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What Should College Students Look for in a Summer Job?

By Daniel B. Kline – May 15, 2019 at 4:30PM

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Working doesn't have to just be about money.

Most college students get a fairly extended summer break. Some, of course, use the time off to take more classes, and others have internships lined up. Many, however, need to work, and don't have positions yet. That's not a bad thing, because it's a very strong job market -- and that gives anyone looking for a job, even young people with limited experience, a chance to choose.

If you're a college kid looking for summer employment, it's beneficial to find a job that helps not just your wallet, but also your career. That doesn't have to be a direct line. A summer job may not give you actual experience in whatever you hope to do, but it might give you a window into other parts of the profession.

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A strong job market may be good for college kids seeking summer employment. Image source: Getty Images.

Be strategic

Think about whether you can get a summer job directly in the field where you hope to work. The tight labor market may have opened up some positions that would otherwise not have been filled by a college student. In some cases, getting any foot in the door can lead to bigger things.

I, for example, spent part of a summer during my college years proofreading what were essentially expanded phone book listings for a magazine company. It was tedious grunt work, but I met the editors in charge. That summer position (which lasted maybe a week) led to me getting offered some writing and editorial assistant-type work during my senior year of college, which ultimately led to my first real job.

It's also possible to gain experience that isn't quite as direct. If you want to work in supply chain management -- a very hot field at the moment -- it's not crazy to take a job in a warehouse or distribution center. Either would give you hands-on experience and show you how things actually work.

Taking a low-level job in a field where you hope to someday work gives you a smart line on your resume. You can connect the dots to a hiring manager and explain why the position was valuable.

College-age workers might also consider summer employment where they can show leadership skills. You may not get to run a major business, but many summer camps offer positions of responsibility to workers who have not yet graduated. Those jobs generally go to veterans of those camps, but it's possible that some positions remain unfilled even as the end of lower levels of school (and the start of camps) approaches.

Be positive and work hard

When you've just graduated, employers have very little to go on. Use your summer work experience to tell a story. Show that you made strategic decisions that make you a stronger candidate.

It's also very important no matter what line of work you plan to enter to make sure that you have lined up good references. Even if your summer boss can't say much more than "you did a good job and worked really hard," that says a lot about you as a person.

Summer jobs can be a learning experience and a launching pad. They may be entry level, but any job can show a potential employer how you approach work. In addition, any job can be a learning experience if you embrace that.

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