Hiring a staff to run the camp during the summer is the most time-consuming and important thing a camp director can do each year. How to get started? My suggestion is to make a plan!
The best advice I ever heard about looking for something is to know exactly what to look for. The same is true with staff. One must decide what type of staff is wanted and what type of staff is needed to achieve the desired goal.
First: What do I want in a staff member?
The answer to this question can be a little tough unless you use the generic answers: fun, smart and safe. My challenge is to go deeper and find people of character and intelligence, who are fun, driven, kind, committed to a mission and willing to know camp goals and agree to those goals.
It is important to define the camp mission and the type of environment you want camp staff to create. During the interview process convey traits being sought out and the camp's standards and expectations. This gives the potential staff member a chance to decide if they are interested. It will also save time in the hiring process. Remember to take the time to explain your camp and the way it works.
At this moment in each interview we tell the potential staff person that we are a "kids-first" facility and all staff are expected to exhibit four basic characteristics at all times: Caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.
Also, we inform all potential candidates of our SSAD rule. The SSAD rule stands for, "no Smoking, Sex, Alcohol or Drugs" on the camp property at any time for any reason.
We also give all potential staff members a copy of administrative polices and procedures. It outlines basic rules and expectations. We also tell potential staff members pay and time-off policy from the start. It is important to weed out those people who will never consider the position based on the pay rate.
If the potential staff member is still interested, go to the second level of speaking with their references and discussing what they are interested in doing at camp.
So, in the interview process, we aim to know and identify the desired traits of a staff member, then we share our camp mission, policies and procedures right away.
If the potential staff member agrees to the guidelines and looks good on paper, we go the next step -- references, a second interview and position particulars.
Where do I get staff?
This can be hard. I suggest four routes: College job fairs, Internet, newspaper and college internship programs.
College job fairs are a great resource and offer the opportunity to meet friends of past counselors. Use old staff to recruit at their universities and set up meetings before appearing to advertise camp jobs and positions.
Have veteran staff who attend the college represent the table for a couple of hours. Initially, it is easier for students to talk with staff who attend the same college.
Get a Web page! In this day and age it is the quickest way to advertise and pull resources from all over the country. We have just now started with Internet technology and it is wonderful. Warning… Still take the time to call the potential staff member and whenever possible meet with them. The Net is so easy it is very possible to overlook some steps in hiring.
Posting jobs, pay, mission, philosophy and pictures to present your camp to the prospective staff person can be an asset to any camp.
We do not have an on-line application process, but I think it would be an advantage. Applicants can send all of the required information and even answer the questions before an initial
interview has to take place, which cuts out the first step.
I also like the Internet for communication with staff, idea generation and contacting friends of staff who are interested in working at camp. The Net allows me to pursue leads given to me from staff on good candidates who just need information.
Local newspapers: It might seem outdated compared to the Net, but you may be surprised by the response you receive. A nice ad will still spark someone's attention, most likely a parent who wants to help their college student find a job for the summer.
Parents love to cut things out and mention a job to those students who are so focused on school that the summer is the furthest thing in their mind.
If possible, run action photos from the camp in the ad, and make it prominent. Smiling campers enjoying a day at camp help sell your program much better than the most creative copy. And don't forget contact information. It may seem like a no-brainer, but you wouldn't believe how often people overlook including even a phone number!
College internship programs are my favorite! Why not help staff graduate from college by working with you! Recreation departments, education majors and social work students can easily get credit from their colleges for working directly with children in this type of environment.
It's a little extra paperwork for you, but it makes it easier to recruit staff, even if your payroll is lower than some of your competitors.
Call department heads and see what can offer their students in hands-on experience. From there, find out who the intern coordinators are, ask for their requirements, offer connected jobs and look at the evaluation process for students.
The goal is to get a staff member who is focused on doing a good job for a few reasons, one of them being so they can graduate school! That is the staff member who is least likely to get into summer trouble.
Now I have my team… how do I keep them?
If the job has been done right in the beginning of the hiring process then every staff member hired knows the expectations of the job, knows camp philosophy and agrees to the administrative policies and procedures. With that accomplished, the next focus is on training and continuing to motivate and support them.
Be ready for the challenges that will come up. How the first staff crisis is handled will dictate the impact on the remainder of the staff and the camp's standards.
For example, if the rules have clearly been explained but are not enforced when they are broken, then staff respect for the rules will be diminished. It's hard, but being the director means making the tough calls.
If staff is told that the camp is a non-smoking facility and breaking that rule means termination -- enforce it. If there is no follow-through with rules, directors will find it harder to do so later.
Sacrificing standards and rules to accommodate a single staff member will sacrifice credibility and the ability to lead. Believe it or not there is a sense of security among the staff to know what the boundaries are.
The more gray lines created, the more opportunity provided for the staff to challenge the camp standards and rules. Then directors find themselves spending all of their time dealing with discipline and behavior problems.
To avoid gray areas make all staff sign off that they understand the rules and policies at staff training during a review session and collect signatures.
This does not mean that there are not exceptions to the rule, but it does mean that they must be clearly stated as to why certain exceptions are made so they do not become excuses for others.
Gather all the information about a situation that you can in order to make an informed decision. Your first priority is the children, then staff.
Ascertain if the counselor had the kids in mind when they did what they did (whatever it was they did). If they made a mistake (which is normal), but the kids were protected and foremost in their mind, work with them.
Make sure to take the time in the summer to re-focus the staff on the mission and purpose of the job. Mid-summer is a tough time for every camp. Have an all-staff meeting to give praise and re-iterate part of the staff training message.
Camp directors are captains on ships. They decide the course of the ship and give the opportunity for people to sign on for the voyage or disembark.
The journey will be a lot smoother if the crew knows what they signed on for. If a balance between standards and continual motivation and dedication is made then a mutiny is unlikely. Good luck.
Jeffrey Merhige is the Director of Camping Services for the Ann Arbor YMCA -- Camp Al-Gon-Quian.