Making the most of your college summer job…

Jamba Juice sign @ Duq University

Every summer my employer makes a shift from being a University auxiliary providing student housing to being a conference housing operation. One of the big changes during this period is a reliance on near-full time student staff as compared to relatively disengaged work study students working only a handful of hours per week.  I look at these young professionals and the challenges they face and wonder how we as professional can best help them move forward from working jobs to fulfilling careers.

The challenges faced by newly graduated students in the workplace are daunting, even for those with an Ivy League education.  Entry level jobs have largely evaporated, and those that are available still list 2-3 years experience as a requirement.  Newly-minted grads find themselves frequently competing with a well educated and experienced workforce willing to take jobs for which they are overqualified, often out of necessity.  Of course, that’s not to say that plenty of those good people will still not be able to secure employment.

There is also the opinion amongst many management leaders that “kids these days” aren’t properly prepared for the workplace after college.  From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In survey after survey, employers seem to agree that the skill they most want in future workers is adaptability. Those who hire complain that they often find today’s college graduates lacking in interpersonal skills, problem solving, effective written and oral communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to think critically and analytically. Employers say that future workplaces need those skills as well as degree holders who can come up with novel solutions to problems and better sort through information to filter out the most critical pieces.

How can your summer employment or internship give you an advantage?

The first thing you should think about is that your employment is not just a summer job.  If you make the most of it, you will have the opportunity to acquire skills that will be useful throughout your future career.  Part of that is knowing what you want to get out of your experience.

Once you’ve started, make sure you know the rules.  Understand what your employer wants from you (in terms of hours, productivity, attitude, engagement, dress code, etc.) and get guidance when the rules aren’t clear.  Find someone who can act as your mentor.

Stretch out beyond your comfort zone.  Employers typically shovel the grunt work at the summer staff.  This is sometimes a mistake.  Your summer staff brings fresh perspective without the bad habits learned in your organization.  There’s an opportunity to take on projects that can make a lasting impact – seek them out.

Your employment is not a zero sum game.  Work is more than making yourself look good by making other people look bad.  Make sure you network with your peers and supervisors, ask questions, work together, and collaborate.  Establish relationships with your supervisors and peers.

You can always improve your communications and writing. Employers always state that new employers lack communication skills.  The best way to improve is to practice.

Take the time to explore and reflect.  Ask yourself the following throughout the summer and especially at summer’s end:

  • What did you do?
  • How does your education connect to your work?
  • What stories will you tell?
  • What skills and experiences are transferable to future employment?
  • How will you represent your summer employment during interviews and on your resume?

Keep in touch.  Build on those connections you made with your supervisors and coworkers.  You never know where you can find your next opportunity.