Inspiration and Advice for Starting a Career in Parks and Recreation

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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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