Best Practices for Interviewing Park and Recreation Candidates
Find, hire, and retain top talent for your parks and recreation department.
Your community deserves the best. When hiring for your parks and recreation department, you compete against the private sector and other nearby governments for top talent. The ideal hire will be someone passionate about community, innovative, committed to inclusivity, and willing to put in the effort needed to manage programs, provide high-quality customer service, and maintain your public spaces to the highest quality.
As a hiring manager, your responsibility is to identify top talent first from a stack of résumés and then through the interview process. Of course, every candidate will strive to demonstrate during a job interview that they are an ideal fit for the position—so what techniques should you follow to vet each candidate thoroughly and ensure you’re choosing someone who will add a strong work ethic and a bright mind to your team? Read on for our advice.
Identifying Job Qualifications
There’s a lot of research and discussion around preparing for a job interview when you’re a job candidate, but how should a hiring manager prepare? When hiring the most qualified and desirable candidates, ensure you and other park and recreation department heads align on what skills the open position needs. You need to consider what education level and degree, if any, are needed. If it’s a management role, the required education is typically a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in an outdoor-related field or a Master of Arts (M.A.) if hiring for a senior leadership position. Take time to consider how many years of experience are ideal for the role. Has the candidate previously managed a collegiate outdoor department or local government recreation program? The clearer and more aligned the department is on who they need, the easier it will be to narrow down the applications.
Hard skills are just as valuable as soft skills. For example, if you are interviewing for a community pool manager, anyone hired must have considerable knowledge of pool chemicals, equipment, and handling public crises. You want to be confident the new manager can run the facility safely and has the general speaking skills to interact with the media if an emergency arises.
When you have finally whittled down the pool of candidates to those who meet your requirements, it’s time to talk. Three of the most important qualifications to determine from your conversations are your candidate’s values in a career, the scope of experience they listed on their résumé, and how they overcome challenges. Understanding career goals, conflict-resolution capabilities, and proper job fit are essential for any position, particularly in the public sector where teams are small, and employees need to take on multiple responsibilities, see them as career opportunities, and do it all with respectful interpersonal skills.
Understanding the Candidate’s Values
During an interview, ask about previous professional achievements. Finding out what the person is most proud of in their career can tell you a lot about their priorities and the value they place on work. It’s helpful to know the scale of events the person has organized in the past to determine if they understand the varying factors in facilitating different park and recreation activities.
Validating Résumé Qualifications
Smart candidates will pack their résumés with impressive details. Your job is to ask questions to understand their talent and experience and make sure those impressive details aren’t over exaggerations. Ask qualifying questions about the types of programs they have managed in the past to understand the breadth of their experience. For example, events for elderly community members need separate considerations than those for children, and you may be in need of a staff member who can support such a wide variety.
Conflict Management Capabilities
Every team wants members who bring a positive attitude and can-do spirit. Hiring managers need to be able to determine who will bring a hard worth ethic and smile to the team and should avoid candidates who will be emotionally draining on the department or who might provide anything less than the highest quality service to members of the public. To identify if a candidate is capable of remaining calm under pressure, ask if there was a significant obstacle they overcame in a past experience. Parks and recreation can be stressful at times, ask how a candidate has handled a conflict with a leader or co-worker. The ability to professionally work through an uncomfortable topic or disagreement speaks volumes to a person’s communication skills and the type of team member they are.
The interview process is ultimately one of significant consideration and evaluation. Spend time clarifying the prerequisites for the particular position you’re hiring for, and be present during the interview by asking meaningful questions. The more confident you are when choosing a candidate, the more positive the outcome for the department. You’ve got this.