Seasonal Job Ethics

seasonal-job-ethicsToday I would like to pose an ethical question to all of you regarding the procurement of seasonal jobs. I received an e-mail earlier this week from an individual who is planning to go full-timing starting next summer, and they will need to work camp to pay their way.

This person’s dream is to work for the NPS and they have the qualifications to do so. But as they know and I’ve written about before, getting in with the NPS is challenging. There is a lot of competition for jobs, and the hiring process is complicated and slow. Summer positions start showing up on the USAJobs website in December and January, but depending how long the open period is and how many steps the hiring process contains they might not hear back about the job until March or April, just a month or so before the summer season actually starts.

Since this person needs to have a job in order to go full-timing, and because it could possibly take months to hear back from the NPS about openings they’ve applied for (if they hear back at all), they feel like the only reasonable option is to apply for other jobs as well, to have a fail safe to fall back on.

So far, this sounds reasonable and like good planning. The dilemma is this: What if the NPS does get back to them months after applying after they’ve already agreed to a different summer position? Is it unethical to tell the place that hired you first “Sorry, I’ve found something better”, or is that just the nature of the game when you need to apply to jobs months in advance before all of the pieces are on the board?

Here’s my take. I’ve never agreed to a job just to turn around and tell them never mind, and I’m not sure that I could. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if you do this to an employer you can forget about ever trying to work for them again, and I hate burning bridges. Then again my priorities are a bit different. I’d like to work for the NPS sometime, but it’s not as important to me. When it comes to summer gigs I’m more interested in the location I’m going to than the job I’m taking.

But here are my recommendations, which are less about whether it’s right or wrong and more about avoiding the situation to begin with.

In my albeit limited experience so far, summer work is a lot easier to find than winter work. I’ve been finding ads on CoolWorks all summer still advertising for summer jobs. I didn’t actually go about procuring my summer job until March of this year and I still had three different places who were all ready to hire me (Lake Powell, Yellowstone, and Badlands) by the end of the month. When I accepted Forever Resort’s offer at the Badlands I only had three weeks before I needed to be there starting April 20th. While I know it can be stressful to wait until the last minute to look, I think you can get away with waiting longer to apply to positions with concessionaire companies in the summer because there is less competition for those jobs.

Apply to NPS ones in December and January, as soon as they start showing up. If you don’t hear back from any of them by February, then start applying for other other seasonal work while continuing to stay on top of the NPS stuff. This seems to me like a good compromise, giving the NPS longer to contact you, but I should think still giving you plenty of time to procure a back-up job if they don’t.

From what I saw when I was applying for government jobs, the turnaround for hearing back from the NPS for the first step really wasn’t too long, and they did always get back to me. Most of their positions were open for one week (hence wanted to check the USAJobs site twice a week), and usually one week-ish after it closed you’d hear back with whether your application was referred to the hiring official or not. After that, it might be another week or two before the hiring official sifts through all of the applications they get and decides which to pursue.

The Forest Service was the real time killer. Rather than advertise when they have a position open, the FS keeps a continuous announcement up all year on USAJobs for every position where you can select any number of job sites you’d be willing to work at in the country (there are over 500), to collect a pool of ready applicants. I’ve applied for no less than 15 of these FS continuous announcements, and never heard a peep back from one – probably because a position never even opened up in the locations I selected.

But, that’s enough of my rambling. I love how smart and thoughtful my readers are, so here’s where I turn the question over to you. Would it be wrong for this person to turn around and tell a seasonal job they’ve already accepted “no” if their dream job with the NPS falls into their lap? Under what circumstances do you think it would be okay to not show up for a seasonal position: if you had an illness in the family, if a project other than a different job came up that needed attending to, if you discover your own health might not be up to the task, if you give them notice that you won’t be able to make it a month or more in advance?

I’m really curious to see what you all think about this, as I’m sure is the reader who originally sent in the question. Hope you’re all having a good weekend!

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  1. Pam Scola on October 5, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Realistically, I think the dream job would win out in the end but I would try my best to make the least negative impact on the first employer.

    Short of outright cancelling with the first employer, there are several options that I would consider:

    – I would call the original employer and ask If there is enough time for them to hire another applicant for the job? I wouldn’t want to leave anyone in the lurch.

    – I would explain the situation to the first employer, dream job opportunity, etc., and add their reaction/responses/concerns to my other considerations.

    – I would also call the NPS hiring authority/supervisor, explain the dilemma, and ask if my start day could be postponed for a reasonable amount of time in order to accommodate the first employer in filling the position for which they hired me.

    I think if I did all I could do to make things right with all parties involved, I will not have violated my personal sense of ethics.

  2. Mike LeBlanc on September 23, 2013 at 9:16 am

    It is most interesting how, within about a dozen responses, the ethics question has been answered in detail from numerous viewpoints. Bottom line is: treat people as you want to be treated!.

    • Becky on September 24, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      Yep, that about covers it Mike. 🙂

  3. Cherie @Technomadia on September 23, 2013 at 2:29 am

    It is indeed an interesting question, with no clear cut answer. You and your reader who posed the question are to be commended for even being concerned about the potential situation.

    I think for me it would come down to the conditions of the original employment commitment. How far out from the start date is it (ie. is there time to find a replacement), how large of a workforce do they have (and do they overhire, like Amazon above admits to, to handle such situations?) and how much of an inconvenience would my backing out present? I think my approach would highly vary if I was signed up to work, say Amazon – versus signed up to work at a gig like we’re at now, with being 1 of 4 employees (well, it’s a volunteer thing.. but still).

    I did feel bad when our engine broke down and prevented us from serving our original volunteer commitment earlier this summer (which is a totally legit reason), and don’t think I would have been able to back-out for for a ‘better opportunity’. I tend to seriously consider the commitments I make, and put my full intention towards them when I make them. And I was thrilled when the state park systems readily accepted us back as volunteers once we were back on the road.

    But then again, if I was signed up for a minimal wage/benefit gig that didn’t necessarily align with my core purpose to a somewhat large company that doesn’t really see me as an individual (yet) anyway… and something substantially in line with my ‘dream job’ came along, I can’t say that I wouldn’t be at least very tempted.
    Cherie @Technomadia recently posted..Volunteer Lighthouse Hosting at Cape Blanco for RVersMy Profile

    • Becky on September 24, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      Thank you for your thoughts Cherie. Your point about how big of an inconvenience it would be for the employer and how well the job lines up with your core purpose compared to if, say, your dream seasonal job did end up in your lap, are valid points and worth considering.

  4. Judie Ashford on September 22, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    I think I would just be up front with another employer if I were waiting for an answer to a “dream job” application. I’d let them know the situation, and ask what date they would see as fitting if I had to cancel out. And then I would decide if that date fit with my own needs/feelings.

    If they balked at this honesty, then I might want to reconsider working with them at all!

    Virtual hugs,


    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 11:03 pm

      Thank you for sharing Judie, that’s one way of handling it.

      Interesting, things seem pretty evenly divided right now. Guess that just means that this was a question worth asking. 🙂

  5. David Roderick on September 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Great question. I have been on both sides of the ledger. I owned a small business that employed about eight people full-time. And, another 25 on contract. Consequently, the full-timers were really important. I had a highly qualified employee who had been with me for only a month when she resigned. She was honest enough to say that she was just waiting for a City Job with lots of benefits and a larger workforce for advancement. There was no way that I could compete against the pay and benefits of a state agency.

    On the other hand, when I was just starting out in the work world, attending college and working government internship jobs during the summer, I made an important decision that affected my whole life. I was being trained by an agency, quite famous now, for employment after graduation. On my way to the job, I drove over a bridge back and forth about a dozen times trying to make a decision. I knew that if I resigned on short notice, I most likely would lose any future federal government jobs. I did it and resigned by telephone. Went up to Maine and worked as a commerical fisherman for several summers and had some of the best experiences of my life. As a result, I have taken the “Road less Traveled” since then and never regretted that important decision.

    So, a long story short, these decisions are so unique to each individual. There’s nothing easy about it, one has to vote according to his/her own conscience.
    David Roderick recently posted..Eastern Sierra NevadaMy Profile

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 11:02 pm

      An interesting point David and one I agree with. While I personally don’t think I could turn my back on one job for another (I’m one of those people who always gives 2 week notices, usually more than that really), I understand that everyone’s circumstances are a bit different and I don’t begrudge people for having a different opinion than mine.

      And I also accept the possibility that just because I’ve never done it yet, doesn’t mean that in the future things might align in such a way that it makes sense for me to do so. I’d definitely give the employer notice as soon as I knew though that my plans had changed.

  6. Kim on September 22, 2013 at 11:46 am

    I think keeping the commitment is just as important as making it.
    Kim recently posted..Fall Trip PlanningMy Profile

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      + 1 for the “it’s unethical” group. Thank you for commenting Kim.

  7. Jim Morgan on September 22, 2013 at 11:06 am

    They are only offering a job, not romance. If I have accepted a position, even if I’m already working there, and that better, more suitable position opens up, I’m going to accept it, make my apologies to the first company, and move on. It is not an ethical dilemma at all, IMO.

    I agree with Dennis on this one.
    Jim Morgan recently posted..Back in Mexico…My Profile

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      Thanks for sharing Jim. 🙂

  8. PamelaP on September 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

    As some of you may know I am the Program Manager for the CamperForce Program at Amazon so I can speak to this issue from an employer standpoint. I work very hard all year long, as well as spend a fair amount of money to make sure each of our fulfillment centers gets the number of people they need.

    We wind up hiring about 1/3 more people than we actually need each year to ensure that we have enough people for the Fall. Many people do choose to leave for other jobs (not, of course, that they tell us this is the reason – very few do) and I understand the motivation to take what seems like or is a better job. If you have a family emergency, illness or just feel you aren’t up to doing the job physically, we certainly understand those reasons and never penalize someone for leaving early or declining the job for those reasons.

    The only thing I’d ask if that if a camper makes the decision to take another job, let us know as soon as you’ve made the decision – not wait until we call you with a reporting time to tell us you can’t come. That leaves me scrambling to find replacements at a time that most campers have made their decision to go other places or not work at all. Frankly, as long as you let us know as soon as you make a decision to go elsewhere this won’t impact your ability to work for us in the future.

    The earlier I know, the better job I can do of finding replacements. Courtesy is always the best policy!

    Thanks for addressing this issue Becky!

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 10:53 pm

      It can certainly help put things in perspective to get a viewpoint from the other side of the equation, thanks for sharing Pamela.

  9. David on September 22, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Being retired we don’t have to work. But it sure is nice to have our lot and utilities paid for and that is why we do it. We have more play money this way.

    I do workamping the way I did my jobs before retiring. They post above is to me like prior retirement. If I was already working, then I had the decision as to leaving a job for my betterment or due to dissatisfaction with the current one.

    When job hunting I may apply to many, but once I accept a job, that to me is like a contract. I will not back out. If I get there and it is not what was advertised, that is a completely different story.

    I am going to jump on my soap box for just a moment. To me it seems as though our society no longer understand a commitment (contract). Our professional athletes sign a contract and then if they have a good year want to change it. I believe a contract (commitment) should be honored.

    We had a job last year that we really wanted but got another offer before hearing from them. We accepted the job and I immediately emailed the preferred position and ask them to take me off the list since I had already accepted another job. Hopefully they will think well of my actions and get back to me sooner the next time I apply. Oh, and will will still apply for the original position in the future.’

    I am of the older generation and still believe a man’s (woman’s) word is their bond.
    David recently posted..2013-09-20 – David the klutzMy Profile

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      Thanks for responding David! A very well thought out argument against going back on your word.

  10. Bill K on September 22, 2013 at 9:03 am

    It’s a tough choice, but I think that while the NPS process forces one to look at multiple opportunities, I’m okay with turning down the previously accepted position. The NPS positions are “plum” positions and while they don’t like the inconvenience, it has to happen on occasion. An explanation and apology should accompany the notice to the employer.

    I’m impressed that you see the ethical problem. Once again you are wise beyond your years and your basic makeup and fiber as a person always impress me. Keep up the great writing and sharing your experiences with us.

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 10:21 pm

      Haha, I can’t take credit for this one, I really did have a reader e-mail in asking about this. You can congratulate them for having the decency to consider the consequences to a potential employer if the NPS got back to them – I know they’re reading.

  11. Dennis on September 22, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Becky, lets look at it this way. If a employer doesn’t need you any more they walk in and say good bye. Which happened to me after 18 ½ years with Honeywell. Here is a box clean out your desk. They were downsizing and did that to 8 of us at one time. I understand budget and they had to cut money. So with that said. If I accept a job and then turn it down 2 weeks or 1 day before I start, that is the cost of them doing business. If they paid a higher salary do you think that would happen as much. Any more jobs are jobs, if a company needs you good and if they don’t there is the door, guess what that is a two way street.

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 10:18 pm

      I guess that’s one way to look at it Dennis, thanks for weighing in.

  12. Michael on September 22, 2013 at 6:19 am

    I don’t think it is unethical, but like you, I just wouldn’t do it. I’ve always believed in giving an employer proper notice. My view may be a bit jaded. I’ve been a business owner and self-employed most of my working life.

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Thanks for sharing Michael. I’ve gone to great lengths to set up interviews within days of each other so that I could make my decision between multiple options without lying and telling them all “yes”.

      I think I probably get spared from this dilemma to some degree because I don’t find job searching fun, once I’ve decided on something I don’t bother to peek back at options until I need to get the next one.

  13. Diane on September 22, 2013 at 5:57 am

    Interesting topic, and one that is close to home for me. I recently quit a full time perminate position at a school district to take a seasonal park ranger position with the NPS. Like the person you wrote about, this has also been a dream of mine. It is my opinion that you owe it to yourself to live the best life you can. If you are not happy with your job, find one that is a better fit. There might be someone waiting for the job you are willing to throw away to accept the dream job. As far as the ethics behind this action…that is an individual choice, my take is that a happy employee is a lot nicer to be around 🙂 all of us have encountered individuals who hate their job and it shows. Life is too short and too valuable to settle for less than. If the door to your dream job/life opens…jump in before it closes.

    • Becky on September 22, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks for your input Diane, in general I agree: If it’s a job you’ve always wanted, I think it’s okay to pursue even if it means telling another place no.