The Camp Director

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What Do You Think I Am Hiring You to Do?

March 28th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Books, Linchpin

This post is part of a digital book club of summer camp directors and recreation professionals reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. To see all the posts in the series go to our linchpin start page. You are welcome to join in at any time.

Week 4: March 22nd – 28th
Is It Possible to Do Hard Work in a Cubicle?

What Do You Think I Am Hiring You to Do?

“In most jobs that involve a customer, all you are getting paid for is volunteering for emotional labor.” The gift of emotional labor, Seth Godin goes on to describe is the art of:

  • taking initiative
  • being surprising
  • being creative
  • putting on a show
  • changing people

Did anyone else think of camp when you read that?  It was followed by, “Companies are hiring for it.”  If we can help staff articulate what they do at camp, then they can show future employers the indispensable skills a camp job brings.

For a number of years I have asked the pre-screening question. “What Do You Think I Am Hiring You to Do? ”  There is not an exact correct answer but I like to hear what exactly they think the job involves.  “Keeping kids safe,” better be on their list.  The question has changed this year for the returning staff as I have been asking, “What makes you remarkable?” Why would a camper go home and talk about YOU!  As the director, they certainly aren’t going home to talk about me. Although one of my assistant coordinators has a very vivid memory of playing catch with me at camp when I came to his softball class over ten years ago.  Sadly I have no memory of that but it did remind me that some kids still think it is cool to be around the director.

While we think those sorts of interview questions will ferret out the best staff, I find the most remarkable summer camp staff do a horrible job articulating what makes them so remarkable or indispensable.  They are working in their strength zone and it is hard to really pinpoint what it is they do.   It is their art.  “The easier it is to quantify, the less it is worth.” page 96

The Art of Being a Great Camp Counselor

As Seth Godin describes in Linchpin, there is a difference between being a cook and a chef.  There is a difference between being a camp staff member and a teacher or camp counselor.  In hiring for an art or talent, you have to be a skilled talent scout.  I think that is an art in itself.  This time of the year when I am interviewing so many people I have to trust my instinct even when it means passing on someone and interviewing yet another applicant. When I choose expediency over my hunch I always lose and end up with an unremarkable staff member.

“The future of your organization depends on motivated human beings selflessly contributing unasked-for gifts or emotional labor.” page 96

As a camp director, unlike at other companies, you can hire a new team each summer.  You are not stuck with the average worker unless you are afraid of telling someone their time has come to move on.  This camp season has brought a highly qualified pool of applicants, more than any other year.  Your summer depends on your ability to discover talent and to pass on applicants you do not make the new standard.

What are you seeing with your applicant pool this year?

What are your biggest challenges in the interview process?

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  • I have 2 thoughts:

    1) one of my favourite firings ever: A staff member who said to my director (I was 2IC that summer) “but that's not in my job description”. Clearly, he wasn't cut out for camp.

    2) We gave up on interviews.
    Instead we ran 2 staff program days in the city (Toronto is central for our staff) in January and February. Staff within 3 hours drive were required to be at one of the two of them.
    We would run adventure programming activities for a day and that way get to observe people in a more natural situation (see who leads, who lets others lead, what activities they are comfortable in, etc).
    The thing with interviews is that scam-my people can potentially do much better than those quiet all-stars who you know are AMAZING with kids but for whom interviews are the worst thing in the world.

  • DavidBetz

    I remember wrapping up an interview and hearing the candidate ask me, “How did I do?” I wasn't anticipating such a direct request for an interview performance evaluation. But I appreciated his question. He could have simply made his exit after the handshake, driving away unsure about my interest in him. His question told me he was serious about this summer videographer position. A brief “remarkable” moment. Yes, he got the job . . . and he returned the next summer.

  • Just finished leading a session at the Buckeye Leadership Workshop called “Creating a Culture of Success” We discussed much of the information that Linchpin brings forward.

    I love a couple of the quotes from this section (I don't give the pages because I read it on my iPhone) “Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another” and “An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.”

    At camp we often debate what makes that special staff that much better – they have the same resume, the same types of experience – but often it is the fact that they take it personally. Ever had that talk with all camp staff over an issue that has arisen and the one staff who didn't need to worry comes to you, they took it personally and want to do better. This is a camp staff who cares – who gets it – who takes it persoannaly…

    The challenge I have in interviews is making sure I am getting who I think I'm getting. I like to ask about what books they read, what music they listen to – get to know them, know their creativity level – not always easy.

    Jenn – I love the question “What makes you remarkable?” – maybe it is a question that we should all ask ourselves on a daily basis as well…

    Just a thought.