Continued from yesterday’s post.
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.
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 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.