Woah, what a whirlwind couple of weeks. I finished up my full-time camp director job, officially got started working with the faith-based camp I mentioned in this post and launched Patchwork Marketplace. It’s been chaotic and SO MUCH FUN!!
But once again, my little blog took a hit when it came to managing my time, so I apologize for that – especially to Dan who asked a pretty great question about staff hiring and balancing that with camp prep and the million other things you need to do this time of year.
So, even though it’s later than I had planned… here’s some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way, although I’m so far from an expert in any of this, I hope my experiences will help at least a little.
Fitting it all in
Ok, so I realize this is probably not very helpful at this time of year but it’s worth saying anyway, usually in September or early October I create my work plan and map out when and how I’m going to accomplish all of my big tasks throughout the year.
I try to get the bulk of my program planning, pre summer prep completed in the fall because I know from January to May is going to be straight out madness. (That made sense for my schedule, each camp program is so unique that you will likely need to adapt that to your specific schedule.)
I was the only person solely dedicated to camp in my organization, so that meant I did everything from staff recruiting & hiring, to program development, and even camper registration – we had a development team so I got a small reprieve from grant writing and marketing, but worked quite a bit with the team to help in those areas too… so I totally get that overwhelming feeling of needing to do everything and never having enough time. I feel your pain!
What I started doing the last few years was carving out certain parts of my day for specific tasks – for instance I had a little checklist of things I needed to do for registration and I would go through that first thing in the morning and right after lunch (simply because the mail arrived after lunch and since it was a pretty recent transition to an online registration system we still had quite a few mail applications, and I always worked on it first thing in the morning so I would have answers if someone asked me how registration was going later in the day).
Time management is something I’m continuously working on (pretty obvious that I haven’t mastered it yet based on the first paragraph of this blog, eh?) BUT one of the tools that has worked for me is to set a 30 minute timer on my phone and try to avoid all distractions during that time. Obviously if someone popped into my office to ask me something I wasn’t going to slam the door in their face, but if I saw the email notification out of the corner of my eye instead of immediately clicking on it (because we’re all like one of Pavlov’s dogs when it comes to notifications, am I right?) I would really quickly check the timer on my phone instead and it would refocus me to get back to work for the minutes I had left. Then checking my email became my reward for staying focused for 30 minutes (ok, that’s just SAD right? hahaha)
It also probably helped that I can get pretty competitive so it would always *accidentally* morph into a beat the clock-esque game where I would try to get as much done as possible before the alarm went off. Then I would set it again. FUN!
So interviewing takes up a lot of time, although it’s totally worth it (references checks on the other hand, I do only for due diligence – personally I find them useless but recognize that I still have to do them) so here are some of the things I’ve done to manage the interview process.
*Disclamer, I’m not saying this is the best way, or even the right way, it’s just the way that’s worked for me*
I would officially (even though I had this conversation during the final evaluations of the previous season) invite returning staff back a month or two before I started hiring. Anyone who was applying for a new position had to fill out a returning staff application and interview, otherwise I’d just plunk them in their old position.
After I narrowed down the applicant pool I would send each applicant an email inviting them to interview and asking them to provide three dates and timeframes between date x & y (usually a span of a week or two) that would work for them and say that I would try to accommodate one of the dates/ times.
Then I would say that if they’re in the area I’d prefer them to come to the office for an in-person interview but if that wasn’t an option then we could do a video call via Skype or FaceTime, and that the third (and least preferred) option would be a phone interview.
Now, that worked for me because I typically hired university students and they have pretty hectic schedules, so I like to give them a little flexibility in scheduling their meetings. I never bothered to travel to interview my applicants face to face, if they couldn’t make it in to see me then we’d do it via video or phone call – it saved money and a lot of time.
I would always try to schedule interviews in “batches” so that I’d have a whole bunch of them for two or three days out of the week which gave me more control over my schedule on the non- interview days… cause I don’t know about you, but I find interviews totally throw off my productivity.
It’s super hard to let yourself get really focused on a task when you know that someone will be showing up in less than an hour, then you have to make sure you’re prepped for the interview, and afterwards you’re making notes, etc. It’s a whole process, right?
I know that some camp directors have had a great deal of success doing “interview tours” where they visit different communities (usually university and college towns) and do some batch interviews while they’re there.
I personally think it’s only worth it to do this if you’re already going to be attending a job fair at the school, or if you have 5 or more interviews scheduled in that area.
Another tactic that a lot of camp directors love is the group interview. I’ve only participated in one season of group interviews and it was for a science day camp, so it was pretty involved, there was a group interview, a group task, and then individual science presentations and a brief individual interview. Pretty intensive, took 2 -3 three hours per group of 4 -5 people.
I usually keep my 1:1 interviews between 30- 45 minutes, some would definitely argue that that’s just not enough time, but it’s worked for my needs.
Where to find all the people
Ok, so I wish I had more creative suggestions, but I always just went the usual route.
I think I was pretty fortunate in my most recent position because of the nature of the camp we had a lot of applicants from degree programs such as occupational therapy, therapeutic rec, etc. so in a lot of cases they came to me.
But, here are some of the places I looked for staff:
- University/ College online job boards
- University/ College summer job fairs
- Specific University/ College departments
- Canada job bank
- Other job banks (Indeed, local community job banks)
- Social media – FB was usually the one used most
- Kijiji – ok so this is sort of hilarious, every year we’d joke when I’d post on Kijiji, but every year I found at least one good person through this ad.
- A local (Provincial) high school leadership conference
- Staff recommendations – this one had the most clout with me, if the people who had to work with them day in and day out were recommending them, it was a good sign.
- Alumni & partner organizations recommendations, we get everyone in our network to spread the word and give them all the tools they might need to connect someone to us.
- My camp network, I would contact other camp directors in the area and ask them to recommend anyone who they couldn’t use in their program. We’ve all been in the position of finishing hiring or filling a specific spot and then getting an amazing application and wishing we had a place for them, I asked my colleagues to send these people my way – and I’ve done the same for them.
Some things other camp directors do successfully:
- Hire heavily from their camper ranks and LIT programs (unfortunately that wasn’t really an option for me in my most recent position because of the nature of the camp and the nature of the counselling job)
- Use placement agencies to hire international staff
- Use paid advertising in the digital space (ads on websites, fb, etc.)
Side note: So there’s a camp that I was creeping a few weeks ago, I went on their website two or three times in one week… and now their ads show up EVERYWHERE while I’m browsing. Sometimes I don’t even notice right away, they just innocuously seep into my subconscious… I don’t even have kids, but I’m starting to think I should adopt some JUST so I can send them to this camp!! Now THAT’S effective marketing!
I know that I could just clear my cookies, but where’s the fun in that?
Anyway, I digress.
- Some camps offer their current staff bonuses for recruiting other awesome people.
- Billboards, commercials, things that cost money I’ve never had in my budget!
- Co-op students, and other school work placements and work for credit agreements with universities or colleges
- Church congregations & youth groups (primarily used by faith-based camps)
Ok, so I’m not going to get into a lot of detail on this because there are literally millions of tips and suggestions for camp interview questions online (thirty-four million, give or take a few thousand according to a quick Google search) and I’m sure those people have more experience or better advice than me.
What I will offer are some links that you might find helpful.
The first is one of the best interview resources I’ve ever read, written by one of my favourite camp gurus Bob Ditter, for the ACA. Check it out, you can thank me later.
Truth and Consequences: Interviewing Skills for Camp Professionals
And the second is a resource curated by my colleague Curt “Moose” Jackson located over at Patchwork Marketplace (I’m not above shameless promotion, I’ll own that! 🙂 )
This resource won’t be available until Tuesday when it either goes up in his store for $1.00 or is offered as a freebie. So be sure to check back on Tuesday.
100 Interview Questions for Potential Camp Staff
- I believe in being as transparent with potential staff as possible, I’m big on managing expectations so I post the pay in the job description and am super honest about what their life will be like at camp, it will be stressful and exhausting (I ask how they’ll take care of themselves) and also super fun and rewarding. I try to avoid surprises within their jobs, and it helps cut down on resignations (although it still doesn’t eliminate them).
- Make your interviewees as comfortable as possible, I’ve been on both sides of an interview where three people sat at either end of a very long board room table asking questions to one parson waaaay down at the other end and it just creates this weird dynamic that isn’t going to be helpful in trying to get to know someone.
Make some small talk, put them at ease, give them confidence and watch them shine!
- Let people know your timeline, tell them when you plan to get back to them, how you plan to get back to them and make sure to follow through. I always told people I’d get back to them either way because it’s just polite.
So there ya have it, my advice on managing interview season and getting it all done.
This time of year can be super stressful, so go easy on yourself and remember that it’s about progress not perfection (am I the only one seeing that all over Pinterest lately?).
Here are some of my past thoughts on hiring staff.
What tips and tricks have you guys used to keep it all together and get the best staff this time of year? Tell me about it in the comment section below. And as always, feel free to post topic suggestions below or through any of my social media accounts. (I promise to get to it sooner next time!)
Until next time. xo
Thanks for this post! I appreciated reading what you had to share. I also think that people who come through the recommendation of past staff are often a great bet! I’ve already done some hiring through that this year. I also like your “hiring in batches” idea. I try to do that some, but I think I’ll work on being more consistent!
Thanks also for the Bob Ditter article. He’s always got great ideas! I’ve actually heard about the “Past actions are the best predictors of future actions.” Gary Forster wrote a LOT about staff hiring in that mindset as well: http://www.garyforster.com/documents/How-to_Interview.pdf