a job is a job in itself. It’s going to take some work and it’s not going to be easy. As mentioned above, do your homework on the company your applying for. The more you know, the more prepared you’ll be for the interview. Prep for the interview. Practice and practice some more. Be confident but not pushy. If a company isn’t hiring don’t try to convince the manager to give you a job. If you drop off several applications, keep track of who you applied with so that when that call you back, you know who they are. Other than that, be yourself.
Me: Where is the headquarters of REI located? Can you tell me a little about the company?
Ken: Kent, Washington – south of Seattle. We opened in 1938 with the purchase of an ice axe. We are a co-op, founded by and owned by our members. Basically instead of us having shareholders we have members. Members get a dividend check based on their purchases for the year. It’s a one time payment and you are in for life and you get your dividend check every March. Members also get a handful of free clinics and discounted services at the store. There are also member only sales – called a Garage Sale. We take gently used merchandise that has been returned and mark it with deeply discounted prices. When we accumulate enough equipment then we have a garage sale that is open to members. It’s a great way to get incredible deals on basically new equipment.
Me: Thanks so much Ken. I know that this info is going to be a big help to teens who are or will be looking for a job. I really appreciate your time!
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