Living & Working in Great Places
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Hey everyone! I am currently working at a job I hate so I am planning on jumping into seasonal work for the summer 2014 season. I spent seven years self employed with lots of time to travel and that fell apart about a year and a half ago so I took a job that keeps me in one place. It is not a lifestyle or a job I enjoy. I've been lurking on CoolWorks for years hemming and hawwing about trying out seasonal work and I've finally decided to do it. I just turned 48 two months ago, I have savings and no debt so now is good a time as any!
I have my sights set on Yellowstone for my first season and have applied to Xanterra already, but I have a few questions about how this all works in terms of looking for your next seasonal position. From reading the forum it seems that people generally apply at several places, wait for the offers to come in and then pick one. How many places do you apply for any one season and how much time do they usually allow you to wait before making a decision once they've made you an offer? If you turn down an offer, do they hold it against you for other seasons? Or is it just expected that everyone does that? I am thinking about applying for some of the other concessionaires at Yellowstone as well such as YPSS and DNC and maybe other locations as well, such as Lake Powell or Grand Tetons.
I know most of the hiring kicks off in earnest in January. If I apply for positions now with various companies that have already started posting postions, how early in January would you make a phone call to HR?
Sorry for so many questions on my first post! :)
I would suggest applying for more than one job. When it comes to seasonal work, companies usually re-hire the same employees from the previous season. There may be a lot of openings but they may not actually be available if that previous employee decides to return to that same position. Just apply for what you really want and follow up with HR. I bugged the hiring manager of the department I worked in because I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity.
I had applied with Xanterra for a job I really wanted and then I applied at GTLC. Good thing I applied at GTLC because I received an e-mail from Xanterra a few weeks after applying, stating that they had already filled the position. I was offered the job at GTLC at the end of the phone interview and I believe that was in mid to late January and I had applied in late December. It will probably be a few weeks before you hear anything depending on when you apply.
Seasonal work is great! Just make sure you apply for something that you are really interested in doing. I got to the Tetons in April and love it so much here that I decided to stay with the company and work here for the winter too.
If you are offered a job and you can't take it make sure you notify them that you will not be able to work for them. They won't hold it against you if you let them know but if you don't say anything they will hold it against you.
Thanks Coly! Good to know. I will definitely make sure I follow-up with anyplace that makes an offer one way or the other. Here's hoping I actually get multiple offers :)
Thanks for responding. I will be following your advise and applying for other positions for sure! I'm kind of amazed at how available and open to answering questions these seasonal HR departments are. It's so different from my corporate experience.
First of all, you should know that in ranking of desirability of the various Yellowstone-area companies to work for: 1. Signal Mountain 2. GTLC 3. Yellowstone Service Stations 4. DNC 47,539. Xanterra. In other words, you would be better off spending the summer in a North Korean prison camp than working for Xanterra: the food's better and you'll be better treated. I worked for DNC in Yellowstone last summer, and the experience wasn't nearly as horrid as I thought it would be. Now to go on to your general questions: it is possible to do seasonal work full-time, but you have to be prepared for about four total months of unemployment during the shoulder seasons. Fortunately, if you put all your ducks in a row, you can get UI payments. I've found that turning down a given position doesn't hurt you at all in applying for another one, BUT--big BUT--even if you've indicated that you are amenable to several different positions, refusing the first one you're offered usually results in the total destruction of your application, and you have to start over--which puts you at the back of the queue, essentially killing your chances for anything but possibly post-4th-of-July fill-in work (of which there is always plenty, though, as employees melt away). Definitely apply to multiple companies. I've found that you usually have at least two weeks to accept or turn down a position, so if you get an offer for a job that wouldn't have been your first choice, use that period to verify the status of all your other applications. Don't be afraid to mention that you have an existing offer somewhere else ("but I would much rather work for your fine company"). RULE NUMBER ONE: Don't assume that your application is being considered by anyone. CALL AND BOTHER THEM. HR employees, in any organization but especially Park concessionaires, aren't the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. Stuff gets lost; messages don't get passed on; people quit. Don't assume that your application is being handled correctly. BUG THEM.
Insofar as your work and living conditions go, you will be living with teenagers. You had better be OK with that. It'll be hard to get enough sleep as you'll essentially be living in a college dorm (though sheer exhaustion will help with that eventually). The food will range from one step above cat food (Xanterra) to excellent (DNC, Signal). Your work will be hard--very hard at times--and your hours irregular. If you have two days off, you basically need the first one to recover and then you can go sightseeing the second. Therefore, don't take any job where you'll be working six days a week. Somehow, Wyoming allows employers to pervert federal wage laws so that you don't earn overtime on that sixth day, even if you exceed 40 hrs/wk by doing so. And finally: do NOT do NOT do NOT take a job with split shifts. Split shifts essentially force you to work twelve hours but only get paid for eight. In general, you want to avoid the trap of living and working in fabulous Yellowstone but having so little real time off (the time between split shifts is only good for doing your laundry or taking a nap) that you might as well be living and working in downtown Indianapolis for all the difference it makes. Oh yes: some companies have separate older-persons housing. Definitely choose this option unless you want to relive your college dorm days, but without the booze and drugs (no national park concessionaire employee can afford those things).
The good news is that Yellowstone is indeed a fabulous place to be, so much so that being worked half to death for peanuts and living in a large shack with a bunch of strangers can actually be worth it. I recommend spending at least one summer doing this, if for no other reason than you can decide once and for all if it's worth doing on an ongoing basis or if you hate it.
Thanks Joe! This is extremely useful info. I appreciate it. I really hope I can get into an old folks dorm lol
Your final remark is kind of exactly what I'm doing. I've been thinking about this for years and never made a move to do it usually because of some financial reason like actually needing money. Hah! But right now, I'm in the position of not having any debt or housing costs so I might as well do it and see if it is just something I just need to get out of my system or something I'd like to spend several seasons doing.
Hi Jennifer! If you have a college degree, I always like to put a plug in for The Park Service :) The pay is better, the housing is usually better and the management is almost always better. You also accrue VACATION from day one (but that's the only "benefit" that's included). Seasonal Ranger jobs go for 6 months at a time, but you are allowed to work different parks back-to-back so it is possible to remain employed year round. Besides all that you get to wear a really funny looking flat hat and a uniform.....Wow. I've been a Ranger for 3 years now and really enjoy it. If this interests you just go to USAJOBS.GOV and checkout what's available. My assignment in Denali, Alaska was amazing and tons of fun last summer. Ranger Rich
I agree, but the ratio of applicants to those accepted for the entry-level GS-3 to GS-5 positions is 14-1. For the more popular parks, it's more like 60-1. If hired, you have to be prepared to work at someplace like Cannonball Swamp National Monument for the first couple of years at least. Then, whether you get a transfer or promotion will depend on whom you kiss, and also where--not merit or anything like that. It's a great job if you get in, though. Because it's federal, you can't get fired, even if you kill your supervisor with an ax. And yes, you can ricochet around from winter to summer--many parks are only fully staffed certain times of the year. Note, though, that you won't be able to be a ranger with just a college degree--they want your degree to be in something directly related to the task, like Forest Management or Biology or something like that. The most commonly available position is "Visitor Services Associate" (or something like that), a GS-3 position that typically pays $12-14/hr. You're one of those people who mans ticket booths or the counter at the visitor center. A little boring, but worth it.
If you apply, be prepared to never hear from anybody for months. You do it online, so you never interact with a human, and they don't follow up on your app. If you don't hear from them, you'll never know why. But it's the government--what else can you expect. Worth a try if you want to waste a couple of hours (the app takes that long). The good news is, your app is saved online so you only have to fill out about half of all subsequent apps.
Seemed a little negative Joe ... but a lot of what you say is true. I guess I was lucky because my first assignments have been Mesa Verde and Denali (pretty high profile places compared to some backwater National Monument). I also "won the lotto" in that over 90 applied for my first position and they hired 3. So yes, it's hard getting in, but not necessarily impossible. As for background, they do prefer related experience and degrees .... but I graduated an Aerospace Engineer so again, it's possible.
Does the GS-3 really require a degree? None of the seasonal Visitor Use Assistant positions I've seen indicate that it is required. I thought a degree wasn't required until you reach GS-5??
I would apply for some of those positions, but my cash handling experience is more than 20 years ago and I can't remember exact dates. They screen out for cash handling. Do you think guesttimating old hire dates would be okay on the applications?
Well, it isn't usually a stated requirement (though sometimes, it is), but as a practical matter, you won't stand a chance without one (for GS-3). I've been told as much by hiring managers at Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rainier (when I finally got tired of sending my applications into a black hole and called them to ask what the %^%$# was going on). At those times, I didn't have my degree yet, and I was applying for positions in popular places, so my chances were essentially nil even though I was technically qualified for GS-3. Since they can cherry-pick, they'll take the college graduates first--keep in mind that depending on the park and the job, they only hire 1%-5% of all applicants. However, as I said earlier, apply to Desolate Wasteland National Pit rather than Yosemite or Yellowstone and your odds will go up. The NPS does hire non-college-grads to work in the more isolated and less glamorous places.
As far as specifics of your work experience go, don't sweat that. Remember, the people that will be screening your application are federal employees, and checking references is WORK. Just estimate the dates of your past work. One thing is true about the federal hiring process--it is at least SUPPOSED TO BE objective. If you have a skill, you have a skill. That's why the application for even Fourth Assistant Septic Tank Cleaner contains so many questions.
And of course, if you think your qualifications aren't sufficient--lie. (As long as your "references" are stale enough to be uncheckable.) Lest you think this is unethical, keep in mind that your application will be looked at by a drone for perhaps thirty seconds and then the decision to contact you or toss you will be made. It's a very chaotic and unreliable process; as a result, like any large organization, they hire idiots and reject good people all the time. If, for instance, you have a strong work ethic, there's no real way to indicate that on an application, but that actually counts for more than a college degree. But because gummint HR people (two strikes right there) want to be able to defend their hiring decisions, they want something objective they can point to ("Look! She has a college degree!") rather than relying on a subjective evaluation ("She seems like she would be a good worker"). I would definitely, therefore, follow up my applications with personal contact. Find the HR people and bother the crap out of them. It's the only way you'll get noticed, buried in that pile of applications. Convince your prospective employers that even though you may not have a college degree, you're a good employment prospect.
As a former federal employee, a degree is desirable. However it is possible to be hired at a GS 04/05. If you are the wife of a veteran and he is dead, you may claim his benefits as long as you were married to him at his death. Being veteran will elevate your application. Be sure to "parrot" what they have outlined as skills wanted in your resume. Do not over experience yourself or you will be noted as ineligible.
As to the other companies.... Glacier and Grand Tetons do have dorms set aside for the older and bolder. Wherever you choose to go, go and enjoy yourself. Make new friends and enjoy your life.
Once the season s coming to a close, there will be other seasonal jobs, usually in the ski resorts. Housekeeping will be the easiest to get, followed by retail and so forth. If you want further info, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to answer your questions.