Thinking about working at a National Park this summer season? You’ve come to the right place. During the past month I’ve applied to several and been interviewed for three different locations, all of which decided to hire me. I’m no expert, but I’m going to share what I learned from the experience here for all of the other people out there who are interested in working at one of America’s treasures.
What It Is and Isn’t
First of all, there are at least two distinct ways to work at a National Park. Several people I’ve talked to since I took the job at the Badlands assume that I’m working for the government, but I’m not. I’m working for Forever Resorts, which is a multinational company which has a contract with the U.S. Government to run the concierge part of Badlands National Park – which includes things like lodging, restaurants, and gift shops. Xanterra, Delaware North Companies, and Aramark are similar companies, they have contracts to work at Yellowstone, Shenandoah, and Lake Powell, but they are corporations, not the government.
If you’re looking to actually work in the park like as trail maintenance, a park guide, or fire crew, you’ll need to go to the official https://my.usajobs.gov/ site and look up jobs with the actual National Park Service, but I’ll be writing more about that at a later date.
Back to the concierge jobs, the positions offered from these kinds of companies at these locations are usually not skilled in nature and don’t require a college degree for the most part, they’re things like housekeeping, servers, and cashiers. They do hire for management positions, and there are a few kinds of jobs like cooks and bookkeeping that require some schooling or specialized experience, but the majority of them are entry level and pay an entry level kind of pay.
The reason why these opportunities exist at the big National Parks, especially out West, is because they tend to be in remote locations where there isn’t a large enough local work force to meet the needs. So they reach out to college students from around the country and transients like RVers to come in and work for them during the busy summer months.
Where and When To Find Them
I used www.CoolWorks.com, a free website to find these opportunities, but if you’re subscribed to the Workcampers Network site or follow other work camping forums or websites you can likely find them there too. To find them at Cool Works, click on the “Jobs by Category” link near the top of the page. From there, click on “Jobs with RV Spaces” to find the RVing friendly ones. Or you can click here where I’ve done all the work for you.
Most often, the opportunities available are temporary positions but places farther south like Lake Powell are open all year round and their temporary workers have a longer season. While the jobs often start in April and May, it’s a good idea to not follow my example and apply this late. Start filling out applications in January or even December, particularly if you only want to do a very specific kind of job. The earlier you apply, the wider range of job options will be available – especially if you’re a solo RVer like me, since most companies want to have two workers per RV site to get the most for the space.
If you aren’t strictly set on a National Park, that link I gave will list other temporary jobs with RV spots too, like ranches and other tourist attractions which are worth a look. The very first application I sent out for the summer season was to a guest ranch located in the mountains of North Carolina and sounded like it would be great fun. The hiring manager and I got on well and he was all set to hire me, but it turned out he needed someone starting the third week of March, and I wasn’t going to be able to swing that. The point is though, there are a lot of summer job opportunities out there for RVers, so while you might like the idea of a National Park, keep an eye out for other things as well.
Wages and Benefits
This is important, so listen up. All of the National Park jobs I found with third party companies are at or near minimum wage, no matter which company you go with, and since they’re at national parks they can work you up to 46 hours without paying overtime. I interviewed with Aramark at Lake Powell (at Bullfrog Marina, on the north end of the lake), Delaware North at Yellowstone (the branch of Delaware North was actually called Yellowstone General Stores, or YGS), and Forever Resorts (called Cedar Pass Lodge) at the Badlands. At all three locations, I was interviewing for a cashier or general retail job, which I have over five years of experience in.
Aramark was going to pay me the most at $8.60 an hour, Delaware North was $8.00 and hour, and Forever Resorts was $7.25 an hour. If you’ve been following IO for a while, you’ll know then that all three places pay worse than what I got working my last two retail jobs at Best Buy ($9.50/hr) and Lowe’s ($8.88/hr). I’ve already stated that Lowe’s was not a living wage for me, so how the heck does making less per hour at one of these three locations equate to a living wage? And why in the world when money is such an issue would I pick the one that pays the absolute worst per hour? You have to look at the whole picture. By looking at each company’s website and Cool Work’s profile, speaking to the interviewer, and digging around on Goolge Maps I got some other important information:
Lake Powell: $8.60 per hour, RV site $150 per month w/ utilities, employee meals $3.50-$5.50 per meal, laundry is coin operated, Utah is an income tax state, job is 2,124 mi away from Hardeeville
Yellowstone: $8.00 per hour, RV site $60.62 per week w/ utilities, employee meals $60 a week, laundry is coin operated, Wyoming has no state income tax, job is 2,301 mi away
Badlands: $7.25 per hour, RV site $60 per month w/ utilities, employee meals $35 a week, laundry is free, South Dakota has no state income tax, job is 1,691mi away
Now that you have that information, starting to see what I’m getting at? Lets standardize those results and do some math.
$8.60 per hour x 160 hours per month = $1,376, times 0.70 to account for 30% taken out for taxes = $963.20 earned per month. It’s all downhill from here: minus $150 per rent, $200 for food ($3.50 x 14 meals a week = $49, that would be $196 for the month if I did the absolute cheapest meals two meals a day, but at $200 per month I can go to town and buy my own food to cook and have enough for breakfast too, so at this location it doesn’t make sense to enroll in the meal plan – an option I have living in my own house vs. the on-site dorms), and $24 for laundry = $589.20
$8.00 x 160 = $1,280 x 0.75 (less taken out for taxes) = $960 – $255 (monthly rent), – $200 (again the meal plan doesn’t save me money, although I’ve now heard from people who’ve stayed at Yellowstone who say the meal plan actually is the cheapest way to go since the grocery stores around the Yellowstone area charge outrageous prices, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here), – $24 (laundry) = $481
$7.25 x 160 = $1,160 x 0.75 = $870 – $60 (monthly rent), – $147 (oh look, this meal plan actually saves me over $50 per month) = $663
Now it becomes clear that the Badlands is financially speaking the best deal even though it’s significantly less per hour, although Lake Powell wasn’t far behind. When you consider that it’s over 400 miles closer to where I am than the next closest job (Utah) it becomes an even better deal, because that’s a good 27 gallons of gas ($92.07 at today’s price in Georgia).
The moral of the story is with any temporary job you’re going to take as a RVer, you need to keep the other variables in mind too, because site cost, utilities, and gas to get to the gig also play an important part in the bottom line.
A lot of potential full-timers are afraid to get on the road because they’re afraid of not being able to earn enough money to support themselves, but if you have a good grasp on what your monthly expenses look like and are diligent about finding all the important information about any work camping gig you are thinking of taking, it’s not hard to do the math for yourself and get an estimate on if the job is worth it.
For instance, at Yellowstone there were employee RV sites that were only $32 a week instead of over $60 (although they didn’t include electric), and at that price Yellowstone would have been a much better job contender. But by the time I applied, there wasn’t room anymore at the cheaper campground (apply early for Yellowstone!). If I hadn’t asked the lady who interviewed me, I would have seen the $32-$70 per week price of RV sites listed on Cool Works and not really known how much I would have been paying for my site.
Of course, that $663 for the Badlands isn’t my bottom line, I have several other monthly expenses, but those won’t change between the three sites so they weren’t important for the calculations. I anticipate that I’ll save a maximum of $200 per month working at the Badlands (possibly more like $150), and if I’d been working at Yellowstone I probably would have only been breaking even on the deal. Compare that to the $700 a month I was saving working at Amazon ($11.00 an hour, spending $0 for site and utilities a month) and one can see why so many people do it despite the uninspiring locations and hard repetitive work. Which brings me to my next point.
While all three of these locations might look depressing from a money standpoint, you didn’t become an RVer (or think about becoming one) because you wanted to be rich. You did because you wanted to get out and see America, and that’s the real benefit here. Every location I interviewed for included free admittance to the park, so while you won’t be rolling in the dough, you should be earning enough to at least break even if you’re careful with your money (if you’re a couple and able to split the RV site cost between two workers it’s a better deal), and on your days off you’ll be right next to an awesome place that you can play in for free. And really, if given the choice I wouldn’t want to work more than 40 hours at these kind of jobs, because not only do you not get overtime, it cuts into exploring time.
The Application Process
Applications for Yellowstone and the Badlands were both an online form that was relatively straight forward to figure out. Note though, that some of them asked if you were traveling in a RV and some did not, so as you’re filling the form out, make a note to yourself to tell the interviewer you are in a RV if it doesn’t go down on the application, so that you get the right accommodations.
Aramark was a little trickier. The Apply Now button from Cool Works takes you to Aramark’s parent job website, which covers all of the National Parks they are at as well as all their other jobs, and there are a lot of them. If you instead go to the Learn More button it takes you to http://www.aramarkparksanddestinations.com/join-us/lake-powell-resorts–marinas-az-ut/utah-lake-powell-bullfrog-marina.aspx from which you can click on View Job Postings at the bottom and it’ll take you specifically to Lake Powell jobs. You’ll notice that the location given isn’t Lake Powell, but Bullfrog, UT, the closest city. All of the Aramark park jobs are listed like that, so if you’re wading through the whole list, you’ll probably need to pull up a map program to figure out where exactly they are.
So for Aramark, instead of applying to the location generically, you’re applying to one specific job at that location. That might seem like a pain, but on the plus side the start and end dates are listed right there for each job so it’s easier to pinpoint something that fits with your time range. In the application for that specific job though, it’ll also ask if you’re interested in other openings or even parks, and if you click that box then you don’t need to worry as much about filling out an application for every single job you want to be considered for.
I don’t think any of these three locations asked for a resume on top of the application, probably because the applications were in depth enough to cover all of the information that would usually go on a resume (job history, skills, education) but other locations I applied for did, so it doesn’t hurt to have one made up. Focus the resume (or if you’re just doing an application, list all of the skills on) things that are directly related to the job you want.
Since I was applying for retail jobs, I focused on my retail experience and got really specific about what I did at my previous retail jobs. Read through the description of what the work duties entail for the job you’re looking at, and make sure to hit on every single point in your application and/or resume. I’m a big believer on tailoring a unique resume for every single job applied to.
The Interview Process
It took 10 days for Aramark to get back to me after I submitted the application, Forever Resorts was 8 days. Delaware North was just 4, because I’d e-mailed HR before I submitted my application to make sure they still had spots for solo RVers first, knowing that Yellowstone fills up fast. I heard back from the contact two days after submitting my e-mail, she said yes there was room, and to e-mail her once I had my application in so she could fish it out of the pile to look at it. I filled out my application that day and replied saying it was in. Two days after that I had my interview request.
All three phone interviews were eerily similar despite being three different companies. Aramark was the only one to ask me what I knew about their company (it’s always a good thing to have the “About Us” blurb up on your computer for whatever company you’re phone interviewing for). Other than that, it was a lot of “Why do you feel you’d be a good fit for this position”, “Why do you want to work for us”, “How have you handled an angry customer in the past”, “What would you do if you saw a co-worker doing something unsafe/against company policy”, “What was one mistake you made at a past job, and what did you do about it”.
The questions lasted maybe 10 minutes, and then there was usually 5 to 10 minutes asking you if you had any questions (make sure you let them know that you need a RV site, ask about utilities and site cost, laundry, WiFi availability and reliability, how far the RV site will be from the job, how many hours you’ll work per week, what the uniform looks like and will it be provided, etc.) and telling you a little bit more about the job in detail. In all three instances, I received the offer at the end of the phone interview, along with the wage for those ones that didn’t have the wage right in the job description. All three places were good about giving me a couple days to weigh my options before replying.
After that, it was just a matter of making a decision. I made sure to contact Lake Powell and Yellowstone afterward too even though I didn’t choose them and give them a polite no and let them know that I might be interested next year.
And there you have it. If you have worked at a National Park in the past, please feel free to write about what it was like in the comments below. If you’re looking to work at a National Park, good luck in your job search and let us all know how it goes!
For part 2, click here.
Image courtesy of Adam Baker
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