I refer to this part of the camp off-season as being “in the weeds.” I’ve always found that when the calendar turns over the New Year, that there is a new intensity to summer preparation. And one thing that takes up most of a camp director’s attention this time of year is finding enough quality staff. Like many of you, I’m currently recruiting potential staff, reading their applications and facilitating interviews. As I type this, I am staring at a huge white board with a ton of names of potential staff members … and I feel anxious. Where I am going to find a qualified horseback counselor? Will I have enough lifeguards? I’m anxious because hiring staff the most important thing that I will do for camp all year. Camps can have the coolest games, the newest equipment, the nicest amenities, and the best activities, but if we don’t have a meticulously selected and well-trained staff, then we are not providing the excellent service and experience that our parents and campers deserve. So, here are my top tips for hiring the best staff:
Start Recruiting Early:
And I don’t mean August or September. I mean recruiting staff begins with your campers. Hopefully, your camp program gets the campers excited to keep coming back and moving up the ranks. Your leadership program (LIT, CIT, etc.) should begin instilling virtues that you are looking for in your staff. Begin incorporating aspects of staff training and leadership development into these parts of your leadership program, and continually show your oldest campers how great it will be to be a part of your staff one day. Hopefully, this excitement and natural progression will lessen the stress of looking for staff come February and March because you’ll have a line of potential staff members that you’ve cultivated for the last five years.
Never Stop Recruiting:
There is a saying in the world of college football: “Recruiting is like shaving. If you don’t do it every day, you start to look like a bum.” Always be looking for more applicants. Go to job fairs. Consistently ask past staff to recommend friends that would be interested AND they believe would do a good job! Call, text, email, Facebook. You don’t want to bombard them, but you never know which medium is the best way to connect with different individuals. Even if you feel like you have plenty of applicants to fill your staff, you never know when you may find that next great camp counselor.
Be Intentional in Every Step of the Process:
Every step of the recruiting and hiring process should have a specific purpose.
- First, review your staff application yearly. Don’t ask questions simply because you think you should. Make sure the information you are asking for is pertinent and you follow up on those questions in the interview.
- Give the applicant important information up front.
- Make sure the required dates for staff are upfront and visible. You don’t need to waste your time interviewing someone only to find out that they are planning to take summer classes in July and cannot work the last 3 weeks of camp.
- Tell them about the camp’s goals and mission. Tell them about their job and your expectations of their roles and responsibilities. Staff training starts in staff recruiting.
- Ask pertinent questions during the interview.
- One of the most common questions among camp professionals is “what are the best questions to use when interviewing staff?” And one of the most common answers I hear other camp professionals give is a variation of: “I get them to sing a song/make up a game/teach a skill.” Basically, insert any type of creative and on-the-spot activity. Is this really the core of what you want in a staff member? Not to say that creativity and the ability to be goofy or have fun is not important, but is it more important than past life experiences that show a pattern of nurturing behavior, strong work ethic, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution or leadership???
- The other common question type I hear is “_____________ happens at camp, what do you do?” Usually the BLANK is some type of homesickness, bullying, fight, or other camper interaction example. I do not use these questions because I do not care if this potential staff member knows how to handle these types of situations right now. He or she should learn those skills during staff training.
- Instead ask questions about the person’s life experiences that exemplify the core of what you want in a staff member that reflects your camp’s mission. Here are some examples:
- Give an example of a time you put the needs of others in front of your own. (nurturing behavior)
- Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with someone in your life and how you resolved it. (ability to solve conflict and deal with others)
- Tell me about an example from your past where you stood up for something that may have not been a popular position. (leadership potential)
- And ask follow up questions!
- If you could do this over again, would you do it differently? Why?
- What was the toughest part about this situation? The most rewarding?
- What did you learn about yourself from this situation?
Asking questions about past experiences give you a true understanding of the person because he or she has already exemplified this type of behavior. We all would love to have a staff member that can spontaneously come up with a game on a rainy day or know how to help a camper through homesickness, but I think we all would rather have a staff member that has strong values that have been demonstrated throughout his or her life.
Finally, Do Not Rush Hiring Decisions
We all have the pressure to fill up staff for the summer. Prospects have other job or internship options they are considering or we finally have found someone to work at the craft shop. But we should not sacrifice quality for simply filling spots. Again, you never know when you may find the next great counselor. So, take time to do a second interview. Follow up in more detail with references. Have a weekly staff meeting to discuss candidates at length with the other directors.
Make sure the person that you are hiring can do the J-O-B of a camp counselor, to ensure the emotional, mental, and physical safety of other people’s children. The only job that comes with more responsibility than a camp counselor is the person that has the trust from the campers’ parents to hire the quality people.