Summer Jobs - 3 Simple Rules

By: Vin Domino

When I was in school I typically started looking for a summer job a couple of days after my exams ended. I always wondered why some people found such terrific jobs while I seemed to have so much trouble.

The best summer jobs I ever had were places where I already had some kind of an in. The first was in my senior year of high school, at a local utility company where my aunt worked. There I earned much better than average income for my age and got some great accounting experience. During my university years I had a summer job with our local school board that I heard about from my next door neighbour who, again, worked for there

But what about when you do not have an in? Yes, I found jobs, but they were not always that great. Having a crummy, low-paying job can not only wreck your summer, but also lead to financial hardship during the school year, I often found myself working 2 or 3 part time jobs throughout the school year to make my rent and tuition payments, never mind having spending money for entertainment.

There are ways that one can avoid such pitfalls. The 3 things I never did, but should have: Plan, network, and start early.

Plan

Some people have terrific summer work experiences that help them in their permanent job search when school is over. While I had some ideas about what I wanted to do when I completed my post-secondary education, I always looked at summer work as a way to get through school, a means to an end, as opposed to a foot in the door when I finished my degree. When I received my BA, I found that most of the jobs I was interested in required some previous experience or credentials I had not managed to get while I was in school. Seems pretty stupid, but I never had a plan, aside from getting a degree, as to how to obtain the career I was interested in. This left me, and many others who graduated during the economic recession at that time, casting about just to get a job never mind a career.

Network

Being in a school environment affords a student ample opportunity to get information about many career opportunities. Once the summer jobs I found through my aunt and neighbour had ended I felt as though my network of ins had pretty much been exhausted. What I should have been doing was building that network! Interviewing people who had the jobs I was interested in obtaining when I graduated and getting information on the experience and credentials that I would need would have been a giant step forward (this can sometimes even lead to internships or seasonal employment if you make a great impression). Networking with my friends, their parents, my parents' friends and so on. Joining campus clubs or volunteering my time in areas related to my field of interest would also have been beneficial. High schools guidance departments and post-secondary employment service centres could, and should, be utilized. More than that, there are teachers and professors to speak to. Being shy and just a little bewildered by it all, I failed to develop any connection with my university professors or TAs who could have provided me with valuable resources, including summer work experiences which in turn could have advanced my career aspirations.

Networking can also work in reverse, that is, you might learn what jobs to avoid. The summer prior to my final year of university I opted not to move home because I didn't want to lose my apartment. There were posters all over campus exclaiming "Work Outside on Boats!" Sounded great to me! Early in May I reported for work at a Toronto yacht club. The job was not that glamorous, it was cold, hard work scrubbing boats that had been stored outside for the winter. We were assured that things would get better as the weather warmed up and after the initial spring cleaning was out of the way. Indeed, it probably was for the young man who had subcontracted the work from the club and the 2 or 3 friends he kept on after laying the rest of us off! There I was, with a lease and no income. Complaining of my misfortune around campus I learned that others were aware of this shady outfit, it is a small world after all! If only I had taken some time to look into the job before committing to it, I would have saved myself a world of trouble.

START EARLY

Planning and networking needs to be happening all the time. As a student I operated under the misconception that I should be focussing solely on achieving good grades. In retrospect, I could and should have given some of my study time (and social time) over to career planning. A person can get so bogged down with their studies (and in my case juggling part-time jobs) that they neglect to do the work that will truly affect their career more than a high grade-point average.

Start early, plan early (understanding that a plan made early will also need to be flexible), network early, and look for summer work EARLY. It never occurred to me that I should be looking for my summer job during the dead of winter. Being fixated on my studies in February led to a great deal of frustration in the spring. The fact is, many summer jobs are advertised in the winter and early spring. Seasonal job fairs take place months before the summer work term and this is when the bulk of hiring will take place.

Does the early bird really catch the worm? While there may be an element of luck involved in job searching, starting early and applying the plan and network approach will improve your odds of landing a great summer job that might just launch your career.

Careers and Job Hunting
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