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5 tips for landing a camp counselor job

18.03.16

Many camp counselors are hired or re-hired because they’re already known by camp directors for having strong and worthy personal and interpersonal qualities from their days as a camper or a Junior Counselor. But that doesn’t mean a newbie can’t break into the summer camp job world. It’s just that you’ll want to know the best way to land that job based upon what camp directors look for in new applicants.

So here are some tips for putting your best foot forward in the job application process.

For a long time I did most of the counselor hiring at Camp Alleghany, so my tips come from years of experience in meeting job candidates.

Now our Program Director, Taylor Fellows does much of the hiring so I pow wowed with her for what she’s looking for, too. What follows are the fruits of our discussion.

1. Experience counts

It doesn’t matter if you have a huge long list of things you’re involved in or have done. Honestly, just 1-2 activities or sports or clubs or mission type trips, etc. that you’ve truly focused on, and put a lot of time and effort into, says a lot about who you are, your focus, and your dedication to growing along a certain pathway.

Leadership in those activities is also important; Are you a captain of your team? Did you organize the fundraising efforts for this year’s mission trip? Did you play a key role in organizing a show or event?

Along those same lines, showing your work ethic and initiative counts for a lot in both your application and the interview process. If you can demonstrate how you’ve taken the initiative to lead something, head up something, organize something, and you did it without significant help from parents, shows that you’re both an idea person and someone with follow through.

Have you taken a project from idea to completion with a team that you lead? Were you the outreach coordinator for an art show, a stage manager, or the coordinator of donations for a fundraising project?

Then you should be able to talk about that in concrete terms. For example, “I helped raise 25% more funds this year in part due to my engaging a larger audience for the event through free public service announcements on the radio.” Or, “I brought in a volunteer guest speaker to entice and inspire our volunteers, resulting in a stronger team for the project.” That kind of thing.

Then you should be able to write and talk in strong and clear terms about work or project-oriented experiences such as:

A time you failed and what you learned from it.
A time you’ve been given negative feedback and how you handled it.
A time that a plan you had didn’t go as planned and what you did instead.
A time you had to put others’ needs ahead of your own needs.
A time you took a stand for something you believed it, but it was an unpopular position and how you dealt with any pressure around that.
A time when you’ve faced adversity and how you worked through it.

Topics like these are not things like friendship drama, roommate situations, or a subject in school or teacher that you didn’t like. Instead it needs to be deeper and more significant and tied to your skills and abilities in a work, project, or volunteer setting.

Since camp counseling is a very multi-faceted job in what can sometimes be challenging circumstances (odd weather, camper sickness, tight quarters, long hours), we want to see that you have enough self-reflection and maturity that you can deal with changes or make mistakes and recover; that you’re not afraid to make mistakes; that you’re not afraid to stand up for what you believe in in a mature and productive way; that you can quickly come up with an alternative plan of action if your plans don’t go as planned; that you can handle and learn from constructive criticism; and that you can pick yourself up after adversity and move on with a smile.

2. Application accuracy

You are presenting yourself to a job where presentation counts for so much. We’re not looking for burger-flippers, but for role models to kids. That means your first impression as an applicant matters so much!

Guess what? Spelling and grammar are so important!!!!!!!!!!! How you articulate your experiences matters too. Use full and complete sentences. Back up what you’re saying with examples. Keep it simple but direct, macerate, and measurable where possible. Then check it, check it, and triple check it. Have your pal the English major check it. And then check it again.

Aunt Judy and her sons — the kids you babysit — love you, of course — but she’s not a reference. Don’t put family members or friends down as references. Point us to people who have actually seen you work hard (or volunteer seriously) and can attest to your work ethic, moral character, timeliness, and follow-through.

3. Ask questions

You’re going for a job at a specific place that demands a specific set of skills and personal qualities. So what is this place where you want to work? Why are you pursuing this job?

You should have spent a fair amount of time reading the camp’s online materials, reviewing any videos about their programs, and reading any material that specifically pertains to the job(s) you’re seeking. Then ask about them!

Interviewers like to see that an applicant is aware of what the job entails even if she wants to know more detail. At the very least have 2-3 specific questions that go beyond things like, “When does the job start and end?” or “How much time-off will I get?” or, “Can my boyfriend spend the night somewhere on site?”

No!

You want to ask questions about activity areas, training, skills development, history of the organization, opportunities for advancement, required certifications, and what to expect in X, Y, or Z.

A questioning applicant is an informed and eager applicant and that makes for a more compelling interview for your would-be employer.

4. Communication savvy

Research shows that the millennial generation can do without phone calls and e-mail, that texts are the order of the day. Well that’s fine if you’re planning a tubing trip for this Saturday but for getting a job? Not so much!

If you want to land a job you need a proper and personal voice mail message on your phone, not a generic one. It should be a cheery and specific, “Hi this is Sarah James at 555.555.5555 and I’m not available to take your call. If you’ll please leave me a message with your name, time you called, and what this is in reference to, I’ll return your call as soon as possible. Thank you!”

Similarly, check your e-mail! In the business world, prompt replies to e-mails are essential. If we e-mail you to set up your interview, it looks to us like you’re eager and serious if you reply as soon as you’re able.

And e-mails aren’t texts. In an e-mail job seekers use a greeting, “Dear Taylor,” and follow it with introducing yourself (if it’s the first time connecting), and uses proper and complete sentences, with full words (no text-speak like “u”), correct grammar, and closes with a parting and signature: “Sincerely, Sarah.”

And do you know who knows how to do this wonderfully? Your mom. But she’s not the applicant and there’s nothing that kills your chances more than her stepping in to apply on your behalf. All that tells us is that you’re not ready to present yourself and then do the job.

5. Interview focus

Whether you’re on the phone, using Skype, or meeting in person, how you handle this important moment that designed to close the deal is huge!

You should know your own background and experience which should impart confidence in your answers. You’ll want to rehearse a little bit to rid yourself of too many “umms” and “likes.” Remember, you’ve done the things on your application, and now you’re interviewing — own your answers with confidence!

A tidy appearance is essential. Show that you care about yourself enough for a clean and spiffy appearance but you’re not applying to be a bank manager or Secretary of State — you don’t need a suit or anything, just clean, neat, pulled together.

And on Skype you control the environment, so you’ll want to make sure that the place you set up in is clean and neat, too. No background bulletin boards of your nights out partying for example, and no laundry and food dishes piling up in the background. Think minimal, clean, clear.

If you’re in-person or via Skype, make sure you use friendly eye contact and a smile. Use the kind of polite friendliness you would in any situation, such as asking how your interviewer, “how are you doing?” and when it’s over offering a sincere “thank you for the interview!”

Land the job!

I hope this helps you to understand just how serious a camp counselor job is — you’re modeling behavior for young people, teaching skills, and monitoring happiness and safety during the camp experience. It’s a job that not just anybody can win.

But if you plan right, do your research, make your case, and then get the job you’ll be so glad for the experience that such a job (especially over multiple summers) can do for your budding career in most any field!

Good luck…and apply today!

Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls