What to look for in a Summer Job by: Phil Alsup

What to look for in a Summer Job

I was having lunch with some of the Impact 360 Gap Year students the other day and the subject of summer jobs came up. One of the students asked me what I thought they needed to be looking for in a summer job and I think what I shared surprised them a bit. I told them not to first consider what they like to do but to instead consider what would give them the broadest set of experiences.

Though many students of their age (college-age) have a pragmatic need to use the summer (or part-time work in general) to make as much money as they can so they can stay in college. Staying out of or minimizing debt is a very good determining reason for choosing a summer or part-time job. For those that have a little more leeway, however, I would challenge to think more broadly. Try to go beyond the “do what you are passionate about” advice one normally gets. Research demonstrates that 80% of college students change their major at least once with an average of three times before they graduate. This strongly communicates that many students on the front end of college understandably don’t truly yet understand what they are passionate about. Here are some key reasons I believe it is wiser instead to look for a part-time opportunity that will allow one to try the greatest breadth of responsibilities over one’s particular passion:

It will also surprise you what seemingly random tasks from a summer job end up being an essential reason for you being able to get the real job you want someday.

You will be surprised by what skills you end up using later. There are always takeaways from experiences. Whether it is as simple as learning to work hard, learning to think on your feet, or learning to be flexible all of these are critical to success in your future “real” job. It will also surprise you what seemingly random tasks from a summer job end up being an essential reason for you being able to get the real job you want someday.

You will be surprised by some things you are good at (or aren’t!). One of the seemingly rude discoveries in life can be that you really aren’t as good at something as you think you are. A hard truth is you may have shined in something in your smaller pre-college circles but discover you are a lot closer to average as your world enlarges. Better to know that as fully as you can before you decide on a vocation around it! By broadening your experiences you will both discover new things to try as well as few things that you didn’t even realize you were good at before.

Until you’ve done something for a job you really don’t know how much it does or doesn’t fulfill you.

You will be surprised by some things you enjoy (or don’t!). This one is even more tragic than the one above. How many people do you know who prepared for a career only to get into it and hate it? I’ve known more than a few. Trust me, until you’ve done something for a job you really don’t know how much it does or doesn’t fulfill you. Like above, however, an opportunity that gives you a lot of different experiences will also reveal that you enjoy some tasks that you never dreamed you would enjoy.

You will be surprised how it increases your networks. A job that has a variety of tasks inevitably leads to more points of contact. More points of contact increases both your awareness of future available jobs as well as the amount of people who will let you know of an opportunity. Make sure all you come into contact with see you doing your best work because your networks will be how you learn about and likely get most of your future jobs.

In a close selection process it is far more likely the little experiences from a broad background will set you apart from someone who has a much more limited background.

You will be surprised how more experiences now can equal more opportunity later. Contrary to conventional wisdom it’s not always great to solely have deep part-time experience in an area to get a full-time job in it later. The working world is becoming more and more nuanced and needs generalist over specialists. Many employers would prefer to hire someone who can do the basics of the job but brings other value over someone who just knows how to do the job being offered. In a close selection process it is far more likely the little experiences from a broad background will set you apart from someone who has a much more limited background.

I encourage you to try and stay away from “one-function” type of part time jobs. Instead look at what let’s you get your hands in several different things. Summer camp work, working in smaller businesses, working in churches or small non-profits, many of these types of jobs will allow you to be more generalized in what you do and give you a broad range of experiences. As much as it is the easy and safe road to take I challenge you instead to step out and try something bold with your part-time work. One of the upsides is it’s just that, part-time. It’s most likely a season of work and if you find you don’t like it then that’s of great value as well. The variety of experiences and people with whom you will interact will pay long-term dividends both in regard to future opportunities and your leadership skills.

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