Definition: Paradox - a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.

As a camp director, hiring the right staff is the most important part of your job. Great staff make for happy campers, an exciting camp culture, and a quality program. All the bells and whistles simply won’t make up for sub-par staff. There are countless theories on hiring staff, and depending on whom you ask, each bit of advice might seem to be at odds with the others. We call this the Paradox of Staff Hiring.

Our goal when hiring staff and is to ensure the long-term success of the camp, and positive forward movement of our camp culture. We’ve found that sticking to one set of hard-fast rules only hinders staff development and program growth. We’ve learned that although the following staff hiring practices appear to opposites, when put together they form a perfect fit.

Paradox #1: Hire older staff – BUT sure to make space for younger staff

Hire Older Staff. As a general rule, you want your staff to be at least 18 years old, preferably with a year or two of college or other life experiences under their belt. Each year of life after high school is worth 5 years in maturity, confidence, and independence.

This added maturity greatly impacts the trust parents have in your camp, and quite often, the amount of confidence you can have in your staff. College age or older staff are less likely to be concerned with “being cool” and more likely to make better, independent decisions than younger staff.

Hire Younger Staff. Although it is a good practice to hire staff at a pre-determined minimum age, consider the following when setting that bar: younger staff are the future of your camp, and age isn’t always a true test for maturity! For many campers, being a staff member is the ultimate goal, and it is very important that you have a staff system in place that brings qualified campers along until they are ready to be full-fledged staff.

Many camps have incorporated a junior counselor position that allows younger staff to work on staff as an assistant to more senior staff. Also consider creating positions for younger staff, such as kitchen staff, or lifeguards. Younger staff often the favorites of campers, as they are closer in age, and more “in touch.” Having a good blend of youthful enthusiasm and conservative realism is very important.

Paradox #2: Trust your gut BUT not always…!

When you interview someone, and get a funny feeling – trust your gut! Don’t assume that with a little training or experience, someone’s glaring weaknesses will go away. Although some people do “come out of their shell” or “turn-around” they are the exceptions, not the rules. It’s not worth the risk, or the effort. Issues and problems will arise regardless of who you hire, don’t invite added stress by hiring someone that you need to watch “extra” from the onset. Never, ever, ever, hire someone that doesn’t feel quite right.

However, if you have a great gut feeling about someone after they won your confidence during your interview, you can consider them, like them, want them, but never just hire them on the spot. Offer that random person who impresses you in a coffee shop, or in the mall, an interview, not a job. Everyone needs to go through a rigorous screening process, which includes verbal references and a complete interview process.

Paradox #3: Great staff make great referrals BUT great staff don’t guarantee great friends…

One of our best forms of referrals comes from existing staff. They have a network of peers that have been forced to relive countless camp stories, and are likely to be versed in your camp culture when they show up for the interview. Often times, staff know people from class or work that they think would be perfect for camp and refer them to come to apply. We actually send out e-applications for our staff to forward to friends and have given incentives for staff who recruit a new staff member who makes it through the summer.

However, similar to the “don’t trust your gut” section above, be sure to screen everyone thoroughly. A recommendation from a trusted staff member is likely to help someone get an interview, but after that, the need to be hired on their own merits. Be sure to communicate this very clearly to your existing staff, as well as the person who is referred.

There are plenty other paradoxes in staff hiring. Tell us some from your personal experiences and we will post in March…

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