Years ago, I was working as a program director at a Boys and Girls Club camp in Southern California. The director of the camp had hired 10 international staff through Camp America the summer prior. At the time, (I’m not sure what they do now) Camp America would offer one free trip to one of their international job fairs to camps that had hired 10 or more staff through them the prior year.
The camp director received the notice and asked if I would like to go. The trip included round trip air fare and hotel accommodations for 2 or 3 nights. Uh…yes, please. I had the option of London or Prague. I chose London.
I had no idea what to expect. I asked the director what I should take with me and, since he had never been either, he suggested some pictures of camp….that was it. Seemed fine with me at the time.
Now, you have to understand that we did not have marketing materials to attract campers. We got our campers from Boys and Girls Clubs from around the Los Angeles area. The individual clubs recruited for us, not with brochures or videos, but with homemade signs and text only flyers. So we didn’t have anything more than 3×5 photos. Looking back, I should have created some kind of display, but I planned on traveling while I was there and didn’t want to have bulky things, like a display board, to drag around Europe with me.
I got to London a week early and did some sight-seeing. When the time came for the job fair I checked into the swanky hotel (I had been staying at youth hostels for a week prior so any hotel at that moment would seem swanky, but this hotel really was nice) and got my pack of photos ready. The next morning I walked into the huge room where table after table was set up. I received a little packet of info with a map that showed me where to set-up.
I was in awe of the gear that many of the camps had brought. There were huge display boards like you would see at a science fair, TVs with professionally made VHS tapes of camp (I told you this was years ago), and many camps had at least 2 staff there. I walked around a bit and saw that the other camps had everything – horses, amazing ropes courses, tennis courts, sailing, hundreds of acres of land, etc. Now that may seem pretty normal for you, but my camp was only 23 acres, with 12 cabins, a pool, dining hall, and some high ropes elements. How could I compete?
So there I was, my stomach in knots. I was so embarrassed as I set out my 3×5 photos that represented a small camp with little to offer compared with these big camps. I thought to myself, “Well, this should be an easy weekend. I can’t imagine anyone will want to come to my camp.” The other things was that I knew nobody there, yet it seemed like everyone else knew each other (which wasn’t really the case, it just seemed that way to me).
As the doors opened for the college-aged job seekers you could hear the murmurs of the camp recruiters excitedly ready to meet their future staff. But the murmurs were quickly drowned out by the energy and chatter of the young adults entering the enormous conference room.
Many of the job seekers were drawn in by the colorful displays and fun videos that adorned the tables. I sat there alone, with my bottle of water and pictures laid out over the table cloth, fighting the urge to just get up and run away out of sheer embarrassment. Then one applicant came over and looked at the pictures. He said, “Can you tell me about this camp?” I gave him a quick one-minute elevator pitch. He continued to look at the pictures, asked a few questions and decided he wanted to work there. Before I was finished interviewing him, I had a line of applicants waiting to interview with me. No other camp had a line. WHAT WAS GOING ON!?
After speed-interviewing 4 or 5 people I finally asked someone why they would rather work for my camp than those with all cool displays and acres of amazing programs. The girl sitting in front of me said, “Because you’re in Southern California.” And there it was. Turns out I was one of two camps from California and the other camp was in Central California. These kids wanted to be near L.A., Hollywood, Mickey Mouse, Venice Beach, and everything else they’d seen on TV. I did have something to compete with. All of a sudden I was excited and ready to find some staff.
Over the course of that weekend I had interviewed around 150 applicants. It was exhausting. I would look over their paperwork, talk with them for a few minutes, answer some of their questions, and then make a gut decision…hire or not. There was no long interviews, doing a bunch of what-if scenarios, calling references, or taking time to think it over. They needed a yes or no answer immediately so they could secure a job for the summer. If you said no, they needed to be able to go to the next camp and try to get a job there. I ended up hiring 12 wonderful staff, 2 more than my intended 10. That means I turned away nearly 140 applicants. It was difficult rejecting (as nicely as possible) so many job seekers, especially when they would beg you and give you those puppy dog eyes.
After the recruitment fair ended, a few camp directors invited me to travel with them to Holland. From there I traveled on my own to Paris and back to London the following week. It was an exciting trip. If given the opportunity to do it again, I would jump at it.
If I got the chance to go again I would…
- First, ask Camp America for advice.
- Take some marketing materials specifically for recruiting staff. I could have left a display board and other materials at the hotel by paying them a small daily storage fee.
- Take a laptop to show a camp video.
- Have interview questions prepared for specific positions I am trying to fill.
- Have packets ready to give newly hired applicants to take home with them. Maybe even some camp shirts.
- Bring a camera to take pictures of those I hire.
- Bring lots of water and some snacks.
- Bring someone with me – not just for the fair, but to travel with as well. It was lonely and scary doing it all on my own.
If you have been to an international job fair, what suggestions do you have for first time recruiters?