Tips for a Successful Recreation Therapy Interview

For whatever reason, you need to add another dedicated worker to your Recreation Therapy or Activity Department. You know you want to find the best candidate, but you may not know the best practices for conducting a Recreation Therapy interview. This guide will help you prepare for the interview, conduct it professionally, and help you choose the right person to fill the empty spot in your department.

As Recreation Therapists and Activity Professionals, we may be exceptional at engaging our participants, planning amazing events, and creating programming helping to transform lives. And, of course, these skills are incredibly important. Unfortunately, you may not have a lot of training when it comes to interviewing potential employees.

Let’s take a look at some key points for planning and conducting an interview as well as some sample questions specific for a Recreation Therapy interview. If you’re not in the position where you need to interview others, don’t worry, this is an excellent peek “behind the curtain” for your future job interviews.

Preparing for a Recreation Therapy Interview

If you want to find the best candidate who will fit your department’s needs, you definitely don’t want to “just wing it” when it comes to interviews. One of the most important steps is determining what your department needs most out of a new team member.

Your department’s strengths and needs, the work demands of the population you serve, and the skills necessary to be successful at your facility are all factors to consider when determining the desired qualities of your candidate. There may only be a few main qualities or the skills could look like your family’s weekly grocery list. Collaborate with your department and any other supervisors to decide what qualities are most important for a new candidate. Check out my post on Essential Skills of Recreation Therapists for ideas.

Examples of Desirable Qualities

  • Creativity: Can this person bring new ideas and approaches that will engage your participants and make the department run better?
  • Knowledge of Population: Does the candidate know the unique strengths, needs, and considerations of your participants?
  • Adaptability: In this profession, plans could change within a moment’s notice. Will the candidate be able to identify and handle situations where adaptations of all kinds are necessary?
  • Experience: How much does prior experience matter? Are you willing to take extra time to train a less experienced (and probably more affordable) RT rookie? Or do you want a seasoned veteran that could help bring your team to a new level?
  • Communication: Communicating is a big part of any Recreation Therapy job. Interacting with the participants, supervisors, coworkers, family members, and other disciplines allows the department to run well and professionally.
  • Handling Stressful Situations: Along with creativity and flexibility, handling stressful situations well is key to quality Recreation Therapy programming. By throwing a “Stress Question” out there (see below) you could get an idea of how this person processes and handles stressful situations.
  • Flexible Schedule: Since we work when others play, will the candidate be available at the times you need him or her most?

Preparing the Recreation Therapy Interview Questions

Once you determine what qualities are most important for the success of your department, you want to create some questions helping to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of your next potential coworker. Interviewing questions come in different forms.

job interview imageTypes of Questions and When to Use Them

Information Seeking Questions: These are the simple questions used to clarify information. These are great for the beginning of the interview to help the candidate get some of the jitters out by answering simple questions. For example: How many years where you employed at your last job?

Hypothetical Questions: This is when you give the candidate a potential scenario or situation and ask what they would do or say. Though these questions are a great way to see how the candidate thinks and analyzes different situations, you don’t want to rely solely on these types of questions. Why? The candidate can easily say what they think you would like to hear. For example, if you ask what they would do if they witnessed an employee stealing, they may say they would immediately report it to their supervisor. Sure, let’s hope they would. When using hypothetical questions, try applying them to situations where the desired answer is not easily transparent.   

Stress Questions: As the name implies, these questions add a little stress to the interviewing process. It takes the candidate out of a comfort zone and shows you how they react to an adverse moment. Though these questions have value, they should be used sparingly. Too many stress questions could diminish the rapport of the interview and possibly have the candidate sweat through their favorite professional outfit. For example: You had three different jobs in as many years, how do I know you will commit to this one?

Behavioral Questions: One of the most popular types of questions used by interviewers in many industries are behavioral questions. These questions ask the candidate to give specific examples of how their used their skills and qualities in the past. Since the past actions of a candidate can likely be an indication of how they would perform for your team, you can gain great insights into their work behaviors and attitudes. Unlike hypothetical questions, you may be able to follow up with previous employers or references to see if these responses are accurate. For example: Describe a conflict with a previous coworker and how you handled it.  

image of an interviewDuring the Interview

Start Small

You remember the anxiety of sitting in a lobby or common area waiting to be interviewed. As every second slowly passes you mentally go over what you want to convey to your potential employer while worrying about fumbling over a question which ruins your chances at the job. You have a million reasons why you think you’re the best candidate, but you have to expertly interject the reasons while answering the interviewer’s questions.

Yes, a job interview, even a Recreation Therapy interview, is stressful.

Take a couple minutes to ease the tension. Tell a joke or have a little small talk. Sure, everyone’s time is precious. Establishing a brief rapport with the candidate may make them more candid and less mechanical in their answers. After all, they probably spent loads of time on the internet learning the “right” way to answer interview questions.

Let the Questions Begin

Have your list of questions ready and begin the formal interview. Take brief notes on how the candidate answers questions. Don’t spend your whole time writing everything verbatim–doing that would certainly make the candidate even more self-conscious. Jot some phrases or words helping you to remember how this client stands out–either good or bad.

Conclude it Classy

After you grilled the candidate with your well-prepared questions, give them a chance to show how well they prepared for the interview. What kind of questions do they have for you? Give them some time to show how interested they are in the job. If all they ask about is the hours, pay, and benefits, you should take note. If, however, they ask insightful questions about the department and how it operates, see this as a good sign.

End the interview on a positive note informing the candidate about the next steps in the hiring process. Even if you know the candidate is not a great fit, be gracious and optimistic. Their skillset may not be needed at this time, but you never know what the future brings. You want them to feel good about you, your department, and agency in case you have another job opening.

After the Interview

If possible, immediately after the interview take more notes and rate the candidate’s desired skills. Don’t assume you will remember everything later that day or week. If you are conducting multiple interviews, getting facts mixed up is easier than you think. Especially when busy with the million other tasks of running your department.

Consider creating a short form listing the desired qualities and including a rating system. Write a few notes why you chose the rating. This will save time and stress during the decision-making process.

Other Considerations

If possible, try to interview with another coworker or supervisor. Two independent assessments of the interview will help prevent any kind of conscious or unconscious bias.

Remember, you are not interviewing for your next best friend. If the person you are interviewing has a lot of the same qualities as you do, will it help make the department better? Since a great team has people with complementary skills and talents, you might find someone with different traits than you could help the department thrive. For example, are you better at playing things by ear and improvising certain programs? Maybe someone more Type-A could help you with certain aspects of planning or other administrative tasks.

Sample Questions for a Recreation Therapy Interview

Here are a couple ideas for questions for your next interview. Of course, the questions you choose are entirely dependent on the needs of your department, so feel free to adapt them as necessary. These are a mix of the types of questions mentioned above–some are also a hybrid.

Describe a time when you had difficulty getting along with a coworker. What did you dislike about the person and how did you handle it?

The question shows how a candidate may view others, the types of personalities they struggle with, and how they act towards these people.

Talk about one of your career’s best achievements. What skills helped you accomplish this?

This question gives a look at what motivates a candidate, the desired skills they believe they have, and their personal definition of success.

Describe a time when an activity, outing, or event you led didn’t go as planned. How did you adapt to the situation to make it successful?

This gives a great example of your candidate’s ability to think on their feet to give participants quality experiences even when things get difficult.

What would your most critical coworker say about you?

I am not going to lie, I had this question during an interview and totally stumbled over it. I wasn’t prepared. This is a great question to see how the candidate believes others view him or her.

We are about to do [choose an activity]. Show me how you would explain it to our participants.

This is a great question to highlight your candidate’s ability to be creative and communicate with your population.

If I hired you today, what are some new ideas you would bring to our team tomorrow making our department better?

This is a little hypothetical and stressful, but it shows how prepared the candidate was to walk into the building and accept a job at your facility.

Interviewing others is an art and a science. Hopefully this primer gives you some great ideas to find the best, newest member of your team.


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If you find this article helpful, don’t forget to share it on your favorite social media platform. Help your fellow professionals discover the Real Recreation Therapist Community. This is a great way to help our profession thrive.  

If you are looking to connect with other like-minded professionals consider joining the Real Recreation Therapist Facebook Group. Check out my Recreation Therapy board on Pinterest for more inspiration. 

2021 UPDATE! 
I’ve revamped my newsletter to give tips, advice, stories, and other useful information for advancing in the TR profession and more to your inbox each week (or so). Simply keep scrolling down to find the sign up for the newsletter–I like you too much to do one of those annoying pop ups.

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