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What's your experience with the NPS?
December 13, 2012 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Any National Park Service or other closely affiliated agency (BLM, Army Corps of Engineers, etc) able to speak about their experience with said agency?

I'm aspiring to work with the National Park Service and between two potential internship opportunities in the realm of interpretation.

*note: I understand it is extremely difficult to obtain a position, as of now I'm applying for internship opportunities and trying to get more feedback on what your experience was like in your career in effort to help me with making a decision between two positions.

In regard to your position-- did you feel having a Master's level education helped? Or was it more about who you know/what you knew already?

What was/is your overall feeling about your career?

Did you find there were many opportunities and avenues to explore?

Any other helpful information about your experience that you could pass along would be greatly appreciated!
posted by melizabeth to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
apologies: Looking to speak with employees of NPS, BLM, Army Corps, etc.
posted by melizabeth at 12:30 PM on December 13, 2012


I work for the Department of the Interior for Bureau of Reclamation. Although we do administer recreation areas, as well as dams, I have not worked in the specific field you are considering. But I can give you some general advice which might be helpful.

In regard to your position-- did you feel having a Master's level education helped? Or was it more about who you know/what you knew already?

Although your actual knowledge may have more bearing on your performance than the degree, the truth is that if a position requires a certain education level to qualify, then you won't get that position without that degree, regardless of your knowledge. "Experience in lieu of education" can happen on rare occasions, and even then it would be much later in your career, not at the start.

What was/is your overall feeling about your career?

I have been a Federal employee for over 25 years, working for several agencies. Overall, it's a good gig! Like any job, your particular job satisfaction will depend on many factors, including location, supervisor, etc.

Did you find there were many opportunities and avenues to explore?

My particular discipline and education have not allowed as many opportunities as many of my coworkers. But overall, Federal employment gives you a ton of options, provided you are willing to relocate to pursue career ambitions. I generally recommend to people who are considering a Federal career to not get too hung up on what their first Federal job is. Consider it a stepping stone. Because once you are a Federal employee, you have access to other positions that non-employees cannot apply for.

Any other helpful information about your experience that you could pass along would be greatly appreciated!

In many jobs, the Federal government included, it's usually best to not think you are going to change everything as soon as you are hired. Although new ideas and fresh perspectives are valued, the single most alienating thing I have seen in my many years of service is a new employee (or intern) who immediately starts suggesting how things should change. ("Why don't you use this software instead of that?" "It would be so much more efficient if you used this procedure." etc.)

The reality is, most people I have worked with stay very much abreast of all the latest advances in technology and procedures, so they most likely know all the "new" stuff you learned in school. There are usually lots of unseen reasons why a particular office might do something in a way that seems inefficient. There are legal reasons, security reasons, I.T. related rules, etc. that may be outside the office's control.

The best approach is to be humble, learn their way of doing things, and hold off on your suggestions until you get a good feel for how things work. By then, many of your questions will have answered themselves. If you still feel you have a new way of doing things, wait until your team knows you are trustworthy and dependable to do things their way. Otherwise, it's easy to come off as a know-it-all, and I can tell you from first-hand experience, it is exhausting to train someone who always thinks they have a better idea.
posted by The Deej at 1:12 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work for the U.S. Forest Service, another federal natural resource organization.

*note: I understand it is extremely difficult to obtain a position, as of now I'm applying for internship opportunities

The majority of the opportunities that you've been applying for are likely covered under the Pathways program. Pathways is a government-wide initiative by President Obama's administration to gather up all of the opportunities for students and recent graduates into a single umbrella. One of these programs specifically designed for folks with a graduate degree is the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) program. Hopefully you already applied for that, this year's application window closed two weeks ago. It is a great program that provides a ladder for individuals with graduate programs to be hired into government service - it is the program through which I got my permanent position with the federal government.

It is absolutely true that getting a permanent federal position can be challenging. I would describe it as a somewhat tedious and lengthy process more than anything (though Pathways programs can short-circuit that - my experience getting hired was if anything faster than the private sector due to the special hiring authority). So, just be persistent and patient!

In regard to your position-- did you feel having a Master's level education helped? Or was it more about who you know/what you knew already?


That depends on what you mean by "helped". Helped me get my job? Absolutely, my degree was one of the things that made my program interested in me. I'd guess that my other experiences were equally significant. However, I work in Fire & Aviation Management in Ops - I interact with researchers regularly, but it is not part of my job. One significant advantage your degree gives you is the ability to potentially qualify for a higher grade level and for certain series. HR reviews relevant work experience and your education will assist them in qualifying you for certain series and grades.

What was/is your overall feeling about your career?

I love my job. My agency has its challenges, and its organizational culture changes extremely slowly, but I can't tell you how much I like working for the Forest Service. I moved across the country to get my current job to an area that I wasn't all that excited about living in, and after nearly two years, I'm still very excited to get to work every day. My agency rewards initiative and innovation, and encourages career development. A colleague of mine recently went back to school to finish her Ph.D., and my agency is keeping her on part-time and paying for school!

Did you find there were many opportunities and avenues to explore?


Yes! But, here's where I'd put in a word of caution: you will be expected to be focused about the opportunities you're interested in exploring. Depending on how and where you join your agency, you may have really significant easy-to-access opportunities for leadership development, initiative, and outreach. However, there are other positions where due to a number of factors you will not have the same flexibility and freedom. Many people approach job-hunting with federal agencies as "take the first thing you're offered, it is your foot in the door". I can't tell you whether or not to do this, because as you noted above, getting a job offer can be different and a lengthy process. However, try to be focused about the kinds of positions you apply for.

Any other helpful information about your experience that you could pass along would be greatly appreciated!

Apply for all of the programs out there. A shotgun approach is not a bad thing in this instance. Bear in mind that knowing people is sometimes helpful, but federal hiring managers are extremely constrained in their ability to select people for positions. You MUST show up on the cert list that I pull in order to be considered for a position - so be very careful and deliberate about the answers on the online questionnaires and make sure you read the position descriptions extremely carefully to make sure that you qualify for the position.

That said, once you make the cert, finding a way to reach out to the hiring manager personally can make all the difference in the world. If you're interested in a particular location or office, I'd encourage you to try to find some folks in that office that you can get to know - couch it as an informational interview, ask them questions about their career, give them a copy (one page!) of your resume, and ask them to forward interesting looking opportunities to you. Stay in touch every couple of months. I'm happy to do this for folks who get in touch with me. Before you go in for the informational interview, try to get a sense of what grades you could conceivably qualify for (be realistic, but even without any other experience you should be able to qualify for a GS-7/9/11 depending on the agency, the position, and your prior experience) and what kinds of jobs you might be interested in.

Finally, be flexible in location, at least at first. Be patient and humble, as the Deej suggests above. Good luck!
posted by RachelSmith at 2:56 PM on December 13, 2012


I interned with the NPS in archives (so, not interpretation per se, but we worked with some of the interpreters and the folks in curation) about 5 years ago. I didn't end up pursuing opportunities at the NPS for a career, but I did chat quite openly with my bosses about their experience. Your question seems to welcome broad observations ("What was/is your overall feeling about your career?"), in case they're helpful, here are some things I took away from my time:

- The employees who seemed happiest were the employees who wanted to be in and around nature more than anything else and were willing to put up with a loss of flexibility and a lot of bureaucracy in order to do that every day. Is this you? (nb - I worked in one of the biggie parks that was several hours' drive from a city of any significant size. This may not/probably doesn't apply for people working in an urban park.)

- Especially in a "sexy" field like interpretation, it seemed like employees may not have much of a choice about where they live if they want to move up in the ranks. Depending on your temperament and desire to put down roots with a family, this may or may not bother you. My immediate supervisor had spent the past few years working for a park in the Southwest, which she LOVED, and was really struggling with the adjustment in her living situation during the summer I was working with her. Our director had spent his entire career bouncing around and had gone through a couple of marriages on his way up to a regional management spot. You go where there's an opening, period, if you want to stay in something like interpretation or archives and still advance in your career.

- From the stories I heard, it seemed like promotions, reviews, and all that other fun professional development stuff could be a pretty political affair (like most workplaces, of course.) So yes, once you're in the system, who you know and how much they like you is just as important as it is in the private sector.

If you want more particular input on the two internship opportunities you're choosing from (for instance, if it's a choice between two different locations and you're not sure which to choose) feel free to Memail and I'd be happy to get even more specific about my experience as an intern.
posted by superfluousm at 3:05 PM on December 13, 2012


I work for an equivalent Australian agency, so probably not entirely relevant (though I've met a few US Forests Service people via fire rotations), but I'll tell you what I know.

did you feel having a Master's level education helped? Or was it more about who you know/what you knew already?

A Masters definitely helped, it was the basis of what I knew. Of course it's no substitute for on the job learning, but we deal with scientific information and data all the time, having that grounding is important. However, just a relevant bachelor's degree is fine.

What was/is your overall feeling about your career?

Awesome. Doing something that is worthwhile, practical, makes a difference, generally pretty good bunch of people to deal with, lots of challenges, vareity.

Did you find there were many opportunities and avenues to explore?

Absolutely there are. So many different issues currently unsolved, there is no risk of running out of issues to manage. Climate change and fire and disease and increasing visitation and changing recreational uses etc etc etc.
posted by wilful at 3:19 PM on December 13, 2012


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