A prospector is someone who explores areas looking for minerals or other materials of value in the Earth. Prospectors can work independently, or may be employed by organizations such as mining companies. The prospector is the first person on the ground, and the person who determines whether or not a site should be more aggressively explored. Prospectors can work all over the world looking for materials like oil, coal, gold, diamonds, and scores of other minerals and metals which have commercial uses.
Prospectors need several different skill sets. Modern prospectors are often geologists, because a knowledge of geology is critical for prospecting work, as is an understanding of how indicator minerals work. Indicator minerals are minerals which are often present on or around deposits of minerals and ores of commercial value, and learning to identify them is important. While some indicator minerals are well known, when prospectors and mining companies identify new indicators, they often keep them under wraps so that they have an advantage on the competition.
A prospector must also be physically fit, willing to travel, and able to work long days. This work requires physically going to the site of interest, staking claims and filing associated paperwork, and collecting samples. Modern prospectors often start their work in the air, using a plane or helicopter to survey, but they will have to hit the ground eventually. Since claims can be vast, this can require days or weeks in relatively remote areas.
Many prospectors work with advanced technology, including equipment used to assay samples and computer programs which are designed to assist with prospecting tasks. As a result, they need to feel comfortable with computers and the programs they utilize, and in some cases they may need to be able to devise their own code for specialized projects. While a prospector can contract this work to another person, an intimate knowledge of geology and the site being explored is needed, and often the prospector is the most suitable person to do the work.
In the office, prospectors identify new potential sites of interest, working carefully to avoid alerting other prospectors and companies to the fact that they are interested in a site which has not yet been explored. Prospecting can in fact be quite cloak and dagger in some areas of the world; a prospector can't do something like simply driving through an unexplored area because this may alert other people to interest in potentially valuable deposits of ore and minerals.