Thursday, June 16, 2022

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.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Visiting Gettysburg

 For the past two Mondays I've visitied Gettysburg...I live about fifty miles from the battlefield; this is something that I think I'll be doing regularly.

Happily, I no longer approach the place as a Park Ranger, but as the nine-year-old who traveled there with my father in 1962.  It's a lot more fun that way.

I stopped by the visitor center and found my good friend and old rangering buddy, John Hoptak, in the midst of swearing-in a new Junior Ranger.

John and I had a swell visit, and I was gratified that it wasn't all "remember when" stuff, but rather, reports and reflections on fatherhood, family, and other threads of real life.

John is a great guy, a fine historian, and a peerless Ranger (now that I'm retired, that is).

Maybe you and I will bump into each other on the battlefield, stop me and say hello - that'd be nice.


(retired) Ranger Mannie

Pomp and Circumstance

 (cue the music)


Saturday was graduation day at Hagerstown Community College, and out of over 400 graduates, nearly 250 opted to "walk" as they say.

I volunteered to help out, and my job was to pass out gowns and mortarboards to the Johnny-cum-latelys (see what I did there?) who hadn't ordered ahead.

It was a wonderful event, and I must say that I got goosebumps when the faculty, in all of their differing and colorful, academic regalia, marched in.  


To the strains of Pomp and Circumstance (unfortunately, rendered on bagpipes) the grads made their procession.  It was very exciting.  



The applause at the end nearly brought down the fiieldhouse.

It was a perfect day, among many, many perfect days...these days.

Go Hawks!

(retired) Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

It's just like riding a bicycle

 Last week I gave a tour of Antietam to a group of kids from HCC, a couple of them are classmates, so I enjoyed them seeing something else that I do.



The weather was perfect and the kids were really engaged.  I was a little apprehensive as it has been ten years since I left the battlefield, but I must tell you, it all came back.  I loved it, and so did they...




just like in the days of yore.


See you next time.

(retured ranger) Mannie


Monday, March 21, 2022

School Days, some stuff I've been working on

 I'm having a great semester at Hagerstown Community College.  I'm taking Drawing II and Sculpture I.


This is some of my work:




Calamity Jane, pencil




The Best of Intentions, pencil.




Slava Ukraini, plaster, silk, watercolor.

I continue to have the time of my life.

(retired ranger) Mannie





Friday, March 04, 2022

The Dream Team

 A snowflake on a warming day.


The perfect "work group" is a rare and precious thing...not just people who work well together, but friends who empathize and commiserate with each other, who encourage and console each other, who boost each other to excellence and savor each others successes.
When I worked at The Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, I was a part of that type of rare tribe. We were actually friends, rather than merely co-workers, and the sum of us was greater than the parts.
We were the ones who started the Park Service efforts at what was then, the newest of the National Monuments. We invented the idea out of whole cloth...together.
When I retired, I did so in the vacuum of quarantine - all of us were working from our homes and only meeting via zoom. My retirement send-off was done, the only way it could be, remotely on a computer screen. Sadly, there were no opportunities for hugs, handshakes, and private words with these wonderful people.
I planned on going back for a visit after things opened back up and it was safe to travel, but, by then, all of my friends had scattered to the winds of the Park Service, and "The House" is closed for a multi-year renovation.
And that perfect snowflake, just melted away.
We should all be so lucky, in our working lives, to have the opportunity to find such perfection, even if only for a moment.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

OMOC (old man on campus)

When I retired from the Park Service (coming up on two years ago) my plan was to take a year to totally goof-off, and then to find some sort of "old-guy retirement job."

I ended up in clover.  I have two student jobs at HCC one in the Student Activities office, and the other at the visitor desk (just like half my time in the NPS).  

Both jobs are easy, fun, and at $12.50 per hour they pay twice as much as my federal pension (which tells you a lot about federal pensions since they did away with Civil Service).

The Student Center is a beautiful building and it is where both of my jobs are.  I'm having a blast.


Retired ranger Mannie.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

You never know where the road will lead you

In 1962 my father took my brother and I to Gettysburg.  Living in Michigan, and my parents being of very modest means, this was a major event, and one that I still marvel that my parents were able to pull off. financially.

The trip thrilled me, Gettysburg and the Civil War enthralled me, and I remain keenly interested in the American Civil War.

That trip led in a direct (though dotted) line to the career that I retired from, and the one that I found most worthy. My parents would have been so proud of me.

Take your boys and girls to historic places...


you never know were the road will lead them.


Retired Ranger Mannie