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Marine Dan Hottle laughed out loud when he stumbled upon a posting for his dream job as a spokesman for Yellowstone National Park.
He laughed for two reasons. First, he knew he was a perfect candidate. "It looked like the perfect job, for my personality and the things I like to do," Hottle says.
An avid outdoorsman, one of the first things Hottle did after leaving the Marine Corps was to buy a backpack full of camping gear and go for a monthlong walkabout, hiking some of his favorite national parks. It was a chance for him to leave the war in Afghanistan behind and reconnect with himself in places such as Zion and Rocky Mountain National Parks.
"It was my time to reset," he said. "I told my family I'd be awhile."
As he read the National Park Service posting on USAJobs.gov — the online clearinghouse for federal job openings — Hottle also knew he had chops for the job. He'd left the Corps after 12 years as an enlisted public affairs specialist and had gone on to work in PR positions in both the private sector and state government, including a stint as the spokesman for the governor of Indiana.
After a few years of running his own video production business, however, he was ready to get back into more stable employment. A federal job was a smart place to look because it would build on his time in the Corps, and veterans enjoy special hiring preferences that would make landing a job all the easier. Or so he thought. That was the other reason he found himself laughing: He knew he'd never get the job. After three years of searching and more than 100 applications, he'd learned the hard way that competition for great jobs is stiff.
Why not try? "I'd been hitting it hard on USAJobs.
I had a lot of letters that said I was among the most qualified. I had done a lot of phone interviews." But nothing had panned out. Apply for a dream job like this? Why bother? "This would have been like winning the lottery. It just sounded too good to be true," Hottle said.
He was about to blow it off when his wife encouraged him to apply anyway, "just for the heck of it." Within two weeks, he was offered the job. After more than a year at Yellowstone's remote headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo., Hottle says he couldn't be happier.
"Yellowstone is the first national park, and the Army actually administered the park for the first 32 years. Our headquarters are old barracks buildings that were built by the Army in the early 1900s," he said. Many of the Yellowstone's first National Park Service rangers were veterans from those early days, beginning a tradition that continues to this day, with about 15 percent of the National Park Service's 20,000 employees coming from a military background.
"Our uniform is even modeled after a military uniform," Hottle said. "It almost felt like I was checking into a military outfit when I got there."
All in a day's work The job itself, he said, "is virtually identical to what I did in the military, with the exception of combat." With as many as 30,000 visitors a day in the summer, it's "almost like doing public affairs for a small city. We have logistical issues, social issues, criminal issues, resource and wildlife protection issues. You never know what you're going to have when you come in the morning."
The diversity keeps it interesting, but it's the mission itself that puts a stride his step that he hasn't felt since his days in uniform.
"To be the most effective PR person, you have to be passionate about who you're representing. I loved being a Marine and didn't think I could ever top that." But there's a lot to love about representing one of the crown jewels of the U.S. park system.
But life in the mountains of Wyoming does bring other challenges.
"About 300 full-time employees live here year-round. It's a pretty brutal place in the winter. It can get down to 30 or 40 degrees below zero. We're about 75 miles from the nearest good-sized town in Bozeman [in Montana], so we have to drive an hour and a half just to get groceries."
But he wouldn't trade it for the world.
"We love it here. We can go cross-country skiing every day. Almost every animal in the park comes though our backyard on an almost daily basis," he said.
Getting started His advice for anyone interested in a job with the National Park Service is to first hone your résumé into something that makes sense to civilians. "The biggest mistake military members make is using too many military buzzwords and catchphrases. None of that equates in the civilian sector. You've got to figure out how to translate what you did into ways everyone else can understand."
Also, don't turn up your nose at entry-level positions.
"You have to be open to go back and starting over at ground zero," he said. For his job, he's had to take basic classes, for example, on how to do public relations during wildfires. "That was tough for me, because for the first few weeks, I was listening to someone talk about how to put together press releases. It didn't matter that I had 20 years experience already, I had to start over."