There’s no doubt about it, the right staff can take a camp from good to great and vice versa, which is why these days, camps are putting serious effort into hiring exceptional staff members. At its core, working at a summer camp means that you are responsible for the care and guidance of children, both physically and emotionally, which is a responsibility that no parent or camp director takes lightly.
Working at a summer camp is an oft coveted role, not only because you will probably have more fun than at any other job while also making lifelong friends, but also because of how good it looks on your resume. For anyone hoping to land a career in teaching or coaching, and for anyone whose resume could use buffering in the areas of leadership, team management, communication skills, and organization, there’s no better gig than camp.
We’ve used our years of experience in finding perfect hiring matches for summer camps to compile this list of five must-know tips to help you land the camp job of your dreams.
One: Do Your Research
When applying to summer camps, make sure you first take the time to find a camp that you’re excited about, that will make this process, and your summer, a whole lot easier. For example, if you know you want a career teaching music, it might be important for you to find a camp that specializes in performing arts. See our list of different types of camps here. Don’t forget, there are plenty of different roles at most summer camps, so be sure to make your interests known to the hiring director.
Once you have a list of camps you’re excited about, establish contact with your top choice by sending a personalized introductory email. A personalized vs canned email will help you stand out right away and will show the Recruiting Manager that you are friendly, excited, and communicative; all excellent qualities for camp staff. In your email, be sure to let them know in a few words why you’re excited to join this specific camp. This is one quick way to establish that you have taken the time and effort to read through their website and get to know them.
Two: Sell Yourself
When submitting your application or participating in a live interview, you need to showcase how you will add value to the camp. Focus the hiring coordinator’s attention not only on why you believe you would add value to the camp, but also on real examples of times you have demonstrated your skills. When you say “I’m a great organizer”, the hiring manager is just expected to believe you, but when you outline your skills through your accomplishments like, “I successfully led a small team by creating and keeping deadlines, delegating tasks, and managing a budget”, you prove what you are capable of offering.
Retention is important to camps, so if you have the capacity and desire to return for multiple summers, say so! Something as simple as “I am working towards my degree in communications, so if this is a good fit, I would love to return for the next three summers” shows confidence and foresight while also giving you a useful competitive edge.
When it comes to camps, many applicants make the mistake of only talking about what the camp will do for them. Saying something like “This will be a great experience for me”, “I haven’t spent so much time outside in forever, I can’t wait to disconnect”, or “I always wanted to go to camp as a kid” may be TRUE – but your excitement for a job does not demonstrate your ability to do the job well or help them understand the value you’re able to bring to the team. Your best bet is to outline, in detail, how you and the camp would work together to create value for the campers.
Relevant experience is important at summer camps. While many people assume working at a camp will be a fun and easy summer, the reality is that you will rarely work longer hours or have to do nearly as much multitasking. Bring attention to times you worked as a leader, saw an idea through to completion, and went out of your way to make childcare a priority in your life. As a general rule, keep in mind that camp is about the campers.
Three: Stand Out
Once you know you’ve got your basics covered, it’s time to let your personality shine! Your creativity will get you far when you have to command the attention of groups of children, and in most cases, the hiring manager is not only looking for someone who can perform the responsibilities of the job, but also for someone who can exemplify the values of the camp while fitting into an established community. As someone who does camp hiring, if I saw an application that said: “See attached slideshow of The Top 5 Reasons I Would Lead My Team to Victory in Capture the Flag” you can bet that application will get my attention! Summer camp tends to be a place where children feel comfortable being silly and free to be themselves, and a lot of that has to do with how much they look up to their counselors. When you can demonstrate confidence in yourself and a willingness to be silly, play, and communicate effortlessly, you are making it easy for the hiring director to see the qualities the campers would see in you.
Four: Remember That This Is Still A Job Interview
Don’t forget the basics of professionalism just because camp is a “fun job”. Prompt communication, meeting deadlines, and proper spelling and grammar need to remain your standard mode of operation.
Before applying to summer camps, go ahead and give a quick cleanup to your online presence. Make sure you’re comfortable with someone who might hire you seeing everything you have on your social media profiles. It’s always a safe bet to just go ahead and set your profiles to private since, in the childcare field, parents and children alike will probably end up trying to look you up. It’s not that you have anything to hide or be ashamed of, it’s simply a more professional look.
After an interview, it’s always good practice to send a quick ‘thank you’ email. This reminds the hiring manager about you while also extending a polite and professional courtesy.
Five: Practice (But Be Authentic!)
If you get the opportunity to participate in an interview, you will want to practice a few things you might want to talk about. Remember, If you go into the interview saying you’re excited about this opportunity but don’t know anything about the camp’s mission, ethos, or offerings, it’s not very likely that you’re going to stand out as a winning candidate. To put it simply, you need to be knowledgeable about the camp you’re interviewing for.
Another reason it’s important to practice, even if it’s just for a few minutes in front of a mirror, is to become mindful of the pitch and cadence of your speech. When we get nervous or excited, we tend to pick up the pace and start talking a mile a minute. Practice slowing down, taking a breath, and finding ways to calm the jitters! Speedy talking tends to turn into rambling, but if you can fight the impulse to chatter and fill the silence, you’ll help to establish some trust with your interviewer by demonstrating confidence and allowing them to speak and ask questions as well. People also tend to turn on a ‘phone voice’ that is a few pitches higher than their standard talking voice. See if you can enter a camp interview in your normal conversational voice. This little trick might just help you feel more at ease, making your interview feel more like a natural and friendly conversation.
In addition to a quick practice session, make sure you have a few thoughtful questions prepared. I’ve never participated in an interview where the phrase “What questions do you have for us?” wasn’t asked. You may get a few of your questions answered during the course of the interview, so make sure you have more than just a few basics jotted down. Having questions ready will prove that you are taking this opportunity seriously and are invested in making the right decision.
Are You Ready for the Best Summer of Your Life?
Working at a summer camp is often a life-changing experience, and one which many people happily label as some of the happiest times of their lives. We hope that you found this article helpful as you begin the search for the right camp for you.
Want to learn more? We make it our mission to gather all the necessary information to help you find your perfect camp job.