Make Copies or Make a Difference? Camp Is a Real Job

Kim Aycock, MST
May 2019
Staff in a team-building exercise

The mounting pressure to forego a summer at camp in favor of an internship is higher than ever. Many of you may already be thinking that this is your last summer. The pull is strong to look elsewhere to find experience and name recognition that will look good on your resume and help you land the dream job you are hoping for upon graduation. If it is your first summer, perhaps it took an act of Congress to convince your parents, professors, and friends that working at camp is a good idea. The truth is, there has never been a better time to work at camp!

Camps Woodland and Towering Pines in Wisconsin are well aware of the existing and all-too-common internship versus camp debate and decided to do something about it. For the past two years in the fall, a diverse group of camp alumni representing a wide array of careers have met (virtually) to share their thoughts with the recent summer staff on the value of working at camp as vital preparation for entering and advancing in the workforce.

Last year’s professional panel included a middle school administrator in Houston, Texas, an aerospace control systems engineer in Tucson, Arizona, a vice president of an investment firm in Chicago, an international marketing project manager in Los Angeles, and a legal officer for a multilateral organization in Washington, DC. Their compelling thoughts may be the reassurance you need that you are without a doubt in the right place this summer. Their message? Stay at camp as long as possible.

“Where else is the opportunity to be a leader at a young age remotely a possibility?” asks Daniella Andrade of Houston. “I learned next to nothing as an intern at a Chicago law firm one summer.” Delivering coffee and making copies doesn’t exactly set you up for success in your career.

Still think a prestigious or well-known company name on your resume is important? Several panel members who are in a position to hire for their companies said after a while resumes start to look the same. Having experience that stands out and sets someone apart from the sea of applicants is what employers want to glean from a resume.

Jaime Moreno-Valle, who sees thousands of interns descend on DC every year, wants to know if a person can do the little things. “Will you be there on time? Can you draft an email without needing supervision? Are you able to behave like a mature professional? You don’t get those from reading a resume.”

In a world where the future is uncertain with automation and technology rapidly taking over mundane and repetitive tasks, people skills are and will be in high demand. And you probably already know that working at camp is a prime opportunity to continue honing the 21st-century learning skills — critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity — that will be needed to succeed in tomorrow’s workplace. You’re also getting a head start on leadership, problem-solving, empathy, adaptability, initiative, and the ability to read and process emotions.

Getting Your Resume Right

So, how do you translate what you do at camp to a resume so it grabs someone’s attention and leaves them wanting to know more? It often boils down to being creative and using the right language to communicate what you do at camp in a way that resonates with the outside world. JoAnne Jordan Trimpe, Woodland and Towering Pines executive director, suggests that much of what you do at camp can be described as project management. Teaching activities or running special events can be broken down using the language of scope (what you are going to do), schedule (when the class or event will happen and how it will be executed), resources (what is needed to carry out a class or event), and risk-assessment (what is the backup plan).

When preparing to teach archery or another activity, or planning an event such as All-Camp Olympics, the scope could be defined as what skills are going to be taught (stance, position of bow, knocking an arrow, taking aim, scoring, etc.) and what components will comprise the event (opening and closing ceremonies, field/swim/ track races and relays, tug-of-war, skit/flag/ cheer competition, etc.). The schedule refers to how a class (setup, skill demonstration and practice, cleanup) or event (rotation of stations by teams of mixed ages) will be run.

For any class or event, an inventory of necessary resources (equipment, props, supplies) will need to occur. From here a determination must be made as to whether or not required items are in-house or will need to be purchased (and what money has been allocated for this in the budget). Finally, doing a risk assessment takes potential challenges into consideration (inclement weather, space and time constraints, available staff, etc.) to create a plan B in the event a setback is encountered or the unexpected happens.

The soft skills learned and experiences you have at camp can easily translate to a resume or be shared in an interview. Andrade also pointed out that camp is key for the next step too. Keeping your job, growing into a leader within that job, and furthering your career become more important once a job is secured. Having camp staff experience, this is where you will really shine.

As a school administrator, Andrade shared that she often has to tell her teachers what to do next, but at camp you have to figure that out on your own. You are able to switch gears on a moment’s notice to accommodate a change in the weather, schedule, or number of participants. Adaptability and flexibility become second nature in the camp environment. These skills are hard to come by in today’s world and definitely belong on your resume.

I would also argue that being able to show longevity at one place and a holding a variety of leadership positions within the same organization count for something on your resume. Alex Harlow, 15-year camp veteran and graduating college senior, was concerned about how he would compare to his peers, some of whom had a long list of marketing internships on their resumes. Don’t underestimate the power of being able to show advancement from camper to counselor through a leadership development program, going from junior to senior counselor, and moving up to be an activity/trip director or head counselor. These all are ways to showcase the depth of your capabilities and growth as a leader. Managing staff and being involved with planning on a macro-level are added leadership skills that are often not part of the norm in other career-related experiences.

This summer, explore with your camp director interests you have in developing leadership skills next summer. Consider adding responsibilities and learning new skills in marketing, communication, photography/ videography, sports management, outdoor education, culinary arts, construction and facility management, or other career paths. Check into possibilities of broadening your experience by being able to learn about human resources, budgeting, health care, volunteer management, fund-raising, and other aspects of running a business. Find out if your camp is willing to work with your college or university to create an official internship.

Camp Is a Fantastic Network

Also important to note is that by working at camp, you typically have access to an amazing network of camp alumni who would be more than happy to help with job and career preparation. Investment banker Ladd Solomon reminds staff to utilize the asset of belonging to a camp family. Sharing the common bond of camp means you have many “extended family members” who will be willing to assist you. You may be surprised about the work experience you can gain by reaching out to camp alumnae in your field through your camp director. It is definitely worth the ask!

Make copies or make a difference? Hopefully, you now have an answer to that recurring and nagging question. Whether you are a returning counselor or new to camp this year, you have a long and promising career ahead of you, at camp and beyond. Summers at camp will provide the training ground necessary to develop crucial 21st-century skills that you will draw on time and time again no matter what career you eventually choose.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways is working at camp a real job?
  2. What “soft” or interpersonal skills can you develop by working at camp?
  3. What can you do this summer to plan ahead for next summer with regards to your personal leadership development?

Project Real Job

ACA’s Task Force, Project Real Job, was created to examine issues related to summer camp employment and support efforts to recruit, hire, and retain summer staff and position summer camp employment as a valuable careerreadiness experience. You can find resources to use to make a case with parents, professors, and other stakeholders involved in your decision to work at camp.


Kim Aycock, MST, has more than 30 years of experience blending the skills of a master teacher with the knowledge of a seasoned camp expert. She trains camp staff at all levels, speaks professionally at regional and national conferences, and is co-leader of ACA’s Task Force, Project Real Job. More information can be found on her website: kimaycock.com. Kim may be contacted at kimdaycock@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Camp Woodland and Towering Pines, Eagle River, Wisconsin