For many college students, summer break is for more than working on their tan. It’s a time to get valuable work experience and earn a few dollars toward tuition. With some guidance and planning, students can make sure that they get the most benefit possible from their summer job. The good news is that their employment doesn’t have to be directly related to their major for the experience to add value to their education.

Start with a plan

For those who have found a focus for their future, a summer job that is related to their major is the logical choice. As instructors, we’re in the perfect position to help our students secure a summer job that will help them apply what they’ve learned in our classes. Our professional contacts and our insight into the needs and requirements of the profession can help our students better prepare for success on the job.

Not every student is clear on their goals after graduation, however. Students who are still deciding on a major and a career choice can benefit from a summer job as well. Whether it’s working in retail or as an assistant in a high-paced office, students can gain marketable skills that employers are looking for in graduates.

Benefits of a summer job

Along with possible course credits and resume-boosting activities, a summer job can help students hone soft skills that are so necessary for career success.

Skills that summer jobs help to develop include:

  • Time management
  • Confidence
  • Social skills with diverse people and groups
  • Awareness of not-so-obvious job requirements

When students finally graduate and begin the job interview process, they will have a catalog of job experiences that they can refer to when responding to questions about their work habits, preferences, and how they deal with different situations.

Summer employment can also act as a testing ground where students can try out possible career choices without a costly commitment.

Projects to help students work smart

In their book, Working Smart, Madelyn L. Schulman and Bonnie F. Kowadlo created a learning tool that provides valuable help for students who want to build or augment workplace skills and competencies.

The content covers current technologies including Internet, and SCANS competencies. The text concentrates on essential job-keeping skills, hands-on activities, group projects, and case studies that deal with contemporary issues in the workplace like self-management, interpersonal skills, diversity, decision-making, ethics, responsibility, and working in teams. Technological advances found in the workplace are woven throughout the text.

The authors have paid particular attention to breaking down gender stereotypes with regard to various careers by recognizing the right of each individual to work in any type of job that best suits his or her interest and abilities.

Students will work through such topics as:

  • What you can expect from your employer
  • What your employer expects from you
  • Developing listening skills
  • Relationships with coworkers and your supervisor

All activities stress writing, critical thinking, and problem solving. The creation of portfolios is guided and encouraged.

Students who work through the activities in Working Smart will not only get the most value from their summer employment, they will be well ahead of the crowd in securing permanent employment after graduation.

Reference: Schulman, Madelyn L.; Bonnie F. Kowadlo. 2005. Working Smart, 3rd Edition. Mason, OH: South Western, Cengage Learning.

What activities do you find valuable in helping your students get the most benefit from their summer employment? Tell us in the comments.