How to Apply for Those 1,000,000 Census Jobs

Don't wait to apply -- demand for temporary positions is surging amidst jobless recovery.

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The prospect of up to a million temporary jobs working on the 2010 U.S. Census is drawing lots of attention in today's job-starved marketplace. So, while most jobs won't begin until the spring, it is not too early to add your application to the growing flood of job seekers contacting local Census offices. The jobs—temporary and requiring flexible hours—are perfect for many retirees. By their nature, the jobs will be based close to where you live, and your knowledge of the local community will be a plus.

[See Best Affordable Places to Retire.]  Traditionally, census jobs have been a great fit with retirees, says Wendy Button, chief of the decennial recruiting branch at the U.S. Census Bureau. "We've always relied a lot on them—they are really dependable workers." However, retirees will have a lot of competition from among millions of unemployed Americans. Temporary jobs for the 2000 Census often went begging but not so this time around. Of course, the national unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in late 1999, compared with 10.2 percent this past October.

Already, Button says, it's clear that the bureau's jobs are in high demand. "We're seeing the skill set [among applicants] is much higher for these temporary, part-time jobs than we've ever seen before." Demand for positions has appeared so strong, in fact, that the bureau reportedly cancelled a planned national advertising campaign to find temporary employees. Even though most jobs won't begin until next spring, and people won't be notified until February, Button urges people to apply early.

There are five type of census jobs—census takers, crew leaders, crew leader assistants, recruiting assistants, and census clerks. Most jobs will last several weeks. Applicants generally need to have a valid driver's license and, where public transportation is not available, use their own vehicles (mileage expenses will be paid). For census takers—the largest category of jobs offered—evening and weekend work is standard in order to find people at home.

You need to apply for a job through the census office closest to where you live. You can call (866) 861-2010 and, if you enter your ZIP code when prompted, your call will be routed to the nearest office. Or, you can obtain all the materials online. Begin the process by finding that office. There is an interactive map with office locations. If you put your cursor over a location, you can see its pay rate for census takers. Button says pay ranges from $10 to $25 an hour and is keyed to wages in local markets. Once you've located the local office, call and schedule an appointment to apply for a position and take a 28-question employment test.

[See Best Places to Retire.] The higher you score on the test, the more likely it is you will be offered a position, Button says. Other key determinants are the hours you can work and your ability to work a flexible schedule. Local demand for temporary workers will also play a role, and specific demands won't be known until the Census Bureau receives completed census forms and knows how much door-to-door work remains to be done. There's a sample test online that will get you comfortable with the test process, subject areas, and types of questions you're likely to be asked. "That practice test is very similar to the actual test," Button says. People who don't like their scores can retake the test, she notes, but can't take it twice in a single day.

Before your testing appointment, you ought to complete the online employment application and bring it with you to the appointment. You can print out the form and fill it in by hand, or fill it in online and print it out. The same choice is available for the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form. Bring it with you as well, along with the proper forms of personal identification spelled out in the I-9 directions.

[See 15 Top Office and Home-Based Jobs for Seniors.]