Though no hiring process is foolproof, here are some things to think about to make sure that you are recruiting the staff members that you need, and that your staff members are finding the camp where they can be a valuable part of the community.

1. Comply with Your Legal Obligations

All employees have a right to a workplace that is free of discrimination and harassment. That means that camps must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, which prevent employees from being treated differently because of their race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, disability, religion, and age, among other traits. And, don’t forget about applicable state and local laws too – those generally protect even more classes of individuals. Don’t allow any of these protected categories to influence any part of the hiring process. All hiring decisions should be based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.

2. Job Descriptions Are Your Friend

Job descriptions should include required skills, qualifications, and experience for the job. The description should accurately reflect the essential and core functions of the role. Include information about educational requirements and physical capabilities that are actually necessary to perform the job. By including this information, you’ll have objective measures to judge applicants fairly.

3. Social Media Can Be a Great Recruitment Tool, But Tread Carefully

More and more camps are using social media for recruiting, and for good reason — candidates are plentiful, these platforms are visited frequently, and you have a captive audience. Just be careful how you target your social media job postings. Think about targeting neutral/unprotected data points that hit on desired candidates (experience, interest in working with kids, etc.), rather than targeting, for example, college-aged students.

4. Develop a Plan for Interviews

This allows you to maintain consistency across all candidates and allows you to touch on all of the important points you want to cover. You will also want to think about how you want to take notes so that you have something to refer back to if you forget. This sends a message of consistency and fairness to candidates (and a court of law, if you ever find yourself there). If you take notes, be careful what you include, particularly as related to a candidate’s protected characteristics. As you write your notes, think about how they would be perceived if they were published in a newspaper.

5. Design Open-Ended Questions

These types of questions elicit more information from candidates and give you a better ability to evaluate whether they are a good fit for the job and your camp. Good examples include, “why do you want to work at camp?”, “tell me about your experiences working with children”, “how do you feel about living in a cabin with other counselors and campers?”, and “tell me about how your prior jobs or experiences would help you be a good counselor.” Remember, avoid questions about protected statuses mentioned earlier.

6. Do Not Compromise the At-Will Employment Relationship

Employees in almost all states are at-will, which means that the employee or the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason. It’s best not to guarantee any term of employment (like, for example, “if you have a good summer, you can be our waterfront director forever!”), because statements made during the hiring process can create contracts of employment, which you want to avoid.  

7. Avoid Common Mistakes

First, try not to talk too much. You want to be cordial and friendly, but don’t forget that the interview has a specific purpose. Second, don’t oversell your camp. Doing so can mislead a staff member and create unreasonable expectations. Third, make sure you ask the tough questions. Shying away from them can mean the difference between hiring a good candidate and hiring an excellent one. 

8. Stay Away from Asking about Certain Information

Many states and cities prohibit employers from considering information about criminal history (arrests, juvenile records, convictions, and pending charges) prior to making a conditional offer of employment. It’s imperative to gather that information, but do so after the candidate has been offered employment conditioned upon a background check, and potentially references too. Credit checks are also off limits for verbal discussions and there are certain legal processes to follow if you want to conduct one.

9. Evaluate Candidates Equally

To make sure that you are not basing hiring decisions (even inadvertently) on protected categories, focus on objective criteria: communication skills, enthusiasm, relevant work experience (or lack thereof), adaptability, skills, values (or does not value) working with others from different backgrounds, and experiences.

10. Check References

Obtaining references for candidates can provide critical information about whether a candidate will have a successful summer. Again, focus on questions that will give you information about the candidate’s ability to perform the job. Another great question: “Is this person eligible to be rehired?”

Remember, the best way to terminate a problematic employee is not to hire them!

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.

Rachel Fendell Satinsky is a shareholder at Littler Mendelson. She dedicates her practice to employment litigation and counseling. She proactively advises clients on employment issues including hiring and terminations, leaves of absence, accommodations, harassment, internal investigations, and contingent workers. Rachel has a particular focus representing the camping industry. As a life-long camper, counselor, and now the parent of campers, she has a unique insight and the understanding necessary to represent and provide guidance to camps of all kinds. Rachel can be reached at or 267-402-3071.

Photo courtesy of Camp Arrowwood in Sevierville, TN