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Make Your Camp Counselor Experience an Effective Tool in Your Job Search

So you’ve spent a summer—or maybe the better part of your college career—working as a summer camp counselor.  You’re nearing graduation and you’re starting to pull together your resume for finding a job in the “real world”.  You’ve been wondering, ‘How do I adequately articulate my summer camp experience?’  You’re worried that it will sound trivial to hiring managers, but you know that what you gained from your camp experiences are some of the most valuable skills you’ve learned.  You’ve learned the art of communication, having worked with people all over the world and children ranging in age from seven to fifteen.  You’ve learned the importance of discretion; your campers didn’t need to know EVERYTHING about you.  You’ve learned how to negotiate, mediate, and maintain a positive morale, having coached your campers through swim tests, disagreements, activities, stage fright, and just about a million other things.  You’ve learned time management skills.  How many other job applicants can motivate twelve campers to move across campus from soccer to woodworking in five minutes or less, consistently coax them out of bed at 7am, and convince them that it’s time for lights out after an exciting evening of activities? You’ve learned how to use creativity to solve problems and are MacGyver with a few jars of paint, construction paper, a little bit of fabric, some scissors, and maybe a little glitter…add feathers and beads to that mix and you can practically re-invent the wheel.  In fact, you’ve learned so many things as a summer camp counselor that you’re not even sure how you’re going to fit it all onto one 8 ½” X 11” sheet of paper, nevermind about your other job experience. So how do you convey the importance your summer camp job experience has had on your life in a way that hiring managers will see the value in it, too?

First, as sentimental as those experiences were for you, a hiring manager isn’t looking for the screenplay to the next The Blind Side.  They’re looking for prospective employees who can efficiently yet effectively and specifically communicate their skills and abilities in a very concise manner.  This means keep it relevant and as action packed as most of those days at summer camp were.  Convey how active your summer camp job was through the verbs that you choose.

Second, without being too broad, make your resume sing of how well rounded your skill set is because of your summer camp counselor experience.  Employers love diversity.  A resume that sings of it will be sure to get a hiring manager’s attention.

Third, do your homework.  Job hunting is not a one size fits all endeavor.  You need to know and understand not only what you are looking for, but what the company to which you are applying is looking for as well.  If there is a particular quality you feel you possess because of your summer camp counselor experience that makes you a good fit for a position or a company, highlight that one quality in your cover letter.  Explain specifically how you feel your summer job experience and knowledge will translate into the new role.    Having experience is one thing.  Demonstrating that you understand how that experience can be integrated into others speaks volumes.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to remind prospective employers, either in your cover letter or at the interview, that being a camp counselor is a 24/7 job.  Employers are attracted to people who aren’t afraid to throw themselves heart and soul into their work.  What’s more heart and soul than being on duty 24/7?

Finally, be prepared.  Be prepared to tell a hiring manager at an interview EXACTLY why you feel your summer camp experience gives you the edge over other applicants.  When asked, don’t go into a lengthy mumble that basically amounts to a rehash of your summer(s).  Show the hiring manager that you’ve thought long and hard about how your summer camp work experience is relevant to your future and that you understand specifically how to extract your experiences and apply them to other areas of your life.  Most importantly, give examples, give examples, give examples!

Lots of Fun During Staff Orientation!

Staff Orientation has been amazing and the weather has been spectacular. With counselors now assigned to cabins, we are focused on learning all about our wonderful campers, learning the Laurel South culture, readying the cabins and program areas and bonding as a cohesive unit. Camp looks great. In fact, the only thing that could make it look better is the faces of 400 campers arriving this Thursday!!! We can’t wait to see you!

Camp Is Looking Great!

Our hardworking Pre-Camp Staff has continued their great work. Each day, Laurel South looks better and better!! Last night, we all headed to Windham for a well- deserved night out for pizza and a movie. In just a few days, we will welcome our Adventure and Equestrian Staff for their training sessions. As we see camp shaping up, it only heightens our anticipation for the start of the 2011 season, when the entire Laurel South family will be reunited on the beautiful shores of Crescent Lake! We can’t wait to see everyone soon.

A Glimpse at Orientation…The Training of Camp Staff

Every summer you pack your children up and entrust them to the care of others for the summer.  Have you ever wondered what sort of training is provided for your child’s summer camp staff?   For summer camp staff members, the season begins at least one week before the campers arrive with Orientation.

What is Camp Counselor Orientation?  Orientation is a week for camp counselors and other staff members to…

Become familiar with the camp’s expectations.  Summer camp staff members participate in workshops relating to teamwork, camp policies, and child development. During this time, counselors are also familiarized with ACA standards and the importance of maintaining and exceeding these standards.  It’s during this training that counselors are able to grasp that their new summer job, though fun, carries a lot of responsibility and 24/7 focus.

Familiarize themselves with their surroundings.  Your camp wants counselors to understand the campus prior to your camper arriving.  During Orientation, staff members are given every opportunity to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings, as well as which areas require special supervision.

Make new friends.  Why is this important to you?  Happy counselors make better counselors.  As you well know as parents, having a proper support system in place is essential to the success of any parent.  Those looking after your children this summer are no exception.  Orientation is a time for summer camp staff members to become comfortable with their new co-workers and begin to get to know each other.

Attain necessary certification.  Those staff members working in areas such as waterfront and outdoor adventure must have training and certification prior to supervising your children.  For some staff members, this entails arriving at camp well before the camper arrival date in order to be fully prepared from the day the first camper sets foot on campus.  Outside experts such as the Red Cross are often brought in to conduct lifeguard training.  Outdoor Adventure and Waterfront  areas also frequently utilize external professionals to train their staff.

Understand what it’s like to be a camper.  Many camp orientation programs follow mock daily camp schedules and encourage staff members to participate in many of the same activities that their campers will throughout the summer.  Most staff members live and function as members of groups during this period.  The role play isn’t merely designed to give staff members an idea of what’s in store. It gives them the opportunity to embrace the camp’s traditions so that they can share in the enthusiasm with campers.

Receive very valuable and essential education to understanding and working with children.  Summer camps take the well being of their campers very seriously and spare no expense in this area of Orientation.  Big name speakers are brought in for lectures and workshops that educate staff members with the latest, most up-to-date childcare information and relevant laws.  Counselors and other camp staff are left with no doubt or misunderstanding that the campers and their safety are the reason that they are there and, as such, come first.

Mentally prepare themselves for the arrival of campers.  Even the most seasoned childcare professionals and educators can feel a bit overwhelmed when suddenly surrounded by hundreds of enthusiastic children who’ve waited ten months to see their camp friends again.  By taking place on campus before the campers arrive, Orientation serves as a sort of segue from the camp counselors’ lives back home into their new summer lives by giving them some time to adjust to their new home and surroundings before the chaos that is summer camp ensues.

Finally, Orientation is an opportunity for Camp Directors and Senior Staff to assess how their staff interacts and identify individual strengths and weaknesses.  This helps them assign camp counselors to cabins and bunks and age groups in which they’re likely to provide the best leadership.

So when you put your campers on the bus in June, you can bet that a very excited and well trained camp staff is waiting on the other end to meet your children and give them the best summer ever.

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 3

Finally, we close our trilogy of camp counselor tips with one last blog dedicated to you, future camp counselors…

Get ready to build your resume!  Working as a camp counselor at a summer camp will provide you with some invaluable experience that will serve you well far beyond this summer.  Many HR Managers in lots of different fields find summer camp experience very impressive because of the level of dedication and commitment required.  Summer Camp also demonstrates that you can adapt well to new cultures, which is essential for success in many corporate environments.  In fact, many corporate executives were once campers and/or camp counselors themselves.  If you’re an education major, it goes without saying that experience working directly with children is a huge plus on a new teacher’s resume.

One final warning: As a summer camp counselor, you will act goofy, dress funny, and find yourself doing all sorts of crazy things you’d probably never ordinarily do…and you’ll have a blast while doing them.  It’s what summer camp is all about.  But what other job can you get where being an expert in painting faces, making signs, inventing outrageous costumes, and acting silly are all just part of your typical workday?

So there you have it!  A few suggestions for preparing yourself for a great and successful summer.  Have fun!

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 2

We promised a sequel and here it is: Orientation 101…

The first thing you should know about the orientation is don’t sweat it.  Yes, it’s intense.  Yes, it’s a VERY busy week and there is a lot to get done.  We know that, by the time months of anticipation for your new summer camp job to start come and you travel (sometimes for hours or even days) to get to the camp and find yourself actually there, even the most staunch start to feel the butterflies.  Remember that everyone with whom you come into contact those first few days is probably feeling the same butterflies—even returners who’ve done all of it before.  But relax.  Orientation is also full of opportunities.  Opportunities to learn more about your new surroundings, opportunities to learn more about your summer camp and embrace its traditions, opportunities to learn more about your summer job as a camp counselor, opportunities to change your mindset and grasp expectations, and opportunities to make friends.

Speaking of making friends, be ready to make LOTS of them from all over the world!  Sure your summer camp job will only last for a couple of months.  But a couple of months are plenty of time to make lifelong friends when you spend everyday together.   You may even find that you don’t need the whole summer to bond.  You’ll probably be planning vacations to visit some of your new friends during the winter before orientation is even over.

Don’t over- or under-pack.  Yes, we know that you’re going to want to cram your entire bedroom into your suitcase or duffel..  But the fact is that camp housing isn’t exactly spacious.  Most summer camps provide their camp counselors with packing lists.  Of course you’re going to want to bring a few personal items, but don’t stray too far from what’s recommended and definitely avoid packing the “DO NOT BRING” items.  In other words, make sure your camp permits camp counselors to bring outside food onto the campus before you pack a stash of Doritos and energy drinks.  It’s also a good idea to make sure you read the camps guidelines about permissible items, particularly those related to swimsuits and shoes.  Once you’re packed, inspect your suitcase one more time to make sure you remembered things that are often easily overlooked or forgotten by new summer camp counselors, like rain gear or bedding (if your summer camp requires you to bring your own).

Chances are that you’re going to get a very important email or envelope from your summer camp very soon, if you haven’t already.   It’ll have some pretty important paperwork for you to complete.  Be sure to pay attention to the specified deadlines for each form.  For one thing, you’re not going to want to be bothered with it after you get to camp.  For another, not filling it out on time may cause pesky delays in important things…like being paid!

Well that about covers the orientation.  We’ve still got enough tips left for you that we’re going to make this one a trilogy.  Be sure to come back in a few days for the final part of this series!

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 1

So you’ve gotten a great job at a summer camp and are wondering what to do while you impatiently wait for June to get here…

First things first.  You found this blog, so we’re assuming you want to know as much as you can before you leave.  You’ve come to the right place! We’ve got a few suggestions for you…Actually, a lot.  In fact, since we understand that you’ve come to this site to read a blog, not War and Peace, we’re going to have to divide this into a few different parts.  But we figure that’s okay because they do it with movies all of the time, right?  So without any further delay…

Have you started checking out your camp’s blog as well as this one?   Many camps now maintain regular blogs and they frequently post blogs (like this one) intended specifically for staff members.

Check out the camp’s website, if you haven’t about a thousand times already.   Even if you visit the website everyday and spend hours staring dreamily at the photos as you imagine images of you having the perfect summer showing up on the site this time next year, dig a little deeper.  A camp’s website can also tell you a lot about the very special world that you will be part of this summer.  Many camps  have FAQ pages for staff members or special staff areas.  They give you ideas about what to bring and what to leave at home.  Some post sample daily schedules, which are a great way to familiarize yourself with how you will be spending your days.  If there are videos on the site (or if the camp sent you one), watch them.  Not only will you be ready to leave the same day, but it’s a great way to get to know the camp.

If the camp has Facebook or Twitter pages, join them.  They’re another way to keep up to date on what’s happening and, as summer inches closer, the anticipation that builds is infectious.  Many camps also post helpful information or instructions for staff members as summer nears.  Facebook and Twitter are great ways to connect with other staff members before you get to camp.  Not to worry, though.  You’ll make PLENTY of new friends during your Orientation, even if you show up knowing no one!

Prepare to work hard.  We won’t lie.  Camp is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have.  It’s also one that you’ll probably love the most.  Every second of every day, SOMETHING is happening at camp.  It’s all a lot to take in at first, but the chances of you making it through the last day at camp without shedding a single tear and hugging hundreds of people are pretty much nil-to-none.  And you’ll probably be making plans to come back next summer before this one’s even over.

Well, like we said, we’re well aware that if you were looking for a novel, you’d be downloading the latest best seller for you Kindle right now.  So we’ll call it a day for this blog.  Be sure to tune in next time for advice about what to pack (and not) and some tips for orientation.

A Summer Full of Adventure

Few people think of finding a summer job while bundled in scarves, coats, and gloves as they attempt to maneuver roadways and college campuses after the latest snowfall.  However, whether 2011 is the first time you’re considering a summer camp position or you’re a seasoned veteran, February is exactly the time to start the process of securing summer employment, if you haven’t already done so.  Many camps attend campus recruiting fairs in order to assemble the perfect staff.  So why should you attend one of these fairs or complete an online application now?  To begin with, a camp job is definitely fun, but also a lot of work…so be prepared! Where else can you get paid to play all day while building valuable job skills? Whether you work in a specific area and focus on a sport, activity or hobby you love or you work as a counselor who travels from activity to activity with campers, your day is full of exciting challenges and a probably even a few surprises, both of which will develop your problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiation skills.

If you like working with children and aspire to a career in a field such as education, sports training, psychology or sociology, then you already have another reason to work at a camp.  Camp is an excellent place to gain valuable experience and is impressive on a resume.  Although camp seems lighthearted–and it is in many ways–working at camp requires a lot of responsibility, flexibility, and adaptability, all of which are very valuable characteristics sought by employers.   Each day guarantees new challenges, many of them unexpected.  Summer camp is often organized chaos.  Yes, there is always a plan in place, but the unexpected is also inevitable.  While this may seem scary the first couple days, it also brings an excitement and satisfaction that delivering pizzas or serving food (or even working at an investment bank)  never could.  Working at camp also requires a lot of communication and interpersonal interaction, two more transferrable skills that are highly valued by employers.  At camp, you must effectively co-exist with your campers, co-counselors, and other staff members to be successful.   You will also be able to tell future employers that you worked with people from all over the world and from many different socio-economic backgrounds.  That you’ve overcome cultural, language, and social obstacles with others tells recruiters that diversity is not something you fear, but rather embrace.

Working at summer camp can also be very healthy for your bank account.  You won’t become Donald Trump spending your summers at camp. However; camps provide housing and food in addition to a salary. It’s possible to live virtually expense-free for a couple of months.  Many summer camp counselors take home all or most of their salaries at the end of the summer.

Finally, you will form lifelong friendships at camp.  You may arrive alone and nervous in June, but you will leave in August with literally hundreds of friends from all over the world.  Two months may not seem like a long time, but when one lives and works in close proximity with co-workers, it’s more than sufficient to form bonds that ordinarily would take years.  There are always  tears on the last day of camp, not only when saying goodbye to your campers, who will have secured a special place in your heart forever, but to co-workers—the ones you know you will see again as well as the ones you know you will not.  Regardless, the world will seem like a much smaller place to you.

Though it may seem early to begin planning such a special adventure with so many possibilities, building a successful camp staff not only requires individuals who possess all of the qualities previously mentioned, it requires finding the right mix of personalities and talents.  Such an endeavor, of course, takes time.  Camp recruiters review literally thousands of applications each year and speak with hundreds of candidates to find those who are the best fit for their camp’s atmosphere, philosophy, and program.  Starting your job search while the ground is still white and the tree branches still bare provides you with the advantage of a larger pool of positions from which to choose.  By April, most camps have nearly completed their hiring and only difficult to fill or highly specialized roles remain.

So, after a winter of wading through piles of snow, are you ready for a summer full of adventure?



Camp Counselor 101

Recently some camp counselors shared what they’ve learned on the job and I’d like to highlight two important concepts they talked about. Think of this as your basic introduction to camp counselor skills and also how important professional development is to your overall future:

1. Time management

High school students often focus on preparing for college by earning acceptable grades and participating in additional activities. While these strategies are essential to the process, students too often rely on parents/care givers for structure and reminders and fail to understand that managing time is one of the most important skill required for college success. Across the United States, students with ability and good intentions often struggle in college, just because they have not learned to schedule assignments, work, reading and most importantly the time they spend having fun or relaxing.

In contrast, one past camp counselor explains, “time management is crucial at camp,” and even if you are familiar with regimented schedules, “a camp counselor is responsible for keeping others in line with the daily schedule.” So the job requires not only learning to manage time personally, but also for large groups and that becomes a skill counselors develop. Camp counselors also “learn to be disciplinarians in strategic ways.” These skills are essential and applicable to keeping an undergraduate student motivated to complete assignments and participate in college activities. So, since professional experience at camp requires “all counselors to be responsible,” and to “learn to be accountable for personal actions as well as those of others,” camp counselors benefit in multiple ways.

Working as a camp counselor is also the perfect component to rounding out a year of personal and professional growth by managing the time between semesters! As students mature and move into the realm of adulthood, they often have to face the reality that they are not completely self sufficient.

2. Independence and freedom

Once a young adult goes to college, no matter how much they miss home or home cooking, they are changed forever! One past camp counselor puts it this way, “After my first undergraduate winter break back home I decided I didn’t want to return home for three months during summer. College gave me independence/freedom from parental supervision, and I wanted to continue the experience through summer employment.”

So, as you can see, being a camp counselor is a great fit for young adults who expect to do more than the minimum. Since campers often want to prolong their time at summer camp, they can also take it to the next level as counselors. After repeat summers a few even go on to fill additional camp staff positions before making their mark in other careers!

What’s your plan for personal growth next summer? Do you see “camp counselor” in your future?

Emma

Thanks for the image Michel Filion.

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