Today 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!