June 24, 2014

Free Time

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” 

The Alaskan summer is well underway, but the nights are still little chilly and I've kept all three blankets on my bed. When I was growing up we only had one car most of the time and it wasn't that reliable so we'd spend most days at home. There would be weeks where we didn't leave and I remember my mother half joking about cabin fever. My sister and I never really felt it. Being stuck at home was fine as long as we had books, movies, board games and weather that would allow us to periodically escape each other. Now I'm grown and living in the middle of east nowhere Alaska and I think I finally am understanding the real stir-crazy potential of cabin fever that my mother way hinting at.

Alaska is beautiful, especially as the weather grows warmer. We have wild roses growing through the front porch and the sky, with it's parade of puffy clouds, is the definition of vast. Unfortunately the mosquitoes seem to have formed loosely knit gangs that attack as soon as I step out the door, so long hikes are out for the time being, which means I'm largely house bound. I get up each morning and fast walk the 30 feet to work where I wait on a slew of interesting tourists and truckers traveling up and down the Dalton Highway. Most of them ask where I'm from which leads to a stock answer, something like “New Hampshire by way of New Orleans” and then they ask what brought me to Alaska to which I answer “Louisiana was getting hot so I picked the farthest point north.” It's like a script now that I recite ten to fifty times a day. And there's the issue. Each day here is very similar to the last one and the perpetual sunshine just adds to the feeling of a never ending loop.

Now, I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. If anything it's made me appreciate the little stuff, the slight variations like a cook that makes a special employee meal or a pair of chatty bicyclists. It also occurs to me that very often we are given things to occupy us, like television, shopping, driving, eating out. Did you ever read Fahrenheit 451? Bradbury wasn't just warning against a world where books were outlawed, though that's what people always pick up on, he was warning against a world where we no longer had the “leisure to digest” information. A world where we were constantly kept busy, so busy that there was no time to wonder about ourselves and our world, to analyze the information in books. I think that's been the gift of Alaska, that I have so much time to think now and, while it can be a little overwhelming, it's lead to some interesting choices.

My house in the woods
For one I asked my father to ship up my violin and now I practice every day, sometimes for hours if my housemates can stand it. I also have begun brushing up on my Spanish and learn at least one new word or phase each day. I still read too, at least two books a week. I take all the work I can now, giving up days off, so I'll walk out of the woods with a good chunk of change, maybe even enough to make a side trip somewhere between Alaska and Louisiana.

So I'm adapting, maybe so much so that my planned one month of city life will be too much of a shock. 

June 6, 2014

How To Get Seasonal Work

“We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work” 
-Thomas Edison

I got a bunch of emails after my last post asking how I go about finding and securing seasonal work, a really good question as there seems to be some confusion about what seasonal work really is.

First of all seasonal work usually means work that is offered for one season (spring, summer, fall, or winter), like a ski resort that hires 300 people just for the winter months and then most of them move on to other jobs elsewhere. Some seasonal work, such as hospitality, is less finite but still seasonal, like in New Orleans where hundreds of bartenders are hired just for the Mardi Gras season with the understanding that they will probably not have shifts come the slower summer months.

Step #1: Finding The Job

This site has come a long way over the past few years. They have a really wide selection of jobs from Conservation Corps to fly fishing resorts and it's organized really nicely by season, state, and job type. This is where I found Yukon River Camp.

I hate to say it but this site seems to be loosing popularity, but it's still a good resource to know. This was the site to go to before Cool Works and is also organized by season, state, and job type. I would highly recommend purchasing The Backdoor Guide to Short Term Job Adventures 4th Edition. Other additions have come out since but the 4th is the most comprehensive and useful. I found the Vermont Youth Conservation Corp through this book and had a great summer.

A job site, like the ones listed above, is just a searchable database of available positions with contact information included. If you're not seeing anything you like then head for Google and search for resorts, hostels, or ski resorts in the region you want then craft a nice introductory email to their HR person. Make sure to attach your resume and inquire about open positions. This is how I got both the New Orleans Hostel and the one I'll be at in Puerto Rico come fall. I emailed them and we negotiated a fair exchange.

If you're looking for a job in a restaurant in, say, Virginia Beach then I'd go with Criag's List. I've met a few people who operate exclusively off this site and seem to be having good luck.

I haven't used this site a whole lot but have heard some good things from coworkers. I found a sailing job and a few interesting resorts when I was researching Florida so check it out.

Step#2: The Application

An application is an application, so make it look good and stand out. Seasonal employers are less concerned about the length of your jobs and more about your responsibilities and work ethic. You see, seasonal employees are often a little flaky by nature. We're cool, don't get me wrong, but we're a little abnormal as well. We live without roots, far from family, and with very few possessions. We need to make friends quickly but can't get too attached to people we'll be leaving a few months later and while many workers travel by choice, some just can't hold down a long term job and by the end of their term an employer is happy to see them go. This is where references come in. Get them from anyone you can and make sure they're glowing because employers are taking a lot on faith and the better you look from across the country the more likely they are to take a chance on you.

Here's my attempt at looking "Resume professional"
Potentially Helpful Tip: I was surprised how many jobs, especially resorts and dude ranches, ask for a picture because that means there are twice as many jobs that want a picture but had lawyers who told them not to ask. One of the drawbacks to hiring seasonal employees is that the employer doesn't get to sit down and interview them; most rely on phone interviews which don't really give them an idea of how a candidate might present to clients (some are going to Skype now, but not many). The employers I've spoken to have all (every one of them) talked about the nerve wracking experience of waiting for new employees to arrive and hoping that they made the right choice, like ordering a painting sight unseen and based only on a loose description of its medium. What if they wear tons of makeup? Or have a facial tattoo? Or a Mohawk? There's nothing wrong with these things and some employers will embrace them while others will shy away, but if you can present well in a photo then go get a hair cut, tone down the makeup, and dress the part then attach a head shot to your resume. It will make you stand out and give employers peace of mind.

Step #3: The Interview

Like I said, most of these job interviews are going to be done by phone which is good for us because we can do them in our PJs surrounded by cheat sheets. I personally have a notebook handy to write down questions as they come up (employers love well thought out questions) and stay on target with the questions they're asking. While these interviews tend to play out along fairly standard lines they will probably ask about your experience with communal living. Many seasonal positions include dorm style housing so you'll be living with your coworkers, which makes for a lot of togetherness and tends to breed drama. Employers want to know that you'll be responsible and professional both at work and towards your housemates.

So by now you hopefully have the job, but remember to learn from my mistakes and as soon as you've secured a position begin your research for the next season. Employers begin hiring a season ahead and if you don't have employment by the time your summer gig ends then you might find that all the fall positions have already been filled.

Good Luck! And if you have additional resources, ideas or experiences please post them in the comments section. Lots of my experience is based on the trail and error of other so lets expand out collective knowledge.

June 5, 2014

Winter Employment

“O, Sunlight! The most precious gold to be found on Earth.” 
-Roman Payne

Something I've learned from my limited seasonal work experience is that it's never too early to start planning for the next jump. Positions like mine have pretty solid start and end dates so it's kind of like putting a puzzle together; you find another job whose start date is close to your current job's end date and try to make them fit. Because I hate being unprepared and scrambling for a last minute job (though that's often what I end up doing) I started my winter job hunt as soon as I began at Yukon River Camp.

The goal, as I've mentioned, is to go south in the winter and north in the summer thereby always being at a fairly comfortable temperature and avoiding both the southern heat and northern snow. Unfortunately for me most of the winter jobs in the US are at ski resorts. They hire huge numbers of employees for the season but not only do I not particularly like being super cold, I also don't have a ability to pack or store large amounts of warm winter clothes.

With ski resorts out I began looking at places like Steamboat Wells in Death Valley California. They offer housing and a meal plan plus a decent hourly wage, but they, like Yukon River, are in the middle of nowhere. While a summer of social and cultural seclusion is relaxing, a sort of vacation, I'm not sure I'm up for nearly a full year of isolation. Next!

Realizing my need for at least visual stimuli (the social part I can usually do without) I began thinking about the Florida Keys, maybe doing some waitressing or working on a boat for the winter, and I started Goggling hostels I could stay at. By pure chance the Google map showed a little dot way off to the south east in Puerto Rico where there is a little hostel that's bright and cheery and very vacation spot looking. So I emailed them, just like I did with The Marquette House in New Orleans, and they they have agreed to let me come down from about November through March. In exchange for 5 hours each day five days each week I'll get a bed in a dorm, $20 daily bar credit, and $50 per week which is enough for me to buy rice, beans, and maybe the occasional chocolate bar.

Now it's time to do some research. I'm sorry to say that most of what I know about Puerto Rico comes from West Side Story, which I'm not sure was the most accurate portrayal even in the sixties.