Aquatic careers: Build your resume while saving lives

Alan Cohen

For young people trying to enter the workforce, the first line under the heading “Experience” is usually the hardest one to write. After all, many young people haven’t had a job before. Because employers want workers with experience, youngsters face a time-honored dilemma: how do you get a job if you haven’t had one?

The answer may require getting your feet wet.

A lot of people have already taken the plunge. Almost 40,000 Americans now work as lifeguards and swim instructors in local government parks and recreation departments, beaches, fitness centers, sports centers, hotel resorts, country clubs, YMCAs, JCCs, and camps, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Few of them needed any past experience to land that first job. Of course, you do have to know how to swim. Good people skills are helpful, too.

In addition, to become a lifeguard, you have to obtain a certification. That’s available from the Red Cross as well as from the community Parks & Recreation Department, county or similar offices. In addition, you will have to learn CPR techniques. Classes are usually available locally at the Red Cross or at local county offices. You also may be able to get the needed certification at your local YMCA or JCC.

You should also pick up a certificate as a Professional Rescuer and as a Water Safety Instructor. Both are offered through the Red Cross.

What you typically don’t need is any prior experience.

At the same time, you get some very special attributes to add to your resume. For starters, you are in a trustworthy position. Employers want workers they can trust. Lifeguards definitely must have that attribute. As a lifeguard, you also show responsibility. After all, you are in a position to protect the lives of swimmers. What can possibly show more responsibility?

Then, too, you have to be punctual, personable and professional, all great traits any employer wants.

You also aren’t limited to guarding a pool, beach or lake. There are plenty of other aquatic career opportunities. You can be a pool manager, swim instructor or even teach entry-level sailing and boating courses. For these jobs, too, age and experience usually do not matter.

Maybe that’s why the number of recreational positions is growing 10 percent a year, which is faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can find many of them listed on my websites and Experts expect to see even greater demand for employees in the coming years because of increasing emphasis on the importance of exercise. Salaries are commendable as well, ranging from $11.21 an hour to more than $23,000 a year for beginners.

Many of these jobs are part-time for the warmer months when beaches and pools begin to fill up, but they can lead to full-time positions. That’s particularly true in Florida, where I live. Many junior lifeguards return to their posts here every year and soon expand their training to become full-time lifeguards and safety officers.

After all, such jobs can build more than resumes. They can build careers.

Alan Cohen is a renowned fitness industry career expert with more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. He is the founder and president of and Alan can be reached at or by calling 602-334-7898.

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