New Camp Staff Recruitment Goals for September: Strive for Five

Photo: Roderick Cooney,

By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon

Staff recruitment problematic for you last summer? It was for most camp pros that I talked with. Here are 5 things that you can do this September to get a jump start on staff recruiting for next year as part of our Strive for Five blog series!

  1. Connect with local professors or even do a little teaching yourself

I did a training for a local parks and rec department this June and I noticed they had an EXCELLENT staff team. As I talked with the director afterward, I asked her how she recruited such talented staff. She explained to me that she teaches child development at our local community college, which is where she not just meets but builds relationships with college-age kids who need summer jobs.  Genius! I realize that not everyone can teach a community college class, but being a guest lecturer at one or even building a relationship with the professors can be incredibly helpful. Start this now and make it your goal to have several authentic touchpoints with these groups of students. It will pay off after the new year when they start looking for summer jobs.

2. Find out about internship scholarships through local colleges

One of my fantastic staff members (shoutout Jessa Miller) introduced me to a program at the University of Michigan where she attended undergrad. Through the college of Literature, Science and the Arts, the UofM offers supplemental funding to undergraduate students as they pursue summer internships ( I was able to set up an internship for Jessa at camp as part of her role on the health staff, and she received additional compensation through the university for the summer. I had to do some additional paperwork, as did Jessa, but it was worth it. Many future staff did the same thing.  Now is the time to research these opportunities and partnerships!

3. Get your website up to date

Imagine a college sophomore. His roommate, who works at your camp, comes back to school and describes to him the awesome summer he had. The college sophomore is intrigued by his friend’s stories and enthusiasm. What is he going to do? He is going to look at your website. For some of us--great. For others--we are not ready. Now is a great time to get some basic recruiting materials up online.

I would start with having a savvy high school or college student peruse your website. Ask them how easy it is to find information about summer employment, and what else they would need to know. Don’t hide the details--have dates, compensation, and basic job descriptions up immediately--as well as the “sell” about the great summer experience. I also love using an inquiry form on the website. The college sophomore from our example is not going to fill out an entire application that night on his phone. But he might fill out an inquiry form about “Summer 2019 Job Opportunities.” That way, you can capture his information, get him on the mailing list, and send him an application once it’s ready. But before then, you can even give him a call or send him an email to learn more about him and get him excited about the potential of working at your camp. You want to capture his information and his attention early--and not scare him off with a giant application form.

4. Create recruitment materials for returning staff.

Your best new staff recruiters are your returners.  If you can get them materials to be able to share with their friends and peers, you can jumpstart their ability to recruit. For instance, could you send a custom t-shirt to each returner that has already committed (even if just verbally) to Summer 2019 at your camp? The shirt could have an awesome camp design on the front and then on the back say “I have the best summer job in the world. Ask me about it!”.  As your returning staff wear these shirts, people are likely to do just that. Also consider printing small postcards and flyers that you can send to your returners and ask them to give the out at school.

Note: You need to be directive in this so it actually happens. I would map out all of my returning staff and think about what they do in the school year, and what groups of candidates they might have access to. For instance, if you have a trusted returner in the School of Education at a particular university, you could send him 10 flyers to put around his department and a stack of palm cards to hand out in his elementary education classes. Or, if you have a returning staffer who is on the sailing team at her university, create a customer flyer about waterfront job opportunities with a fun giveaway (like a pen or sticker) that you can send to her to give to her teammates.  Be sure to thank these staff members for their help with a card and even a gift. Some camps even have referral awards for staff who refer successful new staff (such as giftcard or payroll bonus).

5. Look deeply at your staffing model and its success.

Oftentimes we get stuck in doing things the way they have always been done. And that is totally understandable--we have about 1 million things to do as camp directors (no exaggeration). At the same time, many camp pros have been struggling with new staff recruitment. It’s time that each of us look at some data from our own camps to see where we can change our models to make us a more attractive summer employer. Instead of wondering what’s wrong with a potential staff member who chooses not to work for us, we need to examine our own set up to make sure we are still relevant employers. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Reach out via text to staff that you hired last year who did not accept the position or did not show. See if you can get some more information from them about what they chose to do instead and why they did not choose your camp. Look for patterns.

  • Examine other job opportunities in your area. Are you paying competitively?

  • Look at your staffing policies, and ask if they need to be in place. For instance, could you change your “must work the whole summer” policy to one that allows each staff member a week off on a pre-approved basis? Some built-in flexibility can make your job postings way more attractive to potential staff.

  • Where are you recruiting? Where have your best new staff come from in the past? Focus your efforts there to start, but make a list of 20 new places where you can start to network--such as local community colleges, sports clubs, etc.

  • What is your camper-to-staff pipeline? Is there a precipitous drop after a certain age or program? Can you bridge that gap by offering a more robust teen leadership program, or providing an opportunity to stay involved in camp if you have a gap between your eldest camper age and your youngest staff or volunteer age?

Answering these types of questions now will allow you to make crucial changes to your setup that can make or break your ability to recruit.

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