Writing Camp Jobs on a Resume

The truth is leadership experiences at high-quality summer camps teach life skills, and hone a work ethic that pays dividends throughout an equally demanding non-camp career.

Staff members must choose their words wisely, copy edit carefully, and describe the magnitude of their responsibility. On a resume, everything matters, including printing on watermarked paper with at least 25-percent cotton-fiber content.

No one cares what you write on when you’re at camp—an index card, the back of your hand, or a piece of birch bark—but in the outside world, it matters.

Choosing words wisely begins with shedding camp lingo. No one in the corporate world—or anywhere else outside your camp—will understand what it means to have been “Head Weebelo” or “Chief Bob” or “Scollege Monster” or “Master Firefly.”

I get it. You had a fun camp nickname, and so did your position. Now let it go. To a prospective employer, you were “Division Leader for Youngest Boys” or “Director of Arts and Crafts” or “Assistant Waterfront Director.”

Next comes careful copy editing. Here I must state the core principle with the utmost clarity: There can be no typos on a professional resume. Not a single one.

When I find a typo on a resume, I immediately think three things:

1. This person did not care much about how he or she presented themselves.
2. This person did not have a friend proofread this singularly important piece of paper.
3. I want to hire someone who actually cares, so who is next in the pile?

Those who think that my little thought-train sounds harsh are the ones who won’t get choice jobs. It’s as simple as that. Proofread every word of your resume for misspellings, omissions, and non-grammatical constructions.

Say It Like A Pro, Because You Are
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is describing the magnitude of the responsibility camp staff members have. In the sample resume included with this article, I’ve presented contrasting descriptions of the same job.

Here are some additional examples of the distinction between an informal and a professional way of describing camp jobs.

A program director has either “Scheduled games and activities for campers, and worked with staff to be sure they covered everything” or “Orchestrated a dynamic program of sports, arts, and games for children ages 8 to 12, and “Coordinated activity leadership, and conducted periodic staff and program safety audits.” Same job; different description.

A front-line camp counselor has either “Got kids from one activity to another, and made sure the kids weren’t bullying each other” or “Led children and teens through a creative sequence of challenging activities” and “Responded decisively to misbehavior and social conflict by implementing collaborative problem-solving, logical consequences, and one-on-one counseling.” Which will spark the interest of a future employer?

An activity specialist has either “Run girls’ archery most of the day, swept the equipment house, and re-fletched broken arrows” or “Supervised the progressive instruction of target archery and range safety for girls ages 10 to 14,” and “Actively maintained a clean and safe collection of recurve bows and cedar arrows for period use and inter-camp competitions.” Which sounds more impressive?

A Real Job
No responsibility rivals that of caring for children. If staff members have fulfilled this responsibility successfully, they should be able to communicate that success clearly. Indeed, resumes, cover letters, and interviews should convey professionalism so clearly that they eclipse the distorted, pop-culture image of summer camp.

When I graduated from college and continued working summers as the waterfront director at YMCA Camp Belknap, I was often asked, “When are you going to get a real job?” As if preventing drowning, treating homesickness, and teaching swimming and sailing were not real.

Almost as irksome were my camp colleagues, who kept making a distinction between “the camp world” and “the real world.” As if camp were imaginary.

How can staff members present themselves as youth-development professionals if they believe they do trivial jobs in a make-believe world? Wake up, camp staff! You must first take yourselves seriously if you want others to take you seriously.

You are leaders and youth-development professionals, but no one will ever know that unless you present yourself professionally. And if you must make a distinction, please have it be between “the camp world” and “the outside world.” Both are real; one just has far less violence, strife, and cruelty.

What about front-line camp staff? Well, whether the members stay in camping or apply their skills elsewhere, all staff must ensure that their most scrutinized publication—their resume—also passes muster.

And each must be ready to answer “When are you going to get a real job?” with the solemn and inspiring retort: “I change kids’ lives. It doesn’t get any more real than that.”

Dr. Christopher Thurber is a board-certified clinical psychologist, father, and educator. He co-wrote the Summer Camp Handbook and co-founded, a source of video training modules for camp staff.