Digging in

Because personnel costs are the largest percentage of your budget, you need to hire the best individuals for your program. Tap into all available resources to reach potential employees. Ask your networking contacts – turfgrass educators, other sports field managers, current and past employees and your suppliers – for recommendations. Take part in facility or community job fairs.

Discuss expectations with your facility’s management team. Do they want top-quality playing conditions and aesthetics? Will they provide the budget and personnel levels that enable you to achieve that?

Define your needs

Whether you are managing a single field, a multi-field complex or a large organization with multiple fields at multiple sites, the first step in hiring is defining your personnel needs.

Consider developing a spreadsheet, listing personnel needs by hour per event on each field. With multiple fields, you can do this by category for specific field types, such as weekday practice sessions on a high school-level softball field or game day on the university football stadium field.

Include nonfield areas under your management program, such as lawn and landscape maintenance outside a stadium and/or the facility’s administrative buildings and/or parking lot and sidewalk maintenance.

Know who you want: Some positions might require sports field management skills learned through hands-on experience, and other skills can be learned with a positive attitude and a little guidance.

Image Courtesy Of Steve Trusty

Develop job descriptions

The hiring process, and the sports field manager’s part in it, will vary according to the ownership of the facility and its major field users. Most multi-field facilities are part of larger entities, such as municipal, university, public or private school, team or corporate organizations. If their staff includes dedicated administrative and/or human resources (HR) personnel, work with them to develop detailed job descriptions based on your program’s needs.

If you’re new to the management role or helping establish a new facility, review job postings created by other sports field managers or by companies offering sports field specific hiring programs, such as Indeed, Work In Sports and Team Work Online. Compare these job descriptions with your defined needs to fine tune your descriptions.

Be aware of the legal liabilities governing what you can – and cannot – ask on an employment application or during an interview. Some of these issues apply nationwide; others vary by state, city and even by facility. For example, avoid: age, race, religion, national origin, physical traits and disability, military discharge information and marital status. Do not ask if the applicant is a U.S. citizen. Instead, ask if they may legally work in the U.S.

In some cases, you are not allowed to ask if any of the candidate’s family members are employed by the facility. In other instances, because facility regulations govern family member employment, you must ask that question. So, check in with your HR or administrative experts to make sure you are in compliance.

Your program may function best with a large crew with specific, individual job assignments. Or you might prefer a smaller staff cross-trained to fill different roles. Either job would likely be listed as sports field crew member.

The requirements for a seasonal grounds crew member and a full-time assistant will vary greatly. Be specific in what you want.

Entry positions may focus more on a positive attitude about working outdoors and being connected to sports, willingness to work hard and put in long hours and the desire to learn on the job.

An assistant’s position might require a two- or four-year degree in turfgrass management, plus one or two sports field internships and one or two seasons of hands-on experience working on a sports field crew. It could be even more specific, requiring that some of that experience be on baseball or soccer fields and with cool- or warm-season grasses.

For online or print job postings, list the basic requirements: name and location of the facility; department within the facility; title of the position; type of position – full-time, part-time or seasonal; job identification number (if applicable); and closing date and time for submitting applications.

You could also include the length of the season; the hours – explaining that days and times will vary and evening, weekend and/or holiday work may be required; the minimum age; any educational and experience requirements; basic knowledge and/or ability requirements, such as operation of field maintenance equipment and/or ability to lift heavy objects (which may or may not include a pound listing); and additional requirements such as a valid driver’s license with an acceptable driving record, first aid or CPR training.

Most postings also include an abbreviated list of responsibilities along with a disclaimer such as: The information in this description is designed to indicate the general nature and level of work performed by employees within this position. It is not a comprehensive listing of all duties, responsibilities and qualifications required of employees hired for this position.

Make sure the posting includes all pre-employment requirements, such as a physical complete with drug test and a criminal background check.

In addition to the salary range, employee benefits should be listed if they are offered with that position, along with any qualifiers that show to whom they apply, such as full-time personnel regularly working a minimum of 32 hours per week.

Create a “new employee” packet or website that contains all the forms that your facility requires new hires to complete if your HR or facility administration department has not already done so. If this material is already in place, review it so you are prepared in case an applicant asks questions about it.

In some HR departments, employment specialists handle the preliminary review of the application forms and/or resumes received for each opening, forwarding only the materials of qualified applicants to the sports field manager. Other HR departments forward all application materials for each opening to the sports field manager for review.

Sort through the applications and resumes to rank them. Many sports field managers put those individuals with a good recommendation at the top of their list, always reaching out to them for a phone interview as well as those with the most promising applications and resumes. The “may be OK” prospects may warrant a phone interview, too, depending on the number of open positions to fill.

Conducting phone interviews

Use the phone interview to clarify the applicant’s intent. Some questions you might ask include:

  • Why did they apply for this position?
  • Are they following up because someone has recommended them?
  • Did someone suggest it might be a good fit for them?
  • Are they looking for a one season job or a career?
  • If they’re in high school or college, when could they start and when do they need to leave?

For both phone and in-person interviews, work with your prepared list of questions so all candidates have an equal opportunity to reveal their qualifications – and you can identify and select the candidate most qualified for the job.

Identify and prioritize the top 10 job skills and background experiences required for each position and discuss at least the top five with each candidate.

You’ll only invite those with a solid application/resume and a strong phone interview, and hopefully, a good recommendation, to come for an on-site interview.

Conducting the on-site interview

Use the process that best fits your personal style. Some prefer starting in the office with a question and answer review of the application form and resume, before touring the facilities. Others like to conduct the interview like a show and tell session, explaining what is expected of the applicant as they tour the facilities. Some like to hold their interviews before or after working hours. Others want the applicant to see their grounds crew in action during the interview.

First impressions do matter, so look for the following from your applicants:

  • The applicant is interviewing for a professional position, so he or she should be dressed appropriately.
  • Attitude is important.
  • The candidate should look you in the eye.
  • Questions should be answered clearly.
  • The candidate should show confidence by asking questions and volunteering information to help sell themselves.

It’s your job to keep your interview questions focused on the behaviors, skills, and experience needed to perform the job. Keep the potential candidate on track, and if they begin to volunteer information on a potential job discrimination topic, steer the conversation back on topic by asking another job-related interview question.

Be open and honest. All hands-on sports field positions are hard work with long hours in all kinds of weather conditions. And the salaries, especially for entry-level positions, aren’t great. Applicants need to hear that from you. If that doesn’t scare them away, you can move on to the next phase. Explain why you love what you do and what the potential is for them to succeed in the industry.

Check references

HR and employment agency hiring specialists agree the best way to check a candidate’s honesty about his or her skills, employment record and qualifications is to verify them personally through your reference checks.

Obviously, it’s in the potential employee’s best interests to supply references that will provide information most beneficial to him/her, and that’s fine. But if one of those references is not from the candidate’s most recent employer, request that one be provided. Reluctance to do so might suggest the candidate left the position under less than ideal circumstances or that he/she is still employed by that facility and has not informed them of the job search. When asked, he/she should reveal that information to you as it provides the opportunity for him/her to explain the situation. Use the explanation, in conjunction with the information you gather from the individual’s listed references, to help guide your hiring decision.

When possible, ask references open-ended questions. Consider these suggestions from hiring specialists:

  • What responsibilities did this individual have while working with you?
  • What did you consider the individual’s strongest points as an employee?
  • When areas in need of improvement or development were communicated to this individual, how did he/she respond to them?
  • Why did the individual leave that position?
  • Is there anything else I should know about this individual before hiring him/her?

If you do contact a reference that insists their facility only provides yes or no responses to reference questions, at least ask these two: Did the individual work for your facility in the position of “insert the stated position” from “the candidate’s listed start date” to “the candidate’s listed exit date?” Would you hire this individual again?

Often, the small things not specifically expressed in words are the most revealing. Listen for short pauses before or during an answer, any vague generalizations where a direct response is called for, and very precise wording that seems to be a facility-predeveloped response. Any of these could indicate avoidance in revealing negative information about the individual.

Once an applicant passes all these hurdles, you’re ready to recommend them for hiring. They’ll need to go through the remainder of your facility’s screening process before the actual hiring process is complete. But adding a great new member to your team makes all this work worthwhile.