Landing a National Park Service Job: My Own Story

I am an employee of the National Park Service at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis. I am a permanent employee with “status” (more on this later). My official job title is GS-4 Park Guide. I spend my days as a front line interpreter at the visitor center desk, giving tours of the historic home, selling merchandise in the gift shop, and all that goes into dealing with the public face to face. I am often asked by visitors (as I’m sure most Park Guides and Rangers are), “How does a person get a National Park Service job?” In relation to this question, Mannie at My Year of Living Rangerously, and Kevin at Civil War Memoryhave invited discussion regarding the preference given to veterans in the federal government’s hiring process. With some trepidation, I am going to wade into this discussion here, but please understand that I am not in human resources, nor am I in a supervisory position with hiring authority. What follows is simply my personal story and my personal perceptions of the NPS hiring process. 

National Park Service Job: My Own Story

I was raised on the west coast. I have loved history since I can remember. For a number of reasons, my high school grades weren’t that great. A year after graduating, not having the money or the inclination to go to college, I signed up for four years in the Marine Corps. It was August 1974, and my platoon was the last to go through boot camp that received the National Defense ribbon for Viet Nam. If you are not familiar with the ND ribbon, it is awarded during times when there is a war going on and a serviceman or woman might find themselves in a combat situation. By 1974, of course, Viet Nam was winding down and I never went there. In fact, I never left the states. After three months of boot camp at San Diego and Pendleton, I spent nine months at Twenty-Nine Palms and then three years at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington State. While I am proud of having served, I have always said that was the longest four years of my life. I learned, I matured, but I could hardly wait to get out. I began to take college courses offered on the base.

Following my discharge, in the fall of 1978 I started college full time. While attending college I worked 30-40 hours a week at menial jobs and relied on VA benefits. But what to major in? I loved history, but the only thing I knew a history major could do was teach, and teaching jobs were scarce. Public history never occured to me. The NPS has relatively few historic sites in the west. When I thought of the Park Service, I thought of Smokey the Bear in the woods. That’s not what I wanted to do. Instead, I had this crazy idea that I would get into politics; first by majoring in Political Science, then by going to law school. (You’ll think I’m nuts, but at the time Jerry Brown was Governor of my home state of California and his girlfriend was a very hot young Linda Ronstadt. I didn’t think it could get any better than that!) Besides, Poli Sci meant lots of history anyway.

I graduated from University of Washington with my BA in Poli Sci in 1982 and headed for Law School at Gonzaga University in Spokane.  By this time I had married and already had a couple kids. After my first year of Law School my VA benefits ran out and I decided continuing in Law School with a family to support wasn’t financially feasible. So much for ever being a politician! I ended up in the truck rental and leasing business working for several different companies and eventually moved back to California. I had only limited success in the truck business and found myself out of work when a recession hit in the mid nineties. Needing any kind of job I could get, I answered an ad in the paper for school bus driver training and eventually got into charter/tour bus driving.

This was my first exposure to Public History. The first few years I had a job picking up passengers at the Amtrak station in San Luis Obispo, taking them on a city tour, and up to Hearst Castle, all the while giving the history of the area and the Hearst story. Eventually, I drove busses all over the west, including through several National Parks. By 2003, I was tired of being on the road all the time, and for other reasons also, I moved to Branson, Missouri. In late 2004 I decided to enroll at Missouri State to pursue an MA in history. I still didn’t know exactly what I would do with it, but I loved history and by now I was at least aware that there were public history jobs (although I didn’t realize there are graduate programs specifically for public history). After completing three courses, including one in 19th Century American history (my favorite period), I stumbled into USAJobs online for the first time and discovered a seasonal job opening at Lincoln Home National Historic Site. I applied and was one of ten seasonals hired in the spring of 2006.

In 2006 Lincoln Home was using KSA (Knowledge Skills and Abilities) statements. An applicant had to actually write out answers to qualifying questions. I’m sure my veteran’s preference points helped, but there were only a couple of us out of ten that had been veterans. My college courses and my job experience, I’m pretty sure, got me the job. I was much older than everyone else. Eight of the ten were young college students or just out of college. A couple of them had already worked a season at another NPS site. I have been told that there are certain parks that are considered “gateway” parks for employment because they hire a lot of seasonals every year; The Mall in D.C., Independence in Philly, Lincoln Home…

Springfield, Illinois is about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Branson. I had a small fifth-wheel trailer that I hauled over there and found a campground not too far from Lincoln Home to set up in. My wife stayed in our home in Branson and I would drive back and forth on weekends. The cost of this situation was such that I really didn’t make much money, but I was gaining the experience and deciding I really wanted an NPS job. This was a seasonal position; a 1039 position, which means you can only work 1,039 hours in a given year. If you work 40 hours a week, as I did, that is six months. Some seasonals spread those hours out by working part time. I believe you have to be placed on “intermittent status” to do that. Also, if you are on intermittent status, the park can bring you back each year for a new season, another 1039 hours, without going through the competitive process all over. I was asked at Lincoln Home if I wanted to come back in 2007. I initially said yes, but I returned to classes at MSU, and  I later decided to not work at all for a while and get my MA quicker by attending classes full time. I also applied for a couple of positions at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield which is near Missouri State. I didn’t get them, but I learned more about the NPS hiring process and I made contacts at the park. (IIRC, at least one of those positions went to a disabled vet.)

After seven months of not working while attending classes, I desperately needed to get back to work. I got a job at the Titanic Museum in Branson. More public history. I enjoyed it, but I still wanted to work for the Park Service (better pay and benefits and 1912 is not quite the 19th century). Fortunately for me, my contacts at Wilson’s Creek and my experience at Lincoln Home paid off. The Chief of Interp at WICR called to say he was looking to fill a GS-4 STEP position and would I be interested? STEP, Student Temporary Employment Program. The park could hire anyone who was at least a half-time student without going through the competitive process. I worked full time at Wilson’s Creek for almost a year while I finished my graduate program. The problem with a STEP position is that you can only work while you are a student. Once you stop being a student you are out. Of course, I was paid while gaining more experience. The SCEP program (Student Career Employment Program) allowed a park to hire a student non-competitively and upon graduation convert the student to permanent status. I once thought the park had to guarantee a position to the student upon graduation, but apparently that wasn’t the case. In fact, the park could ‘shop’ the student around to other parks. I know a few lucky people who got permanent positions through the SCEP. Not me. I know a couple of them who got 5/7/9 positions (more on this later). I’m really envious of them, but I will say they are wonderful, bright, hard-working people and the NPS is lucky to have them. The STEP and SCEP programs have come to an end, but more on that later also.

One thing I learned very quickly was that competition for NPS jobs, especially interpretation jobs, is extremely fierce. The NPS gets hundreds of applications for every opening. Therefore, very few people get permanent positions without having worked seasonally first. You have to be willing to go where the opportunities are. If you have your heart set on a particular park, you may never be hired. With this in mind, my wife and I sold our house, put all our belongings in storage, and bought a larger fifth-wheel trailer. (By this time the kids were grown and on their own.) I was willing to go where I had to go. But where would that be? 

Are you beginning to see what I went through to get my job?

NPS summer jobs USA

During my graduate program at MSU I tried to take as many 19th Century History courses as possible. In addition, I was particularly interested in Ulysses S. Grant, so when I could I did book reviews on Grant books and wrote term papers on Grant topics. For instance, for my American West class I wrote a paper on Grant’s Peace Policy, and for my Civil War and Reconstruction class I wrote about Grant’s relationship with Charles Sumner, Santo Domingo, and the election of 1872. I opted not to write a thesis, although my seminar paper on Wilson’s Creek in History and Memory ended up being thesis length anyway. I maintained a 4.0 G.P.A while working fulltime at the battlefield. I knew though, that my employment would end upon graduation, so I kept a close eye on USA Jobs for possibilities.

I applied for a temporary one year GS-4 Park Guide position at Arlington House. I thought I was applying for a term position. Term positions include health benefits which I had not had for years. I didn’t realize that there is even such an animal as a temporary one year position. I thought the jobs were either 1039 seasonal, term (1-4 years), or permanent. I was wrong. Parks can hire  on a temporary basis, keep you as long as they want or let you go when they want, and not provide benefits. Ever since, I’ve wondered why a park would ever advertise a 1039 or a term position, but I’ve actually seen very few temporary positions announced. At any rate, I was offered the job at Arlington House.

I was to report a few months later, after I had completed my graduate program. In the meantime I continued to look for better opportunities. I applied for and was offered a GS-5 seasonal position at Appomattox. I wanted to go there, but it turned out the job was only going to last a couple of months. I just couldn’t afford to risk being out of work that soon. I then applied for and was offered a GS-5 seasonal position at Ft. Vancouver. For personal family reasons, because it was a GS-5, and because Grant had been stationed there, I really wanted to accept, but this one was only going to last through the summer; about four months. So I called the Site Manager at Arlington House to talk about my dilemma. Miraculously, he told me to go to Ft. Vancouver for the summer and he would still bring me on afterwards. He said the experience I would gain at Ft. Vancouver would benefit Arlington House when I got there.

I have no doubt that my 5 points veterans preference helped me get these offers, but I also believe I was well qualified. In fact, I have applied for several positions that I did not get. A couple of them still puzzle me. For example, at this same time two term GS-5 positions were announced at Lincoln Home. I applied thinking I should have a great chance at getting one. I didn’t. I know one of the guys who did. He was a young college grad who had been a seasonal with me in 2006 and had returned for the 2007 season. I was now close to getting my MA, had worked at Wilson’s Creek for almost a year, and I was a preference eligible veteran, which he was not. But he got one of those positions. He is a great guy, very capable, and again, the NPS was lucky to have him. I count him as a good friend. He worked two years on that term appointment, applied for a permanent position that he was well qualified for and didn’t get it. He’s now out of the Park Service, and it’s the NPS’s loss.

If you are reading this and you don’t know about or understand veteran’s preference points in federal hiring, let me say this: when you submit an application you earn a score of up to 100 points depending on your qualifications and experience.  Veterans who have served during specific time periods when the country was engaged in a conflict get an additional 5 points and handicapped veterans get ten.  So a preference eligible veteran can get 105 or 110 points but the most a non-veteran, no matter how qualified, can get is 100. See here:

Theoretically, a well qualified and experienced non-veteran could get a job over a minimally qualified veteran. I say “theoretically” because that doesn’t seem to be what is happening and I will try to explain why I believe that is the case later. While I’m on the subject, there is also a program called VRA, Veteran’s Recruitment Act, through which certain veterans, basically those who have actually been in war zones, can be hired without going through the competitive process. See here:

I got my M.A. in history in May of 2008, and my wife and I hit the road to Ft. Vancouver, pulling our fifth-wheel trailer behind us. Just our luck, fuel prices skyrocketed that year. In Vancouver we found a decent RV Park not far from the park. I thoroughly enjoyed my summer working at Ft. Vancouver; in fact, I would love to go back there. The park does a number of special events each year, there is lots of living history, and it is a beautiful area. I definitely benefitted from my experience there. Unfortunately, my wife was never able to find a temporary job while we were out there, so our finances continued to suffer.

While at Ft. Vancouver, I continued to watch USA Jobs. Lo and behold, a term GS-4 Park Guide position opened at U.S. Grant NHS in St. Louis. I applied. I still had the job at Arlington House, but the Grant job was an actual term position with health benefits and in a much lower cost of living area. Besides, truth be told, I was much more comfortable with the idea of interpreting Grant than Lee. I got the job. I had to call ArIington House to tell them I wasn’t coming after all that time. I felt rather bad about it, but…  In mid September 2008 we headed back to Missouri. I honestly believe that I was overqualified for the job. I was going from a GS-5 back to a GS-4, but it was term so that was a step in the right direction. Not long after I started there the Chief of Interp told me he had several equally qualified applicants and that the deciding factor was the last digit of my Social Security number. Somehow, I had the lucky number. Wow.

Jobs: National Park Service

How to trap beavers. Ft. Vancouver. Summer '08.

So I had a term GS-4 position at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. A term position is one year of employment, although the park has the option of extending the term up to four years. The benefits are essentially the same as a permanent position with one big exception – you don’t get “status.” Status is what allows you to apply for positions that are not open to the general public. Of course, you don’t know if you’ll be employed beyond a year either, so you can’t really “settle in.” We found a Mobile Home/RV park to park our trailer in. My wife managed to find a part-time job, and I continued to look at USA Jobs daily.

I applied for permanent positions that were open to the public. Usually I would “make the cert.” Here’s what that means as I understand it: When you submit your application it usually goes to the Office of Personnel Management first – OPM. OPM looks at your application, assigns you a score, then sends a certain number of the top applications to the park. If you do not meet the minimum qualifications you get an email saying you don’t qualify. If you do meet the minimum qualifications but there are other applicants with scores higher than yours, your application doesn’t get certified and doesn’t get sent to the park for consideration. I’ve already explained that the scores range up to 100 unless you are a preference eligible veteran.

This is where I believe the real problem lies.

Very few parks are using KSAs anymore like I had to fill out for Lincoln Home. Instead they are using a questionaire which allows the applicant to self evaluate. You answer a series of questions and fill in bubbles from “I’ve never done this and don’t know anything about it” to “I’m an expert and know everything about this.” (I’m paraphasing, but that is essentially correct.) Self-evaluation can be very tricky for many reasons and the questions often seem to have little bearing on the job duties. One questionaire that is frequently used asks, “How many times did you make the honor roll in high school?” Really?? High school, for me, was almost forty years ago. Some of the questions ask if you have experience or expertise in simple tasks like stocking brochures. Even if you haven’t actually stocked brochures it seems silly to say so. Who wouldn’t be able to stock brochures? Anyone who has filled out these questionaires knows what I’m talking about. This leads to the honesty part of the equation.

Most of us want to be honest. But it is clear that if you don’t mark yourself “Expert” on nearly every question, you won’t make the cert. You may as well not even apply. Even with my veterans’ points I was scoring in the 90s and not making the cert (or making it but not very high on the list). At one point I called OPM about an application and the person I talked to there basically told me I needed to be sure I wasn’t selling myself short. In so many words she was saying I had to mark myself higher even if I wasn’t sure I was an expert and let the hiring official decide if I really was or not. Your application, your resume and supporting documents, are supposed to verify the answers you give to the questionaire. However, I don’t believe OPM even looks at the supporting documents. (If someone reading this can tell me different, please do so.) Instead, OPM totals up the points based on the questionaire, and sends the top applications to the park. The park then has to look at the top candidates’ supporting documents, call the references, and decide if the candidate is as much of an “expert” at everything as he or she has claimed.

You can see the problems here. If veterans mark themselves as experts on all the questions and then get preference points also, they go straight to the top of the list. I’m not necessarily saying the vets are being dishonest. As I said, self-evaluation can be very tricky. We all want to at least get an interview. I applied for a position at a major Civil War battlefield. I made the cert, but didn’t get called. I called the park. The Chief of Interp said I was the type of candidate they were looking for, but there were several vets ahead of me on the cert list. Their supporting resume and documents didn’t support their score. The problem for the park was/is that the top candidates must be sent a letter detailing why the park feels they are not qualified. The candidate then has (iirc) 30 days to appeal the park’s decision. It can therefore take months for the park to get down the list to a candidate they actually want. In this case (I was told), the park threw out the entire cert (didn’t hire anyone from the list), and instead hired a student under the SCEP program; a guy who was working on his Phd. I was told that I might never get a permanent position through the competitive process; that I should go back to school somewhere and try to get into the SCEP program. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. I’d already spent a small fortune in time and money chasing this rather late-life career.

As I said, STEP and SCEP have gone away. Some people think it’s because the parks were using those programs to specifically avoid hiring unqualified veterans. But, in all honesty, giving a student a permanent position without having to go through the competitive process didn’t seem quite fair to me either. Of course, if I had been offered a SCEP position I certainly would have taken it! There is a new program for students called “Pathways.” I don’t know the  details, but apparently it has a veterans’ preference component. One thing should be noted. The National Park Service is regulated by the President and by Congress. It is they who enact these types of programs and they do not want to be accused of sending young men and women off to war and then abandoning them when they come home.  

I also applied for a 5/7/9 position on the Mall in D.C.


Seasonal jobs NPS for retirees

I am often asked by park visitors, “Does the NPS move you around from park to park?” or “Does the NPS assign you to a particular park?” The answer to these questions is, as a general rule, no. (There are, of course, exceptions to every rule.) However (I’ve already said this but it bears repeating!), the Park Service gets hundreds of applications for every opening, even the seasonal positions. Keep in mind that I am mainly talking about interpretive positions, which is what I am familiar with. The NPS employs people in lots of other capacities and some jobs are easier to get than others. For example, there always seems to be Law Enforcement positions open. The minimum qualifications for interpretive jobs are indeed minimal and everyone thinks they could do such an easy job as interpretive jobs appear to be. The practical effect is that limiting yourself to applying at only one park so severely limits your chances that you may never get hired. So as I’ve already said, you have to be willing to go where the opportunities are and hope that some day you land a permanent position wherever that might be. Once you have that permanent job, if you like the park and the job you can stay there forever. However, if you want to advance in the NPS, you usually will have to move to another park.

How to get a job at the National Park Service

Employment: Job openings listings, find and apply:

— police, lifeguard, park ranger jobs

— architecture, landscape architect

— historian, archivist, librarian and museum jobs

— biology, forest jobs

— aviation and helicopter pilot jobs

— graphic design, photography and engineering jobs

— nursing jobs, guide jobs, food service jobs

— archaeology, geology, anthropology and geography jobs

— marketing, administrative, communications jobs

— education, concessions jobs

— emt, ems, gis, fire jobs

— law enforcement jobs

— public health jobs: maintenance, paramedic, physician, medical

— trail crew, search and rescue jobs

Regional Offices Map - National Park Service Careers
Alabama, Alaska, Anchorage, Arizona, Arkansas, Asheville NC, Atlanta, Australia, Boston, California, Canada, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Denver, Everglades, Florida, Georgia, Gettysburg pa, Glacier, Grand Canyon Grand Teton, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Jacksonville, Kentucky, Los angeles, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nashville, Nevada, Hampshire, Jersey, Mexico, New Orleans, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Omaha, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Tucson, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Yellowstone, Yosemite


Jobs in the NPS have GS rankings. Generally speaking GS-4 is the lowest for interpretive positions, although I have seen a GS-3 Park Guide position advertised somewhere (can’t remember where.) “Entry level” seasonal or permanent interpretive positions are usually either GS-4 or GS-5. The difference as that 4s are supposed to be provided with prepared programs by higher graded supervisors to present to visitors. They are not supposed to be expected to develop interpretive programs and are only expected to be able to consult secondary source materials. GS-5s, on the other hand, are supposed to be capable of developing interpretive programs based on primary source materials. These distinctions become blurred in practice. I know from experience that GS-4s often do the same job that GS-5s do.

In order to advance, to move up the GS scale, one must apply for advertised positions just as if one is applying for a new job. A park can rarely promote a current employee without advertising the higher graded position; opening the job to competition. This is why many NPS employees have worked at several parks during their career. The one big exception to this rule is the 5/7/9. If you land a 5/7/9 position, if you perform your duties satisfactorily, the park must promote you from GS-5 to 7 to 9 within a couple of years. See why I said I am envious of those friends of mine who got 5/7/9 positions through the SCEP? They got a permanent job without going through the competitive process and will be promoted to GS-9 without going through the competitive process.

I’ve applied for 5/7/9 positions, including positions on the Mall in D.C. Once, I was called for a phone interview, then never heard from them again. Interestingly, however, the announcement was open to “all sources,” meaning the public could apply. Applicants can be restricted several ways; mainly by restricting the applicants to “merit promotion” only. This is where “status” comes into play. You only get status by landing a permanent position. In a public announcement you can meet minimum qualification requirements either through experience or education. Because of my graduate degree, I automatically qualified for the GS-7 position. In other words, if I got a 5/7/9 under a public announcement I would jump from being the GS-4 that I am now to being a GS-7 just based on my education.  However, under a “merit promotion” annnouncement you have to have “time in grade” to jump from one GS level to the next. I found this out the hard way. I applied for a 7/9 at Shiloh. They weren’t offering a 5/7/9, just a 7/9. I thought my graduate degree would qualify me as a 7 like it had for the Mall in D.C. position. Nope. Education only works like that under a public announcement. Under merit promotion I could not even apply for a 7 because I haven’t been a 5 long enough. Conceivably, someone with a graduate degree but no Park Service experience could jump into a 7 or even a 9 position, but I have to believe that would be extremely rare. By the way, officially, 4s and 5s are only “Park Guides.” You have to be a 5 in a 5/7/9 position or higher to actually be a “Park Ranger.” Confusing isn’t it? It gets more confusing.

After working as a Term GS-4 Park Guide for a year at U.S. Grant NHS, it was decided that the position would be made permanent. Remember, I couldn’t just be “given” the job. It had to be announced for competition. I’ve heard it said many times that if a park really wants someone they will find a way to get them. I don’t know that that is entirely true, but if you see an announcement that is very specific; that is the experience and knowledge requirements are very specific, or applications are only being accepted from the local commuting area, or through specific hiring programs, then the park probably already has someone in their sights.

I got the permanent job.

It took me from the winter of 2005 when I first applied at Lincoln Home to the winter of 2009 to land a permanent NPS job. It took working at four different parks. It took working a seasonal job, a student job, another seasonal job, and a term job. It took traveling half way across the country and back. It took applying for numerous positions I didn’t get. It took lots of study, lots of money, and lots of sacrifice. My closest family is 4 hours away. My wife and I lived in our fifth-wheel trailer, with all our furniture and belongings in storage for three and a half years. All of this cost us a lot of money. And I only have a GS-4 Park Guide position! Still, in many ways I count myself lucky. I have a permanent job in a beautiful park where I get to talk about one of my favorite subjects. I know there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people out there who would like to have my job. Many have worked for the National Park Service seasonally longer than I did. My veterans preference points helped me get my job, but I believe I am more than qualified.  

So, that’s my story. If you have been following it and have questions, please ask. I’ll be happy to try to answer them as best I can.

Positions and Salary for National park service jobs

Vacancies, requirements and average salary:

— for teachers

— for college students: summer jobs, internships, youth jobs

— for seniors and retirees

— for retired couples

— for volunteers

Part time (temporary and seasonal) and permanent (full time) jobs

— summer jobs

— winter jobs

How to become a National park ranger — Interview with national park rangers:

Rating 4.8 4.8 - 38 thoughts on “Landing a National Park Service Job: My Own Story

  1. Great stuff. You taught me things I didn’t know: how a temporary position works and Veteran’s Recruitment Act. I think you are lucky the term position at Grant worked out. Almost all of them I know about didn’t work out. Look at LIHO. None of the 3 guys hired for the term positions you talked about got the 2 permanant positions they opened up. You are right about the gamble associated with some seasonal positions. The very first seasonal position I was offered was at Petersburg, but it was for only 10 weeks. I couldn’t see moving there for that. And you are right about the risk of taking certain positions. While I was a seasonal at LIHO in 98 I was offered a term GS-4 position at the Old Post Office Tower in DC. I couldn’t see being able to survive on a 4 salary in DC. Well on to read your 3rd post.

  2. The first of your park ranger posts that I saw was the 4th so I am just now reading the first 3. 2006 was the first year we used the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities statements. We got much better candidates that way. The answers were scored by someone from the Arch or MWRO, actually I’m not sure. But I know no one from LIHO scored them. By rule we have to make the first offer to someone in the 3 highest scores and we keep moving down until everyone is hired. I remember 2 of the 3 tops scores turned us down and we rejected the other 1 from the top 3 based upon phone calls to previous employers. As you said we hired 10 and if I remember correctly they were all in the top 18 scores. Some parks don’t realize this, but the first year you are at a park you can work more than 1039 hours [which is 6 months of work for the uninformed] IF the park can show those additional hours were training. Considering things change from school season to tourist season to state fair season to retiree season back to school season all within 9 months at LIHO and each season has its own challenges we could easily justify additional hours. I know some of the other 10 worked full time almost to Thanksgiving. But the next year those few that came back could only work 1039 hours plus 2 weeks of training. Another thing the uninformed should know is seasonals get no benefits. No help with health insurance, no money set aside for retirment; just payments to Social Security. I believe you got 5 extra points for your military service. There is a way to get 10 extra points, but I can’t remember if you have to have a purple heart or served in a war zone or what to get that.

  3. Update on my job search, I got an email from one of the parks talking about if I was available at x date. I don’t know if this is a good thing or what. Don’t want to be too excited.

  4. Yeah I found out from my sister that to get a job, you pretty much have to rate yourself ‘expert’. I have a bachelor’s in history and political science, have volunteered at a local historical museum for several years and volunteered in a Park last season. I was very hesitant to rate myself ‘expert’ on many of the questions because I was worried my application would be considered “exaggerated” and be tossed out. Instead it may have gotten me the job this season. And I love your blog. Keep it up.

  5. This is an excellent description of the process. The paragraph about merit promotions and time in grade is excellent. I too was “caught” in the time in grade “trap,” and more than once. It is a shame everyone wanting to be an interpretive park ranger can’t read your post. It would be helpful to them. My experience is rather limited and short; but I first started applying for jobs late in 1996. What was totally amazing is how many fewer seasonal and permanant, especially permanant, interpretative postions there were being advertised in the 2000’s than there were in 1996.

    • Thanks Gene.

      I obviously don’t know what it was like in the past, but it hasn’t seemed to me like there have been very many higher graded positions to even apply for. I may never get above GS-4. The effect of that is that people wanting to get “entry level” positions like mine also have fewer positions to apply for.

      For anybody reading this, Gene is the Ranger from Lincoln Home who called me in the winter of 2005 for my first phone interview. He is now retired and living in his beloved home state of Nebraska.

  6. I don’t look at the jobs list any more, but I can promise you based on my experience you are right about fewer higher level jobs. There were fewer and fewer each year from 1996 to 2007 [after that I stopped paying attention].

  7. I graduated college with a degree in biology last year. I’ve been applying to jobs with the park service and forest service- interpretive ranger, trail crew, park guide, etc for about a year now without much success. I have gotten 3 email backs for Forestry Tech positions, then after a few emails they seem to drop off the face of the planet. This is literally all I want to do workwise. I have lived at the Grand Canyon working for a vendor there for 2 years and have my resume tailored to show all the travel and outdoor experience I have. Any advice for getting in? I have been applying all across the country. I will move anywhere, take any temp position, I’ll do whatever it takes.

    • Hi Amelia,
      Thanks for commenting. I wish I could give you some positive, helpful advice, but the truth is that it is harder than ever to get into the NPS or to advance in the NPS. Everything I wrote in these four blogposts is still true only now the NPS is dealing with the sequester budget cuts. In addition, the Pathways student program I mentioned in “Part Three” definitely has a veterans preference component, and there are a lot of Iraq and Afghan war vets out there. Things might be different in future years if the economy turns around. Also, I’ve heard it said that there will be a wave of retirements in the next several years. Having a degree in biology might be more helpful than the history degree that I have for certain positions, but I don’t really know. If you are young, all I can suggest is hang in there, keep applying, and best of luck.

  8. Hello Bob,

    I am a geoscientist working in academia. In six to ten years, I would love to semi-retire and work as a seasonal interpretative ranger in one of the parks. I have an advanced degree in my field, and I am knowledgeable about (and fascinated by) many aspects of history, human culture, and nature. I have led field trips, taught classes, and volunteered in schools, so I have a lot of “interpretive” experience under my belt. (And I’m told I’m good at it.) I would be about sixty when I started but I am fit and in excellent health.

    What are the chances of me getting a job like this? Is there any sort of training or preparation I should work on over the next few years to better my odds?


    • Hi Louise,

      Thanks for reading. I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more than what I wrote in these blogposts and the above comments. Remember, I’m not a hiring official or even someone who has had hiring authority. I was just trying to relate my own experience. I would encourage you to volunteer at an NPS site if you have one nearby, and closely monitor the USAjobs website. Good luck in your future endeavors!


  9. Hi Bob,
    This has been so frustrating trying to get a job with the National Parks for the past five years. I am a journeyman electrician who has worked abroad in many countries as an electrician and supervisor. I am also a professional photographer, so you see why I would love to work and live in the National Park. I have applied for so many electrical positions in the National Parks. Also maintenance and lower positions in hopes of just getting in, to no avail. I received a call a year ago about a maintenance position and talked to the supervisor for 20 minutes apologizing to me. He said I should have this job but a new procedure just went into effect that vets have preference over everyone. He said if he didn’t hire a vet, he would be loosing his job. Even if the vet is not as qualified for the position.
    Also, now every time I apply for an electrical position, they cancel the call just before the deadline.
    I love our vets, but think our country has forgotten middle class men in this country and its a shame we are pushed aside in everything.

  10. Hi Bob! Thanks for the information! Like so many people… It is my dream to work for the National Park Service! I am active duty military but I am probably getting out in two years. I have a Bachelors degree in Oceanography and I have the opportunity to get a Masters in Parks Recreation and Tourism Management; do you think that would be helpful or am I wasting my time and money? Thanks so much for the work that you do!


    • Hi Tara,
      Thank you for your service! As I wrote in these blog posts, I’m not and never have been a hiring official, so you should take my advice with caution, but I would say a Masters in Parks and Tourism would be very beneficial. These days any postgraduate degree should be helpful in any job hunt. Good luck!

  11. Bob –
    Thanks for your description of the NPS application and hiring process. After BSEE, MSEE and 25 years as a Silicon Valley engineer, and a few more years as a professional wildlife photographer and technical marketing copywriter, I went back to school for a 2-year Park Management degree. My instructors were Santa Clara County Park, California State Park and NPS personnel. After graduating in May 2012, I worked taking money and then in maintenance for Santa Clara County Parks.

    One of my ‘own-time’ projects was a self-produced documentary ‘Tracking the Anasazi – How Great Houses Led To Stripped Resources and Abandonment’. I used 20 years of personal photographs from Chaco Canyon and its outliers, lots of research (Lekson, Lister & Lister, Windes, others), and scripting / music composition / performance experience to produce it.

    After moving to Albuquerque in June 2013, I volunteered at Petroglyph National Monument. When a seasonal NTE interpretive ranger job was announced last month, I applied. I probably graded myself too low and was up against 5-point and 10-point veterans’ preference applicants, so my resume wasn’t forwarded for hiring. Another interp ranger told me everyone on the hiring list was a veteran.

    So I was instead offered a 30-day emergency GS-5 interp position, extendable for another 30 days. I’m taking it. Don’t know if it’ll ever be more than that, since I’m not going to chase across country for a permanent job I probably can’t get anyway.

    As one of my NPS instructors always told us, the way in is to volunteer. Beyond a foot in the door, though, i’m not sure even well-qualified non-veterans have a chance to go higher in the NPS.

  12. I am a GS-09 Park Ranger, (not with NPS) and I am looking to switch agencies to NPS. I put in for a GS-11, open to all US Citizens. I have 14 years experience and a masters in Park and Recreation Administration. The Park Manager where I applied told me that they received 237 applications for the 1 position!
    How good is NPS about following up with applicants ? To your knowledge, is there a notification when they have selected who will be interviewed or when position is filled?

    • Hi, J.A.D.,
      In my experience, OPM usually is good at letting applicants know if they make the cert or not, and then when the job is filled, but it can take a long time. If the applicant is on the cert list, but not high enough for an interview, the park hiring official might not ever contact the applicant. Even after an interview, if they choose someone else, the park might never call again. You are applying for jobs at a much higher grade than I have attained however, so your experience might be different. Good luck!

  13. Hi there! I’ve been trying to apply to GS 3- GS 5 jobs with no luck. I keep getting rejection emails telling me that I am perfectly qualified for these jobs but that people more highly qualified than I are applying, so my application doesn’t get referred. So instead, I’ve created an application through the SCA. I have an interview next week as an interpretation intern. Is there any advice you could give me for the interview? The types of questions that would typically be asked? Any help would be appreciated! Thank you

    • Hi Amy,
      I wish I could help you, but I’m not an HR person, I’ve never been involved in hiring, and it’s been years since I’ve interviewed for another position myself. I’d be interested in knowing more about your quest, and how it all goes for you, though. Good luck!

  14. Hello there,

    This is a great site and thanks for all the information. I am in a similar situation as many people before me-only my application was recently referred to the hiring official..This is for an NPS park guide position,GS4 level. Do you know how long it typically takes to hear back? I know I shouldn’t start hoping for anything but I was surprised to get the notification at all..I got an email like this once before and after that never heard from them.

    • Hi Paige,
      Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is anything “typical” when it comes to NPS hiring. In my experience, OPM is usually pretty good about sending notifications, but the park hiring official may take a long time with their decision for a number of reasons. Don’t be afraid to call OPM or the park to ask what the status of the position is, or where you stand.
      Good luck!

      • Thanks for the reply Bob. It’s nice of you to take time to answer people’s questions based on your experience. Thanks for the luck,I need it:)

  15. There are a couple backdoors into the NPS that most people don’t know about, or think about. So for any prospective rangers out there let me give you these hints to help you get in.

    For Ranger jobs (GS-0025 series), you should not be looking at the NPS alone! The Army Corp of Engineers, USFWS, BLM, and Forest Service often hire seasonal rangers of the same grade as NPS rangers. The Army Corp of Engineers is often much easier to get into right away, as a civilian ranger you will be stationed at a dam or levee system where you will lead tours and do conservation work. It is not as exciting as working in a National Park, but you will gain GS-4/5 experience that will help you apply for NPS jobs down the line! The Army Corp Ranger positions are often overlooked by civilians, because many wrongly think they are military jobs…they are not, they are the same grade as NPS jobs!

    Now for a second “secret”, find your nearest National Wildlife Refuge or one in a location you would like to work and find the name of the ranger in charge there. Now email them and ask if they have any internships available, let them know you are interested in visitor relations or biological technician work. Many of them have unadvertised internships that only locals and College kids know about, these internships are not as competitive and even if you are an older applicant you can simply explain that you are trying to gain new experience and want to learn. If you send out quite a few of these emails, you will eventually land a seasonal internship in either visitor services (which is graded as a ranger) or a biological tech (which is graded as a technician)…these positions will boost your resume for getting into the NPS and you might even be offered a permanent job in the USFWS which is less competitive.

    Finally the last secret I have for you, is to go to job fairs. Look up ones in your area and be on the look out for the Army Corp of Engineers, they often go to these events. Introduce yourself, and ask about ranger positions. The most important thing is to then get contact information, and definitely try to leave a good impression on the HR staff at the fair! Then go to USA jobs and apply for the positions you learned about at the fair, but don’t stop there, email your contacts and let them know you applied and thank them for their time. That personal contact is a way to boost your chances of landing your starting ranger jobs.

    Good luck!

    • Marcus,
      Thanks for taking the time to share your “secrets.” They’re not really secrets to me personally (I’ve actually applied for jobs with the Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service), but someone reading might find them useful.

    • Marcus-that is great information, thank you!
      I have applied to so many ACE and BLM jobs as well-my application was actually forwarded for one of the BLM ranger positions so we’ll see if I hear back about it. I think going to a job fair is a wonderful idea though, I have gotten so use to doing everything online that I have forgotten there are actually other avenues to apply-I was thinking about how else I could apply for jobs other than USAJobs the other day-so I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for the next job fair..Do you know the best place to look for those?I guess the newspaper would be the way..I also think contacting park rangers at refuges and NPs is great advice..Thanks for your, are you a park ranger?


  16. Hi Bob! Thank you so much for posting your experience! I recently was offered a seasonal position with the NPS (it too, is my dream to become a permanent NPS employee) and was wondering if you think it would be a good idea to accept. This would’ve been such a dilemma 5 years ago. I’ve pretty much been nomadic the last 7 years and am eager to finally call some place home. I would love to take the position if I had a good chance of landing one of the three permanent positions they plan to offer later on in the year (it’s a small area – don’t know if that little didbit is helpful). I am thinking it might be worth the risk, but my spouse is just as tired of the nomadic life style and is skeptical about the chance I have to be chosen for permanent employment. My attitude is more, “You gotta be in it to win it!” Please help! Any advise is most welcomed. Thank you!

    • Hi Alyssa,
      Sorry I didn’t get back to this sooner. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about biological science positions, so I can’t be of much help. I certainly understand the “nomadic lifestyle” dilemma – I’m still in a similar situation, and I suspect it’s a challenge for many people who want to make NPS a career. I hope everything works out for you!

  17. I’m a 26 year old non veteran that recently attained permanent status with the NPS and let me tell you I am extremely grateful that things worked out the way they did for me, and I never thought it would come about as easily as it did ( I had pretty much resigned myself to a lifetime of seasonal work.) There are many different avenues to get into the NPS but you still have to have a lot of things go your way. Join the military and get lifetime status or join the Peace Corps and you have two years status. Join as a Law Enforcement (LE) Ranger, they’re always hiring permanent. As other people stated, join a different agency first. Immediately after getting my BS in Ecological Restoration I got a seasonal GS-04 bio tech with the Forest Service in remote upper michigan) In the off season I went and got a MS in Park Administration and then took a GS-05 seasonal with the NPS in South Dakota for two seasons. Afterwards I got offered a 4 year term GS 06/07 Bio Tech down at a not to be named florida park. After two years my position was converted to a permanent and of course I had to apply for my own position but luckily only one vet applied and didn’t want it so that’s how I did it! I don’t care to work the NPS though I’d much rather go back to the USFS or BLM but that’s just my opinion as a natural resource manager. With my MS I’ve been applying to 09/11 outdoor recreation planner positions so who knows hopefully now with status I can get moving again. Long story short you have to be willing to do something unpleasant for a few years like I did, working weeds or epmt, it’s just easier with less competition. Be willing to go somewhere you don’t want or a different agency. Some people say volunteer.. that was never an option for me but hey to each their own. good luck all.

  18. Hey, Mr. Bob I have been reading your blog and I was wondering how much of if any advantage would I have with a bachelors degree in History as I have applied to nine GS-4 park guide jobs. Just wondering because GS-4 positions require two years education after high school and would those extra two years that I have with a degree in History be seen as experience or what, I know your not a hiring person but this hiring process is kinda stressful with all this waiting and I would really appreciate your opinion and insight.

    • Hi Robert,

      Keep in mind that the minimum qualifications are just that – “the minimum.” These qualification standards were established a long time ago. Today, more and more people have undergrad and graduate degrees. Education isn’t really “experience” in terms of the hiring process. Sometimes experience can trump education, but again, these days, I would argue that you probably need both. Personally, I am an advocate of education for the sake of education, regardless of whether it lands a job, but with the high costs of college these days I can understand those who would argue that education isn’t worth it. As far as the NPS goes, the real challenge is an overwhelming number of applicants for a shrinking number of jobs. Here’s hoping that changes in the future. I do wish you good luck, though.

  19. Bob, Good blog, I am wondering about NPS from a different angle. I am a DoD employee and am looking to transfer in a few years to try something completely different.. I am a GS-14 so time in grade will no be an issue, just the change of series requirements.. Have you heard of anyone making that sort of transition before? I am wondering if the high 3 (highest earned years counting towards retirement) and FERS retirement plans will transfer accordingly.


  20. I am retiring in a few months. My wife and I want to travel and work with the NPS as temp / seasonal hires. How realistic is our goal please? We are not limited by the type work as we will do most anything.

    Have 5th wheeler, will travel

    Thanx in advance for any tips, insight you may share.

    • Hi Harvey,
      Most NPS job opportunities are posted at Competition for these jobs is as fierce as ever. There are some parks that have volunteer opportunities for folks who have RVs. You basically work a certain number of hours in exchange for space rent. I don’t know of a database for those parks though; I think you’d need to contact individual parks. Good luck and enjoy your retirement!

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