Another school year is over. It’s time for high school and post-secondary students to land a summer job.
The good news is there are lots of jobs. Walk down any commercial or industrial street and you’ll see “We’re hiring” signs in many businesses’ windows.
Many of these jobs are entry-level with fairly low pay. And one might wonder how working in a coffee shop will help a future career as an accountant or anthropologist.
Let me start with an example and then offer a few reasons why that summer job is valuable.
I run an economics consultancy and was looking to hire an economist with at least a master’s degree in the field. There were several applicants with equally good academic qualifications. All could, no doubt, do respectable economic work.
The person I chose had helped finance her education by working for several consecutive summers in a restaurant kitchen, rising to a manager’s position. Working in a kitchen showed that she could stand the heat – literally and figuratively. Kitchen work isn’t easy.
Being hired summer after summer meant she was a desirable employee. Becoming a manager showed she also had the people skills to please her boss, get along with colleagues and supervise others.
It was an excellent hiring choice.
Demonstrate work ethic
Apart from looking good on your resume, summer work experience demonstrates that you have what employers want.
As I learned in recent interviews with employers, they look for a strong work ethic. You display this first by getting a job and then showing up in body and mind.
The body part is relatively easy. When you have a job, go to work – and on time. If you have a valid reason for not showing up, like a serious illness, call and let your boss know as soon as possible and indicate when you expect to return.
The clearest sign that your mind isn’t at work is an active cellphone. Put your phone away or turn it off except for breaks.
Basic business and financial skills
To run a successful business, you just need to answer two questions.
The first is: What good or service can I provide that people are willing and able to pay for?
If no one wants to buy what you have to offer, you don’t have a business.
The second is: Can it generate earnings?
The product must be priced low enough that customers will pay for it and high enough to cover all the related costs.
As an employee, you must demonstrate you’re adding at least as much value to the company as you’re receiving in wages. Knowing this, you won’t be surprised, as one new hire was, that he only got called into work when it was busy.
Along with this very basic business fundamental, holding a job and earning a wage gives you a chance to learn what many employers say they wish would be taught in high schools: how to manage money.
You learn that net pay is very different from gross pay, after taxes and other deductions come off.
If you’re wise, you learn the secret of money management that will go far in helping you get rich: spend less than you make. You avoid debt, especially high-cost debt on credit cards and usurious pay-day loans.
How to be a boss
People skills are essential in all aspects of your life, not just your career. A summer position teaches you how to get along with, work with and accomplish a job with all kinds of people.
Most of us aspire to supervisory or management positions in our careers. In our first jobs, we learn how to be a boss.
If we have a good boss, we pay attention and remember what she did and how she did it.
But good bosses can be rare and a bad boss can also teach us. We learn what not to do if we want workers to be happy and productive – and even show up. We know this from our experience.
Learning the value of commitment
Here’s one last reason to find and hang on to that summer job:
Some people make a disaster of their working life. Not only do they not have a career, they have trouble finding and keeping any job.
Studies show that such people have one thing in common: before the age of 25, they never held a steady job.
So now that the school year is over, find and keep a summer job – and make the most of it, for now and the future.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.