Ask a Setter is an ongoing series that helps routesetters develop their career and craft. Climbing gyms have been posting dozens of job listings for setters in recent months, but being the chosen candidate isn’t easy. In this segment, Louie Anderson gives tips for getting hired as a pro setter, from acquiring certifications and attending clinics to learning how to be a team player. Got a routesetting question you’d like answered? Email your question here.
QUESTION: “Outside of the normal certification process, how would you recommend I show possible employers my setting skills on paper or in an interview? What do gyms look for in setters, and what would set me apart from the general field of applicants?
First off, let’s talk about certifications―or certs―a bit. Here in the US, these largely exist in the form of Level certifications from USA Climbing. The Level One cert is usually a very high-level overview about the setting process and is generally the pre-requisite to continue on to higher levels of instruction and certification. The Level Two cert starts to dig deeper into the entire process and offers a huge amount of relevant information on setting both boulders and roped climbing. Both these certs are valuable and should be pursued by those that have chosen commercial setting as their career path. The instructors are usually high-level, experienced routesetters, and exposure to their thought processes can be very valuable.
The Level Three and above certs start to veer away from the normal commercial environment, and to focus more on competition and competition setting experience. While valuable, they may not be as impactful or directly relatable to the day-to-day setting of a commercial facility.
There are several experienced routesetters that offer single or multi-day clinics. Every setter brings different approaches and viewpoints to the activity, and exposing yourself to their clinics shows a potential employer that you’re looking to expand your training and skill set accordingly. When attending these events, go into it all with an open mind, and soak up every little tidbit that makes sense for the direction of your personal setting journey. Sometimes you’ll learn something new, and sometimes you’ll simply gain validation that you’re approaching things correctly – either takeaway has value in your development as a setter.
Another opportunity for trade development that has gained legitimacy in our industry is the Setter Showdown series. On the surface it’s primarily a setting competition, but from the first event the organizer has tried to diminish the actual competition element, and to magnify the opportunity for a large group of diverse setters to work together, exchange information and approaches, and to generally expand their exposure to different setting styles and challenges. It has evolved into a wonderful trade development opportunity and networking session, and many new guest setting gigs have come from the new friendships that grow from the Showdown. Those that do well, or win the competition itself, have also used that recognition to negotiate higher compensation, or to obtain positions at different facilities. Every setter can learn new things, and participation in the Showdown again shows your employer a mindset of growth and ability advancement.
Many modern facilities will offer guest setting opportunities for traveling routesetters, or those that work in the surrounding area. I would encourage newer or developing setters to take advantage of these opportunities. To that end, don’t necessarily wait to hear about them – instead be proactive and reach out (by email, or even better in person) to Head Setters of gyms in your region showing an interest in guest setting. Not every gym will respond with an opportunity, but many will if you’re willing to show up and work with their team at an affordable daily rate. This in and of itself may lead to an employment opportunity, but at the very least exposes you to new work practices and setting styles or techniques. Different wall angles and terrain, different hold inventories, etc. can prove to be hugely valuable in the diverse development of your own setting capabilities.
Include personal references from reputable setters on your resume or job application if at all possible. This gives your potential employer the ability to talk to someone who’s worked directly with you. They can speak to your work habits, safety awareness, general demeaner, and personality. All of these areas are every bit as important as your actual routesetting talents when a facility is looking to add a new setter to their team.
Good Fit for the Team
While it’s good to show your setting experience and abilities, it’s also beneficial to give folks a window into who you are. Most modern teams will invariably value experience and setting talent, but also have realized that they are assembling a team; one that will function far more impactfully if all of the members mesh and work well together. If your resume is lean on experience, make it shine with a depiction of who you are as a person. Explain your work ethic, desire to learn, ability to work well with others, and a willingness to take direction and to do whatever might be needed to make the team shine. Remember that Teamwork Makes the Dream Work, and show them why you should be part of the team they’re assembling.
Louie Anderson has been climbing since 1974 and routesetting for over 35 years. He’s a big proponent for education in the setting world, having written The Art of Coursetting (re-released as Fundamentals of Routesetting). Anderson has also been shaping holds and consulting for gyms for decades. His holds are available at Legacy Ascension, and more information about his services is at louieandersonclimbing.com.