Increasing Your Effectiveness in Hiring Camp Staff

by Carl L. Harshman, Ph.D., and Tom Etzkorn, M.B.A.

Keep accurate records of the screening process for each applicant who enters the process. When doing structured interviews, for example, have a template for recording answers and other information. When checking references, have a standard set of questions you ask and ways to record the answers in a consistent way. This assures that you will: (a) be consistent in your policy and practice; (b) have consistent information when comparing candidates; and (c) construct a historical database for post-hiring evaluation of the reasons for good or poor performance (and one you can use in improving your process from year to year).

When possible, use a prescreening assessment to "thin the herd" of applicants. Many organizations expend a tremendous amount of resources (time = money) screening candidates who are not among the best. One camp screened over two hundred applicants for about forty-five positions. The screening involved administrative time handling all the paper, traveling and scheduling, individual interviews by at least four staff members, and follow-up reference checks. The process was a good one; the pool was too large. The camp could have made much better use of its limited resources if they had invested their screening resources in the one hundred best candidates out of the original pool of two hundred plus. Don't spin your wheels chasing warm bodies . . . use proven tools to help identify, recruit, and land your next superstars.

Build on your experience. Use this year's hiring experience and outcomes to improve next year's process. For most of us, the journey to excellence takes place one step . . . one person . . . at a time. Putting together the best team for your camp is as much an art as it is science, and requires patience, perseverance, and an unrelenting commitment on your part to offer your campers the best—place, program, and staff.

We began with the statement that there is no magic pill for hiring. Believe us, if somebody had it, you would know about it by now. We believe that you build an excellent staff one year at a time based on studying best practices, understanding your camp—its mission, culture, and standards of success—and learning from your past experience. There's no doubt about it: hiring the best team for your camp is hard work. But, it's always worth the effort. After all, at the end of the season, the campers may talk about where they went and what they did. . . but they always remember "who" made it happen while there.  We wish you the best in finding the best "who" available for your team!

Factors You Can Assess in the Hiring Process

  • Career outlook: career history, career goals, personal mission, professional vision
  • Attitude and motivation: job motivators and attitudinal patterns
  • Cognitive abilities: analytical skills, reasoning abilities, verbal and numeric skills, and mental quickness
  • Work style: energy, pace, approach to planning and thinking, need for freedom, work ethic, and conscientiousness, etc.
  • Emotional style: optimism, restraint over feelings, objectivity about feedback, handling stress, management of strong emotions, resilience, and composure
  • Interpersonal factors: sociability, assertiveness, competitiveness, acceptance of diversity, and service orientation
  • Management and leadership style: leadership orientation, leadership behaviors, leadership characteristics, etc.
Collins, Jim. (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don't. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. New York, NY.

Carl L. Harshman, Ph.D., founder and CEO of The Institute, is a former executive, professor, academic dean, a published author, and speaker. For twenty-five years, he has consulted to major corporations on change, leadership, and culture.  

Tom Etzkorn, M.B.A., director, Strategic Initiatives for Wyman, a teen development agency located near St. Louis, Missouri, has a long history of developing youth through camping and multifaceted leadership initiatives.

Originally published in the 2007 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.