Career Advice from the Pros


The thought of entering the workforce may be daunting. Transitioning from school to the real world can mean big changes. As a student, you may also be anxious as thinking about how to stand out among other applicants. Those feelings are all normal and ones that today’s top landscape professionals say they once experienced as well.

Here, industry professionals reflect back on their own careers and share their best advice, including what they look for in their new hires.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer current students looking to get into the landscape profession?

“Don’t be afraid to fail. I think that’s good advice for anyone. Failure is the best place to learn. We should accept it, learn from it and use that information for future decisions.”
Joe Flake, owner of Target Lawn Care, Paola, Kansas

“Try to get some hands-on experience while in school – whether that be through retail garden center sales with a design/construction company or with a wholesale grower/production facility — to see what aspect of the field best suits you. You may find you are stronger at production, organization and monitoring than you are at design, sales and planning.”
Ed Swietanski, sales manager with Gill’s Landscaping Inc., Mullica Hill, New Jersey

“Do your research now while you’re still in school and have the opportunity to learn what’s out there. The green industry is extremely diverse. You must understand what it is that you really want to do. Even within each of the areas in the field, there are many job roles — installers, maintenance technicians, sales positions, designers and more.”
Jon Zalewski, business development manager for Professional Grounds Inc., Lorton, Virginia

“Anyone who is motivated and has a great attitude – we like to call it PMA for positive mental attitude – and is willing to learn will go very far in the company they apply to.”
Abby Gilbert, gardening division manager, Snow & Sons Tree & Landscape, Greenfield, Massachusetts

“Find and join as many industry trade groups as you can. They are the best places to network and most of them have great educational opportunities to further learning. Also, find a mentor in the industry – someone you have respect for and can learn from. Finally, think about taking a job with a smaller company — not just the big names. While I’m sure the big boys offer great careers, it can be much more rewarding to work for and help build a smaller company. With a small company, you can experiment, using what you’ve learned in a more creative way. The smaller companies are often innovative and pioneers of new ideas. Smaller companies also have a harder time finding quality, college-educated prospective employees.”
Giuseppe Baldi, account manager, Baldi Gardens Inc., Arlington, Texas

Q: What are some signs that a potential hire will be a good one?

“If the applicant is excited to cross train in different areas and acquire diverse skills, they become more valuable to the company.”
Christa Simson, account manager, Boreal Property Management, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

“They’ve had job stability. They’ve gotten along well with management.”
Greg Clendenin, CEO, Heron Lawn and Pest Control, Orlando, Florida

“Honesty. Being punctual to an interview – five to 10 minutes early. Also, bring the requested documents and paperwork and complete anything additional that is requested after the interview in a timely manner. Follow directions. We send very specific directions to get to our place and where to park. When these aren’t followed, it sends a red flag out that they won’t follow directions when it comes down to being given them for jobs.”
Nikos Phelps, president and visionary of Utopian Landscapes LLC in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Q: What do you wish potential new hires would do to show they want the job right from the start?

“Be punctual. Dress appropriately. Listen intensely. Know key facts about the company before you get to the interview. Candidates who are prepared to be interviewed have done their research.”
Greg Clendenin, CEO, Heron Lawn and Pest Control, Orlando, Florida

“A simple thank you. Follow up. Show interest in the job and ask questions. Someone who asks questions shows that they really are putting thought into their decision.”
Nikos Phelps, president and visionary, Utopian Landscapes LLC, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

“Prepare for the interview. Go to the company’s website and learn what they do. Remember that the answer to how many days you feel an employee can miss a month is zero.”
Tim Meehan, owner, Meehan’s Lawn Service, Brook Park, Ohio

Q: What is one piece of career advice you wish someone would have told you at the start of your career and why?

“Give landscaping a chance. It might surprise you. I came from the public relations field but after switching to the landscaping industry after working for the government, I never looked back. I fell in love with the endless opportunities, the people and the gratification that our field has to offer. Landscaping is an art. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for successful landscaping. With the variety in clientele and expanse of landscape variations, you’re left with infinite possibilities.”
Terra Phelps, co-owner, Utopian Landscapes LLC, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

“Follow your gut. I worked many jobs indoors and went to college for marketing but I knew my passion was the outdoors. My marketing degree certainly helps me today in my job but I wished I had joined the green industry earlier. Getting my hands dirty and creating beautiful landscapes for people is definitely what I was meant to do.”
Abby Gilbert, gardening division manager, Snow & Sons Tree & Landscape, Greenfield, Massachusetts