The Point of a Summer Job

by Thursday Bram · 8 comments

Our school system, with long summers away from the books, is based on an agricultural model where most families needed kids home to help with the work of actually running a farm. Today, there are about two million farms in the U.S, according to the EPA. Some of those farms are huge, requiring plenty of family labor (as well as hiring help), but not to the point that most kids go to work on a farm when summer rolls around.

I didn’t grow up knowing this, since my family doesn’t farm, but I did not get long lazy summers with nothing to do either. Even before I hit high school and could look for a job on my own, I worked for various family members in the summer time. One year, I was a mother’s helper to one of my aunts with younger kids. Another year, I helped a relative do a major inventory and move her store. I worked at both of my parents’ businesses.

I had some good times too, but in my mind, summer was a time to work. That wasn’t the experience that many of my friends had, though. Even in high school and college, I had plenty of friends for whom the summertime was a chance to travel, to study up for a standardized test and to generally relax. It’s certainly appealing, but there’s also a lot of value in all those summer jobs I had.

The Value of Working All Summer

From a worker’s point of view, the point of having a job is to get money. A summer job does bring in a little cash, although the types of jobs most students can land seasonally aren’t going to provide a huge income. But there are other benefits too, even if they aren’t actually obvious to someone who feels like she’s giving up her summer to slave away.

The work experience: A summer job makes it easier to get other jobs later on, like after graduation. Even one summer flipping burgers can make a candidate more appealing for an employer because it’s proof that the applicant can take orders from someone else and handle the responsibilities of being employed.

The network: Especially when the summer worker in question lands a job with someone who isn’t related, she gets a head start on building up a personal network. And, even in high school or college, a personal network is valuable — it can make for great letters of recommendation for a college application or an in for landing the ideal internship.

The value of money: It might seem trite to say this, but it is true. The value of a dollar that you had to work for is very different from the value of a dollar that is given to you. A person’s spending habits change when they associate each dollar in their pocket with the amount of time it takes to earn that money.

Summer Jobs Offer a Head Start

Someone who worked summer jobs is, simply put, better equipped to be independent than someone who makes it all the way through school without ever working for someone else. It’s all well and good to focus on studying, but there are plenty of college graduates that need hand-holding to get through the job hunt after school. There’s plenty of value of figuring out the nuts and bolts of chasing down a job — and figuring out how to show up on time, work for someone else and all those details — when the only thing at stake is a summer job.

The knowledge that you’re capable of going out and getting a job, even if it isn’t the best job in the world, is reassuring. Even if things aren’t going as well as you might hope, it means that you’ve got a fall back plan — you know that you can get hired and hold a job at that level, no matter what.

Confidence is just as important a benefit of working a summer job as whatever money comes out of it. The same goes for independence and even the mechanics of actually working that come with every summer job out there. It can seem like a favor — perhaps even the best thing that a family can do — to keep a high school student or a college student from needing to work. But the truth of the matter is that there are opportunities that go along with summer jobs that just don’t come about when someone spends a summer relaxing or even studying.

David’s Note: I remember frying fish at a fish and chips fast food restaurant one summer very clearly. The shifts were 10 hours a day with non stop action. Though I remember the experience as being quite fun with lots of memories that I will cherish forever, I also remember the ride home looking out the window on the last day of work and thinking to myself: “If I don’t do well in school, I will be stuck doing this for the rest of my life.” I can’t say for sure how much of an effect that summer job has had on my life, but I think about that particular moment from time to time, and it provides incredible motivation.

Summer jobs are awesome, not only because you get paid but it also lets you do work that you otherwise might not have a chance to experience. I cherish all the friendships through the various summer jobs that I’ve worked at and reflecting on those times often gives me great perspective and appreciation for not only the business I was able to built thus far but also how incredibly luck I have been.

The benefits of summers jobs weren’t apparent to me back then, but working for the few months through those school years turned out to help me much more than the paychecks that I got during those times.

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  • CreditShout says:

    I think it’s very important for high schoolers to experience summer jobs. They’re never super easy or fun and are usually hot and low-paying, but the skill sets you learn are the real rewards. Babysitting is a great summer jobs. Parents are looking for alternative options to day care while they’re youngsters are home in the summer. Maybe you could get lucky and find a family with a pool.

  • Randy says:

    My first job sucked, but now i look back and think about how invaluble the experience was. I was 15 years old and working at a batting cage. The pay was o.k. for the times, but the “hands on” part was horrible. Those peckerneck wannabe players were always taking shots at me behind the net. Of course that all changed when i adjusted their pitching machines to throw those occassional “wild pitches” in retaliation. My boss wasn’t happy with me about that, but then again, for $4.25 an hour……”you get what you pay for”. The best part of working early in life, (atleast in those days) was a feeling of self worth and contributing to society as well as thinking about getting an early start on social security. Today’s young people seem to think they are entitled to life’s pleasures, when in reality, they will be cleaning up America’s mess for generations to come. So do your part…..and get a job soon!

  • Tracy says:

    Summer jobs give kids a glimpse at “real life”. Sure the kids don’t have bills to pay yet (maybe), but at least a summer job teaches them that you can’t sail through life without hard work.

  • I was a lifeguard in the summers. One year, at a city pool, some boys thought it was funny to poop on the floor in the men’s room.

    For $3.25 an hour, I got to clean it up.

    After that, I thought no matter what, I was going to finish college.

    • Randy says:

      My friend, i can totally relate. I also use to work at Santa Anita Race track and we had some jerk crap all over the restroom, from the door entry all the way to the furthest stall! Was that a train wreck!!

  • Ginger says:

    I remember my first job and overheating to the point that when my mother picked me up, she made me jump in the 80 degree pool and I was shivering as if I was in freezing water. If a kid gets a job, parents need to pay attention and make sure he or she is not taken advantage of. Some employers will take advantage of a young person and the fact that most young people don’t know the laws.

  • Erin says:

    Please stop perpetuating this myth of summers off because of farm work. The farm work is heaviest in the spring, late summer, and fall. It is the lightest in the winter. That is when farm children when to school, if they went at all. What need of book learning does a farm need? They need to be able to do simple sums, read and write. History and English composition is a bonus.

  • KM says:

    I usually worked for my dad’s computer business during summers, and even on the weekends during the school year at times. It definitely provided some good experience, and I learned a ton that I still use today. I can fix virtually any computer problem, either from knowledge or from knowing where to look for resources. It was also not very easy, usually having no chance to sit down for 9-10 hours, dealing with grumpy customers that devalue our work, and lifting heavy computers, monitors, and boxes. But it taught me customer service and communication skills, as well as that it’s really rewarding when you work hard and see the results (getting a lot done and making customers happy, keeping the store clean and neat, etc.).

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