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Advice on being successful in your first turf job

You’ve just graduated and landed a great job with great opportunities in front of you. Be aware that you “don’t know what you don’t know.” An important communication skill is the ability to listen. You will meet great people in this green industry that have many, many years of experience and have seen and done it all. You can learn a lot from these folks if you listen and ask good questions. Information is not the same thing as knowledge, because not everything you need to know is on Google. Also, share what you know and help others. The late Stan Zontek, an USGA Green Section staffer, would always say that this green industry is a “people business.” Stan is absolutely right!- Mike Fidanza, PhD, Dept. of Plant Science, Penn State

For the young people just getting an introductory-level position, there are a couple things that stand out to me as important first steps. One is understanding the new mindset you must have in regards to the overall operation of where you are working. You are no longer a seasonal or intern punching a clock, this is now your career. You must remain aware of what is going on at your field or complex even when you are not there and how your job responsibilities are directly tied into others’, even in different departments. This is also a red flag for those of us in this business because you also must guard against the job consuming your entire existence. It takes a few years of experience to learn the balance (if you ever do!) but it is something to be aware of from the start.

Another common mistake is trying too hard to show how much you know. I personally look for effort and the ability to learn. I don’t look for turf graduates in their first job to display a vast knowledge of the business or to have been exposed to the various “real world” problems that cannot be manufactured in a classroom. Show me instead how well you can learn, be coachable, and eventually work independently. I tell all my interns, “You are going to make mistakes” and that is ok. That is what internships are for. So don’t stress yourself out by trying to show me you are a genius. Show me you have good listening skills, an ability to adapt and willingness to give 100 percent. This mindset translates to the first full time position as well.-Patrick Coakley, CSFM, Ripken Baseball

My first sports turf job out of college was at Virginia Tech. I think communication plays the biggest role in being successful at your job, be it your first or any job. Communicate well with your employees, supervisors, coaches and athletic directors. A lot of the time mis-communication or not communicating at all leads to personnel issues, with supervisors or coaches getting upset because you mis-communicated with them; that was the biggest thing for me at Tech. I started going to the coaches and talking with them, asking them what they might need, or sharing what I was going to do to the fields. You can never tell someone too much information. The better they understand what’s happening, the better working relationship you will have with everyone.

Another thing is to treat your employees the way you want to be treated. Give them advance notice if there is overtime work coming, not 24 hours or less but a week or more. Listen to their needs or wants. Everyone has issues, be it family or work, and if an employee is struggling, pull them aside and have a one on one talk, and mostly listen. You want respect, which you gain by treating them the way you want to be treated. Thank them for the work they do and take them to STMA or local chapter seminars. Give them ownership in the fields they work on. You will be surprised the output you can receive from an employee.

Don’t “micromanage!” That is the worst. Give your employees some rope, let them make decisions about things, and let them take that rope and just be there so they don’t hang themselves with it. If they start doing something you know is wrong or could damage the field, start a conversation with them, asking why would you do something that way and listen to the explanation, and talk to them and tell them or show them what could happen if they do it that way. Don’t be just a boss; be a leader, a listener, and communicator, and a friend when you need to be!

The one thing I wish I had done differently is being patient. I wish I had been more patient with my supervisor and my co-workers. That is the one thing I am doing now.-Jason Bowers, CSFM

Today and hopefully well into the future I still maintain contact with many of the individuals I worked with at my first job. I feel it is important to establish good relationships both personally and professionally. That way when you are no longer working together you can still call and get advice or meet at the bar or get your kids down onto the field after a game.

I think it’s imperative to be open-minded and present yourself in a receiving manner no matter your level of expertise. It is important to be receptive and try to get along with everyone. Once relationships and work ethics are established, you can begin to provide more input and ideas.

Work hard and show everyone that you take your job seriously. Appreciate your co-workers. Prepare to do more work and get fewer rewards at the beginning. People are different and everyone needs to be respected.

Looking back, I really would not have done things differently in my first turf job. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to solely focus on work and my career. I was able to take stock and prioritize what was important to me. This allowed me to make future career decisions based off what I learned during my first work experience.-Noel T. Brusius, CSFM, Waukegan (IL) Park District

Venturing into the job market can be a daunting task, especially for those recently out of school or looking for that first job. While resumes and applications are important, I believe that the best jobs are not the ones that are “posted,” but rather the ones an individual can uncover for him or herself. How is this accomplished in today’s job market? Simply by putting yourself in front of a decision maker and proving your worth through performance (work ethic), experience (past efforts), and intelligence (not measured by IQ, but rather your grasp of the job).

Using this formula, the best way to get your foot in the door is with an internship, and there are literally scores of them out there. Every company, business, or team is looking for individuals who can make a contribution. It is challenging to hire entry level or first-time job applicants because many view their professional future through rose-colored glasses. Yes, higher education is expensive. And yes, everyone wants to make a wage that reflects his or her educational backgrounds. But often times, the experience they DON’T have is more of a deterrent than the education they DO have, and those with a willingness to learn and grow quickly are the most attractive hires. Education is a good thing, but work ethic will win out over education EVERY TIME.

I have to reflect back on a motto I coined when, after 25 years in television, I undertook a second career in professional baseball groundskeeping: “Hard work can make up for a lack of knowledge. But rarely does knowledge make up for a lack of hard work.”-Keith Winter, Fort Wayne TinCaps

My advice would be if you don’t love what you are doing, don’t be afraid to make a change. You will spend a lot of time at your job during your lifetime so try to find something you enjoy doing. Showing initiative goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge if you don’t know something, but take the opportunity to learn so that you only don’t know it once. Hold your standards higher than what is expected of you and you will always keep your job. I wouldn’t change a thing.-Allen Johnson, CSFM, Green Bay Packers

I worked during high school at a community association. I loved cutting grass and doing general landscape maintenance. Even though we had sports fields they were maintained like any other grassy area. I had always been around landscaping but knew this job won’t last more than a summer or two. Not a lot of mentoring just work.

I worked for varies landscape companies and the Frederick Keys baseball grounds crew while taking classes. So the transition into my role as turf manager was likely easier than many since I was already in the industry and applying what I was learning daily. Many of the things you learn in school you find are very different in the workplace and with things evolving daily, weekly, yearly at a faster pace, I see this much more now than I did 20 years ago. Many of the things you prep for never come along and things you never knew existed or paid attention to, you find are very important.

Now I take classes on sprayers and mowers as it seems that these concepts are missed or not focused on enough, because knowledge about these is often lacking. Equipment is everything to a sports turf manager but knowledge about the workings, maintenance, and options is just not there for so many.-Jason Kopp, Turf Equipment and Supply Company

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