Following Your Bliss
A Career Advice Column
by Sarah E. Murphy
writer, photoartist, entrepreneur and seasoned job-seeker
The Early Bird Gets The Work: How to Land A Seasonal Dream Job
When I was twenty, a group of friends and I decided to spend the summer working on the island of Nantucket. We talked about it in the dining hall over every meal throughout the Spring, imagining endless summer days spent on beaches and sailboats. The prospect led us throughout the bitterly cold post holiday months like the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t wait to get there.
Three of my friends got jobs at a gift shop/art gallery right in town on the wharf. Their pay included housing, consisting of an adorable upstairs apartment with wood floors and seaside charm. It was at the end of the strait wharf, and from their deck we watched exceedingly wealthy individuals dock their vessels and don sporty sweaters as they headed off to decadent meals, including musician, Jimmy Buffet. (Yes, that was I who taunted you, Mr. Buffet, suggesting you return to Margaritaville. My apologies, it was all in good fun).
Many nights were spent in that cute apartment, watching my friends play cards, putting off the long trek back to my house. Their commute to work was all of thirty seconds, as they simply had to walk downstairs and next door. My friend Jenny and I found housing outside of town, in a house located at the end of a half mile long dirt road.
Our bedroom, which we shared, was about 3 foot by 2 foot, and cost us each $125/week. If we ever had friends in town and wanted them to stay over, we were required to pay $10 per guest per night. Needless to say my landlord, who rented her empty nest to eager college students, had herself a gold mine.
For some unknown reason, I chose not to bring a bike that summer. I didn’t own one at the time, and somehow the idea of investing in one for the summer escaped me. Therefore, the walk to or from town tacked on an extra 45 minutes to my day. And in retrospect, I realize making that journey home alone at night, especially past the graveyard and down the long, dark dirt road, was not a very smart thing to do. Hitchhiking is very common on the island, but I never tried it, even in broad daylight. The Laura Ingalls in me rejected the idea immediately, knowing how it would have worried poor Pa.
As the weeks passed, I found it becoming exceedingly more and more difficult to make ends meet. After paying my rent and buying groceries, I never had anything left over. I started working evenings at the shop where my friends worked, in addition to my daily chambermaid job at the swanky beachside resort. So now I had all of a half day off each week, which was usually spent making the trip into town by cab to the grocery store or laundromat.
Jenny and I eventually moved a little closer to town to a little bit bigger bedroom for $100 each per week. And I still came home at the end of the summer with absolutely no savings and nothing to show for all of my hard work.
People ask me today about Nantucket landmarks and the island’s hidden jewels. I have nothing to report, for I only made it to the beach once, and the whole summer was basically spent working to maintain a lifestyle that I couldn’t enjoy because I couldn't afford a day off. By the end of the season, Jenny and I came to refer to our beloved island as “The Rock” in reference to the infamous high-security prison.
If I were to do it again, and I’d love to, I’d do things very differently. One obvious thing I would do this time around is research. There are so many jobs out there that offer room and board and other great perks. These extras really take some of the neverending financial burden off a struggling college student trying to pursue a summer of adventure.
Another thing to consider is the cost of living is much higher in some regions than others. If I did have the luxury of going back and doing it all again, I’d probably choose the island of Martha’s Vineyard instead of Nantucket, as it is less expensive and a little more culturally and ethically diverse. While they do have some similiarities, and are geographically close, they are indeed two very different places.
While writing this article, I became nostalgic for the carefree days of college, when "real" life is placed temporarily on the back-burner, and days are defined by classes and scheduled meals that you don't have to pay for, punctuated by endless summers.
I think about all the summers I wasted working as a chambermaid, cleaning toilets and doing laundry for the masses who flocked each season to my hometown on the Cape. I should have been off pursuing my own adventures, while also earning a paycheck and gaining invaluable job experience.
Although I have a passionate love for Cape Cod, I also crave other environments like the beauty of a snow-covered mountain, or the serenity and solitude of lake or stream. In my adulthood, I have discovered a new love in camping, and the adventure of discovering through living simply that life is only as difficult as we choose to make it. Why not treat yourself to a whole summer of such an experience?
So if you've been thinking about trying something different, don't waste time trying to convince yourself it's not a good idea. It is.
This is the time in your life you can do these things, so go for it, and I'll live vicariously.
Your only regret will be if you don't do it.
Find out how you can get a jump on the competition with hiring secrets from 3 of our SummerJobs.com Employers: Chappaquiddick Beach Club, Camp Takajo and Incline Village Recreation.
According to their website, The Chappaquiddick Beach Club is “an historic, family-oriented private club located on the north shore of Chappaquiddick, a small island connected to the main island of Martha’s Vineyard by a three-car ferry, about a five minute walk from the club.” Their working atmosphere is emphasized by teamwork, initiative and personal responsibility.
I spoke with Peter MacCrae, who has managed the club for the past twenty four years, about his hiring process.
“We go all out to find nine college students each year with as much diversity as we can muster. We hire them, house them, feed them, love them, and that flower usually blossoms generously each summer.”
The power of people skills is not to be underestimated. “Sense of humor, common sense, and consideration are other attributes we fish for in our interview process.”
“It’s kind of like Al Davis’ old philosophy about the Oakland Raiders. We hire the best people we can find and train them for the position not vice versa. Occasionally, we’ll change an employee’s position after watching how they perform and relate with others, as it’s far easier to play to an employee’s strengths than to have them fight with something they aren’t naturally suited for all summer.”
They do not have a firm hiring deadline, as the timeline varies each season. Sometimes they have a full staff by early March, while other years they are still filling positions in June. Due to the limited number of spots, and the fact that some of those are often filled by returning employees, he encourages applicants to apply early.
So why is everyone so anxious to spend a summer at CBC?
“It starts with the interview, which some employees remark upon later as being more comprehensive than some “real” job interviews they’ve held. I think the people who work here develop even better people skills as the beach club is so family-oriented and the staff is part of that “family.” They learn what is appropriate and, perhaps what’s more important, what’s inappropriate, in their interactions with adult members, children and fellow employees from around the world.
Equally important, they learn that service does not have to carry an onerous connotation. There is a value to providing good service that garners respect from both sides.”
The lodging and lifestyle at CBC promotes that family atmosphere.
“We are somewhat unique in that not only do we provide free accommodations (w/kitchen & laundry), but we also eat together on a regular basis, and often that takes place out and about on our little island, so the kids get a real sense of the place and how to deal with a fragile environment responsibly. Often relationships are formed that last a lifetime. I like to think that the staffers at the CBC also learn that it’s okay to play hard as long as you bring your “A” game to work the next morning.”
No need to hoard quarters for the machines or call a cab so you can cart all of your laundry to and fro. Everything you need is all around you.
So what can you do to secure yourself one of these ideal spots?
“To paraphrase Natalie Merchant, give us what we want. We get well over 2000 inquiries each year for ten jobs, yet there’s only one person in the office during the off-season. Make it easy for us to compare apples to apples. Don’t be “original” unless your formatting is exceptional; thoughtful compliance with our requirements in not unappreciated. Those who are considerate enough to submit a packet of materials tend to be viewed in a more favorable light.”
You must also be willing to go out on a limb and fight for the position.
“If you aren’t willing to make an extraordinary effort (and if you’re from east of the Mississippi, south of Montreal, or west of Ireland, and we reach the interview stage, we generally expect you to make the trek out here) to get the job, what can we expect from you once you’re here?”
Peter, who was a lifeguard at the CBC in the late sixties, considers working at the Chappaquiddick Beach Club to be one of the best summer jobs on the East Coast.
“The locale is unique. The natural offerings, such as clamming, fishing, kayaking, sailing and sunset watching are incredible. You don’t have to start work until 8:30 in the morning and when you do, you step out of your room onto the beach.”
It is a job requirement to stay through the second day after Labor Day. If you cannot meet this requirement, don’t bother applying. However, if you do meet this commitment, the incentive is a great one, especially for a struggling college student. You will be awarded a $2000 Christmas bonus at the time when we all need funds the most. If this sounds like a good deal to you, then check out their website for an application and for more information at www.chappaquiddickbc.org.
Camp Takajo - Sebago Lakes Region, Maine
Want to escape a mundane landscape and also do something extremely rewarding? Then perhaps you should consider spending your summer at Camp Takajo in the tranquil Sebago Lakes region of Maine.
Each season, this seven week boys’ sleepaway camp hires a counseling staff of 150 and a support staff (ranging from medical to maintenance) of 50. And each season applications pour in from all over this country and many others, hoping to fill those 200 spots.
These spots are extremely competitive. Who wouldn’t want to spend a summer providing children with memories that will someday be a foundation, while also basking in the rustic and coastal beauty of Maine?
I spoke with Staffing Director, Bob Lewis about what he does and doesn’t look for when putting together his staff for the season, focusing primarily on the counselor positions.
The ideal candidate is hardworking, clean-cut (due to the nature of the work and the impressionable nature of children), energetic, creative, and of good moral character. If these qualities describe yourself, then you probably have the makings of a potential staff member.
But the hard part is beating out everyone else who also fits the bill.
One way to do it, Bob says, is if you have a skill that you are genuinely interested in sharing with children. If you’re a sculptor or a lacrosse player or an actor, then you will definitely stand out from the crowd. He is always looking for people who have something to bring to the table, and those are the people he is most likely to contact first.
If you are a swim instructor, he encourages you to get your American Red Cross Training in Aquatics. And if you already have the training, this shows him you have not only the interest, but also the practical experience he is looking for.
Another way to make yourself known is through polite persistence. Don’t communicate via email. If you want the job, call the office until you get through to someone so they realize how much you really want it, because for all they know you could be shopping around all over the place. And better yet, call a couple of times so they remember you.
You can also express your sincerity in the application essay questions. Like a college essay, this is the best opportunity to show people who you are and what you’re made of. And like the college essay, it should be taken seriously. No, you aren’t being graded on it, but remember that someone is actually going to take the time to read it, so think about how you want to present yourself. Considering you’re going to be working with children, do you really think an essay full of sloppy writing and spelling mistakes is a good first impression? Show them why you would be an asset to their organization.
I asked Bob what he considers a red flag when sifting through all of those applications. When he sees someone who has worked at five or six camps, his first inclination is that it indicates a lack of continuity. However, he does understand that some people just enjoy trying different experiences, so if he thinks the person might have something to offer, he’ll call the other camps to learn more about that individual.
Currently, he doesn’t have the time to process international applications, because usually after the interviewing process is complete, he discovers the candidate is not eligible for a visa. This ends up being a waste of everyone’s time, so if you’re interested in working in the States for the summer, he encourages you to register with an organization that contacts the camps directly on behalf of the applicant and works with them through the visa process. Here is a list of some of those organizations:
Camp Counselors USA www.ccusa.com
Camp Leaders in America www.campleaders.com
Camp America www.aifs.org
Working Adventures Worldwide www.bunac.org
So what will staffers gain from a summer at Camp Takajo?
According to Bob Lewis, strong interpersonal skills, extensive experience dealing with children, and a chance to work in a truly cooperative environment, which just happens to be in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Transportation, housing, and meals are included, in addition to a weekly salary.
“We offer good clean living, fun in the sun, and three square meals a day.”
Camp Takajo also boasts an outstanding tennis program offering 17 courts and 18 instructors. The Director of the program is a teaching pro with Peter Burwash, International.
There is no hiring deadline, as openings often arise in the middle of the season. “Sometimes a person decides it’s not the right match for them, or they can’t keep their original commitment, so often we find ourselves going to the bullpen in the ninth inning.”
So maybe you have what it takes to be a closer, or maybe you’ll have yourself a no-hitter.
Curious? Then call Bob at 1-800-250-8252 for more information about working at Camp Takajo.
Incline Village Recreation and Golf Courses - Lake Tahoe, Nevada
So how about another extreme?
Do you crave adventure and the outdoors? Do you love the smell of mountain air and fresh powder? Then why not try out a season in the picturesque region of Lake Tahoe, Nevada?
Suzanne Stamp, Assistant Food & Beverage Manager, sifts through countless applications from qualified individuals who want to work in a breathtaking environment, unlike the traditional work atmosphere. Because her average day is so busy, the persistent people are the ones who stand out and get her attention.
“People who really show me that they are serious and enthusiastic about working in a particular department are more likely to get called in for an interview. If a person “bugs” me by calling or emailing many times, it shows me how sincere they are, and that they’ll do what it takes to get the job. These are the people who often end up being very hard workers.”
Experience is certainly always helpful, but not always required.
“Prior Food and Beverage experience is great, however not always necessary. People with outgoing personalities, common sense and a good sense of customer service skills can be easily trained. When I’m hiring bartenders, I always hire staff who have experience and seem to be people persons, because bartending does require skill and experience. Also, because most of the jobs that I hire for require cash handling, I usually screen for some type of experience with this.”
Who is Suzanne not inclined to hire?
“Dressing sloppy and showing up late for an interview is usually an indication of the applicant’s future job performance, so these types of individuals are generally not hired.”
Also, because of the amount of customer interaction that is involved with most positions, it is essential for employees to be fluent in English and be able to communicate effectively with guests.
Some of the great perks about working at Incline Village include:
Incline Village offers a Carpool Incentive in which employees can earn $3 a day with the ride share program. They encourage you to walk, ride a bike, carpool or snowshoe with a friend!
Pubic transportation is also available by riding the TART (Tahoe Area Regional Transit) bus.
Although housing is not included, IVGID, (Incline Village General Improvement District) can provide resources with more information on local rentals.
Hiring deadlines are as follows:
Diamond Peak Ski Resort - Approximately Nov 15
Golf Course - Approximately Apr 15
Banquet and Catering - No deadline. Hiring done all through the year.
So if you are looking to broaden your horizons, or escape a banal setting, then maybe this is the place for you. A season at Incline Village also promises the opportunity to meet interesting individuals from all over the world. And as Suzanne points out, “you will also learn an important trade that will never be eliminated from the workforce.”
For more information about working at Incline Village, go to:
- Sarah E. Murphy