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Hey guys, I'm not quite ready to apply for seasonal jobs, but I plan to start applying by the Summer of 2014. I was just wondering if anyone had any advice, tips, things they wish they knew before getting into it, places or jobs that are good for first timers, or anything else you can think of that would be useful for someone new to know about before applying. Anything you have to say about your experiences or any insights you've picked up along the way will be helpful! Thanks! Definitely looking forward to this.

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1. You will be paid the absolute minimum the law allows. In the vast majority of cases, you will have a room and board deduction taken out of your paycheck. The amount may seem relatively small, but you will be sharing a room with one or two other people, and a bathroom with as many as twenty other people. Prorated, what the concessioners charge for housing works out to about $1000 for a two-bedroom apartment shared by four people. In many cases, you will have no cooking facilities available and will have to eat in the EDR--regardless of what they are serving or the quality thereof. Of course, the above conditions vary from property to property and company to company. The important thing to realize is that you will NOT make any money--you will essentially be "paid in scenery." Many employees net less than $4/hr after deductions for room and board.

2. You will be in a spectacular setting, with an incredible array of things to do in your time off. The keyword here is "time off." You may not get much. The park employers don't guarantee you any work at all, but they reserve the 'right" to work you six or even seven days in a row--and they've managed to evade federal law somehow re paying overtime. The worst part--the part that really sucks--the part that's grossly unfair and abusive--is that you are often forced to work split shifts. By doing so, they get to work you for twelve hours but only pay you for eight. The unpaid break time isn't long enough to do any more than grab a meal or maybe do your laundry, since it's usually a fair distance to the employee housing from the work area.

3. The turnover at these jobs is incredibly high. The companies over-hire at the beginning of the season, with the expectation that staff will melt away as the season wears on. After the Fourth of July, you may find yourself working six-day weeks routinely (again, no overtime pay). The good news is that if you can stick it out, you can move up to management fairly rapidly. In those positions, the conditions are much less abusive, and the pay is decent.

4. Despite the fact that these jobs are in incredible places, the major park concessioners hold annual job fairs in places like Romania and Ukraine. That should tell you something. Young, naive foreign kids are much more tractable, less likely to complain, and ignorant of labor laws. Plus, they often can't quit--they'd have no way to get home. While these employers are ostensibly subject to federal employment regulations, in practice, they're not, and run their little fiefdoms with no real oversight.

All the above said, these jobs can offer you incredible experiences. What makes life working in the national parks heaven or hell is the people you live with (a total crapshoot), your working conditions (your immediate supervisor can make your job enjoyable or utterly miserable), and how abusive company policies are. That's why you need to haunt forums like this one and keep your ear to the ground at all times. The vast majority of those who try seasonal work are shocked and disappointed at how badly employees are treated, housed, and fed. There are a few employers that are glowing exceptions to the above, but because of this, they rarely have any openings!

My advice to you would be to pick a place that you want to experience and then research all the relevant employers VERY thoroughly. Remember, you should have your applications in by January of 2014 to be considered for the summer season. Also, however, if you do want to check out the lifestyle, you can call the HR departments of the major employers after July 4th and see if they have any openings--they always do, as a goodly portion of those employees who have toughed it out so far run screaming after the madness of the holiday weekend. Good luck!

 

Wow! Kevin has a very negative approach to seasonal work.  Those have not been my experiences at all, maybe I have been lucky in job locations.  Don't let that advice scare you off.  Seasonal jobs are the greatest ever!  You can work pretty much anywhere in the US and with a bunch of great people. 

I suggest to narrow down your search based on where you want to go, based on what you like (mountains, ocean, cold, hot, hiking, swimming etc).  Then look at each company in those locations, do you like big corporate companies or a mom and pop feel.  And of course apply and follow up with HR!  Ask questions, how many employees, turnover rate, hrs worked per week, etc.  I work at a place that you only work 5 days per week between 32-40 hrs per week, the food in the EDR is amazing and healthy, turnover is not very high, the return rate each season of employees is over 50%, management is fun and hard working.  Housing can vary as well, there are places with private bathrooms per room and only having 1 roommate.  Some places are not fully staffed by internationals....But I do agree with the previous post about wage, this is going to be about the experiences and places you get to live versus making a ton of money.  I don't want you, Sean to have a negative view of seasonal work as it has been one of the greatest experiences I have had in my life!!!  Good luck!

It seems that whenever I (or anyone else) criticize the park employers, somebody chimes in about how "negative" that post is. The thing is, this is a park-concessioner-supported site, so there's a whole flood of "how awesomes" and not much criticism. Anyone contemplating seasonal work needs to know exactly what they're getting into, as you often have to travel thousands of miles to the job, and if you find out it's not for you, you've wasted a LOT of time and money.

Most employee housing in national parks is not only shared apartments but shared ROOMS within those apartments/dorms. If you like sleeping in the same room with strangers, this might not bother you. Much employee housing is old and outdated, and many dorms have quite a few people sharing only a few bathrooms. This might not be a huge problem, except that it seems that everyone is getting ready for work at the same time.

The conditions the above poster describes are NOT typical. Private bathrooms are VERY rare, having only one roommate is unusual, decent EDR food is (sad to say) unusual, and a return rate over 30%, let alone over 50%, is rare. So the above poster's job is atypical, and as I DID say, a few park employers are considerably better than the rest.

I simply wanted to emphasize that your seasonal job can range anywhere from heaven to hell, and that your only defense against the latter is, as I said, to find out ahead of time as much as you can before you commit. I have considerable experience in this field, having worked for five different companies in five different parks. I've seen young people reduced to tears when they travel to a national park, full of excitement and expectations, and find out that they're working 72-hour weeks (and getting paid for 48 hours, i.e., split shifts), living in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with three other people and sharing a bathroom with seven other people, and in the workplace, subjected to all sorts of bullying and harrassment. The foreign students were always the worst-treated because they couldn't quit or leave. Many workers were fired for trivialities, especially when they wanted to cut staff but not enough people had quit. The "dorms" were often worse than college dorms, with underage drinking, loud music all night, and paper-thin walls to boot. (Many companies helpfully provide "employee pubs" to absorb what's left of their employees' paychecks after they deduct room and board and taxes.)

I reiterate, there ARE companies that treat their employees with dignity and respect and provide good living, working, and eating conditions. These companies, however, are not the norm. One of the largest park concessioners was recently named the third worst company to work for in America. YET, their 20-year contract in Yellowstone was just renewed. This is no doubt because they lowballed their bid--and they cut costs by providing substandard employee housing, food, and working conditions.

Know what you're getting into is what I'm saying. The above poster perhaps should share the name of her employer with us.

Kevin, you make some very good and valid points about seasonal work and it is good to let people know what to look for.  I just wanted to say that there are some really great places to work for and seasonal work can be a great experience.  Yes, one should ask questions and get a feel for the place before traveling thousands of miles to a work place and realizing that it isn't for them.  I just wanted to make a point that there are some really great places out there and not everything is negative.  I have worked in Glacier (while the resort was owned by a family, a very positive experience), Alaska (for a larger company, not the greatest) and now I will be working at Signal Mountain Lodge for the fifth season this summer....by FAR the best out there. 

Well, that explains a lot. Signal Mountain Lodge has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best National Park employers. They don't have to hold job fairs in Albania to recruit staff--a majority of their employees return, and remaining openings are quickly snapped up. Also, a smaller business is likely to treat its employees better than a large, impersonal company that views its staff as a collection of interchangeable (and replaceable) work units.

I should mention, though, that the place where a job is sited has NOTHING to do with the quality or desirability of the job as such. For instance, San Francisco is an awesome place, but if i were trying to find out about a job there, it would be very unhelpful for someone to go on and on about how cool San Francisco is; that would tell me nothing about the JOB.

Quite frankly, I'm annoyed at the tendency of national park concesssioners to play up the surroundings in job recruitment advertising when they aren't the ones providing those surroundings. The Parks belong to the American people, not the park concessioners--so they shouldn't play up the fiction that the surroundings are part of your compensation. I am especially outraged when the fact that the parks are desirable places to live and work is used as an excuse to put employees in substandard housing, feed them substandard food, and pay them even less than the legal minimums. Those who have worked in such conditions know exactly what I mean. I, in fact, have secured a summer position working for a company that does have a good reputation re how it treats its employees. I did have to learn the hard way just how wide the gulf is between employers like yours and many of the national park concessioners. I would rather no one else had to do the same.

That Kevin dude is a negative nancy. 

1. I was not paid the absolute minimum at Lake Powell.  I was paid 8.60 compared to 7.25 at my previous job and you automatically get a raise for your second season.  Yes there was a room and board deduction but it was only 80 bucks a month which I say is pretty cheap.  Yes I shared a room and bathroom but only with one other person (not 20).  There are cooking facilities available to use, but most everyone eats in the EDR because the food is actually really good (and there is a restaurant on site as well as 15 minutes away)  And as far as "not making any money."  That's a load of crap.  I saved over $1800 during my season.  A lot of people saved more than me because they didn't go shopping like I did when we went to town. 

2. Yes it is a spectacular setting (congrats to him for being positive for a split second).  But he then says you may not get much time off which is not true.  Most of us worked 4 days on 3 days off.  That's like a mini vacation every week.  If you want more work time you can change your schedule to a 5 days on 2 days off for most positions.  And I never worked a split shift once.  Some people in the restaurant did, but not all the time.  As far as break time, we were required to take a full hour for lunch.  And the distance to employee housing was a 2 minute drive or 10 minute walk.  Not that far.

3. The turnover rate was not that high where I was.  Yes towards August people were leaving but that was usually their end date anyway or they left early.  Either way we weren't ever super understaffed.  Everyone kept the same hours.

4. The foreign employees were awesome friends and workers. nuff said

The point: Kevin needs to grow up and stop complaining and assuming his experience was the same as almost everywhere else.  I had a blast and can't wait to go back.

He goes on and on in more comments, but I feel my experience was the complete opposite.  I don't know where this guy went but it sounds nothing like mine or any friends experiences.  I think he is just looking for things to complain about but then again I don't really care.  I just know I had a  blast.

the one thing about Kevin was when he  was on here he would bash and try to talk anyone from doing this type of work and would get even madder when you didn't agree with him  so they finally ban him from here because of his actions my opinion was he did this one time and thought it was like this everywhere and he wouldnt change his mind about anything it was his way or no way at all

Hi Sean.  I think there is usable advice in all the comments you've received thus far.  This will be my fifth year doing seasonal works in the Parks, so I obviously enjoy it.  Yellowstone is one of the better places to start.  When picking seasonal work it's like real estate ... location, location, location.  Nearly all the jobs are mundane (simple and not a lot of fun) so pick your location first and then start searching for interesting jobs. I agree with the comment about don't expect to make a lot (or any) money.  Generally seasonal work is break even UNLESS you are earning tips .... in which you could make a few hundred (or a thousand or more) dollars above your costs.  The one year I ate in an EDR it was fantastic ... but you never know.  I prefer buying my own food and cooking it myself.  To really explore a location it is really nice having your own car.  If you plan on working seasonally for a while I suggest buying a decent SLR Camera with a decent zoom lens so you can capture all those great memories as you go along.  Good luck, have fun and hopefully we'll cross paths :)   aggie71 aka Ranger Rich 

Greetings Sean,

I would suggest applying for summer jobs this month and next month to ensure you are able to  get a position at a location you can be enthusiastic about. I applied in September and have my job set up to be an ATV guide working for Denali ATV in Healy, Alaska which is just north of Denali National Park. Where are you thinking about working next summer? Please let us all know how it goes ok? Have a great week and an even better conclusion to your 2013!

Sincerely,

Leo

I would apply early- like in January. Be prepared for long hours and dealing with crowds. If you work for Xanterra, you won't make that much money and get a lot of money taken out for room and board. Expect bad food in the edr so if you can, keep snacks in your room. Don't spend all your paycheck on drinks at the employee pub. Aside from those negative things, have fun! You'll meet people from all over the world and have tons of fun. On your days off, get out and explore. Don't stay in your room. :)

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