Imagine being a college student looking for a summer job. Here are a few of the thoughts that might be running through your head:

  • Where do I start?
  • Will they want me?
  • What is going to look good on my resume?
  • How much money do I need/want to make?
  • Am I good enough?
  • Am I going to learn/grow/enjoy in this experience?

Then, take a few minutes to imagine the path they will take to find opportunities:

  • Ask friends/family
  • Google "best summer jobs/internships for X major"
  • Talk to professors and peers

Finally, understand that their ultimate choice for summer job will have as much to do with the application experience as it does the job itself. There is a reason that creating user experiences has become a career field in and of itself.

With these answers in mind, it's time to reimagine the hiring process for your camp!

Tell a Story

The collection of crappy camp "We're hiring" pages is daunting. It is no longer enough just to slap the application online and expect a strong response. It's time to up your game.

Take some time to tell a story.

Start naming the challenges you recognize they are up against in your story. Use a statement like, "You are at a point in your college career when the pressure is high. You want a fun, rewarding summer job but need something that will look great on a resume and help you gain skills and experience. We get it!"

Next, tell them why you are the right choice for them. There are countless camps they could choose from, not to mention other summer job options. Why should they choose you? Here's an example — "At ACME Camp, we have been hiring, training, and nurturing college students for XX years. Our staff alumni have become some of the region's best teachers, medical professionals, church leaders, lawyers, and public servants."

Your application doesn't have to be easy, but it does have to be easy to understand and navigate. Regardless of how many questions on the application or references you require, it should be crystal clear how it all works, and your tech needs to be super functional and user-friendly. Consider offering a three-step plan: "Step 1 — fill out our online application. Step 2 — choose a date/time for an interview that works best with your availability (use a favorite scheduling app). Step 3 — get excited to further explore an amazing summer with us!"

Finally, paint a picture of the fantastic experience they will have. Show pictures; give bulleted lists of the things they will learn; make straightforward how much money they will make; share quotes and stories from other staff members.

Create an Experience

When the application experience isn't clear, doesn't go as planned, or is downright frustrating, your camp isn't going to get the best applicants and summer staff. It's worth the investment to get it right.

Make sure your online tools work correctly. Test the application.

  • Is it clear where to go to apply?
  • Does the application look and work well?
  • When you applied, did you get a confirmation email?
  • Is it clear what happens next, after you apply?
  • Is it polished and professional?

These things matter. Remember, the competition for these young adults is fierce. So you need to put your best foot forward!

Start a Real Relationship

Beyond the online and technical experience you offer, the key to getting a solid staff is in the relationships you build.

When you connect early with potential team members, you are more likely to keep their attention.

A few ideas:

  • Immediately text them when you get a cell phone number (either through campus visit, referral, or online inquiry). Introduce yourself and start a conversation.
  • Ask questions and listen to what they say — What kind of experience do they want? Be honest about whether or not you can provide it for them.
  • Get excited about what they care about. Follow up with things you have learned, appreciation for them teaching you, etc.
  • Stay in touch. They need you as much as you need them. Be a resource for them!

Frankly, it used to be enough to put a "hiring" sign on your website and watch the applications come in. Not anymore.

It's time to get intentional and smart about the hiring experience!

This blog was written on behalf of Project Real Job, whose purpose is to support camps in their efforts to recruit, hire, and retain staff.

Casey Fuerst ( owns and operates Tic Tac Toe Marketing for Camps ( Casey has worked with nonprofits (mostly camps and retreat centers) to give them messaging, strategic marketing plans, and collateral materials to support their work for 20+ years. She has helped camps get new initiatives and campaigns off the ground, supported leadership through major rebranding efforts, managed complex crisis communication, and executed countless print and online campaigns. She is also a StoryBrand Certified Guide and uses this framework to create powerful marketing messages that make a real impact!