summer camp counselor hiring

5 Secrets to Recruiting & Onboarding The Best Summer Camp Counselors

Staffing is the single most important decision camp directors make to help their camp not only succeed but grow. The staff you choose each season is also one of the most important drivers of camper retention. Your campers (and their parents) recognize when you hire amazing people who not only take the time to invest in their kids but who also go above and beyond to give them a great experience.

Put simply, phenomenal staff create a phenomenal culture at your camp. And taking the time to ensure you’re doing it right is time well spent.

summquer camp counselor hiring

Whether you’re a director or were put in charge of running your summer camp’s hiring, if you’re in that recruiting seat you know how time-consuming it can be to find the right people for the right roles. Altogether, you’ll likely spend hundreds of hours each year creating job listings, fielding applications, scheduling interviews and tracking down references. And if you lose track of the process, or fall behind, long and sleepless nights ensue – even before camp begins.

But here’s a secret: There’s a better way to hire summer camp staff. And we promise it doesn’t involve nearly as much manual data entry as in the past.

Leveraging the right camp hiring tools empowers your camp to streamline the five steps in the staffing process – recruiting, accepting applications, screening, interviewing, and onboarding. Today’s post includes some of the most helpful strategies and shortcuts you can take during the hiring process to make your life easier.

1. Your Summer Camp Staff Can Make or Break Your Camp; Recruit the Best

summer camp counselor hiring

What’s the secret to recruiting camp rock stars? We wish there were a magic bullet! We’ve all had experiences with prospective employees we think will be amazing…then become our biggest problems. Conversely, there are hires who have surprised us and not only become rock stars at camp but turn into lifelong camp professionals.

When it comes to recruiting stellar summer camp staff, fortunately, a few strategies can help you to narrow down your list to the most promising candidates.

Here are a few ideas for recruiting great staff:

  • Promote from Within
    • Many of you already have a counselor-in-training (CIT) program in place for your older campers. If you do, great! If not, consider implementing one of your own. For now – if nothing else – before the end of the summer you should start pursuing your rock-star staff about returning the following year. Communicate how pleased you are with their work, offer a raise or access to professional development opportunities next summer; do what you need to do to get them on board for next year.
  • Ask for Referrals
    • Leveraging your camp’s alumni, family, friends, and fundraising network to find awesome applicants goes a long way. These people know your camp, and chances are they’ll help you spread the word to the types of people you’d love to hire. You can do this via email campaigns, social media, or literally asking for referrals.
  • Link Up with Schools and Community Groups
    •  Colleges, church groups, community organizations, and leadership groups – they all offer your camp the chance to access to incredible leaders. Make sure you get the word out. Don’t forget to build partnerships with local and regional universities, too!

How Summer Camp Staffing Software Helps You Recruit

A well-designed, all-in-one camp management software platform (like CampMinder!) is like a super-powered Rolodex containing everyone remotely connected to your camp – even Aunt Sally and Cousin Joe. While CampMinder covers the gamut of the entire staffing process and more, when it comes to recruiting, the built-in set of tools offered by the system allows you to easily manage your CIT program or categorize and reach out to key people who may be good candidates or willing to refer you – including alumni, parents, and campers.

summer camp counselor hiring

2. Make It Easy for Applicants to Apply

There’s a reason many camps are no-technology zones – campers and staff might spend the summer staring at their phones. That, however, should also tell you something that should inform your hiring practices…simply put, your potential hires are tech savvy. And these days, they don’t blink twice to use their phone for things like – get ready for it – filling out your staff application.

By giving your application process a digital makeover, you’ll make the process that much more friction-free for potential hires. And if we learned nothing from Frank Fagan, sometimes it’s the small things that get potential hires in the door.

While digital applications in one form or another aren’t negotiable, a digital application process isn’t enough. You should also link up with camp staff hiring agencies to streamline the process. In summary:

  • Make Your Applications User-Friendly: An effective camp application is straightforward to complete and submit. If the process is overly complicated, you might lose out on top talent. Start by making sure the application functions well and looks great on every platform. (Remember, your younger applicants love mobile – and even if they don’t complete it on their phones, they might look there first.)
  • Link Up with International Hiring Agencies: If you’re hiring international staff, it can be a challenge to get the word out. The right platform, though, can simplify it for you. Many camp HR platforms connect with job boards from the major international hiring agencies, like Camp America, 3Adventures, and CCUSA. In other words, you create a posting, link it to your desired job boards, and then applications flow right into your hiring tool.

How Summer Camp Staffing Software Helps You Accept Applications

Camp management software with staffing built-in empowers you in a variety of ways, but when it comes to the application process you’ll save a *lot* of headaches.  CampMinder, in particular, streamlines your ability to create custom online applications and personalize all the questions potential hires will see. It goes 7 steps farther to automagically organize the incoming applications as they flow into your database of UPRs, automate reference forms, perform background checks, onboard applicants easily, and even manage them once they’re in the system. (Basically, you get your life back.)

summer camp counselor hiring3. Narrow Your List Down

You’ve got this season’s list of potential staff members. But now you want to weed out the ones who just aren’t the right fit. What do you do?

Well, you’ll likely start with reference and background checks (which, without the right tools, might take all spring). What can you do? Automate. You can shave time off reference checks by allowing your software platform to automatically reach out to references. Here’s how the process works:

  • You create online reference check forms for your various positions.
  • Applicants provide references on their online applications with contact information.
  • Your hiring tool automatically sends a link to the reference check form to each of the applicant’s references.
  • Voila! You’re on the track to checking references faster than ever – and gathering great information about potential campers. No more games of phone tag.

Plus, another advantage: Background checks are streamlined. The best online hiring tools allow you to batch background checks with a single click.

How Summer Camp Staffing Software Helps with Screening

Automation is a powerful hiring tool at camps that may have hundreds of applicants. But another powerful feature is the ability to sort, filter, tag, and otherwise narrow down your pool. Once you’ve created your lists, you can send a batched emails to applicants, batch references checks, and automatically create lists of references you haven’t heard from.

summer camp counselor hiring4. Interview Time: Scheduling Interviews & Asking The Right Questions

Interviews are the backbone of the staffing process. But if you ask any camp director, the logistics of scheduling staff interviews is like trying to herd cats. Lots and lots of cats.

The right technology can certainly help with the logistics. The right tools make communication easier and allow potential hires to schedule their own interviews via the system. For example, you could allow potential hires to select a time that works for them from an electronic scheduler like – and getting the word out would be as easy as sending a mass email.

But beyond the logistics, the real challenge is getting a sense of someone in a short amount of time and (and often) a virtual environment. Here are a few tips:

  • Ask the Right Questions: Ask questions that give you a sense of their why – of what draws them to camp and why they want to work with kids. Cover the basics, and literally ask your interviewees point blank “Why do you want to work with kids?” or derivatives thereof. It’s easy to cover the skills needed, but harder to get a feel for whether they truly care about what they would be doing, and answers tot he simple questions can instantly help you weed out applicants who don’t seem excited or up to the task.
  • Get Creative with Your Questions: Creative interview questions can help you gauge problem-solving ability. They don’t have to be brain-teasers – instead just simple outside-the-box questions. A few fun questions:
    • You’re a new addition to a crayon box. What would you be, and why?
    • You just won the lottery. What would you do with the money, and why?
  • Ask ‘Situation’ Questions: Camp staff will likely be put in situations beyond the borders of their existing experiences. And the way they respond in these situations can affect the safety of campers, or make or break a camper’s experience. So find questions that will give you an idea of how a potential staff member might react to a risky situation or conflict. Some jumping off points:
    • What would you do if you had a situation with a camper who was bullied by others?
    • A senior counselor wants to go rock climbing with campers without proper safety gear. How would you handle the situation?
  • Get a Second Opinion: If you have the time, depending on the position, bring further admin staff into the process and let them ask questions too. A fresh set of eyes and ears on a candidate might help you see something you’re missing.

How Summer Camp Staffing Software Makes Staff Interviews Easier

To be frank, it doesn’t. When it’s interview time, the ball’s in your court and no software can take the place of your eyes, ears, voice, handshake and personal impression. While the entire process before and after the interview is streamlined by a good camp management platform, this is where you’ll need to dive in and use those instincts your grandma blessed you with.

summer camp counselor hiring5. Create an On-Boarding Experience That’s Foolproof

Hey, you’ve made it to the finish line! Congratulations – now let’s get those new hires in the door! Before you get too excited for camp to start, however, your work’s not done yet. There are still a few steps you need to take to onboard your staff and make it all official.

You’ll still need to:

  • Ensure healthcare forms are completed
  • Sign and return contracts
  • Submit W2s and tax forms
  • Distribute preparation packets
  • Schedule meet-ups and events (before, during, and after the season)
  • Manage them throughout the summer(!)

How Summer Camp Staffing Software Helps You Onboard New Staff

This is really where having a robust staffing module as part of your camp management software will shine – and save you hundreds of hours. First, your incoming staff’s profiles will all reside within your camp management platform. From here, you can easily send links to digital health, tax and release forms for them to fill out.

Plus, you’ll be able to easily distribute newsletters, deadline alerts, and other messages through the system. Besides providing incoming staff with a “home base” for their employee records – i.e. the dashboard – quality digital HR tools also help directors get their staff ready. Camp directors can create quick reports, i.e. who still needs to submit healthcare forms or W2’s, and then personalize a message for this group. Plus, all the data that is submitted, like W2 forms, are securely stored in a searchable database.

summer camp staffingParting Words: The Right Technology Makes Finding the Best People Easier – And Gives You Your Life Back

Ask any lifelong camp director how hiring has changed in the last few decades, and you’re bound to hear a response that starts with “Back in my day…” and probably ends with a story about a guy named Back Rub Bill who sang so loud he almost never made it to camp.

Thankfully, today you can trade the logistical and communication nightmare that is the staffing process for something much, much better. When it comes to hiring the right people, intuition still counts – and cannot be replaced – but today’s tools are changing the game.

Considering how important staff is for creating a phenomenal camp culture at your camp – and driving camper retention – smart staffing is something that every director will want to get behind.