Students who hold down summer jobs will do well in their careers

Roslyn KuninNo matter what scientists and meteorologists tell us, for Canadians, summer essentially starts with Canada Day and extends until Labour Day. When we were kids, this time became synonymous with school breaks. As working adults, it was synonymous with shorter vacations with the bonus of enjoying the extended daylight and warm weekends – smoke permitting.

But today, I want to talk to those between primary school children and working adults, namely high school and post-secondary students: those too old to be shipped off to summer camp but old enough to realize that they face a future where having whole summers off is unlikely. The temptation to idle away yet one more summer is great.

Don’t do it. Despite the lack of full summer vacations, most youth look forward to a promising career with steady work, good pay and the ability to take nice, if shorter, holidays. The best indicator of whether such success will be achieved is not the number of degrees acquired nor the choice of field one goes into, although both those factors are important. If you want to predict which students will do well in their careers, look at those who have held down jobs before they graduated.

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Photo by Kevin Schmid

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Students give various excuses for not securing that summer job, one of them being the inability to find one. However, this is more likely due to the job seeker’s efforts than an actual scarcity of jobs. The current unemployment rate is at a record low, and there have been instances of businesses shutting down due to insufficient staff.

One way to secure a job is to demonstrate your worth to prospective employers. If you lack experience, emphasize the basics such as your reliability, punctuality, and commitment to work. Getting your second job will be easier with a reference from your first boss saying the same things.

Another reason some students offer to avoid getting a job is the pay is low and the working conditions may be less than ideal. Remember that this is early in your career when you have relatively little to offer by way of skills and experience. Also remember that the most valuable thing you will get from this job is not the money – nice though that is: it is the clear demonstration that you can efficiently and effectively hold down a job in different circumstances.

The third excuse often provided for not taking work is, ‘It is not in my field. I am going to be a professional. Why should I take an entry-level service job?’ The answer is simple: these jobs teach valuable lessons that can help smoothen your career path in the future. They establish your reliability, your ability to maintain healthy relationships with coworkers and customers, and, most importantly, your capability to work under a boss – an essential and rarely mentioned ability. And this is in addition to any specific skills or knowledge you may have picked up.

I run an economic consulting business, and I need the help of other economists. They all have to have at least one related degree, so I know that they have covered the basics. But, because my company is small, I cannot offer the level of wages and benefits of governments or larger organizations. As a result, I look for new graduates whose pay expectations are not excessive. How do I choose among those who have not yet demonstrated their ability to work as economists? I look at what other work they have done – usually summer jobs.

One of the most successful people I was lucky enough to hire came to me right out of university. I chose him because he had spent several summers working in a restaurant kitchen which he ended up managing. I knew if he had worked in a kitchen, he could stand the heat (pun intended). He could meet demanding deadlines. He could get along with bosses and colleagues. And he could learn new things. Otherwise, he would not have been hired back and made manager. He did not stay long with my little company but went on to have a very successful global career in his field.

Enjoy our too short Canadian summer, but use at least part of it to advance your future career.

Dr. Roslyn Kunin is a public speaker, consulting economist and senior fellow of the Canada West Foundation.

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