Career Interviews & Development

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In this episode, I had the great opportunity to interview Anthony Iracki, MS, CPRP, for an exciting conversation about professional development in the field of parks and recreation. As a young professional, Anthony has some truly incredible insights that are applicable for both current and future leaders. You’ll love this one.  Please share it.

“You are a caretaker of the community, but you need to take care of yourself first.”  – Anthony Iracki

 

Learn more about Anthony: 

The words “During working hours, we make a living. During leisure hours, we make a life” ring true for Anthony Iracki, a supervisor for the Village of Brown Deer Parks and Recreation Department. Anthony has worked in the field of parks and recreation since the age of 16, and he is passionate about enhancing the quality of life for everyone in his community. His focuses include innovative program development, business partnerships, conservation through education, and social equity in programming. Anthony’s ultimate goal is to ensure that every resident in his community has the opportunity to truly experience life.

 

“If you want to raise the bar, and you want change, you can’t be afraid of everything that comes with it.” – Anthony Iracki

 

Anthony is Raising the Bar:

  • By reminding professionals that putting your mental and physical health first is actually the key to serving others best
  • By encouraging us to use the word “no” as motivation to keep pushing towards  long term goals
  • By prioritizing FUN back into our job – because that’s what parks and recreation is all about!
  • By thinking of collaboration as a positive endeavor rather than a threat

 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How current leaders in the field can help prepare the next generation
  • The steps that students and young professionals can take to work their way up in the field – hint: it’s all about connection.
  • What the future of parks and recreation look like when Millennials are in leadership positions
  • Tactical approaches for being a leader without the title
  • Why “Culture Creators” can have serious positive impact on your community
  • And so much more… seriously, you gotta listen to this one!

 

“Leadership is Situational.  Leadership can come from anyone. You just have to not be afraid to fail; to know when to push and know when to step back.” – Anthony Iracki

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Love where you Live by Peter Kageyama

The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungee

NRPA Aquatics Network

Association of Aquatic Professionals

State Associations

Scholarships for NRPA

Young Fellowship Scholarship, Diversity Scholarship

American Academy for parks and recreation administration – Externship

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If you enjoyed this episode, please share it!

Follow Anthony Iracki on LinkedIn

 

Overview

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  • This podcast is all about how to raise the bar in parks and recreation because we know that it’s our responsibility to serve our community to the best of our ability. That means we need two things: 1) We need to be able to use new tools that will help us be more efficient and effective. 2) We need to train and mentor the next generation of parks and recreation professionals.
  • Episode #5 is all about how a student or young professional can get their first job in parks and recreation, OR if they are in part-time work, move to full-time work.
  • In this episode, I’ll provide you actionable tips that I’ve picked up along the way on my journey, as I’ve moved from camp counselor, intern, part-time to full-time positions, and I’ll also be throwing in clips from interviews that I’ve done that should help inspire you.  Please share this episode with those who may need to hear it.
  • Let me know what you thought about the episode my messaging me on Instagram.

 

So what?

  • I want to address the elephant in the room. College age graduates and interns need more from their local parks and recreation before embarking on a career in the field. Stop making it a summer job, and start taking pride in it – start thinking of this as a lifelong career. Set them up for success, and treat them as if they will be your next parks and recreation director. They might just be.
  • The younger generations want to make an impact in the community, so if you can frame it as an opportunity to that, they’ll be all for it.  This is what parks and recreation should be.
  • Give them autonomy and independence to create value for you and your community.  Let them be in Linchpin – Seth Godin Book.  You will need to be competitive with salary and outside work.

Ways People Find Jobs in Parks and Recreation

They stumbled into it.  Seriously some people didn’t even know that this is what they’re career was going to be. Remember that everyone started from the ground up.  Yes, some had connections – and that’s a critical piece that we’re about to talk about.  But many people stumbled into a career in parks and rec.  They just found it through a summer job, or a friend who lifeguarded too. That means that if you’re someone who is intentionally going into the field, you have a leg up.  Because you have the passion for it.  I asked Jayna Lang what happens when you are looking to hire someone but they don’t have the experience.  Listen to what she said.  It’s all about passion.

 

They had a connection.  They networked like crazy. You won’t get where you are going without people.  You need to find the people who will go out on a limb for you and believe in you.  All it takes is a connection – a volunteer supervisor, a coworker, who believes in you.  In Jayna’s situation, she was a lifeguard and she worked her way up because she found someone she looked up to and that gave her the connections to progress in her career.  IT WAS ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO CHOSE TO HELP her. So you need to find those people.

Starting from scratch

You may need to start from scratch.  You may be in a new area, new territory, you’ll need to stand out.  Everything I’m about to tell you never will beat going into a location and shaking someone’s hand.  Remember that you are offering them value, so position yourself that way – departments need quality applicants.  Just listen to Sean Van Roen from Meeker, Colorado, talk about their need for them.

Key items:

  • Optimize your resume and online presence.  Get someone you trust to review your resume. It needs to be specific, actionable, bold. What do you stand for? People want to see passion in your resume, because that’s what this field is about.  Be on LinkedIn, connect with local professionals. You have to be found on the internet – google yourself, create a LinkedIn Profile and fill it out to the best of your ability.
  • Answer: what does my dream job look like?  What are the hours?  The people that you work with?  Simply stating that you want a job in parks and recreation isn’t specific enough – do you want to be a director?  Do you want to manage recreation or aquatic programs?  Map out what your ideal day to day worklife would be, and write down that goal.  Be flexible, however, because your dream job may take you to a new location, new places and roles that you’ve never heard of.  Also know that your experience in a big city might land you in a recreation assistant role, while in smaller rural areas, you could qualify for a director.  So be strategic.
  • Identify the key connectors in your dream job. Identify the people who work in the parks. You can visit any front desk and ask who is in charge. You can look on the website and find their phone number. Emailing may help when it comes to starting communication, but more powerful ways to do this is to visit the park, office, or facility. Ask if they are available, and leave your card if they are not. Get their phone number, call that afternoon. Leave your resume at the desk.  You will have a better shot at getting an interview if you meet them over coffee first.  Ask if you can’t understand more about what they do on a daily basis.  You might be surprised.
    • I remember vividly trying to get my first job in parks and recreation. So badly, I wanted to be a camp counselor at a nearby park. I parked in the far away lot so that I could have a short walk before turning in my application.  I remember panicking outside of the door – I gave myself a pep talk – go turn in the application, becky.  Just go do it.  I finally went in there and tried to turn it in, only to be told that I needed to turn it into HR.  So don’t make that mistake.
  • Be prepared in your interview.
    • Ask questions to them.  What are my responsibilities.  Who will you? be working with?  What does a typical day look like for you?
    • What levels of training, support do you have for young professionals? Or, how do you encourage growth in your youngest staff?
    • Business cards?  Resume printed?
  • Education does help. So do certifications.  But your work experience matters more.
  • In the field of parks and recreation, you need experience – it can be volunteer work or paid work.  Connect with the people you’ve identified and ask them if you can volunteer.  Bring value first and then they will pay you.
  • Act the part.  Full-time employees carry themselves a little differently. They bring a positive attitude to the workplace, every day. They wear clothes that represent who they are, a professional. They don’t talk negatively about their coworkers and they treat everyone with respect.
  • They communicate well.  They’re not perfect but they’re diligent as possible.  They’re professional in their communication, both on and off line.  They follow up when they agreed to, and they uphold their promises .  Don’t worry, we are all working on this one.

 

Above all, don’t get discouraged.  Just because your first job didn’t work out as planned, you can still find another one.  Your boss was a jerk?  They’re not all like that.  Keep hustling.  Keep applying.  Keep networking and meeting and greeting.  They’re not all the same. Find a place where you feel valued.

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Jayna Lang’s first job was as a lifeguard at her local pool; she turned that summer job into a lifelong career through parks and recreation. She worked her way up to the Recreation Program Supervisor role, learning valuable lessons along the way.  In this conversation, we talk about onboarding new employees, training them efficiently, and making sure to establish a values-first organization (this starts in the interview!).  When asked what she looks for when hiring new employees, she says unequivocally, “enthusiasm and a passion for serving the community.”  Then, we dive into what it takes to form a successful relationship with partners in local communities.

 

Jayna is Raising the Bar…

  • By treating her employees as people first – and instilling organizational values from the start
  • By consistently looking into the future to answer, “What’s next?”
  • By using partnerships and collaboration to do more with less

 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Jayna worked her way up in the parks and recreation field, starting first as a lifeguard
  • The systems and processes that Jayna uses to efficiently hire and onboard new employees
  • Key communication tips that Jayna uses to keep in touch with her team

 

Links & Resources Mentioned:

City of Lakewood Parks and Recreation Master Plan: lakewood.org/imagine

Colorado Parks and Recreation Association 

Workbrite is a new tool that Jayna mentioned for onboarding employees

 

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Renee Raney loves her job. She is the Parks Operations Supervisor of Events for Cheaha State Park. Each and everyday, people travel to the park to participate in the unique programs and activities the park offers.

Whether its “Hammocking 101, the “Women’s Wilderness Weekend,” or the countless other outdoor programs, Renee is behind the scenes making sure that the variety and quality of programs is the best it possibly can be.

She instills her own love of nature in all of the work she does, which is evident to the 36,000 Facebook followers she helps engage on social media. Sometimes she shares recipes for herbal tea, other times she tells a story of a park guest who had an interesting experience.

Most of the followers know her by name and it’s easy to know why. She’s in tune with the community, and has the skills and experience to create and market programs to suit their desires. She makes it look easy.

In reality, many programmers in the field of parks and recreation know that creating a new program can be downright challenging. Beyond developing the idea, the supplies, the staff needed, and the outcomes, you also have to prove that it’s a valuable program to pursue. Renee has developed her own evaluation tool that measures the success of the program (and regularly sees a 600% learning increase!).

To say I was impressed with this tool was an understatement. Then, when Renee mentioned that her program plans look like a movie script, it all made sense.

She’s the director. The staff are the actors. And all of the community is the audience. I can bet that they’d give her a standing ovation for the incredible work she’s doing at Cheaha State Park.

Talking to Renee was like talking to an old friend. I hope you feel the same way when you listen to the podcast.

“Be as perceptive of your audience as you can be. Be real.”

Renee is Raising the Bar…

  • by being data-driven.
  • by creatively using her skills to improve her organization.
  • by being in tune with her community.
  • by authentically sharing her story.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The path Renee took to get to the job she loves
  • How to try new program ideas when there isn’t a proven concept
  • The unique way that Renee is able to track success in programs
  • How Renee manages to engage 36,000+ followers on Facebook


Quick Tips on Social Media from Renee:

  • Each day, schedule hourly Facebook posts for the next day
  • You can post the same things multiple times but there’s a trick to it; remember that there’s a different audience at 9am than at 8pm
  • Bring a personal touch to your comments; put your name behind it if you write it.
  • When promoting an event, create a specific Facebook event page. Then, promote this event 10+ times, exchanging the photos of team
  • If someone shares your post, always comment and say “thank you”

“When you post about success and optimism and the beauty of natural resources and the incredible staff that are keeping it in operation… it’s a win-win.”

Links:

Cheaha State Park Facebook Page
Cheaha State Park Website
Alabama State Park

Cheaha State Park is promoting natural resource conservation, outdoor recreation, environmental education, wellness, community, and partnerships in a way that all of those interconnect for the improvement of the individual’s experience and the community’s perception of the park.

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Hello everybody and welcome to the Becky Talks Parks Podcast.

It’s so exciting to see this project come to life. For too long, I have thought… where is the conversation for parks and recreation professionals?

The current mediums for communication leave much to be desired. I want to share authentic conversations with professionals in our field, diving into both the highlights and the struggles of working as a park and rec pro.

Truly, this conversation is for my younger self. The one who sat in college, wondering what she was going to do with her life. Who cared deeply about being outdoors. Who loved working with other people and understanding their point of view.

She just didn’t know what she wanted to do as a career. And then, when she found out that parks and recreation was actually a major – and a career that improved the community – she lit up!

She knew it was right for her. But she couldn’t find real conversations from others in the field about what it was like, or which one of the paths she should take within parks and recreation.

She wanted to know what it was like to be in charge of aquatic programs, recreation centers, open space, environmental programs, camps. She wanted to know what it was like, and what it took to be a director of parks and rec. She didn’t want a glossed over conversation saying that everything was easy. No, she wanted the truth.

And when she actually pursued career choices that led her to manage rec centers, fitness programs, and parks, she wanted real advice from others about best practices in hiring, on-boarding, and training staff; planning for upcoming trends in the field; and using digital tools and technology to make parks and rec more efficient and effective.

So that’s what this podcast is about. It’s for the current and future park and recreation professionals who love what they do. It’s about conversations with all levels of recreation professionals, from lifeguards, to environmental educators, to recreation supervisors, to directors. It’s for anyone who has an idea to raise the bar in the field.

I believe that we all have ideas that are valuable. It’s simply a matter of hearing those ideas at the right time, in the right settings, to the right people. This podcast will help share those ideas.

If you, or someone you know, is a recreation professional who is passionate about their job and the impact they are having on their community, please reach out to me at becky@beckytalksparks.com.

A new podcast will be released every Tuesday afternoon. So please stay tuned and check back often. Episodes and more info can be found at my blog at beckytalksparks.com.

If you are looking forward to this podcast, be sure to subscribe, leave a review, and share it with your coworkers and friends.

It’s time to take pride in the awesome field of parks and recreation! It’s time to raise the bar!

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Parks & Recreation Tips

Recruiting Quality Applicants in a Competitive Economy

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Brand the Job.

Learn the art of selling your seasonal jobs.  Position your seasonal jobs as an incredible learning opportunity to build critical job skills while working in a rewarding position.

Optimize Your Application Process.

Gen Z and Millennials will probably be your main recruits for these jobs.  Be sure that you have an online process that is straight-forward and easy to access.  Call applicants back quickly.

Utilize a mixed marketing approach.

Learn Facebook and Google ads to advertise to your next employee.  You can target ads specifically to those you want to see it: local or national audience, young or old, interests and hobbies, unemployed vs employed, etc.  These online tactics can attract serious attention.

Offer Referral Programs.

Your current employees are your best advocates!  Develop a referral program that rewards them for bringing in their friends.  You can bet that they have an active social media to share if the incentives are right: think weekends off, free ice cream, rec pass, etc.

Let Your Culture (& Process) Be Known.

Create a video about who you are and what your organization stands for.  Talk about values that make your team great.  Walk them through the application process, the training involved, and what to expect on a day to day basis.  Clarity up front will make the difference long term.

Give them the perks!

Set your new employees up with a t-shirt, name tag, water bottle, stickers, a backpack, free lunch, etc.  Things that make them feel special.  It shows that they belong.  If it’s cool, they’ll wear it, which means they become a walking advertisement for your organization.

Make information accessible.

Chances are, your information isn’t as accessible as you think. Be sure that your job description is easy to read and easy to find.  Share the new opportunity with community partners, fellow employees, and other user groups through on and offline methods.

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Have you ever spent hours crafting the perfect resume, cover letter, and application?
You hold your breathe and click on the dreaded SEND button.
Your application has been submitted to the employer of your dreams.
It will be only be a matter of days before they call you, anxiously awaiting to meet you in person.
Then, you will land your dream job and live happily ever after.

Except,  none of that happens.  You never hear back.
Hours of your life wasted.  Energy and enthusiasm drained.
I say: NO MORE.

Having the perspective of the hiring manager, I’m happy to share a few tips and tricks that will help you get noticed both OFF and ON line.

Note: I am only sharing my opinions and observations from my own experience.   I’m not a HR generalist or specialist, just a parks and rec professional.

 Stand Out in Online Applications

1. Fill out the application completely and thoroughly.

This is the most important part to stand out during the online application process.

Most parks and rec agencies use an online application process.  On the candidates end, for most government jobs, this is often called GovernmentJobs.com (ironic, huh?).  The AWESOME thing about this online program is that you only have to fill out your education, experience, objective, and skills ONCE.  I recommend working on your profile while you have plenty of free time (not when the application is due in two hours).   If done well, it will take some time to complete this: a few hours, at least.  Once you complete it, it’s there forever (just as long as you remember your username and password).

BTW – If the employer doesn’t have an online application process, good luck.  Print off your application, go to a post office, and skip to step #2.

Based on my experience, governmentjobs.com is linked to a program called NEOGOV.  Neogov is the way that employers view applications, see candidates, and go through the hiring process.  NEOGOV has a whole system that grades your application.

Here are some tips to help you receive a higher score:

  • Complete your application.  You’ll be given a score based on your ability to fill out all parts of the application. That means that if you decide to only attach your resume (and leave the experience and education parts blank), then you are missing out on some serious points!  Go back and fill in as much as you can.  That means things that are often overlooked: objective, skills, preferences, and additional information.  This also means attaching a cover letter and resume.
  • Optimize your Objective.   I can’t tell you how much this stands out when looking at hundreds of resumes.  You see, when you click on a person’s name, the OBJECTIVE is the main piece of information that shows up before we scroll down the page.  DO NOT just copy and paste an generic statement. DO make it personable, professional, and specific to the job.
  • Answer all Questions with Detail. Sometimes, employers will ask specific questions at the end of the application to make sure you are qualified.  The best thing you can do is to answer them honestly and thoroughly.  Sure, some of the questions are multiple choice (there’s only one right answer), but you can make up for those points by answering the open-ended questions with lots of detail.  That being said, don’t write an essay.  Keep it to one or two paragraphs.  Make it worth their time to read it.

Don’t click submit yet!  You’ll need to make sure you have a detailed resume and cover letter, too.

 Always write a specific cover letter

2. Always write a specific cover letter for the job

My husband, who recently had to hire a new employee, told me about a few of the applications that he received for this new role.  He said that two candidates had used templates for their cover letters.  Nothing wrong with that – templates are a great way to make a modern resume/cover letter.   However, one of them failed to change the heading; instead of his name being typed in 20pt font across the top, the cover letter said “Header 1” instead.  Yikes.  The other candidate used a cover letter from a previous job that he applied for.  He forgot to change the name of the company and the name of the position.

The point isn’t to make fun of these mistakes – it’s to show that they happen all the time.  It’s the people who PAY ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS and make these documents professional who truly stand out.

So, if you’re going to use a template… customize the template as much as possible.  Read it.  Reread it. Reread it again. And give it to a friend to proofread.  Just remember – if you forget these details now, it can’t possibly be expected that you would remember those details if given the job.   It’s true that your actions speak louder than words.  But your words definitely count.

The main point here is CREATE A COVER LETTER.  Make it specific to the job.  Don’t be generic.  Tell a story that convinces that employer that you are the best person for the job.  Pain Letters are also a great way to stand out.

Call the hiring manager

3. Email & Call the Hiring Manager (even if it says not to)

If you’re a millennial reading this, you just cringed.  Picking up the phone to call a stranger (who could be your boss) is downright frightening.  The online application should be enough, you mumble.

Not so – at least not in the “real world.”  Understand that parks and recreation professionals are incredibly busy.  Anyone managing camps, programs, sports, and facilities, have a thousand to-dos at any given time.  Hiring is just one step in that process.  They may not see your name for several days/weeks/months.  It could be luck that they find you.  Think about it from the employers’ point of view.

For several jobs that I posted, we received over 120 applications.  The only way to go through them at that point was either through NEOGOV scores (see above) or by going through each one, downloading the resumes/applications/cover letters, and dividing them out through a matrix of sorts.  It’s a VERY laborious process that is a huge drain on one’s to-do list.

So – how do you solve that pain?  You pick up the phone and you let it be know who you are and how you can help!

Have you seen the warnings on the applications that say “Please, no calls”? I have a few opinions about that.  I personally think that this is a warning from HR that prevents THEM from getting an influx of calls.  But as a hiring manager, I wanted SOMEBODY, anybody, to stand out from the crowd.  In fact, I actually hired someone simply because he called me multiple times (he also had a great resume and interview skills).  It was clear that he wanted the job and he demonstrated that through his actions.

Tour the building

4. Take a Tour of the Park/Facility

In nearly every interview that I’ve been in (on both sides of the table), there has been a question that asks about the candidates understanding of what that parks and rec department does.  It will probably be phrased like this:

“Tell us about your impressions about ____________”

“What intrigues you about working for us?”

“Can you tell us what you know about our ___________?”

This is where you either shine or sink.  Preparation is key here!  How do you prepare yourself for this question?  One great way to do this is by actually visiting and taking a tour of the facility.  Ask as if you are a visitor (because you are).  Pay for the day, take a class, and meet the instructors.  Be nice to the front desk staff and ask them about the membership options.  Take a look in the rec catalogue to understand the different classes and programs that are offered.  Go for a walk in the surrounding area.  Observe the people – what are they doing?  Who are they with?  Get your first impressions and shape them into interview worthy responses.  Of course, if you are out of state, or unable to visit,  there’s other ways to approach this.   At the very least, go to the website and read as much as you can about the department.  You’ll probably be overwhelmed by the information, so pick 2-3 conversation topics that would be good interview material.

Bonus!  If you end up going to the facility, congratulations!  You’ve made an impression.  If you want to REALLY improve your chances of getting the job, then ask for the manager.  Shake his/her hand.  Tell them who you are and what job you are applying for.  Give them a business card with your about.me profile list.  This is a great way to stick around in someone’s mind.  A warning, though… have some awareness here.  Dress appropriately.  Don’t take up too much of their time.  If they are in the middle of things, try again another day.  And if all else fails, then simply send them an email or call.   The point here is that you are making an effort.  That should be enough to stand out; just be aware of the fine line that could backfire if you call/visit/email too much.  Only you can be the judge of that.

In Summary

Getting a job in parks and recreation is incredibly rewarding, but you have to get your foot in the door first.  Follow the steps above to stand out from the rest of the online applications.

Be warned, the application process can take several months.  It’s common to not get a call back for up to a month (the job offer can take up to six).  If you didn’t hear back?  Well, it’s likely that someone just forgot, or they didn’t think it was important.  Maybe, that’s just the opportunity you need to follow up.

Use your best judgment, be thorough, and follow up.  

Good luck!

Becky Dunlap

 

PS- What’s your experience with the online application process?  Are you a manager – what tips would you have for potential candidates?  Are you looking for a job – what frustrates you most about this process?  Let us know in the comments!

 

Parks of the Future

Do you ever wonder what the parks of the future will look like?

I do.  I think about it all the time.

 

How will technology impact our relationship with parks?  

What trends will emerge?  

Which trends will last?

 

All I know is that when I saw Philip S. Miller Park in Castle Rock, Colorado, I remarked:

THIS is the future.

 

Interview with a Parks and Rec Professional

“I think that quality of life is truly what we do.  For me, it’s a calling, not a career.  It’s not a job, and we aren’t just picking up paychecks.  We get to really believe it what we do.  And that, I don’t think there can be anything more fulfilling.”

 

These are the words that Sean VanRoenn left me with at the end of my first ever interview with the Parks and Rec Director Interview Series of my blog.  Inspired and feeling incredibly grateful, I shook his hand, thanked him for his time, and went home with a renewed passion for our field and the work we’re doing.

I want to remind professionals that there are passionate, dedicated, forward-thinking professionals like Sean out there in our field.  That’s why I created this blog.  I think there should be more information about our awesome career path, and the array of jobs you can have once you decided on this field.

This is particularly important for young professionals.  Something that I’ve observed is that recent grads become paralyzed by the array of choices ahead of them (trust me, I know this because I’ve been there).  There feels like a lot of pressure to make the right decision.

After all, when you want to give 110% to your job, you’re investing your time and energy into an organization and role.  Millennials want to feel empowered to make a difference in their workplaces and the environment (Deloitte Survey, Page 13).  I believe we will see more and more Millennials will choose careers in parks and recreation.

There is an opportunity cost for where you spend the majority of your time.   It’s scary to take those risks without even knowing what your dream career really looks like.  My dream career (right now) is to become a parks and rec director.  Which is why I interviewed Sean.   My hope is that this interview series helps you get clear on your dream job.

I met Sean VanRoenn at the Colorado Parks and Recreation conference in September of 2016 through a networking event where young professionals were paired with a director of parks and rec.  These kinds of events are such an awesome opportunity for students and recent grads to learn from the best in their field.  I was lucky to be paired with Sean.  When I met Sean, I realized that he was a down-to-earth guy with a  passion for parks and rec.  He shared his stories, advice, and wisdom with openness and honesty.

When I thought about interviewing parks and recreation professionals, Sean immediately jumped front of mind. Luckily, he agreed to be interviewed for this blog.

This gave us the chance to visit the beautiful town of Meeker, Colorado.  This was actually the third time we had visited since I met Sean back in September.    We love this place!  It really is a secret gem of Colorado.  Meeker has awesome mountain biking trails, well maintained parks, an up-and-coming downtown area, and the peaceful serenity of a quiet mountain town.  Don’t forget the million acres of wilderness just a short drive from Meeker.

When we went for a hike there in the fall, we didn’t see a single soul on the trail.  Do you know how rare that is in Colorado?  It really is our favorite vacation getaway.    I highly recommend you check Meeker out.  Read more about our trip to Meeker here.

Without further ramblings, here is my interview with Sean VanRoenn, Meeker Parks and Recreation District’s Director.  Please excuse the sound quality.  This was my first interview.  I learned a lot through this process, and it can only go up from here!

Learn more about Meeker Parks and Recreation
Find the Meeker Parks and Recreation Guide Here
Explore the Town of Meeker
Follow Meeker Parks and Rec Colorado on Facebook

Interview with Parks and Recreation Director Sean VanRoenn

I am sitting here today with the Meeker Park and Recreation District Director, Sean VanRoenn.  Why don’t you tell us about your position here, and how you got to this director level role?

Thank you Becky.  For one, I just want to say this is a great idea.  I love that we have the opportunity to talk bout this great industry that we are in.  I have been in Meeker for two years.  I came to the west slope best slope from the front range.  I grew up in the Front Range and the mountains were calling me.  I’ve had a background in public parks, recreation, athletics, fitness.  What drew me to Meeker is the unique structure here in that we are a special district.

Usually, municipalities are the more common form of recreation and park management in Colorado and special districts definitely have something to offer in our industry.  We are fortunate to have a lot of mineral, oil, and gas extraction money from all the tax entities here in Meeker.  We are able to provide tremendous amenities for even a smaller population.

“We are about 2,000 as a community, a full service recreation center, about 100 acres of developed park land, lots of open space — we have about a million and a half public lands around us — between the BLM, White River National Forest field offices.”

Just a tremendous opportunity for partner development with all of these different entities, our town, and the taxing entities.   Meeker really is a great place to be.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Some of what I do at the executive level is the non-glamorous stuff.  Risk management, people management, putting out fires as I like to say.   I try to put them out fast enough where nothing burns down but I don’t burn out.  Try to take self-care; make sure that we are providing exceptional quality programs and services.

 I like to say we are the best small town parks and rec agency in the world.

And I really believe that.  For what we offer, the people that we have.  But what I do is a lot of budget management, managing our personell, day to day operations of our facilities.  Less of the hands on with people, but get to see the satisfaction second hand.

Awesome.  So what would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?

I like the diversity that comes from our industry.  Really, I can show up to work at any given day and I’m doing something different.  I might be counseling a lifeguard or I might be overseeing a dance event, or I might be working on a budget workshop.  And believe it or not, that is what makes the job interesting.

You never know one day to the next what challenges may come forth.  But also through strategic planning, you get to see the evolution of programs and services overtime.  I think being in other entities for a prolonged period of time, seeing that development is so rewarding.

Meeker Paintbrush Park - Interview with Parks and Recreation Director

What is one challenge you guys are facing right now as a department?

This is an uncommon problem in Colorado actually.  In terms of human resources — as a small rural community, we are 40 miles from the next largest town — when we have openings, we have the need for sophisticated professionals that have the talents and the abilities, but we don’t always have the ability to recruit those folks, even though we have competitive salaries.  That’s a definitee challenge although we’ve found ways to overcome that challenge.  When we do find people, they tend to stay.  We don’t have high turnover, especially in our leadership positions, which is great.

How did you get started in Parks and Recreation?

My first job out of grad school —  I went to grad school at The University of Florida —  I took a position at Pittsburgh State College in Pittsburgh Massachusetts.  A great learning experience.

Fresh out of school, I was ready to save the world.

It was a 12 milion dollar recreation facility that the college actually built there.  It was really unique in that it was half for the college and half for the city.  So to see that kind of partnership on that kind of scale has really shaped my perspective.  That was my first position.  I’ve worked in high school athletics, I’ve worked in the front range in public parks and recreation.

Meeker Downtown Park Interview with Parks and Recreation Director

If you were to go back, and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

It would probably be to diversify my experience as much as possible.  I was a jock in the gym.  That was great – it allowed me to go on and play in athletics in college.  But I really do wish that I had kayaked, rock climbed, and mountain biked, and learned a little bit about environmental stewardship.  We can’t get enough of that kind of learning.

 The more diverse we are, the more things we can manage.  We are really a jack of all trades in this position.

We aren’t specialists.  We can be.   We need specialists — fitness, aquatics, and those are great and not to be diminished.  But as we move up, we need to have an understanding of all of these different disciplines.  How do we lead staff and our community in ways that benefit them?

Meeker Recreation Center Interview with Parks and Recreation Director

Thank you so much for your time today.  One final question for you.  Why do you think parks and recreation is so important?

“I think that quality of life is truly what we do.  And that is why parks and recreation is important.  We get to be about fun, health, stewarding, natural resources.  All of that stuff is passion, philosophy, heart level stuff.  For me, it’s a calling, not a career.  It’s not a job, and we aren’t just picking up paychecks.  We get to really beleive it what we do.  And that, I don’t think there can be anything more fulfilling.”

Thank you so much Sean!

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Parks and Recreation Director Sean VanRoenn from Meeker, Colorado.

 

Listen to the full interview on the podcast.

Meeker Colorado Becky Talks Parks