Yellowstone National Park . . . what image, what brand, immediately comes to mind when you hear these words? For most people it’s the geyser “Old Faithful.” A few others will think of bears and bison, the Great Outdoors, still largely unspoiled by modernity. That’s the image, the brand, of Yellowstone National Park. That’s what it’s known by.

But Yellowstone National Park is much, much more. It’s mud pots, sulfur vents, the home of the largest lake in the continental United States, inaccessible by road, and it sits atop the world’s largest “super” volcano, which is thought to have last erupted about 600,000 years ago, with an intensity a thousand times greater than the Mount St. Helen’s volcano eruption of 1980!

When someone sees your LinkedIn® profile, your Facebook® page and/or reviews your résumé, what image immediately comes to their mind? How are you branded? Does your brand get people excited about setting up a “visit” with you?

Two weeks ago a friend and I had the awesome experience of spending a week doing “back country” hiking in Yellowstone. Talk about an experience that will definitely get your adrenaline pumping, your senses tuned to their highest pitch! According to the National Park Service, while over three million people visit Yellowstone each year, fewer than one percent (< 30,000 people!) ever venture into the so-called “back country.” The vast majority stay in what is known as the “front country,” where it’s far, far safer and much more predictable. This is where the main lodging, campsite areas, paved roads and boarded, well-marked trails are located. The “back country” is simply too frightening, too unpredictable, too fraught with potential danger, for most visitors to even think about exploring.

Most Job Seekers Choose to Stay in the ‘Front Country’

What does any of this have to do with job hunting? Well, actually, quite a bit. During my Yellowstone visit, it occurred to me that, like most park visitors, the vast majority of people who are looking for new career opportunities also essentially choose to stay in the “front country.” That is, they go online, see what jobs are posted, and then click the “apply” button. A few more are perhaps a little bit more adventurous and do at least some networking, send out a few LinkedIn® in-mails and maybe even call a person or two they know. They venture a little “off-road,” but only the most adventurous actually risk a “deep dive” into the “back country” of job hunting.

On day six of our trip, we decided to go see the petrified trees. These amazing relics are thought to be over 50 million years old, and there are only two places in the park where one can see petrified trees. The first is in the “front country.” (I’m sure you can easily guess where the other place is, but more about that below.) You drive to a parking lot, walk about a quarter of a mile and there stands a single tree—just one!—and it’s surrounded by a fence with multiple signs that read: “Do Not Touch!” Think about this for a moment. Here is this amazing relic before you and all you can do is observe it! You can’t actually touch it! You can’t actually experience it!

This reminded me of what most job seekers usually encounter when it comes to many of the jobs posted online. You can “see” them, and they look amazing, but no matter what you do, you can’t actually “touch” them because the hiring companies have a “fence” around these jobs and have implicitly posted numerous “Do Not Touch!” signs! Access to these jobs clearly seems to be entirely “off limits.” Yet what do most job seekers do? They continue to send in résumé and after résumé to posting after posting, usually never hearing anything back in reply from the hiring companies.

The other area to see—and touch!—the remnants of petrified trees at Yellowstone is Specimen Ridge, site of the largest concentration of petrified trees in the world. But it’s a little bit more difficult, and a lot more challenging, to get there. It’s definitely not a journey for the faint of heart! To reach this treasure trove you have to hike about a mile and a half and climb to an elevation of about 8,500 feet—all through Grizzly-infested forest!

Getting informed, professional advice before Beginning our Journey

Now, while my friend and I certainly are “adventurous,” we are not foolish or foolhardy and take only calculated risks in pursuit of adventure. So, before venturing out into the “back country,” we did our “due diligence” by stopping by the Ranger Station and getting an informed, professional “Grizzly” update. (The Ranger we spoke to advised us that a Grizzly with two cubs had recently been spotted in the area where we would be hiking, but that one of the cubs had subsequently either disappeared or possibly died. He urged us to take extreme caution because of the mother Grizzly’s expected “bad temper” due to her loss.)

Many job seekers today feel that they, too, are (figuratively speaking, of course) venturing into “Grizzly” country when they consider stepping off the “beaten path” of the job hunt in quest of potentially better, far more rewarding career opportunities. Despite these feelings, though, most still do not take the time and make the effort to seek informed, professional advice which could help them immensely in their job-hunting journey. Most simply decide not to even consider beginning the journey!

So, armed with the information and advice we received at the Ranger Station, off we went, headed for Specimen Ridge and the once-in-a-lifetime experiences awaiting us. After crossing the meadow for about half a mile, we not only entered the aforementioned “Grizzly-infested” forest, we also began the grueling, steep ascent. We had our “bear spray” at the ready and were committed to taking appropriate actions to warn any Grizzlies of our approach, e.g., clapping our hands, blowing a whistle, singing, etc. (We figured our singing alone would be enough to scare away even the most fearsome Grizzly!)

How We Were Rewarded for Our Sacrifices, Challenges

Occasionally, we would get brief glimpses of the rich, lush, verdant Lamar Valley spreading out far below us. As we continued our climb, we finally broke through the forest and the view that welcomed us was absolutely breathtaking! As we neared the peak of Specimen Ridge, the trail suddenly veered off and continued along the ridge until we finally entered an area suffused with Douglas Firs and Lodge Pole Pines—and the remnants of THREE magnificent fossilized trees, just the first of many we would see and be able to touch and wander among!

What an awe-inspiring site! Here we were . . . instantly “transported” millions of years back in time to a spot where dinosaurs actually roamed! We were suddenly experiencing a pre-historic era when the Yellowstone volcano was very active! And to think, only about 1,000 to 1,500 people each year are willing (and able!) to step out of their everyday “comfort zone” to witness these extraordinary sites and to have this exceptional experience!

From there, we continued on up to the crest of Specimen Ridge, another mile and a half distant and several more hundred feet up. The site from the summit was absolutely magnificent, an unparalleled experience! We could see literally for miles and miles: Lakes, herds of grazing buffalo, meadows, forests, fields of gorgeous flowers and the most amazing pure blue sky we had ever seen! With the mountains in the distance forming a ring, we realized that we were standing in the middle of the mouth of one of the world’s most active volcano. To be sure, a very humbling experience!

Are you willing to take some calculated risks and seek informed, professional advice when it comes to venturing out on your career search? Are you willing to get out of the “front country” of the job hunt and venture into the far more rugged and challenging “back country,” where the real opportunities exist, where you’ll have access to much, much more than the “typical” job hunter? Oh, there might be a few “Grizzlies” along the job hunting trail, and frequently there will be some steep “hills” to climb, but, believe me, just as my recent trip to Yellowstone proved, the ultimate rewards will far, far exceed any risks or challenges involved.


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.