Friday, June 11, 2021

How to become a Park Ranger

Career advice from retired Ranger Mannie.

The two most commonly asked questions that I'd get asked by visitors were:

1. Where is the bathroom?

and...

2. How can I get a job as a Park Ranger?

Throughout my career I was very aware of the fact that people have a perception of Park Rangers that has made the profession iconic...as a result, it's a dream for many people - not just young people- to become a Ranger for the National Park Service.

I would get asked all the time for advice on how to get into the "green and gray."

And here is what I would tell them, and what I am telling you.

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If you want to be a Ranger, prepare yourself.  Get an applicable degree in history, English, natural resources and conservation, biology, recreation management...stuff like that.

If you are able, go to the nearest National Park and apply to be a volunteer.  Most of the Rangers I know, including me, started as volunteers.

Check USAjobs.gov weekly. search for National Park Service jobs.  All federal jobs are posted on USA.jobs, it is the only point of entry for all positions below executive level.

An honorable discharge from the military will give you a five or ten-point preference in the hiring process, which is a real advantage...the thanks of a grateful nation.

Add to all of that a large amount of patience and just know that it is difficult to get a job that hundreds of others are applying for.  

As a supervisor, I was involved in four hiring cycles.  For a seasonal job, it goes like this:

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The park determines the needs for the upcoming season, seasonal terms are no more than six months.

When the park determines how many seasonals it needs for the upcoming year the process begins and before too long the jobs are announced on USAjobs.gov.

Hopefuls start applying for those jobs. The application packet is pretty typical - the application, resume, references, cover letter (optional).  The application includes a questionnaire to determine your competencies.  The answers to each question are 1 through five.  1 being "I have no experience on this subject" and 5 being "I am considered to be an expert on this subject."

Caution: dirty little secret follows

Anyone, ANYONE, who has been involved in this process, either the applicant, or the reviewing officer will tell you to answer every (every) question with a 5.  No, it is not honest, but generally, any response other than a 5 will cause the application to be automatically rejected on the very first pass.  Nuts, isn't it?  But that's just the way it is.

Once you submit your electronic application, the process is out of your hands.

When the application period closes then the sorting begins.

Now suppose that for the ten (or so) positions that the park has advertised, there have been 300 applications...it is very competitive).  A computer makes the first sort, if applications are filled out incorrectly or if questionnaire questions have been missed or responded to with a 4 or below, the computer rejects them.

Now suppose 200 applications make it through the first sort, now a long list is generated of the qualified candidates with the veterans at the top.  At this point actual humans, like me, start sorting through the list and weight each candidate.  First, I'd look for people I knew, either volunteers or previous seasonals, if they were super people they would go on my list of finalists.  Now say, I have ten veterans and six people that I know and am confident in; now I start going through the rest of the list, reading resumes, and winnowing out the less qualified until I'm left with 40 people. So now there are 10 veterans, six "knowns" and 80 others...total of 96.  Now, those 96 applications are divvied up between a team of five or so supervisors.  Each supervisor will the call references and conduct telephone interviews with their candidates. Don't be discouraged because there are many veterans ahead of you on the list...in my experience, eight out of ten of those individuals will decline the position, simply because something else has come along, or there are other conflicts.  Sometimes a person will have a stellar resume but their interview doesn't go well.  Sometimes someone will interview well but there references tell us that they weren't a good employee.  All the while, each of the supervisors is giving a numerical score to each person that they interview.

Finally, the five supervisors sit down together with their lists and come up with the ten people that they will be offering the jobs to.  They'll also have a list of alternates.

Now they call the top ten and offer them a job. Usually, they happily accept, but frequently they decline the position; that's when we turn to our list of alternates.  Sometimes we would have to really "dig-deep" and actually go below our list of alternates.  Eventually all ten positions are filled.

That's how it works for both seasonal as well as permanent positions.

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Seasonal jobs open regularly, and are the "easiest" to get.  But do know that seasonal is not an automatic step to permanent.  Seasonal and Permanent are two separate gene-pools, however, a seasonal who has proven her or himself, will be in a very good position if a permanent position opens up at the park at which they are serving.

As I mentioned, on the occasions that I had a permanent position to fill on the National Mall, I would always turn first to the applications from seasonals that had already worked for me and had demonstrated that they are fabulous employees, they would move to the top of the list, just below the veterans. 

It is counter-intuitive, but the Park Service wants to see LONG resumes.  Pack it with every thing you've done.  For each job provide bulleted items..lots of details...make it easy for the reviewing officer to make sense of it all.

It is a difficult process and requires great patience and perseverance.  Countless people want the career, but few actually get the brass ring.  I was one of the lucky ones, though, even with a veteran's preference, it still took me eight and a half years to get a permanent position with the NPS...like I said, you have to be very patient...



It's worth it.