College-bound high school seniors across the land are busy heading down the home stretch of their academic year. Complicating this sometimes frantic period are critical questions that need to be answered:
- “Which college should I attend?”
- “I want to go to University X but College Y is offering a better financial aid package. What should I do?”
- How can I visit two more colleges I haven’t seen yet during these weeks of finals, AP exams and spring sports?”
And there may be other questions, too. However, one question that all seniors should be asking, in case they don’t already know the answer, is: “What will I be doing this summer?”
What Kind of Work Should You Pursue This Summer?
Those roughly three months between high school graduation and landing on a college campus can offer a lot of opportunity. Maybe some of you already have your plans made. You may be returning to a job you worked last summer, or perhaps you’ll continue working a job that has been part of your ongoing school year. Those are optimal situations.
Actually, it may be a bit late for those of you who haven’t given any thought to summer work. The good news is that the job market has made a significant comeback during the last year or so. Just check your local job listings and you may notice that there are more openings than there have been in the past. It’s time to start your investigation!
The big question you may be asking is: “What kind of work do I want to do?” Well, it may not be a matter of what you want to do, but, rather, what is available for you to do.
[WARNING: Here comes another one of those sleep-inducing "Dave recalls his Wonder Years" narratives. Do not read while driving or operating heavy equipment!]
Back in the day, I worked a number of highly unglamorous (by today's standards) summer jobs. Let's see ...
- Well, I was a busboy at our local Holiday Inn. That was my first paying job. What did it teach me? Probably the most important lesson I learned was not to look too closely at how your food is prepared in a restaurant's kitchen.
- Another summer, I strapped 40-pound boxes of small laundry detergent samples called "Cold Power" around my neck (check with your grandmother about that product; she'll remember) and spent weeks walking door-to-door throughout endless neighborhoods hanging them on doorknobs. What did those toils teach me? Possibly, that that's where the current kink in my neck came from.
- Then came tennis court maintenance. I worked that summer taking care of some beautiful clay courts at a country club. They required a lot of preparation for play, morning and evening. I had to drag them, roll them with a heavy roller, sweep the taped lines, then water them carefully, not too much, not too little, and finally reinstall the nets. What did I learn there? I became an expert on how to parlay my tennis knowledge into meeting some great people who would saunter over to the tennis court from the pool.
Enough about my summer jobs. Thankfully.
In Praise of the Summer Gig
My inspiration for this post comes from an older Wall Street Journal article called In Praise of the Teen Summer Job, by Dave Shiflett, who notes, "From hauling bricks to delivering newspapers, traditional summer work taught generations of teens about life, labor and their place in the universe."
That's also my recollection of summer jobs. Shiflett does contrast back-then to nowadays:
Among the signs of my advancing age is bafflement at hearing younger parents talk about what their teenagers are going to do over the summer. Some mention internships with documentary filmmakers. Others say that their offspring will spend the hot months building latrines in distant corners of the developing world. A few speak of expeditions to measure the disappearance of glaciers or a period of reflection at an ashram in Tamil Nadu.
What on Earth is an ashram? And when did teenagers start doing all these exotic things instead of working summer jobs?
I wish them well, of course, and hope that they build the finest latrines ever to grace the Guatemalan countryside. I should also acknowledge that I wish such opportunities had been available to me when I was growing up ...
Of course, all of Shiflett's learning experiences, like mine, were the result of actually having a job, which reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live Steve Martin bit where he assumes the voice of one of those high-pressure, late-night TV hustlers and excitedly proclaims:
"You... can be a millionaire... and never pay taxes! Yes! You can be a millionaire... and never pay taxes!
You say ... 'Steve ... how can I be a millionaire ... and never pay taxes?'
First ... get a million dollars. Now... you say, 'Steve ... what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, 'You ... have never paid taxes!'?'
Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: 'I forgot!'"
Here's How to Find That Job
Taking the Steve Martin approach, then, let me say that you, too, can have these great learning experiences with a summer job! How?
First, get a summer job. Obvious, huh? Well, being the curious guy that I am, I wondered what kind of advice the “experts” are professing these days to high schoolers looking for summer employment. So, I found this recent article on how to get a great summer job.
Note that these points are not just for any job, but for a great job. Where was this article when Cold Power was breaking my neck? Here are four of the eight great tips from the article:
- Get your references ready. Before you start applying for summer jobs, get a list of three references ready to give to interviewers. If you haven't worked before, neighbors and acquaintances may be willing to write a personal reference for you. Teachers, professors or academic advisors, volunteer leaders and coaches, can also provide a personal reference. Baby-sitting and volunteer references are fine, if you haven't worked before. Do be sure to ask your reference-giver ahead of time if you can use them as a reference.
- Decide What Type of Summer Job You Want. Before you apply for a summer job, it's a good idea to take some time to decide what you want to do. Not only will you end up with a summer job that you enjoy; you'll also save time job searching because you can target your search to focus on the jobs that are a good match for your interests. … There are many seasonal positions available at resorts and amusement parks. Consider interning at a museum, at a zoo or at some other organization related to your career aspirations.
- Network to Find Summer Jobs. Networking really does work when you're looking for summer jobs and it's not hard to do. Talk to teachers, family, former employers, coaches, friends, parents of friends -- anyone and everyone you can think of -- and ask if they can help you with your summer job search. Networking is still the best way to find a job and most people are glad to provide advice, assistance and job leads.
- Search for Summer Jobs Online. There are a variety of sites that list summer job openings. Search the job boards that focus on summer jobs and summer camp jobs first. Then search the part-time job sites and use the job search engines by searching for "summer jobs" as a keyword, along with your location. Also check the local sites -- local job boards and the online help-wanted ads for your newspaper. Many employers who hire for summer jobs only advertise locally.
Be sure to read the remaining four tips to help you round out your job-search toolbox.
It's Not Too Late
As I mentioned above, today, as we approach mid-April, may be getting into the squeeze period for getting summer work. But, there’s good news. Here’s what one expert had to say about last year’s summer employment opportunities:
Laura Dresser with the Center on Wisconsin Strategies said there are always reasons to be wary of future growth, as it depends on how national and international markets do. She does, however, reassure that the next few months look promising for job seekers.
"We'll see a lot of 'help wanted' signs out," Dresser said.
She said there are a few fields with more openings than others, including construction, manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and food service …
That was good news from last year. The even better news is that this year, things are even stronger. Therefore, you’ll probably find even more help-wanted signs out there.
So if you’re interested in putting the upcoming summer months to better use than following Facebook, Twitter, et al or keeping up with the Kardashians, then make your summer job search plans now. If you’re really successful, maybe you can become a millionaire and not pay any taxes!
Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.