We hear many camp directors say that camp recruitment is a year-round marathon. While some may have success starting recruitment early, our data shows that it’s likely not the best use of your time.

First, let’s back up. When we talk about recruitment, there are two types of talent pools for seasonal camp staff. The first is returning staff. The second is new hires. Here we’re talking about the latter. When is the optimal time to recruit for staffers who are not familiar with your camp, or maybe even with the camping industry in general? 

In examining a sampling of camp staff placement data, in 2021, 87 percent of placements were made between April and June. In 2022, it was 91 percent. That equates to more than 150 new hires in the span of just 90 days. In addition, we found that more than half of the staff who committed before April ended up backing out, resulting in a mad scramble to find last-minute replacements. Talk about spinning your wheels! 

Recruitment can be exhausting, so do yourself a favor and work smarter, not harder. To reduce burnout, we recommend that you strategically align your hiring activity with candidate market trends. What does that mean? Simply put, focus your recruitment efforts around the times candidates are looking for summer jobs, which for most, starts in the spring. Use the extra time over the winter to solidify your returning staff, write clear and accurate job descriptions for the open roles that remain, tune up your contracts, and define your marketing budget. Then come April, you will be ready to go, just in time to meet the demand. 

As for returning staff, don’t wait! Had a great experience with a member of staff this summer? Make them an offer for next summer before they leave camp. Get them signed on as soon as you can, even before you take that post-camp deep breath. If you think your work is done once they’ve signed the contract, think again! We’ve found that unfortunately drop-out and the dreaded “ghosting” is still an issue for returning staff. Make sure you’re keeping in regular touch with your hires as the summer approaches. Engage them any way you can – with check-ins, training and onboarding materials, returning staff features on social media or in staff communications, packing lists, even something as simple as a regular countdown to camp. 

You may want to consider leveraging a phased approach to job promotion, starting with the most critical roles first. Kick off your season with nurses and chefs, which historically have been the most competitive jobs to recruit. It may be time to adjust your strategy in February and March based on what you observe in the talent market. Then layer in specialty roles, and finally ramp up with new counselors mid-April. 

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

Aaron Lyon (he/him/his) and Esther Eisenhard (she/her/hers) are the co-founders of CampHire Recruiting, a talent placement agency for summer camps and outdoor programs. They take the stress out of hiring by sourcing highly qualified candidates that embody the camp spirit.

Need recruitment support? Email info@camphire.com for more information.