One of the most important segments of your camp community is your team of counselors. These are the people who make the magic for your campers, running your activities and managing your cabins all summer long. Counselors are heroes! They’re important to your camp’s life cycle. But finding them and keeping them can be easier said than done. Counselors move away, or get other jobs, or don’t return for a plethora of other reasons. Finding new counselors year after year is one of the most vital tasks that you have during the offseason, but this is a project sometimes easier said than done.
Here at CircuiTree, we know how hard camp staff recruitment, hiring, and retention can be. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide to our favorite summer camp staffing strategies for you to use for your own hiring practices. Our 7 favorite strategies for hiring are:
- Pull from your own community
- Market your staffing needs to the right people
- Ask all the important questions at the start
- Take notes through the interview process
- Send out surveys at the end of the summer
- Focus on retention throughout the off-season
- Use one centralized software for all your hiring needs
With these 7 tips, you can make your hiring and onboarding process easier than ever and gain back some of your hard-earned time. If you’re ready to learn more about each of these tips, let’s dive in!
1. Staff your summer camp from your own community.
The culture of your summer camp is unique, and it can be hard to find a group of people that embodies the values and traits that your camp prioritizes. After all, they’re the ones who are going to pass these traits down to your campers through leading by example.
To make sure that the people that you’re hiring for your camp staff know and live by these values, consider hiring former campers to be your counselors! There are more than a few benefits to hiring individuals back into your program:
- You know them well. You’ve already seen them grow up and have a good idea of how they’ll behave or react in different situations.
- They know your camp. They’re familiar with the rules, traditions, and expectations that your camp upholds, and they’ll be able to pass down that knowledge to their campers in a more personal way.
- They already have a commitment and connection to your camp. You won’t have to worry about them having the wrong ideas about camp or getting cold feet.
However, not every camper is going to be right for a counseling position. Some campers may want to come back because they miss camp, not because they’re ready to be a leader for young kids like they were. In order to determine which of these promising young people will make the best counselors, consider creating or improving your CIT or LIT programs.
CIT (counselor in training) or LIT (leader in training) programs are invaluable opportunities for your camp to provide a pathway from camper to counselor. No camper will be able to go from being a child one summer to a leader the next, so providing a transitional stage where campers can start to take on leadership tasks without fear of failing or proper preparation is important.
Not everyone will become a counselor, and that’s okay! The main goal is to offer a pathway to counselor-hood for those who want it.
Another more secondary way to recruit summer camp staff is to ask your community members for recommendations. Parents probably have preferred babysitters, tutors, or young coaches that they think might make a good camp counselor. Send out requests for introductions to your parents, and consider offering them a discount on camp tuition for their child if their recommendation gets hired!
While there are complications that can arise from hiring campers or recommended young adults as counselors (like asking campers to counsel their younger friends, older kids to counsel their younger siblings, or a babysitter counseling one of their charges), the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. If you carefully consider the relationships and the maturity of the counselor, you can prepare in advance for any complications and avoid them.
2. Market your summer camp staffing needs to the right people.
You won’t be able to pull your entire summer camp staff from your existing community—there’s always room at camp for new friends and faces. In order to find these new people, however, you have to get the word out that your camp is hiring for the summer!
In addition to asking your camp families to spread the word to older siblings, cousins, and babysitters, use smart marketing strategies to find potential counselors.
Think about the traits that you value in counselors and want to instill in your campers: independence, outdoorsiness, artistry, faith, compassion, or anything in the world. Where do people living these traits spend their time? A few places where you can find counselors for your camp include:
- Universities. Finding counselors at universities can be easy. First, because they’re attending universities, you know that these potential counselors are ambitious and hardworking. Second, you can find counselors skilled in a variety of areas by reaching out to different extracurriculars. Faith-based small group leaders, wilderness activity group members, musicians, and equestrians can all be found at universities and colleges around the world.
- High schools. If your camp hires 16- and 17-year-olds for your counselors, high schoolers are a great resource. Inquire at the front office about leaving fliers or brochures at the front for students and teachers to pick up.
- American Camp Association postings. To find experienced camp counselors, try posting your job description on the ACA job boards. You’ll be able to get the word out about your opening to thousands of camp-loving individuals from across the country.
- Job fairs. To find hard-working individuals searching for employment, attend job fairs. There will be loads of people who are searching for a job there, and you’ll be able to get a first impression of them on the spot.
When searching for camp counselors to staff your summer programs, cast your net as wide as you possibly can. You never know where you’re going to find the next all-star counselor to make a difference in your campers’ lives!
3. Ask the important questions at the start of your summer camp staffing process.
There are some things that your camp can’t compromise on: when hiring, you need to know certain things about your potential counselors immediately. These include things like a past criminal record, work history, and experience.
In order to quickly pare down your list of potential camp counselors to just those who you could actually hire to care for children, add these steps to the top of your hiring to-do list:
- Run a background check. When you’re hiring individuals to care for children all summer, you need to be totally sure that they’re trustworthy and reliable. Running a background check for past infractions is an important baseline qualifier for your camp counselors.
- Call all of their references. The point of asking for more than one reference is to get a more comprehensive understanding of someone. Make sure that you call all of an applicant’s references to make sure that they’re reliable, honest, and responsible. You might learn different things from an employer than you would from a professor, and vice versa.
- Learn their certifications and accreditations. Finding camp counselors who are already qualified to care for children and assure their safety and wellbeing is a great occasion. If some of your applicants are already lifeguard, first aid, or CPR certified, you’ve struck gold.
- Find out what activities they’re prepared to lead. When staffing your summer camp, it’s important to find counselors who can provide some expertise to your campers. Or, if they’re inexperienced, they should be excited and willing to learn. If you need a counselor who can take campers on hikes or horseback rides, and a potential counselor isn’t willing to do either, they’re not the right fit for your camp.
Once you know these important qualifiers about your potential camp counselors, you can move forward in the hiring process feeling confident that the prospect meets all of your camp’s baselines for counselors.
4. Take notes during the interview portion of your summer camp staffing process.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of candidates to just those that are qualified to be your summer camp counselors, it’s time to start interviewing them for the position. Whether you do your interviews over Skype or in person, these meetings are a valuable time for you to see your potential counselors face-to-face and get a feel for them.
In order to gauge what type of counselor they’ll be, it’s important for you to ask a variety of questions during the interview process. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can record the conversation or take notes so that you can review what you’ve discussed after they’ve left!
These questions aim to determine what kind of person your interviewee is. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, after all, so it’s important to find out how your prospects reacted and responded to situations in the past.
Some behavioral questions that can help you get a read on your interviewee’s leadership style and work ethic are:
- What’s your proudest achievement?
- In what situation have you had to work on a team, and what was the outcome?
- What’s the most difficult problem you’ve had to solve, and how did you come to a solution?
- Describe an instance where you had to display leadership, and how did it work out for you and the group you were leading?
Use these types of questions to determine someone’s leadership skills, problem-solving abilities, and teamwork affinity.
While asking someone how they’ll respond to a hypothetical situation is completely different from seeing how they react to a middle-of-the-night crisis like a sick camper, it’s still a valuable interview exercise to ask your prospective counselor how they would respond to various scenarios.
Offer them some of the following situations and gauge their problem-solving abilities and thought process:
- A camper wakes you up in the middle of the night informing you that they’ve thrown up. What do you do?
- A camper has refused to participate in any activities all day and their attitude is infecting the rest of the group. How do you handle and diffuse the situation?
- A parent is angry about their child’s experience and wishes to speak to you. How do you respond?
These questions, while not always a perfect representation of how the interviewee will respond, give you a better idea of how they handle difficult situations and the process through which they arrive at the solution or conclusion.
After you’ve interviewed the prospective campers, review your notes or the recording of your interview. You might find hidden gems in their responses, or realize that the positive vibes you got from them don’t make up for their lackluster answers to your questions.
Keeping notes of their interviews will help you go back and make smarter decisions when it comes time to extend offers of employment. You’ll probably interview so many counselors that it’ll be hard to keep them all separate without some kind of note-taking system.
5. Send out surveys to improve next year’s summer camp staffing process.
You might think that your hiring process is done in the first few weeks after the summer is over, but that’s not true. Camp staff recruitment is never done! Once your campers and counselors have left for the summer and your cabins and mess halls are empty, it’s time to reach back out to your community and ask for their input.
Send evaluations out to your campers and counselors and ask for their input on your summer. They’ll have a better understanding of each of your counselors because they’re the ones who lived in the cabins with them and saw them teach activities every day.
Questions for campers include:
- Who was your favorite counselor?
- What was your favorite activity and why? Who instructed it?
- Which counselors did you want to spend more time with?
- Did you ever feel like a counselor was unfair with you? Why? And who was it?
Offering campers the opportunity to discuss their feelings on the summer, whether anonymously or not, can help you determine which counselors to court for next summer and which to gently let go. Consider incentivizing them with early-bird registration discounts to increase participation rates!
Questions for counselors’ surveys include:
- Which counselors were the easiest to work with?
- Which counselors made your job more difficult?
- Who did you get along best with?
- Who did you get along worst with?
With counselors, in particular, you may want to give them the option to respond anonymously. Just because they had a hard time working with someone doesn’t mean that they weren’t good friends, and the counselors might feel an obligation to protect their friends or not wish to ‘betray’ them by speaking poorly of them on a survey.
These surveys, in addition to your own observations throughout the summer, can help you determine who the counseling all-stars are and who might be better served working elsewhere next summer.
6. Focus on retention throughout the off-season.
Don’t wait too long after camp to start courting your best counselors to return next summer! Staying in contact with them and making it clear that you value them and want them back will do wonders for your camp staff recruitment and retention rates.
Consider keeping in touch with your counselors in the following sweet ways:
- Send holiday cards in the winter or birthday cards when appropriate.
- Send out staff gifts like t-shirts in the fall, when that summer camp-sickness hits.
- Host alumni/staff weekends through the fall, winter, and spring to keep camp bonds strong.
You can also offer them professional benefits in order to entice them back to camp, like:
- Professional development opportunities.
- A higher salary than the previous summer.
- A bonus if they apply by a certain deadline.
- An earlier application deadline.
These incentives might convince a counselor that it’ll be worth their time to come back if they had been on the fence about it. Retaining a counselor is far less expensive in both time and money than recruiting new ones, so focusing on retention before the summer really ends is a crucial summer camp staffing strategy.
7. Use a centralized software for your summer camp staffing needs.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could manage your entire communication, marketing, and hiring process through software? And even more amazing if that software could somehow work with your camper profiles, healthcare software, and activity scheduler?
Well, have we got good news for you! Enter CircuiTree, the most comprehensive summer camp software on the market. With CircuiTree, you can:
- Offer online applications, so applicants can submit all relevant information and paperwork through the same portal.
- Convert camper profiles to staff profiles with the click of a button, to save both your time and theirs.
- Automate the reference outreach process, so those emails are sent immediately upon reviewing their application.
- Take notes in individual applicant profiles, so that their interviews go smoothly and all the relevant information is kept in one location.
- Offer online employment offers and onboarding, so that counselors can have their important documentation (medical records, W2s) in one place and complete their virtual training through your portal.
- Send out evaluations and surveys after the summer is over to everyone who should fill one out.
Centralizing your hiring process into a single database will make your life so much easier and give you back time that you spent on administrative organizational duties. Then, you can spend more of your valuable time on the things that matter, like getting to know campers and counselors, and making sure your camp is ready for next summer.
For more information on running and managing a summer camp, check out a few of our favorite additional resources:
- The Essential Camp Database Software Features. Your camp database is the most important resource you have for your marketing, registration, and retention strategies. Learn what features you absolutely have to have with our guide.
- The Ultimate Camp Management Toolkit. Make managing your summer camp easier than ever with our easy list of our favorite best practices.
- Can’t-Miss Camp Registration Features. Learn how to make your registration process more effective than ever with this breakdown of the essential features of camp registration software.