So you want to work in the bike industry? Well, realize one thing first: I lied in the title of this post. You’ll have to try pretty darn hard or get lucky (like four leaf clover double rainbow lucky*) to score a gig in the bike business. In addition, it’s very likely that you’ll have to start at the bottom, put in your time and work your way up. Still interested? OK, here we go.
First things first: grow that little hair thing under your lower lip. Soul patch, nutduster, call it what you will but a lot of people in the bike business have them. Extra credit for switching it up and going for an Edmundo instead. In all seriousness, one great part of the bike industry is its lax attitude when it comes to sport coats, ties or razors. But how do you get there? That’s what I’m here to tell you. Read on…
Work in a bike shop
It’s always good to know the product. But more than that, you’ll want to know the customers, the suppliers and the meathook realities of the business of keeping those doors open. The best way to see it all, the good, the bad and the greasy is to get a job wrenching at your LBS. This means starting young or in some cases doing it part time while you are still working for that soul-sucking corporation collating TPS reports.
“Why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam?”
So networking is that word everyone throws around, that magical incantation that career counselors get all glassy eyed when they talk of it. It’s true to the core: talking to actual humans will give you a better chance at landing a great job than scanning classified listings on some website. Don’t know any actual humans in the bike business you say? Meet some. Ask the people you ride with if they know anyone in the industry. Ask the owner of the LBS for the names of their sales reps from your favorite companies. Ask your grandma, it can’t hurt and she’s always glad to hear from you. Once you’ve got some names you’ll need the internet.
First stop: LinkedIn. Sign up, look up employees at your favorite bike company, ask to connect with them. You may send ten messages to the tune of “I’m a bassoonist in an alt country/punk/swing band but my real passion is high end carbon doodads, are you hiring?” and only get a single response, but that could be the start of your network. See – there’s that word again. You’re building a web of people who know you, you’re very plainly telling them what you want, and if you bang at it long enough one of those people will tell you “My company is looking for someone just like you.” That’s all it takes.
There are great online references out there as well. Outdoorindustryjobs.com is at the top of the list. Many of the groups that you can join on LinkedIn will also give you a good idea of what opportunities are out there, what the qualifications are for those opportunities, and who is hiring. Also check into industry-specific recruiting agencies. It’s usually free to talk to them, and they can tell you if you’re barking up the wrong tree and maybe give you some pointers on how to make yourself like sweet sweet honey to the bike industry Pooh bears.
I mentioned telling “your people” what you want in a clear and direct way. How do you know what that is? What goes on in bike companies anyway? If you don’t know those things, go find out. Be bold: go to your favorite bike brand’s website and find an email address. Find them on Facebook and “Like” the company. Send messages to them, tell them who you are and ask what kind of jobs they have that would be a good fit. Be persistent but have the discretion to know when to try someone else. More often than not you’ll find someone who was in your shoes not too long ago and wants to pass on the good karma.
Oh the fun you’ll have in the bike industry
*True story: I was an electrical engineer designing airfield lighting and navigation systems and ready to take a $9/hr job at the local shop selling hybrids when a friend mentioned the world HQ of a Major Bicycle Company was located in our fair city. With equal parts hubris and desperation I sent my resume and a cover letter that essentially said “I’m an engineer who loves bikes. I hear you make those. Can I have a job?” I got a call a week later for an interview. When I went in the company’s president told me they were embarking on an electric bike program but no one there knew an amp from a tramp stamp. After much back and forth, 5 interviews in 6 months, and two proposals from me I finally wore them down and got the job.
Your mileage may vary, but I include this story to illustrate the mix of determination, persistence and dumb luck that sometimes can pay off with a dream job in the bike industry. Now go out there and pound the pavement!