Over 175+ years of Annapolis history lives on the Yard. It is full of legendary stories and events. In fact, more than 100,000 people come to the U.S. Naval Academy to be a part of this history every year, and there’s a brigade of 50+ USNA tour guides to take them through this unique experience. The Naval Academy Business Services Division (NABSD) typically provides more than 4,500 Naval Academy tours each year. Want to know how to become a USNA tour guide? For a sneak peek at how tour guides are chosen and trained, I spoke with Heather Skipper, NABSD Hospitality Sales Manager.
Getting the Job
As you might imagine, USNA tour guide jobs are highly coveted. Every month, NABSD, the organization responsible for hiring and training all certified tour guides, receives new inquiries. They typically open the job listing to the public about once per year, depending upon the tour demand. Throughout the year, inquiries come in through emails, phone calls and walk-ins, and the NABSD keeps the contact information from these applicants; once the job opens, the NABSD informs them that the job listing will be available at NABSD.com. Additional channels also promote the listing, including an NABSD Facebook page, a LinkedIn account, Indeed listing and other social media postings as well.
How Do I Apply?
If you’re interested, head to NABSD.com and apply online. Most open jobs are listed for two weeks online. When evaluating applications, the Human Resources (HR) team considers what they call your KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities)—including tour guide experience and public speaking expertise. Based on your KSA score, you will be certified by the HR team and you will have the opportunity to speak with an interview panel of three or more staff. In addition to your KSA score, your availability is also important, since tours run seven days a week, usually from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., with the last one leaving the USNA Visitor Center near the USNA Gift Shop by 3:00 p.m. In addition to weekdays, NABSD usually needs more help for the weekend crowds and offers expanded opportunities for tours in the busier seasons of spring, summer and fall.
The interview process is an equitable one, with all applicants receiving the same questions. Once the HR team has selected the new tour guides, they notify all candidates, whether or not they have been hired. The team encourages those who did not receive a position to look at other opportunities at the Naval Academy within NABSD. The new guides then participate in an onboarding process and become federal employees.
When Do They Hire?
“Tour guide openings are tied to the demand for tours, so when NABSD notes that the business is picking up”, says Skipper, “we will hire more tour guides. Spring and summer are the busiest times of the year, and those lead into the high volume fall football season, which features homecoming and a large number of class reunions. The added visitor count requires more tour times to accommodate all visitors. Throughout the year, and especially in the fall, the tour guides will also work with the Admissions Department to support tours for potential Academy candidates”.
What’s the Training Like?
The training is thorough and effective. “We have a wonderful established guide training program,” explains Skipper. The newly hired tour guides meet with Mr. Mike Zitzmann, Tour Guide and Informational Specialist Supervisor who, while training the incoming guides, is also managing the larger tour guide team, “essentially our front line for greeting our visitors every day,” says Skipper. “He walks tour guides through the training process from start to finish.”
As part of their training, new guides study a model tour in outline form; it covers an introduction and all of the indoor and outdoor stops along the most popular tour, the historical walking tour, which clocks in at 90 minutes. New guides are encouraged to embrace the material and make it their own, incorporating their unique presentation style and personality.
In fact, they are required to accompany other tour guides on three separate historical walking tours to get a feel for the different ways various guides can present the same material. By the time they are leading their own tours, they’ve spent 15 hours or more researching, walking and driving with Mr. Zitzmann on a sample two plus hour walking tour and a one-to-two hour driving tour, shadowing three established guides and preparing their own presentation. The last piece? They must take Mr. Zitzmann on a two-hour tour (luckily not three hours!). Once he approves them, they are scheduled for tours.
Personality Makes the Tour
As guides learn the ropes, they often grow to give a combination of several specialty tours. They all start with the historical tour and can train with Mr. Zitzmann to give others down the road. No matter what tour they’re giving, it’s really important for each tour guide to let their personality shine through different presentation styles. “I want them to be able to give their own personality…. We could have a tour guide who is a college student and relates really well to teenagers and brings her personal perspective of where she’s at in life to those teenagers to show them the opportunity of applying to the Academy and have them learn more about the admissions process…whereas the next tour guide out…could read their audience and say ‘I have all these amazing visitors who are traveling internationally in the U.S. and haven’t been here before….’ “Their focus will be a little different,” says Skipper. This wealth of personalities provides each tour group with a fascinating, customized experience.
NABSD offers a variety of public and group USNA tours that cover many different themes for different sized groups, from the walking Anchors Aweigh Music Tour to the Ride the Yard GEM driving tour to the Navy Way Boot Camp for younger midshipmen hopefuls. Public tours leave every thirty minutes, sometimes even more frequently. Group tours have their own schedules, and all tickets can be purchased online or at the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center.
What the Experience Means
Being a tour guide for the Naval Academy is an extremely important role. “They are the welcome to the USNA. We are often the first or second impression of the Naval Academy….Our tour guides share the story of the founding of our Naval Academy onward to what it’s like to walk in the steps of the current midshipmen as part of the Brigade, concluding with the future opportunities of commissioning into the fleet or Marine Corp…. It speaks volumes; it speaks to the fact that this is a leadership academy that stands on its ethics, morals and principles to develop our future military leaders—this makes the story so very important.”
It’s clear that the guides feel a strong connection to the Academy story too. Skipper says, “We have folks that have been here for 20+ years…and are so happy to spread the word about this particular service academy with the world and the visitors that come through the gates…. We have several retired alumni and career military folks who have spent their entire life with the Navy—and them wanting to pay it back by sharing the Academy really leaves me with a positive impression of the work that they do here.”
Tour the Yard
Want to take a tour? Want to give a tour? Want to learn more? Check out the NABSD site. Come visit us too. The best way to become a tour guide is by coming to the Yard and seeing the stories unfold in the very spaces they occurred. You’ll become part of the history that is constantly in the making. You’ll be supporting the midshipmen. Every dining, shopping and tour experience gives to the Brigade since all profits go to them. We are thrilled to welcome you to the Yard, and hope someday you’ll be thrilled to work here too!