Young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) are not a static, homogenous group. For most, being NEET is a temporary state as they move between different forms of participation and non-participation. This paper explores how the complexities of defining NEET, the re-structuring of the careers service and the nature of post-16 provision shape the way young people are identified, accessed and participate in ethnographies. Data drawn from a study exploring the experiences of being NEET are used to investigate the complexities involved when doing ethnography with 'hard-to-reach' young people. Challenges include gaining and maintaining access; conducting multiple site ethnography; and taking account of the socio-political context. Working with NEET young people across multiple sites and using various data collection techniques compound the issue of consent. This paper reveals how ethics, power and consent were experienced by the ethnographer and the young people. There is a need to understand how ethnographies are done in order to clarify how specific issues can be avoided and overcome.