Summer camp counselor – is that a “real” job?

Q:  My son is considering several roles this coming summer (2020).  I am worried he is not gaining enough practical career-related experience in his past summer jobs.  How does a college student gain work experience which is relevant to their career path?  Do employers care whether internships are paid or unpaid?  Does a summer job at a camp count as a “real job” to employers?

A: All good questions!  Summer jobs and internships are valuable experiences for students.  Students are able to learn new skills, including how to work with others.

A job at a summer camp can provide much-needed skills, particularly in the areas of planning, program management, communication and leadership.  In any single day, a camp counselor is required to negotiate conflicts, coach campers on good choices, interact with parents or guardians and inspire confidence.  Overnight or residential camps are often a way for campers to escape technology and try new activities, whether jumping off the high dive into a lake or riding a horse for the very first time.  Often camp counselors are required to plan activities for their campers.  Many camp counselors are former campers.  Life-long relationships, based on daily interactions (vs. technology) are built at summer camps every summer.  This often translates to a strong and vibrant professional network when campers and camp counselors hit the job market as an adult.

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I consulted Maura Ryan, a Program Director for the YMCA Camp Coniston residential camp in Grantham, NH.  Ryan shared that her communication skills, drive and confidence have all improved since assuming a leadership role at Coniston.  Ryan shared that she has learned “essential skills that are transferable to any career path imaginable.”

Camp counselors are leading, mentoring and building communities every day.  There are many well-known former campers in respected roles in business, arts and government.  Michael Dell, Michael Eisner, Governor Ann Richards, Chelsea Clinton, The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Neil Armstrong and Paul Simon all attended summer camps.

In my experience, employers pay little attention to whether a role is paid or unpaid.  Employers are more focused on the skills gained during an internship or summer job, and whether a candidate can add value to a company.  A camp counselor role can be valuable experience for a strong professional resume.

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