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Joining a Ghost Group; Notes from H.R.

It’s officially fall this week. The kids are starting back to school and the stores are displaying Halloween decorations. We’re putting away our summer pursuits and beginning to think about other things, like…ghosts and haunted houses. This is the season when the SPCA stops adopting out black cats (I got mine in the spring). It’s the Christmas season for paranormal investigators, and the season when I become deluged with applications from would be ghost hunters. I usually get at least one a week, most of whom a mismatch to what my group is actually looking for in the way of applicants. So if you’ve found that you’ve got a spooky itch to join a paranormal group this season, please read this article first.

The first group I joined I filled out the online application and then hovered over the SEND button. I think I filled out the application three times, on three successive nights. I asked myself repeatedly, “do I have the time for this commitment? Can I actually fulfill the tasks they’ll ask me to do? Am I really committed? When I actually hit the send button I still had a gulp moment when I thought to myself “What did I just do?” And then I waited, and waited, and waited without hearing back. I got no word at all that my application had gotten received let alone accepted. So then I emailed the director, and I emailed him again. Then I wrote and laid out a plan as to how I could produce a weekly podcast for the group. I was a broadcaster and a broadcast instructor and I figured that a podcast would go a long way toward promoting the group and thus my skillset was unique and valuable. In other words I laid out for the director just what it was I could do for them. It wasn’t long before I heard back.

Fast forward ten years, and now I’m a director of my own group. And I have to admit one of the worst parts of the job is finding and recruiting new members. There’s no lack of applicants. There are roughly twice as many people seeking membership in my group as requests for actual investigations. However, I’m often left scratching my head at the strange applications I receive. So I’d like to propose that if you’re serious about submitting an application for membership with a paranormal investigation group – any group mind you – that you think of it in the same way as you would if you were applying for a job. Follow These Steps:

1. Do Some Soul Searching – Do you Really Want to be a Paranormal Investigator?

I got on the phone recently with a potential applicant. It was a name and number supplied by one of the members of the group. Supposedly this gentleman was very interested in applying for membership but I just had to give him a call. I was looking to fill a couple of positions on the group and looking to schedule some interviews to do that, so I eventually called the man in question, despite the fact that we do have an application process.

“Oh, hello,” he said, “thank you for calling. I went to your website to fill out your application but I couldn’t figure it out.”

“O.K.” I conceded, wondering just how difficult it could possibly be to fill out an online application, but playing along. “Would you like me to send you an application?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” he said. While grabbing a pen and paper to take the man’s information I asked off hand, “Why do you think you want to join a paranormal group?”

“Oh,” he stalled, “I don’t really know if I do want to join a group. I was just thinking about coming out and seeing if I’m interested in that sort of stuff.”

The interview process was finished at this point. Not only could the gentleman not be bothered to go through the simple procedure of filling out an online application, but he didn’t even know if he was actually interested in being in a paranormal research group. Apparently he was looking for some cheap entertainment and hoping I would be kind enough to provide it for him for free.

2. If You’re Not Sure, Try This First: Paranormal Entertainment

If you would like to experience the paranormal to see if you are interested in the subject there is a whole tourist industry available to you. I strongly suggest you try one of these venues first. There are haunted hotels, haunted tours and even ghost hunts for the avid novice. In my own state there are ghost hunts at the local Civil War era fort every Halloween season and walking tours in our historic downtowns. Halloween is the season of all seasons for those interested in all things ghostly, but historic locations such as Gettysburg for instance, don’t limit themselves to just one month a year. If you want to experience your own thrill, it’s available to you for the price of admission. Book a stay and talk a walk and find out for yourself if the paranormal is something you’re interested in pursuing. For the vast majority of people who have an interest in the paranormal this will be enough to scratch the itch.

3. If You’re Still Interested: Research the Organization

Any Human Resources person can tell you that if you apply for a job, and especially if granted the ability to interview for the position it’s important to know something about the organization. What type of an organization is it, and do your interests and skills fit the mix? Every group website I know has some type of mission statement. Usually short, and to the point, they spell out quickly the group’s methodology.

On our homepage it reads:

DPRG is dedicated to using scientific methods to collect empirical evidence to either support or refute paranormal activity at a location. Knowledge is power, and it’s empowering for people to know whether they are experiencing something with a natural explanation or something in the paranormal realm….Being scientifically bound, DPRG does not perform house cleansings, blessings or smudging. We do not, “send things into the light.” However, we can offer suggestions or issue referrals should the situation warrant.

The first sentence is the give me. Using scientific methods means that we use equipment (most of it some type of electronic recording or measurement system) and documentation to collect evidence, and that we try to find natural and rational explanations first. We don’t hold séances or wander around a location talking about our feelings. We don’t assume a location haunted, simply because someone has told us it is.

And when applicants fill out an applications telling me they want to ghost hunt because they want to know how to perform exorcisms and help “the lost souls go into the light” it’s obvious to me that they haven’t read the mission statement.

I actually got one application from a self-proclaimed psychic who explained that I should consider her for membership because she’d been born with a caul over her face (an old superstition - people born with part of the birth sac over their face were destined to have psychic abilities). I was profoundly perplexed as to how she felt this in line with scientific methodology.

4. Ask not what the Group Can do for You: What do You have to Offer?

As a director of a group do bear in mind that we have a few things to do besides peruse applications. Aside from setting up investigations, performing investigations, reviewing evidence, and presenting evidence (as well as work full-time etc.) there are also group maintenance issues, marketing tasks, meetings to set up… in other words we’re busy people. I knew one director that likened the task of running a group to having a second full-time job. So if you’re seriously thinking about applying for a ghost hunting group I have a few tips for you; do’s and don’ts from someone who actually looks at the applications and calls potential members.

Remember my story at the beginning of the article. I wrote to the director and explained what I could offer him. I receive far too many applications curtailing what I can do for the applicant. What skills, what expertise or what knowledge do you bring to the mix? Like any job application, we’re looking for skill sets. Do you have knowledge of electronic equipment? Do you mind pouring through dusty documents in search of the history of a property? Do you have the time to sit through the mind-numbing process of watching six hours of video of an empty room? Are you a social-media aficionado? Do you have experience with home construction and are able to explain to us if the banging in the walls is due to the heating pipes or plumbing system? These are things we can use, and need desperately.

5. Know the Grind: Be Realistic

Most would-be ghost hunters burn out within the first year. You should know the grind right up front. Investigations are usually exceedingly boring – you’re usually in an abandoned building to all hours of the night talking to the walls with nothing happening. You’re tired and bored, and you’ve got to break down all the equipment and ride home in the dark.

And then when you get home you’ve got hours of video and audio to go through. It is literally mind-numbing work listening to hours of audio or video. You can’t miss a moment for fear of missing something and yet…there’s so much to peruse.

Simple Math

Case in point, we have a 4-camera surveillance system that we run at investigations. If we do a 2-hour investigation with all 4 cameras running that is 8 hours of video that needs to be watched; with 8 hours of audio that needs to be listened to and evaluated. Then I usually run 2 handheld cameras, and my team member also has a small handheld camera as well. So that’s an additional 6 hours of video. For a two hour investigation that equals 22 hours of butt-busting review. Add in any photos or other documentation that we might have to peruse, and then consider in that those hours of painstaking boredom may yield absolutely no useable results. It’s really no wonder most team members don’t make it past the first year. In truth, it usually takes my team 1 ½ - 2 months to fully sort through all the evidence.

6. Consider Logistics

I recently got an application from a would-be team member that lived in Wilmington and didn’t drive or own a car. Needless to say it was a short application process. I operate down-state, in Dover, yet most of my applicants are upstate. There’s an hour to a 1 ½ hour distance between us. That means if we rap an investigation up at 1am, those investigators still have an hour to 1 ½ hours of travel time in the dark and the dead of night to go home. I dutifully warn every applicant about this, and yet I always get arguments. Know where your group operates and assess, honestly, whether you have transportation to get you there. If not, find a group that operates in your area and apply to them.

7. Psychics: Everyone Knows One

I get more applicants claiming to be psychics than from any other group. My group is more liberal than most groups in that we actually bring on some members who claim to be psychic. However, we still require our members, even the psychic ones, to buy the necessary equipment and pull their weight in evidence review. Someone who proclaims to be psychic may or may not have those abilities. It takes careful testing to determine if a person’s abilities are genuinely telepathic, and I find that most who claim this talent are resistant to testing. Overtime, I’ve realized that I don’t really care. What I need most are people that pull their weight, suspend judgement, consider rational explanations and act like good teammates. What I don’t need are the notoriety seekers, the rock star wannabes, who want to make my group their spring-board to fame.

One further note about psychics, while I listen to what my psychic members tell me, I don't present anything to a client unless I have strong evidence to back up their claims. For example, on a recent investigation I had an audio recording of one of our investigators claiming that she had felt a chill. A few seconds later the other investigator reported a .2 jump on the EMF gauge they were using. And then a few seconds after that the recorder captures an apparent EVP - another voice saying something that neither had heard at the time. Now that's a neat little package of events that I can present to a client.

The Application that Wasn’t

I’ve seen groups that require applicants to jump through incredible hoops to join. One group in particular required members to be at weekly Tuesday night meetings that started at 10pm and ended at 1am or some such nonsense. Others that require elaborate disclosure requirements, meaning that any and all recordings you make on your equipment becomes their property, under pain of death undoubtedly. Still others have elaborate hierarchal positions of power, with each position given its own fancy name. You would be astounded how people will fight over a meaningless title as if their very existence depended on it.

I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that simple is usually better. So I make my applicants fill out an application. This simple procedure usually tells me volumes. It tells me what information they are willing to share and unwilling to share. In the case of the gentleman who couldn’t figure out how to fill out an application, it told me he’d probably be lost with the electronic equipment. Then there was the guy who filled out an application but left me no address, phone number or email. Not only was I confused as to how to get back to him, but I had to wonder, where's the trust?

I very often get these strident email messages that say something like, “hey, I want to join your group. Lot’s of experience. Here’s my number.” I email them back with the link to the application form and I never hear from them again. Case closed. If you can’t fill out a simple application what else will you be unable to do? Again, what I really need in an applicant are people that pull their weight, suspend judgement, consider rational explanations and act like good teammates. You should also have an analytical mind, a tolerance for minutiae and an iron butt.

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