I am casting my mind back several years (or thereabouts…) to when I was a student in York. I was in my second year, sharing a house with five others, playing Goldeneye between lectures and avoiding the library wherever possible. Most of my housemates were heading home for the summer. However for me the prospect of going back home did not appeal; I was enjoying my new-found independence far too much.
Instead I found work in the restaurant of a quiet hotel where I earned the minimum wage, learned how to keep a breakfast buffet well stocked, and discovered how exhausting it is to be on your feet all day.
I enjoyed chatting to the hotel guests as they returned from their sightseeing trips, and felt envious of the receptionist who spent the day tapping shiny nails at a keyboard, answering calls and cheerily handing out keys at a comfortable desk in the lobby.
At the end of the summer I handed in my locker key, said my goodbyes to the team and was given my modest share of the tip jar.
All in all, it was a fairly good introduction to the world of work. At the age of 19, it taught me some important lessons: work is generally tiring, regular and repetitive. But it wasn’t all bad. I sensed that my small part to play in the team was an important one. If I was late for a shift, this impacted on others. If I worked hard and received a compliment from the customers, this reflected well on the team and gave me a warm fuzzy glow.
I did other catering jobs in the uni holidays, and worked in the campus shop in my third year. Each role taught me new things, all valuable, but with the benefit of hindsight I think that an established summer job scheme of some sort would have been a lot more beneficial in the longer-term. My CV might have said to an employer: ‘here’s someone who is serious about work’, rather than ‘wow, this person has done a lot of summer jobs’.
So a summer job is great – no denying that – but my advice to a student would be to think about how a paid placement (different to work experience or an internship), where you're working on a defined project, could help you stand out to a future employer. How impressive would it be for an employer to read than during a 12-week placement you developed and implemented a comprehensive three-year marketing and communications strategy for a small business? Or that you planned, promoted and coordinated a series of training events? Or that you helped to research, design and pilot a prototype biomedical device?
You might not get a share of a tip jar at the end of the summer, but if all goes well, you'll have the beginnings of a useful network of contacts and might be asked to work with the business again. You might even land yourself an amazing graduate job to kick-start your career. Worth thinking about!