Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve entertained the idea of landing a job in the outdoors. The most commonly thought of (and regularly sought-after) outdoor-related gig is that of a Park Ranger. Sure, some folks may picture a guy in the familiar khaki and green uniform, campaign hat atop his head, sitting alone in the woods quietly going crazy from isolation, but all-in-all, it’s an amazing job for an outdoors enthusiast. I would know, as I’ve been one for a little over five years.
If the outdoors is your thing, there are few cooler ways to get paid while tromping around the forests, boating the lakes and rivers, and imparting your outdoor knowledge to children and adults alike. Other perks (outside of that studly uniform) include government benefits (assuming you’re working for a government agency), cool on-the-job gear, a whole boatload of awesome stories, and often the position comes with free…yes, free…housing. The downside, however, is that finding a full-time, permanent position in the field can be extremely challenging. Several factors may come into play that can greatly increase your chances of landing a gig, so here are some pointers.
Start from the bottom
Many of the park rangers you’ll meet started out as part-time summer help. They got their start cleaning bathrooms, running a concession stand, or collecting entrance fees in some godforsaken gatehouse in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, being a trustworthy, knowledgeable, and seasoned veteran of any park will curry great favor with park management when they are determining which candidate they want to hire. It’s simple, really. You’re going to have a much greater chance at getting hired if you’ve been there for several summers, ingratiated yourself with the full-time employees, and proven yourself as a stand-up individual.
In the same vein as the last tip, offering your services to help clean or maintain the park, help with interpretive programming, or heading a particular interest group of volunteers will get you noticed. Many parks have “friends” groups, who meet regularly with park management. These groups are large, organized, and actually have some sway with how the park is managed simply because of the sheer amount of grunt work and fundraising they do to better the place. Joining such a group will not only get you the aforementioned amount of notice, but it is also an amazing way to get to know the ins and outs of that particular park.
Finding the right position can be difficult, so be sure to frequently check postings with every state you’d be okay with moving to as well as federal jobs on www.usajobs.com. Often, positions are only open for a short time, and many people apply for the same job. Pick out specific cities, regions, or parks and subscribe to their employment pages, keep an eye on their social media posts, and make phone calls. If you want to get paid to hang out at a park, you’re going to have to do your homework and keep at it. Some people wait years for just the right job, and will pounce at the first chance.
Get a degree, ya dummy
Most full-time, permanent Park Ranger positions require some kind of degree. Some only require an Associate’s, most require at least a Bachelor’s, and the higher-level administrators almost always have a Master’s diploma hanging on their wall. There are hundreds of great schools around the country that offer Natural Resources programs. Other majors to look into are History, Biology, Zoology, Recreation, and in some cases Criminal Justice. Most of the more popular regions for outdoorsy folk also have a college or university in the area which offers an outdoor-related degree program. Some examples of schools to look at include Purdue University, Cornell, Duke, College of the Atlantic, and Green Mountain College.
Keep a clean record
Depending on the details of the position or what state you’re working in, you may have to go through some kind of police training. Many state and federal Park Ranger positions (Law Enforcement) do. If you have some blemishes on your record that pop on your background check, you’re a heck of a lot less likely to land the job you want. Many times, small misdemeanors that you might’ve dummied their way into your record can be overlooked if you’ve cleaned up your act, but if you’ve got an extensive rap sheet, kiss your chances of working with Smokey Bear goodbye.
Law enforcement-focused ranger positions involve very intense and extensive background checks. This includes background investigators interviewing your high school counselor, to that ex who thinks you’re a scumbag, to that guy you got into a shoving match with while tailgating during your sophomore year. There’s no hiding from what you’ve done, as the background check will reveal all. When it comes to the background checks, unfettered honesty is always the best policy.