The job of being a Hearst Castle tour guide offers creativity, interaction with people from all over the world, inspirational surroundings, a gorgeous view and setting and enough regular exercise to make your Fitbit deliriously happy.
Two 90-minute seminars about available guide-trainee jobs will be held at the Castle visitor center on Sunday and Monday, Sept. 16 and 17. To register, call 805-927-2164.
Most Hearst Castle guides work on a “permanent-intermittent” basis, which means not necessarily year-round and from 1,200-1,500 hours a year. Guides must be observant, friendly and positive; able to adapt to various weather conditions; able to think quickly and remember a wide range of information; enjoy doing research; be comfortable speaking to large groups of people and have pleasant voices that carry well.
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According to Dan Falat, superintendent of the State Park district that includes the Castle, “My district and guide staff as a whole are some of the finest interpreters in the state, if not the country. Day in, day out, they do such an outstanding job of articulating and passing on the story and the significance of the Castle to our visitors ... to help us not only interpret the Castle, but protect and preserve the Castle.
Agility, stamina and the ability to relate to the people are important assets for a guide, Falat said, but “age is not a factor.”
The 72 current guides range in age from their 20s to their 70s, and in the past, some have been in their 80s. More than half of them are women.
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Other than that, what’s it like to be Castle guide, and could it be the perfect occupation for you?
For a head start on becoming a guide, here’s what three guides told The Tribune recently:
Recent Cal Poly grad
Michael Langberg, 21, is a history major who graduated from Cal Poly last year. He saw in The Tribune an ad for a Castle hiring seminar, and thought the job “would be a good way to extend my professional skills,” he said. “I’ve always had a certain appreciation for museums, so being able to work in one was an attractive opportunity.”
Indeed, it is. “There’s so much American history wrapped up in that one place,” he said. “(William Randolph) Hearst was very influential, and he’d invite very influential people up there to visit him.” Many of them “affected the history of the Castle and the world.”
Langberg said that, at first, “I didn’t think I’d get the job. (Also) I thought I wouldn’t like giving tours, and I’m not a fan of public speaking.” But it didn’t take long for him to become confident in his abilities and fascinated by his new occupation.
He especially enjoys “the people. The other guides are fantastic, and the guests I meet on the job are from all over the world,” which has “extended my world view immensely.”
Came from Half Moon Bay
Jessica Harvey, 32, has been a Castle guide since April 2015. She had been an interpretive guide for more than a year at Half Moon Bay State Beach and wanted to continue working for State Parks. When she saw a bulletin ad looking for Castle guide applicants, she applied and got the job.
“I enjoy the creative aspect … the variety of tours we get to do and that we have no script,” Harvey said. “My stories unfold with visitors asking questions.
“Each tour is like hitting the reset button,” she said. “We interact with people of all ages, cultural backgrounds and interests. … Each bus that arrives for any of our tours can bring folks from all over the country and the world. … I am able to encourage questions and tailor each tour to what the group is most interested in.”
Harvey added, “I also enjoy working in such a beautiful environment on the hilltop. I am surrounded by wonderful gardens, interesting architecture, years chock full of history” and spectacular views, even when the hilltop setting is blanketed with fog.
Out of semi-retirement
Mike Davis, 56, had a diverse set of careers before the political-science grad and his wife moved to Cambria about nine years ago. He had been a DJ, owned a restaurant north of Fresno and then he and his wife started an internet business.
But semi-retirement didn’t keep Davis busy enough or provide enough physical and mental challenges. In 2015, he responded to an ad in The Tribune about becoming a Castle guide, but had missed the deadline. A year later, he was hired.
“You’re learning every day,” Davis said. “You don’t ever become stagnant. Every day, you see something new … I enjoy people, finding out where they come from. And the camaraderie up here is like a family.”
Although their backgrounds and ages are diverse, their advice to prospective guides is pretty much identical:
Davis said, “Don’t sell yourself short … I’d never spoken in front of people with them looking at you. I was amazed at how quickly I got over that.”
Harvey said to “give it a chance even if you aren’t 100 percent sure it’s for you. You don’t have to be the most outgoing person in the room to be a tour guide. However, being comfortable with public speaking, a willingness to learn and to be flexible are key.”
Langberg said, “If you want something, go for it and apply. Once I got more comfortable and confident, it all came more naturally. If you think you might not like it, you might be surprised.”
He said, “I know that some folks fresh out of college like me are really looking to get experience. Hearst Castle provides a great opportunity to work up your communication skills, networking skills, skills in public relations and public speaking, just to name a few. Plus, it is just great experience in being flexible while working in a fast-paced and ever-changing environment.”
And all that exercise? The Castle has a lot of stairs. “It keeps us young,” Davis said with a laugh.
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