Working at National Parks for RVers (Part 2)

working-at-national-parks-for-rvers2In part 1, we discussed working for concierge companies at a National Park, now it’s time to talk about working for the actual National Park Service. If you’re wanting to work for the actual government, being a member of Workampers Network or those other RV sites aren’t going to help. You’ll need to pop on over to the official site to find job listings. It can be a confusing website to navigate, so here’s the best way to search for specific NPS jobs since that website is designed to find all government jobs.

Finding Jobs

Near the top of the site is a search bar, and underneath it is an ‘Advanced Search’ option. Click on that. Scroll down until you see the header ‘Agency Search’, and click on ‘Department of the Interior’. In the next box down where it asks you to refine your search, scroll down until you see ‘National Park Service’, then hit the ‘Add ‘button to the right of that to add it to your search.

There are a few more options below that to refine the search. If you’re an RVer looking for seasonal work, you’ll want to hit the ‘Temporary’ check box. The government defines Temporary positions as ones lasting one year or less, but they often have ones that are 6 months or so. Term positions are one to two years. If you’re looking for full-time or part-time hours, you can also hit a check box for that. You can also narrow things down by state, but as a RVer it’s fun to look all over the U.S.

Hit the ‘Search’ button at the bottom, and it’ll pull up your results.

What it Is and Isn’t

For the NPS you’ll see some maintenance type jobs, general labor, and also park guides and rangers, fire control, and research type jobs, landscaping, even things like life guards. All of the generic housekeeping, retail, food work etc. jobs at the various lodges, restaurants, and gift shops at the National Parks are actually not a part of the NPS but run by concierge companies who are on contract with the government to handle these amenities, which is what I talked about in the last article.

The job description language will be very dry, compared to what you’re use to seeing with the concierge jobs. There will be no “Come work hard and have fun in the Smoky Mountains!” or anything like that. There is often a lot of technical jargon, and you might have to read through them more than once to figure out what exactly the job is for and what the requirements are.

One other note, from what I can gather competition is fierce for these jobs. There are a lot less of them around than the concierge jobs, and often only 1 position becomes open at a time versus the mass hiring than places like Xanterra and Aramark do. I applied to just as many of these as the concierge jobs and didn’t make it past the first cut for a single one, even on ones I was overqualified for, the reason given was because there where others higher qualified than me.

Where and When To Find Them

These jobs will give you a town name more often than a park name when you’re looking at them. For instance, the NPS currently has an open announcement at Moose, WY for Fire Dispatchers. You might think that this isn’t a park job since it’s listing a town, but if you do a map search for Moose, WY you’ll see that it’s smack dab in the middle of the Grand Tetons. Moose will be where the headquarters are, but you can bet the actual work will be out in the Tetons.

Since these jobs open up less frequently and only as positions become available, you’ll want to watch the USAJobs site like a hawk to catch them. Often the temporary jobs start in spring and run until fall like with the concierge ones, but usually jobs posted up are only open for 3-7 days so make sure to apply before the closing date. Remember I said that the government defines Temporary as up to a year, so pay attention to the times the job will be running. If it’s farther north you won’t want to be stuck there in winter, also pay attention to the start date which they call the ‘Expected Entry Date’, because you’ll need to be sure to give yourself enough time to arrive and get settled.

Wages and Benefits

Government jobs are broken down into different Grades, the higher the grade, the more the job pays but the higher the job requirements. All different jobs with the same Grade pay the same. The starting level seems to be Grade 3 jobs (which are often referred to as Aids in the title) and those pay $11.95/hr base pay. Grade 4 pays $13.41/hr, Grade 5 pays $15.00 per hour, and so on. It’s standard for jobs across the whole US, but if the job is located in a metropolitan area or someplace like Hawaii with a higher cost a living, the pay will be higher. Note that some jobs will have the salary information listed as an amount per year instead of per hour, just to throw you off, and some postings might have a range which means there is more than one Grade open.

For instance, when I was applying to NPS (and Forest Service) jobs, I was looking for Biological Science Technician (with emphasis on Wildlife vs. Plants) jobs, because my two animal degrees and vet tech experience give me the qualifications necessary for the job. At Grade 3, the pay is $11.95/hr as the base, and they are called Biological Science Aids. The qualifications at this level are only 6 months of generalized experience or one year of schooling.

At Grade 4, the Biological Science Technician jobs pay $13.41/hr, and require 6 months of specialized experience at the Grade 3 level or a 2 year degree – which is what I have. At Grade 5, these jobs pay $15.00/hr, and require 1 year of specialized experience at the Grade 4 level or a 4 year degree, so I meet the experience requirement having worked with primates in an outdoor setting for 2 years but not the schooling one. Grade 6 and above I don’t meet the requirements for.

As for other benefits, I would think it goes without saying that there are no on-site reduced price RV sites to be had here. You’re on your own to procure a place to park your RV and will have to pay all utilities, but hey, you’re making more per hour to cover these costs. I highly recommend that for any job you think about applying for, go to Google maps or another map program and enter the location given for the job. Widen your view out a little bit and do a search for “RV Parks” to make sure there are some in the area. You will want to call or visit websites to figure out what prices look like in the area, so that you can figure out of the NPS job is going to make you enough money to afford a living.

As for vacation time, sick days, and other benefits, I was surprised to find that a couple of the Temporary jobs still gave these benefits, although it was less than 50% of the jobs I looked at. Most of them give no other benefits like is usual with temporary jobs. Again, just scan through the job description carefully.

The Application Process

Be prepared to jump through some hoops, because applying for jobs with the government takes some time and effort.

First, before you start the application process, please please please be sure you’ve read through and understand all of the requirements for the job. One job I applied to I got auto-disqualified for after I’d submitted everything because I didn’t have a motorboat license. Turns out that little detail was hidden away in a big paragraph mostly about some other topic and I’d missed it. Filling out all of the info required only to be turned down for a technicality like that is a bummer, particularly with how long it can take to apply to these things. Note that many of these jobs require a valid state driver’s license, but not for the specific state the job is in.

On the right hand site of every job posting near the top will be a big ‘Apply Now’ button, but before you hit that button, scroll down to the bottom of the posting to read the section titled ‘How to Apply’. This section can get a little confusing, because you’ll see requirements for documents titled with random looking letters and numbers which you’ve probably never heard of before such as SF-50, DD-214, and CTAP/ICTAP. Those documents relate to being a veteran or if you’ve worked for the government before, so if they don’t sound familiar you probably don’t need to worry about them.

Other required documents are a resume, college transcripts (if you’re using schooling to qualify) and an assessment questionnaire. Cover letters are optional, but I recommend doing them.

If you’ve never applied for a job using USAJobs, you’ll need to make an account first. After that, it’ll ask if you’d like to upload your own resume or make one using the USAJobs formatting. Personally I’ve made all of mine using the site, because then I know the formatting will look right to the person reading it, and that I won’t need to worry about missing information that’s required on the resume. For instance, besides putting a start and end date for every job you need to include how many hours per week you worked on average, so that it’s easy for them to see how much experience you have in a certain area. Like with any resume, tailor your experiences and skills for the specific job you’re applying for best results. USAJobs will let you save up to 5 resumes in their system, and I ended up using all 5 slots.

You’ll need to have your school transcripts on hand if you’re meeting the schooling side of the requirements. For the application, you will not need official transcripts, but if they end up offering you the job you’ll need to provide them with official ones before being hired.

Then there is the questionnaire. Basically besides a resume and simple job history questions, each job also has a questionnaire that has several multiple choice questions designed to further differentiate candidates. All you need to meet the basic requirements is show that you have the necessary experience or education, but the questionnaire is how the hiring agent will break down qualified candidates into 3 different categories of qualified, well qualified, and best qualified. You can see an example of what the questionnaire will look like before you start applying for a job, the link will be somewhere in the body of the job description. For the Biological Science Technician jobs, the questionnaire was 8-10 questions long on average, but depending on what you’re applying for it could be a lot longer than that. When I applied to Food Inspector jobs with the government two years ago the questionnaire for that was over 100 questions long and took over an hour to do.

What Comes Next

Once you have the questionnaire done and all documents attached, hit the send button. You can keep track of the status of all of your applications from the ‘My Account’ button at the top of the site.

After the application gets submitted, on that Application Status page the status will change to ‘Application Received’. If you scroll to the bottom of that page, you’ll see a Notification Settings section. If you check the second box, you’ll get an e-mail whenever the status of your application changes, and I recommend doing that so that you don’t need to constantly keep doing it manually.

Usually it’ll be a good week or two before you hear back about a job after it’s closed. If you didn’t meet the minimum qualifications (as in, didn’t notice that you needed a boating license, or weren’t able to meet either the experience or schooling requirements) you’ll get a notification that says that. If you met the minimum qualifications, but your application still wasn’t considered for the job because you weren’t as well qualified as other applicants were (i.e., maybe you were in the “Qualified” category, but there were several people who applied who were “Well Qualified”), you’ll get a notice that says: “Eligible – Application Not Referred to Selecting Official”. That’s what I got back on the rest of my NPS jobs.

If your application does get referred, you’ll get a notification saying that too, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get an interview. When I applied to be a Food Inspector I did make it to this stage, and what they did was send several applications out mine included, and then it was the specific location that looked through those applications and picked out who they wanted to interview. Then that location ended up snail mailing me more info about that specific job and requirements, and gave me a time limit to call them back if I was interested in interviewing. By the time I’d heard back, I was no longer considering the job so I declined. So sadly I can’t share what the interview process might be like, although I imagine that’d vary from location to location.

Applying for the Forest Service

If you’re applying for NPS jobs, you may as well apply to FS ones too, consider this bonus information. It’s still done from the same site, and pay grades, job titles, and the application process is pretty much identical. There are just a couple differences I want to bring up.

Instead of ‘Department of the Interior’ you’ll find these jobs under ‘Department of Agriculture’. Again, just scroll down until you find Forest Service and hit ‘Add’ to put it in your search.

You’ll see a lot of ‘Forestry Technician’ jobs here, but maintenance, general labor, park guide (more frequently called Visitor Services Information Assistant), and research related jobs are available as well. Pay note to the ‘Location(s)’ field and ‘Open Period’ on these jobs, because this is where the FS differs pretty significantly from the NPS.

Instead of putting up announcements as jobs become open (which will still happen sometimes) the Forest Service has continual open announcements for many of their jobs. You’ll recognize them because the ‘Locations’ field will list 500+ places, and the Open Period will be for a whole year. This doesn’t mean that they’re hiring in that many places, what they do is get a pool of qualified candidates together, so that as jobs become available they fill them from these open announcements.

When you fill out the application, you’ll get to pick which locations you want to be considered for. There is no limit to the number of places you can select, and being an RVer, you’ll be able to put down a lot more locations than a stationary person will. Again, I recommending opening up a map program and doing some research to make sure there will be places to park your RV in the area before considering that location.

Not being for one specific job but potentially for any job of that type, the details on what they want will be a lot fuzzier, so in this case what I did was use a resume from one of the NPS jobs of the same title that you’ve already filled out. (For example, both NPS and FS hire Biological Science Technicians).

Since it’s an open announcement, there is no guarantee that a job will even open up in a location you’ve selected, let alone if you’ll have qualifications high enough to make the cut, so I’d treat this opportunity as more of a fall back than a solid job lead. I still have never heard back from any of the FS jobs I applied to (which again were the Biological Science Technician grades 3-5, but I also did the Grade 3 level for the Forestry Aid, and one or two others) and all of these applications still sit in my status queue as ‘Application Received’. Every month you’ll have to re-verify the application for these open announcement jobs, to show that you’re still interested, it’s as simple as a click of a button. If you have e-mail alerts activated like I told you to do earlier, you’ll get a e-mail when it comes time to verify them so you don’t forget.

And there you have it, working at National Parks for RVers, for the actual NPS! Good luck job hunting all, and like before if you’ve worked for the NPS before please feel free to share, and if you have questions feel free to ask!

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  1. William on April 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks Becky,
    Being a veteran I may try ruining this gauntlet, with your help, and see what kind of job I can find. I have a friend that works full time in the park service and she told me about this site, but not the ordeal you have to go through. Though I should be use to it. Nothing like hurry up and wait and are your i’s doted and t’s crossed. Some things never change 🙂
    William recently posted..The anticipation is killing me.My Profile

    • Becky on April 15, 2013 at 9:01 pm

      Haha, yeah the government seems good at that don’t they. Good luck if you decide to give it a go!

  2. Laurie on April 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Hi Becky, I have been lurking and reading your blog for awhile and have never commented. I will be working in Keystone,SD which isn’t far from where you will be.I was wondering what route you will be taking? I would think you may take 90 all the way. I’m going through Ok,KS and Nebraska. I am hoping we don’t run into snow. I need to be there the 22nd working the 25th. The VIP pass you get will get you into all the the attractions for free. I think there are only a couple that are half off. By the way I wanted to tell you about the Non profit bookstore in Keystone that hires workampers. The money they make goes to Mt Rushmore. You sell books and ask people if they want to join the club. You get a commission on sales,but your base is 9.50 hr and free place to stay. Maybe next year you can check it out when you are up there.

    • Becky on April 15, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      Heya Laurie, thanks for commenting!

      Yeah, looks like Keystone is about an hour and a half West from where I’ll be staying, maybe we’ll have to arrange to meet up at some point. I’ll be taking 90 once I get to Sioux Falls, but before that it’ll be Atlanta to Nashville to St. Louis to Kansas City to Omaha, the same way I came up before.

      I just spoke to the folks at the Cedar Pass Lodge where I’ll be working and they say there is still snow on the ground right now and more is expected in the next few days, the Badlands area is under a winter storm watch again Tuesday evening through Wednesday night, weather forecast is saying another 6 inches is possible. The extended forecast has it warming up again starting the day I’m due to arrive so I bet there will still be snow on the ground when I get there but hopefully that’ll be the end of it.

      Good luck on your trip, safe travels and happy trails!

  3. Teri on April 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    I applied for a temp IRS job a few months ago, the only problem I encountered is that after I was selected they wanted me to appear for fingerprinting and other miscl stuff without a guarantee that I was hired. It was a 6 hour drive to get there for that appointment and I also had a hard time finding a suitable RV park nearby, so I passed on the job. The pay was good but it was only a 3 month position, and in the email telling me about the meeting, they starting mentioning working nights – which was not in the original job posting. I still hope to get a job at one of the National Parks. When I was at Mesa Verde, one of the other workamper couples had a good plan, the wife was a chef for Aramark and got the reduced RV site for their rig and the husband worked as a Ranger in the park.
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    • Becky on April 15, 2013 at 8:47 pm

      Thanks Teri for sharing your experiences, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there are more hoops to jump through after being chosen, although maybe the NPS wouldn’t be as stringent as the IRS.

      It does indeed sound like that couple had a good thing going.

  4. Reine on April 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    One reason that it may be difficult to land some of the NPS part time jobs is that some folks come back to the same location year after year. As with any job search, you just have to get your info out there and keep trying.

    NPS also has many volunteer opportunities that don’t pay but may provide reimbursement for your living expenses (RV site) or provide an RV site. Search for NPS volunteers or NFS volunteers.

    We spoke to one couple that was volunteering at the entry station to one of the sites on the Natchez Trace. The wife was working the entry/store and the husband was dressed in period costume and giving tours of the “stand” (inn) and explaining the history of the Trace. She said they worked three days a week and got a free RV site. This won’t work for folks that need to make money but would be fun for retirees that are interested.

    One of the guides at the Grand Canyon said he and his wife had volunteered there for 3 years before a full time job opened up and they were chosen because of their experience volunteering.

    As you’ve said in the past, folks MUST know their financial requirements before they start job/volunteer searching and use that info to appropriately evaluate any position.

    • Becky on April 15, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      Yeah, I had heard at least with the Forest Service that being able to volunteer for at least a season gives you a leg up on getting a paying job the next one, but that doesn’t do us younger full-timers who need to be making money any good. If it hadn’t already been so long, I might have thrown it in there, maybe in the future.

  5. Tina on April 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks Becky! This is a very informative and detailed break down of the process. I’m sure this will help many out there. I’m going to print this out for later when I search for jobs.


    • Becky on April 15, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      You’re welcome Tina!

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