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The Employee Journey -- pt.2 Deciding where to apply

I’m trying to blog the seasonal employee journey, based on my history in Alaska. Previously I talked about the slowing rate of tourism in 2009. But don’t worry, there will still be seasonal jobs out there for you to enjoy. Once you have made the decision to seek a seasonal adventure, you have to decide where to apply. This is an immensely important decision and can mean the difference between you having the summer of your life, or the summer of your discontent.

Before you start looking at places I recommend looking at yourself in the mirror and figuring out what you want. It is easy to just say I want to go to Alaska or Yellowstone, because let’s face it, the “idea” of those places sounds pretty good. But we all have had bad experiences in great places. I can think of a certain family vacation to Disney World myself. That’s right, a bad experience in an amazing place. It isn’t the place you go; it is your interaction with that place that matters. Are you looking to continue as is but just in a new environment, or do you want a total life makeover? Do you need civilization or solitary? How important is money to your life right now, or is it outweighed by experiences and friendship? Is this a family decision? Are friends coming along for the ride? First you have to know what you are looking for, and then you decide where to look.

The reason it is so important to decide what you are looking for, is because there are so many types of positions out there in any given location. The tourism industry is so diverse that you can find something for whatever you are looking for. At first blush, you might think Alaska is out for you because you are looking to work with a group of friends and not leave the comfort of civilization. Or Yellowstone is now too commercial for a die-hard naturalist who wants to leave no footprint when they are done. That might have been the case 15 years ago, but now you can find what you want in many different places. You just need to know where to look.

Once you know what you are looking for, you can hit the web to find it. Since this is a blog for MyCoolworks, obviously I am going to suggest checking out first. You can search for a job by location or position. I would suggest picking a state or location you are interested in, then going through the opportunities to find ones that meet your personal goals. The ads on coolworks are going to be short and include basic information.

Make sure you take the next step and venture on to MyCoolworks for some first-hand accounts. Ask the members if they have worked at the place you are interested in. I would strongly suggest trying to find a person who actually worked at a given location as opposed to a person who knew a person who worked there. Second hand stories are usually pretty unreliable in my experience. It seems like people are always interested in telling their best memories or their worst memories. Do a little digging. Every place will have good points and bad points. If you can find a person who worked where you want to work, ask them about every day things. Don’t forget, you are looking for a job. Ask about working conditions, management styles, and safety. Ask if the company was honest about things during the interview process or if they made a bunch of claims that were not true. Ask what the there was to do during free time. The facts are that we will spend more nights after work doing nothing than we will hiking or fishing or whatever you want to do, so the living conditions on a normal day/night are just as important as the once in your lifetime opportunities. Ask about consistency of hours, possibility for advancement during the season, and if they would go back there.

After you have scoured the coolworks community, send your prospective employer through a Google search and see what pages come up. Look at their home page. I would suggest trying to find some comments from their guests. Odds are that if their customers walk away very happy, the employees are relatively happy as well. Let’s face it, who wants to work somewhere that makes people upset more often than not. If you see nothing but guest complaints, probably wise to steer clear and look elsewhere.

Try to personally contact someone from the property. I cannot stress this enough. At the Mt McKinley Princess Lodge, we are closed 7 months a year, but we are still at the property. My phone number is listed on the lodge website so that people can call me even when we are closed to ask questions and get answers. If you cannot get a phone or e-mail response from a place, move on. They may be a great company, but with jobs in higher demand, you don’t have a month to wait from them to get back to work while others are filling all the available jobs. Talking with a prospective employer also gives you a leg up in the hiring process. Just as you can tell a lot about someone by talking with them and asking them questions, the employer will remember you. When I start looking at my pile of applications, I’m going to contact the person I spoke with on the phone first, the person who I’ve e-mailed with second and the piece of paper applicant third. Just the way I roll.

Wow, this has gotten rather long. These are just some basic tips that I would suggest you follow as you start your seasonal job search. Whether it is your first seasonal job or your 12th, I really believe these tips will work and help you to find your perfect seasonal employer. I’d love to see some comments from people on other tips they may have come up with over the years to add to my own. Next time I will talk about what you can do as an applicant to get hired. Hopefully I can help you overcome less than perfect work dates, a negative work experience from your past or over-the-phone interview stage fright, amongst other things.

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Comment by Mike Thomason on December 17, 2008 at 7:35am
Rick, thank you for the blog. It is apparent that you put a lot of thought into you comments. The advice is valuable. It definitely is a help to me.
Comment by akscootr on December 15, 2008 at 10:05pm
"focus on the reason (at least for myself) I chose to work a seasonal job: being in nature, clean air, clean water to swim in, meeting like-minded people". Amen!! It is the primary reason I am here in Alaska.
I just had to disagree with the statement dishwashers work harder than others because I find the job a cakewalk to do and is disparaging of others' work. As I said earlier, if you want to make a server's income, apply for the job. There is good reason they make the $$$
Comment by AlaskaFound on December 15, 2008 at 11:33am
It also depends on how you work as a dishwasher, For example last summer several guys started out washing dishes and ended up on the line, in fact one Heck of a worker went from overnight dishes to running the kitchen on the overnights. Others were compensated well for their effort when deemed necessary. But if you come to work late, complain the whole time, and just generally do not do the job you signed up for, then yes you will make less money, and you wont move up the chain very fast.
Comment by Jim on December 15, 2008 at 7:33am
Yes askcootr, the company should pay more to the dishwasher.

I agree, dealing directly with the public can be hugely difficult. I've done it seasonally for the past 4 years selling tickets at a tour desk. I was a salesman as you mentioned, but I still got the lousy minimum wage whether I sold $500 in tours or $3000 for the day to the hordes of mostly fun but sometimes very demanding and crabby people. Tip jars are forbidden. The bottom line is, the system is not fair, so we just put up with it. Do the job and then focus on the reason (at least for myself) I chose to work a seasonal job: being in nature, clean air, clean water to swim in, meeting like-minded people.
Comment by reggiecohen on December 14, 2008 at 10:05pm
i add another thing to it i work as an opening dishwasher and an closing dishwasher i think if u are a closing dishwasher u have everything pile up on u at once and it will take up to 2 hrs to closed and if your by yourself its a little harder cause one the cooks wont even help u to get done
Comment by akscootr on December 14, 2008 at 10:01pm
I've both washed dishes and waited tables, and I find waiting tables a lot harder and far more stressful. Having to deal with customers who are often very demanding is far more difficult than washing dishes, not to mention all of the other difficulties of the job. Failing to please a customer, even unreasonable ones, can cost the server his job because the "customer is always right".
Look at a waiter as a salesperson; The more you sell the more you make. If you want to make the earnings of a server, apply for the job. I feel that if you want more money, apply for the job that pays well instead of expecting the server to tip out everyone.... servers in many places make far less than minimum wage. The owner should pay the other staff...
Comment by Jim on December 14, 2008 at 9:38pm
Alaska found wrote: "Unfortunately that's how our work world exists"...

Yes it is unfortunate. Especially if not all folks have their sights set on moving up to a wait staff position or else aren't capable of doing so. They are resigned to a life of pathetically low pay yet have a job that's way more demanding than those waiting tables. All I am saying is, why not pay a dishwasher a slightly higher, humane wage like $9.00 an hour at least? Which is still pathetic, but better than minimum wage. Would that break the bank, as they say? I don't think so. It would give people a little more dignity not to mention the ability to survive from paycheck to paycheck.
Comment by AlaskaFound on December 14, 2008 at 8:58pm
Unfortunately that's how our work world exists. If you didn't have to start at the bottom, would anybody up and volunteer for that Job? Every great cook/chef I have ever met started in the dish pit. If you are serious about a career in the culinary field you have to be willing to except that.
Comment by reggiecohen on December 14, 2008 at 8:46pm
i wash dishes at princess and at aramark u work your but off and dont get any respect at all no tips from the wait staff expecially when they in a hurry i thinik the dishwashers should get more because one theyre at the bottom of the barrel and they work harder then anyone else
Comment by Jim on December 14, 2008 at 7:55pm
Alaska found wrote: "Granted washing dishes aint the grandest of job's, but it is vital to a successful restaurant."

So why not remove this inequity and the problems it always causes (people walking from a job) by paying a fair wage? Dishwashers work just as hard, probably harder in most cases, as wait staff.

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