I have a hiring question! I have made it to so many final round interviews, only to be repeatedly passed over for candidates that already work for these camps. I can't help but feel like my time is being wasted and emotions being jerked around by hiring committees who already have someone else in mind. I am willing to learn new traditions and excited to bring a fresh perspective to the table. How can I prove that I am worth hiring as an outsider? If that's not possible, then is there a way to figure out if they have an internal candidate so I can avoid being crushed and having my time wasted?
– Determined in Dallas
This email makes my heart ache for you! This is so tough. I don’t have a “silver bullet” solution to your problem, either, which makes it even tougher. Your emotions are definitely being jerked around, and I see how you feel that your time is being wasted. Let’s break it down: This scenario could be for a number of reasons. The organization could have a strong internal candidate but some policy/the board/the boss wants them to go through the motions of interviews to make the predetermined hire look more “legitimate.” In that case, they’re using you. They should have given the person a promotion and not toyed with your emotions. I'm sorry that this has probably happened to you. (Hiring managers take note: Please don’t do this. If you must do this, let external candidates know that you have a strong internal candidate before they come all the way in for a final interview.) On the other and more optimistic hand, an organization could have a strong internal candidate that they are considering, but are hopeful an even stronger external candidate will come along. This is where you want to capitalize on the opportunity.
It actually is a good sign when there are internal candidates at many of these camp jobs. I always get worried for a camp when it posts a “program director” position or something of the sort and does not have a single internal person applying. Theoretically, one or more internal candidates shows that people have commitment to the organization and see personal growth potential there. Camps should also be open to outside hires—camps NEED an infusion of outside energy and ideas to learn and grow.
I think your best bet comes down to networking—and networking to such a high extent that you almost become a “coworker” to other camp people, even if you do not work directly with them at your camp. For instance, I joined the YMCA Mid-America Camping Conference planning committee in 2012, and formed some great working relationships with people. I believe if I applied to one of their camps, there would be a strong chance that I would be considered as a candidate somewhere between external and internal. These types of collaborative extracurricular activities in the industry are a great chance to show off your skills and increase your network in a genuine way. Beyond helping plan a conference, you could become an ACA visitor in your area, work with a regional camp organization and even do things like become active in online communities such as the Summer Camp Pros Facebook page and GoCampPro. When you are attending conferences, sit with people outside of your camp and take every opportunity to strike up a conversation. Look for volunteer opportunities like working the check-in table or leading small group breakouts or interest sessions.
Another great opportunity is working as a guest staff member at other camps—I know there are a lot of YMCA camps in Michigan, for instance, who trade seasonal staff back and forth depending on the business of their schedule. Finally, even if one of the camps you directly network with is not hiring, camp people talk to other camp people. I know I am always happy to put in a good word for strong emerging camp leaders I have interacted with. Making connections and building a name for yourself is key.
Beyond expanding your network so you aren’t seen as so “external,” figuring out where you stand in the hiring manager’s plan is a roll of the dice. There isn’t really a way to ask a hiring manager who the other candidates are for the job. The only way to really find out this information is through your network and poking around on their website/social media pages. Sometimes you can do a little investigating to learn some critical details, but don’t go so far as to let over-the-top, nosey investigations ruin your chances of getting the job.
Finally, if you do get to a final interview scenario, figure out what your competitive advantage is—what do you offer that no other candidate, internal or external could offer? Prep for the interview and position yourself around that theme. Determine specifically and uniquely why the camp where you are interviewing is attractive to you. Write a list of all the possible questions you could be asked, and practice these multiple times. Be prepared, concise and confident. If all else fails, ask a lot of questions. Camp people LOVE to talk about their camp and themselves. That’s certainly a fair tactic!!
Good luck. Keep me posted.
Attention readers: This is the fourth installment of my advice column, "Dear Kurtz." If you have a pressing question about a situation you or your camp face, please fill out my anonymous question gatherer here! I will try my best to respond to all honest and interesting inquiries.