The world of resident camp recruiting is a competitive one!
Job fairs — the necessary bane of existence for any camp administrator looking for summer staff. How often have we stood among the rows of camps and eagerly scanned the fresh young faces of college students — looking for the faintest glimmer of interest in their eyes as they peruse our road-weary corkboards covered with camp photos (most of which taken last decade). As soon as we see that glimmer, we pounce upon that unsuspecting individual like a hungry mountain lion.
The world of resident camp recruiting is a competitive one that very few people get to see. We have come up with so many small and perhaps unique things to make our camp seem better than the one recruiting six inches away from us. Have you ever taken a minute to step away and walk through the gym or hallway where you are set up? I do — every chance I get — and every time I am amazed (and often amused) by the resemblance it has to the midway at your county fair. There are boards with lights on them — people getting prizes from some booths, candy from others. There are so many smiling and bubbly people around; it is almost as if I have been thrust into the Barnum and Bailey Circus tryouts. Now I hate to say that all this enthusiasm and hoop-la is fake, but have you ever noticed the change in demeanor when you walk up to a booth and they find out you are representing another camp? It is at that time that we go deep into the dark side. The silent measuring up like two bucks competing for a doe.
Personally, I like the fact that some camps give out little flashlights or carabiners to anyone who wants them. At every job fair, I take off my name tag and wander around checking out all the little trinkets from camps across the country — a letter opener in tie-dye colors, a highlighter with three tips, a bottle opener, pens and pencils of all sizes and shapes, water bottles, and much more. They all have one thing in common. They are cheap. Actually, the cheapest — closeout specials from all of those weird vendor catalogs we get in the mail — freebies from vendors who want to do large volumes of business with us.
Why do we do all of this? At what point did the world of recruitment get so out of control that now we are starting to need portable power stations to set up our displays? When a camp job fair starts up, I swear the nearest city goes dim for a moment before the nuclear power plant can catch up. There are lights on display boards, thirty-two-inch televisions with camp videos, laptop computers with interactive job applications. It is like a three-dimensional MTV video. Enough!
What are all of those glassy-eyed college students looking for in a summer job? Unfortunately, the answer is usually not a summer camp. We don’t pay enough or party enough for the average college student. We ask for a complete commitment from somebody who can’t decide whether or not to go to Bob’s party on Friday or Jen’s. No, the average person who walks past your booth isn’t looking for a camp. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change their minds. And for the ones that truly are looking for a summer camp, it is pretty easy to hook them if you go about it the right way.
The first mistake most camps make is they send only their administration staff, usually the program director or equivalent. These people tend to lose their enthusiasm easier than general camp staff. They have been traveling for months, and they are trying to plan a summer camp while on the road recruiting. The best trick of the trade is to use those two or three staff members who absolutely love camp and can’t say enough good things about it. These staff members consider it an honor to be asked to help recruit for next year, and it is a way to recognize veteran staff when you aren’t able to reward them with a raise or promotion. It looks great to prospective applicants, too — giving a feeling of community involvement and a chance to talk to employees with whom the applicant may actually be working.
Once you have the people in place and are registered for the job fair, it is time to get ready for basic training. It is the basics of summer camp recruiting that will get you fully staffed for next summer — Casual, Active, Measured, Personable. Yes, that spells CAMP for you mnemonically disposed readers. And it works!