In today’s world, you must have previous work experience to get a job. But what can a high school or college student with little to no work experience do? Get a summer job, any job, especially during the summer months because this is when they have time to explore without the added pressure of academics. Taking summer classes, studying for ACTs/SATs, playing video games and/or reading all summer are simply death knells to a future career.
Structure Your Experience
In my opinion, every high school and college student today must have a STRUCTURED experience for the summer where they interact with a variety of people, do unfamiliar tasks and have something to talk about with others. This is the only way for them to truly grow. The more they stretch into the unfamiliar, the more they will learn.
The next question is what should I do? What’s the best type of experience to have? My answer is: think like an employer. Which of these students would you hire? Please note these are real life examples of students I have worked in my time as an Academic Adviser at the University of Chicago.
Student 1: Mark
Me: Hi Mark! How was your summer?
Mark: I thought it would be so great to work at this high profile banking firm this summer because the internship was so hard to get. I spent the whole summer doing nothing in my cubicle at the bank. It was so boring.
Me: What were your job responsibilities?
Mark: They didn’t have much for me to do. Sometimes I just photocopied or made coffee.
Me: Did you ask for things to do? Did they see that you were bored?
Mark: Well, I never asked for anything to do. They never seemed to notice me.
Me: Did you have a boss or mentor help you?
Mark: There was someone assigned to me but he was always busy.
Me: Did you ever ask for help? Did you ever ask if you could sit in on meetings or shadow someone?
Mark: No. I just sat and played video games at my cubicle. At least it will look good on my resume. Can we talk about my classes now?
Student 2: Anne
Me: Hi Anne! How was your summer?
Anne: I was really upset at first because I did not get the internships I applied for and my parents didn’t have much in the way of connections to help me. I ended up volunteering at my local school in the special needs classroom. It was so hard at first but I really loved the kids I worked with. I learned so much about how difficult the work is, the different things that each kid needed and how to relate to different kids and teachers. I realized that I have so much energy when I get to plan creative things for small groups of students to do. I made so many great memories with the staff and students there.
Me: Wow, that sounds intense! What did you do about money for the summer?
Anne: Oh, that was no big deal. I baby-sat for the kids in my neighborhood that I have always baby-sat for over the years. Actually, one of their parents mentioned the volunteer experience at the school. I have always spent time baby-sitting because I liked working with kids but never tried working in a school environment. It started out as a volunteer job but then they were able to pay me at the school later in the summer because someone left. So it all worked out in the end and I loved what I did.
Me: That’s great! Would you consider working in a local classroom here in during the school year?
Anne: I would love to do that! How can I find out more? Also, I think I want to try a psychology class. I have never tried psychology so I am a little intimidated but I hope we can find something good for me. In particular, something with child development might be good because I have experiences to share and I want to learn more about kids.
Think Like an Employer
If you were an employer, who would you hire? Mark who got the competitive internship but did not do or learn anything or even show any initiative? Or Anne who was so enthusiastic about her work and now has a new found career to pursue? You might say, well, it depends on what type of person and skills I need. Honestly though, anyone out there would likely hire Anne, regardless of what the job is. She shows initiative, dedication, willingness to try new things, creativity and interest in other people. She has started an important reflection of what she has learned and clearly grew as a person by doing this challenging work.
At the end of the day, it does not matter what looks good on your resume. Instead your growth and maturity will be some of the more important assets that an employer wants. So, go out and find some things to try that seem interesting and take initiative to do that job well. Finally, reflect on the experiences to think about what you learned and how to best articulate your experiences, skills and interests. This is what will stand out during your future interviews and interactions with others.
The academic team at My College Planning Team can guide you in best summer options for you, no matter what your age. Check us out.