It’s fair to say that Armen Suny is one of the most influential figures in the turf industry. That statement is borne out by the fact that following his remarks at the recent New Jersey Turf Expo, a line of turf professionals waited to speak with him.
As a recruiter for Kopplin, Kueber, & Wallace, the industry’s leading search firm, he assists some of the most prestigious golf facilities in America with the task of finding qualified superintendents (and other management personnel).
A former superintendent, with stops at Merion Golf Club, Cherry Hills Country Club and Castle Pines Golf Club, Suny has a good idea of what clubs are looking for when they’re searching for a superintendent. He says the requirements of the job have changed in recent years.
“I think there’s a greater focus on detail work and business acumen,” he says. “You want to understand that the superintendent, while they are out in the field as much as possible, they are business people. And they’re able to compartmentalize those things and address both of them at the appropriate times.”
Suny’s remarks to his audience at the Turf Expo were straightforward. Many of his insights would be applicable to someone looking to advance their career in any field.
Listed below are some of his thoughts. In some cases, his comments have been edited for length and clarity.
On preparing a resume
“Make sure your resume is a .pdf, and use big fonts. Most of those people who are sitting on those committees wear reading glasses. If you make it easier for them to read your document, they’re probably going to read it.
“And the other thing to remember is, what do you think the most common name of a resume is? If 60 of them say resume, are you going to go to them first?
“Again, think about your target audience, and what’s going to make it better for them. What’s easier for them, what’s going to keep them engaged? How about SMITH, JOHN; COVER LETTER?”
On presenting your work history
“When you put your club’s name in there, I might not know what city you’re in. Put the city it’s in. And put a hyperlink to the club’s website so that we can see it. We’re living in an (electronic) world. If you don’t put it in there, that means they have to take an extra step to find out more about it.
“I disagree with so-called resume experts that tell you not to list your early work experience. I like to know that you had to mow creek banks. I want to know you got stung by yellow jackets. When we understand that you’ve got those experiences, it shows that you’re going to have a better understanding of the job, that you’ll have empathy for your team.”
On accounting for a gap in your educational or employment history.
“Don’t hide it. They’re going to see it. Don’t lie about it. Be candid about it if you’re asked about it, these kinds of things happen to people. They’re learning opportunities.
“I would say that we get very qualified people for all kinds of positions that lie about their education. They are people that would not be disqualified from a search if they did not complete their degree, but they are disqualified for lying about it. It’s a character flaw. Be straight up with those things.”
On having an online portfolio
“They should be password protected and only given to those you’re considering employment with. Your club shouldn’t be able to go online and find you looking for a new job in that fashion.”
On returning phone calls and e-mails
“If somebody gets back to you, it’s incumbent upon you to get back to them in a reasonable period of time; same day, or following morning if it was an afternoon call. That again says something about you.”
If you land an interview
“Ask in advance to be able to walk the golf course. I had a candidate who walked the golf course in the snow. (The search committee) was pretty impressed with that, the level of commitment.”
During the interview
“The most important thing to you is golf course conditioning. Team development. Talk about these things. This is what’s going to get somebody’s attention, it gets my attention.
“I find it funny that almost every superintendent, when they describe their work experience at their latest club, starts with their renovation experience. Because that’s what we all like to do, right? That’s the fun stuff.
“What do members think about renovation? ‘I can’t play the golf course and it costs me a lot of money.’ Are you sure you want to start with that? If the club is coming up on a renovation, you certainly want it as maybe your third bullet point, or your third thing you’re going to talk about, but why don’t you lead with your focus of providing great golfing conditions every day? When somebody on that search committee shows up on a Friday with three of their business associates or friends, all they really want to know is, Is that golf course going to be great? Why don’t you start with that?”
Ask for the job
“Three-quarters of our candidates never ask for the job. You go through all this effort, you get the interview, you’re sitting in front of all these people, yet you never ask for the job. Not only ask for the job but tell them why you’re the right candidate. Is there a better way to close out an interview then asking for the job?”
Saying thank you
“I’ve had some candidates write out thank-you notes while they’re in the parking lot after the interview and leave them at the desk for the committee. That might be a bit much, but it’s something to think about. Certainly, an e-mail after your interview goes a long way.”
It’s no secret that fewer students are choosing the turf industry as a career. Suny foresees a time in the not-too-distant future when that trend will have a significant impact.
“I think we’re a year or two out at this point,” he says. “It was before my time, but I remember there were guys coming out of college right into superintendent’s jobs. Not a good thing. And there were old superintendents.
“And I think we’re going to see that again. We’re going to have old superintendents and young superintendents. I don’t think they’ll be coming right out of college, but I do think we’ll see a lot of young superintendents pretty soon.”
Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.