An Introduction to Interviewing Camp Staff

At Stomping Ground, the sleepaway camp I started with Laura Kriegel in 2015, we just hired our first year-round assistant director. Allison Klee, or Klee, has worked with us for three years. You may know her from her videos on how to help staff prepare for the summer.

Anyway, she is awesome and really gets what we do at Stomping Ground, but is still new at so many aspects of her new role. My guess is many of you are in a similar position to either Klee, a new year-round camp person, or me, helping onboard new year-round camp homies. With that in mind, I thought I would share what I shared with Klee about our staff hiring process. Maybe this will become an ongoing series, On-Boarding Klee - A New Assistant Director’s Journey.

Below is an email I sent to Klee, edited a little for context and some fun photos added.


Klee!

It’s already staff hiring season. We have had a couple new folks apply already. Through this - Apply to Stomping Ground.

Let’s talk process.

  1. Staff apply through the website and give us a few pieces of simple information so we can get started.

  2. Then, I will reach out to them to set up an initial conversation.

  3. Most of our applicants tend to be solid so I will connect them with you to have a conversation. I will share my notes with you.

  4. You will talk with them.

  5. You check their references.

  6. Then we decide what to do next. We either offer them the job or have Laura talk with them to learn more.

  7. Then we send them this page on the website to make sure they really want the job.

The Interview

Interviewing is hard. Some people say interviews don’t work at all. So what is the point? At the highest level it is to see if they will do well in the job they are applying for. OK! That is a start. What is the job they are applying for? Let’s talk cabin counselors at Stomping Ground. What if we broke down being a counselor into 5 major categories?

JISE XT (We need a better acronym)

Judgment (Understand and align with the mission, vision, and practical nature of camp)
Initiative (Ability to consistently start)
Supervision (Awareness of assigned areas and campers)
Engagement (Emotional involvement or commitment)
X-Factor (What makes them special?)
Team (How do they make others better?)

Maybe EXITS?

Engagement, X Factor, Initiative, Team, Supervision/Judgment

You can use this for notes or make your own.

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Some Questions to Get Started

Tell me about a time when you had to make a hard decision.

  • What are you hoping to get out of this summer?

  • How did you decide what to do as you after high school? Walk me through your thinking.

  • Tell me about a time you were with kids and had to be the “grownup”

  • When you are with a group of friends what role do you find yourself playing?

    • Tell me about a time where you played that role

  • I noticed on your resume that you… tell me about how you got started with that.

  • Tell me about a time you made a one on one relationship recently.

  • Tell me about your ideal day

  • Tell me about a challenge you have overcome

  • Brag about cool stuff you have done. Pretend I am your new best friend

  • What are some cool hobbies/skills/talents you have?

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Informed Consent

This is a weird idea or maybe just a weird phrase to use.

Something obvious: the best counselors are the counselors that know what they are doing. The earlier we can help them know what they are opting into the higher the probability of success. One way to do that is to retain staff. Another is to grow staff from the camper base. The hardest, and one we have to do a lot at Stomping Ground, is getting new staff up to speed as quickly as possible. This starts in the interview process.

I will talk with everyone that applies about the hours, the workload, the lack of self-care time, etc. The goal isn’t to scare them away but try to give them as accurate a picture of the job as possible so that they can make an informed decision about whether the job is right for them.

I don’t have statistics, but anecdotally it seems that when we can really get people to understand this the mental health of staff have been much higher and performance much better. The You’re Hired Page has helped a lot with this. Along with the Don’t Take This Job If Video.

Other stuff....

Ok so I think you have a pretty good understanding of what we are thinking about for the process. Below are a couple of links to some resources that I think will better set you up to actually do the interview. TAKE A LOOK!

A Short Video on Interviewing Camp Counselors

Laura Kriegel, Scott Arizala, and I made a video about interviewing a few years ago. I think the key takeaway is to ask follow up questions that give more insight into what we are looking for and ask questions that lead to stories of real-life not hypotheticals.

Gary Forester and POWER Hiring

Gary was the number one camp consultant for a long time. He grew up in the Y, eventually was the go-to Y camp guy, then became a consultant for all camps. He is sort of retired now, but his writings are still some of the best and most influential in the camp world. Check out his advice for interviewing here.

How to Interview
Let's Go Fishing

Actually trying to read everything on Gary’s old school website is definitely worth doing. The design is out of date and some of his thoughts seem dated, but 98% of what he is talking about is still incredibly relevant.

http://garyforster.com/library.php

Let’s do this!
Jack


I hope this was useful! Kurtz and I get together with camp pros every week to talk about what is working, what isn’t, and how we can help each other. It is the best deal in professional development on the planet. $699 for 8 weeks of real time online discussion and a 3 day retreat. Check it out. The Summer Camp Society Semester.

JACK SCHOTT
CO-FOUNDER/DIRECTOR CAMP STOMPING GROUND
CO-FOUNDER THE SUMMER CAMP SOCIETY
JACK@THESUMMERCAMPSOCIETY.COM
STOMPING GROUND ORIGIN STORY