Ask The Experts: Tips for Turning Summer Break Into A Brighter Future

Summer JobsWhether you’re prone to believing that kids should just be kids for as long as possible or that they should get off their spoiled butts and start pulling their own weight, the financial tumult we’ve endured in recent years has made clear how important it is to start sowing the seeds of a successful financial future early.

We saw a 23-year-high unemployment rate in October 2009 (10.0%), at which time 15.7 million people were out of work in the United States.  We saw more than 1 out of 10 credit card users fall so far behind on their bills during the first half of 2010, that banks legally had to write their debt off the books (the consumers still owed it, however).  And we’ve also seen U.S. consumers rack up more than $73 billion in new credit card debt in the last two years alone.

Now, while there are some bright spots in the job market forecasts for young people, student loan debts are in excess of $1 trillion and unemployment rates among recent graduates are still high.  Just consider the findings of a recent Economic Policy Institute study:

Young High-School Graduates:

  • Unemployment Rate:  29.9%
  • Underemployment Rate:  51.5%
  • Pre-Recession Context:  In 2007, unemployment among young high-school graduates was at 17.5% and only 29.4% was underemployed.

Young College Graduates:

  • Unemployment Rate:  8.8%
  • Underemployment Rate:  18.3%
  • Pre-Recession Context:  In 2007, unemployment among young college graduates was at 5.7% and only 9.9% was underemployed.

There are a couple of things that we can take away from all this.  First, having a college degree is clearly important.  Second, the job market is extremely competitive no matter what age you are or how much schooling you have.

In short, that’s why high school and college students should leverage the summer break to maximize their career prospects for their future.  This doesn’t mean summer should be all work and no play, but rather that strategically using a portion of your free time can really pay dividends down the road.

Expert Tips & Advice

We consulted a number of career counselors, family science professors, labor market experts, and financial advisors for some general tips as well as insight into certain key questions.  Here are some of the highlights of what they had to say.

  • Think First, Then Do Your Homework:  “I recommend students think about the skills they want to acquire, and companies they may want to intern for,” Stacey Bales, academic success specialist with Arizona State University’s Fulton Schools of Engineering, said.  “I recommend they develop and refine their resume to pertain to the internships they are seeking. Once they have done those steps I recommend they attend job/internship fairs to be able to network with employers and be able to see what is available for their major area of study.”
  • Give Yourself Credit:  First of all, if you’re reading this article you’re already head of the curve, so you can give yourself credit for that much at least.  That’s not really what we meant by “give yourself credit,” however.  Rather, you should make it a priority to literally open a credit card account.  Credit cards relay information to the major credit bureaus on a monthly basis, which makes them the most easily accessible and efficient credit-building tools available.  As long as the information shows that you’ve made on time payments and aren’t maxing out your card on a regular basis, your credit standing will gradually rise.Not only will having established credit save you a lot of money on future loans and insurance premiums, but it could also make it easier to land a job.  Many employers use credit report data to evaluate the overall responsibility of potential hires.“If individuals have fiduciary responsibilities as part of their job, then credit checks can be informative,” Jill Ellingson, an associate professor of human resource management at The Ohio State University, said.  “Such checks can reveal elements of fiduciary integrity as well as highlighting the credit risk that a particular individual brings.  Individuals facing financial challenges may be more prone to take questionable or illegal actions in conjunction with their access to firm funds.”
  • In College, Seek Internships:  “For college students I try to encourage they use 1 or 2 summers interning during their college experience to better distinguish their strengths/weaknesses and to help determine options for potential future career fit,” Bales said.
  • In High School, Gain Experience & Build Life Skills:  “For high school students sometimes it can be more about volunteering their time to an organization they would like to learn more about that aligns with their interests and to help further develop their skills,” Bales said.  “Any job or experience can be beneficial to build work ethic and can be an experience that you can learn from and take with you in a future job.”
  • When In Doubt, Think Versatility:  “People who are uncertain of what they want to do for a career should look at finding a position that will provide transferable skills that will be beneficial in a variety of careers,” Bales said.  “I think it also depends on the person’s interest. So if a person likes to help people and wants to work in field that is accomplishing that they should look at a variety of positions and employers that will encompass that opportunity. For people interested in the business field they could consider retail, sales, banking, etc.”
  • Always Be Networking:  “Our advice keeps coming down to one main word:  Network, network, network!” Barbara Laporte, director of career services in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, said.

In-depth answers from our experts on key questions:

 

  1. What advice would you offer a student looking to find the right kind of job/internship for the summer? How might this differ for high school students and college students?
  2. At what age does career-specific experience start becoming a priority?
  3. What types of positions are best for people who don’t really know what they want to do yet?
  4. Is there anything wrong with taking a wait-staff/menial labor type of job?

What advice would you offer a student looking to find the right kind of job/internship for the summer? How might this differ for high school students and college students?

If a student is seeking a position to enrich academics for a certain field, I recommend a student to use professional networks to obtain a position. This is why building a professional network through parents, friends, professors and the college career center is so vital to finding internships and jobs. When just looking for a paycheck, I recommend students pound the pavement to fill out applications. When looking for professional positions, bring a resume and dress appropriately for an impromptu interview.

- Stephanie Kinkaid, Monmouth College


I would first suggest that the student decide upon an area/industry of interest and hit Google. See what the industry is offering in terms of organizations that are hiring and trends for the upcoming months.

High school students need to be very flexible regarding their ‘wish list’ as they probably come with a limited skill set and breadth of experience. Camp jobs, jobs working with children, clerical positions and positions in the not-for-profit sector are usually very open minded about the high school student.

College students should try and focus on positions that are related to their course of study and can offer the chance to broaden their knowledge and gather practical experience. Flexibility is key with any internship or summer job as they are limited, competitive and can possibly lead to permanent employment in the future. The ‘summer job or internship’ must be viewed as a stepping stone and should be given the same respect and diligence as a permanent job.

- Amy Soricelli, Berkeley College


Students benefit from internships when they complete entry-level, professional work under the supervision and mentorship of experienced professionals who provide on training. One way students can make the most of their internships is by defining learning objectives for the internship in advance of beginning their hours to ensure the experience will help them gain relevant experience for their career goals.

When assisting students with searching for internships, I help them identify what experience they need in order to be competitive in the job market and encourage them to use an internship to fill in the gap between the experience they currently have and what they need to be ready for their full-time job search. Internship site supervisors enjoy working with students who have fresh ideas and can apply what they have learned in the classroom from faculty experts to their work at the internship site.

- Kathleen A. Monroe, William Peace University


Start early because there are fewer internship than full-time jobs because firms are not investing as much in them because the payoff is too long-term. Also, firms are concerned about recent court cases and possibly litigation of interns doing unpaid internships. Some are viewing it not worth the effort. For college students, a formal paid internship that acts as a pipeline for full-time jobs is the desired situation.

- Stuart Mease, Virginia Tech


There are a lot of factors that determine the best route a student should take for summer experiential learning, which is higher education’s buzz phrase for learning outside the classroom.

The first would be to find a company that’s easy to physically reach from home – either by bike or car. Many of these types of experiences happen in short shifts and can be odd hours, whenever the supervisor has the time and means to oversee the student.
Second, students have to show up – both in applying for internships and participating in them. This is not a summer vacation field trip, but a very real peek into the working world they’ll eventually join. They need to keep that in mind as they select where they want their summer experience to be and what they want to do.

Third, students need to have a goal in mind for what they want to get out of their summer experience. Is there a skill or trade they want to learn? Is there an event they want to attend or a project they want to tackle? Having goals shows employers that students are serious about their learning, and gives them parameters to help them make the most out of their experiential learning. College students will want to discuss whether the internship satisfies academic credit requirements, which usually requires clearance from their academic advisors and a set of objectives from the employer. That said, some of my students best experiences have been ones without credit, but with lots of exposure – be it volunteering or shadowing.

High school students will probably want to include a letter or note from a teacher, along with their parents indicating they’re ready for this challenge. If an internship isn’t possible, then I’d really recommend students pursue informational interviews or shadowing opportunities – anything to get their foot in the door and at least see the workplace setting. Investing the time and effort will pay dividends later.

- Jeffrey Nevers, University of New England


Start looking early, talk to everyone you know about it, and think creatively. A lot of time students have a specific and narrow definition of what a ‘summer job’ is. Don’t be boxed in by only considering what you think you can do; ask yourself what do you want to do and then explore! Check local job boards, talk to friends, parents, teachers, and advisors, and do some research to see what is out there.

If you know what type of job or organization you want to work for, take your resume to them. Keep an open mind about the types of jobs you apply to but don’t sell yourself short. A lot of students think they don’t have the experience or knowledge to land a great summer job or internship that will help them in their career. However, many employers recognize that students are just starting out and are open, and sometimes even excited, to introduce them to their field. If you are a college student, your Career Center and faculty members are great resources for not only what types of jobs would be good but also specific companies and organizations to look into.

If you are still trying to figure out what the ‘right kind of job’ is, consider doing an informational interview. Find someone who is doing the type of job you want to do in the future and ask if you can have 15-30 minutes to pick their brain. Ask them about how they got to where they are, what are good skills to have in their field, and what you can do now to start getting experience.

- Rachel M. Gibson, Creighton University


Start early. If you’re looking now, you’ve waited too long. The best jobs recruit in the spring for summer. If you’re looking for an internship, some of the best ones recruit in the fall for summer. I think this is the same for any student, although I don’t have experience with high school students.

- Karen Andrews, Kennesaw State University


Most high school students usually have not decided on a career and my advice is to explore something that interest them and is exciting while as a college student it is very important to find an internship opportunity and network and build relationships with potential employers.

- Nasser Hedayat, Valencia College


I try to help my students learn about themselves through their interests, skills, and values. Looking at these things often helps them narrow down their areas of interests to try for internships/jobs. For high school students I generally recommend trying to shadow many different areas to see what they might like.

- James Westhoff, Husson University


When students are looking for summer jobs and internships I always tell them to first look for something that interests you. Most internship opportunities are 7-10 weeks long, most summer jobs are at least that long. No one wants to be miserable for that length of time. It also helps to look for opportunities that align themselves with your major or career goals. Working at the ice cream shop might be a great way to earn money but it might not do a lot to further develop your resume. Start early and search for opportunities that are paid and tied to your academic goals. Paid internships are snatched up quickly, go speak with your career services office, have your resume ready and start applying in March and April.

For high school students I advocate almost the same advice. Try finding a summer job that utilizes your skill set and helps your develop in an area that interests you. If you are working retail or in a field that isn’t aligned with your career goals, see if there are projects you can do at that job that would help you develop your skills. Interested in graphic design? See if you can make flyers for the store you work in. Interested in being a teacher? Try being a summer camp counselor. Look at summer jobs as an opportunity for advancement not just as an opportunity for a paycheck.

- Judy Samuels, McDaniel College


Network! Speak with as many people as possible about your job search; teachers, neighbors, relatives, friends’ parents, etc. But don’t be too vague on what you are seeking; have a few options of the type of position (sales, operations, customer service), industry, and company. College students need to take advantage of their career services office.

- Lou Lamorte, La Salle University


I would encourage a student to take these four steps to find the right kind of job/internship for the summer:

1. Take a moment to consider what you like in order to help you determine what you want to do. Do this early on and continuing to check in with yourself is critical. Thinking about your interests, past times, and hobbies allow you to clarify strengths and opportunities. In addition, you can also consider individuals you may know with whom you can speak about your career. Students’ interests may be defined by your courses/classes, research opportunities, volunteer experiences, school activities, your peers’ interests and institutional- mission or branding. These factors differ in saliency and relevance depending on in what age and stage you are. Self-awareness is the most essential and first step in the process of an internship/job search.

2. Networking is the next, most important step. Once you have identified a short list of interests and strengths, you will want to think about the people who you, your family, professors/teachers and coaches (for example) know who work in the areas in which you are interested. You can reach out to those individuals through the people who know them via email to set up an informational interview, connect with them on LinkedIn after you have created an account and profile or even ask a friend or connection with whom you are close to, out for coffee to let them know what you are looking for and to learn more about their career. Even if it isn’t something you are interested in, it is all about relationship-building, be curious and learning all that you can at this stage of your career development.

3. Now that you have learned more about yourself and have started to talk to people who may know a thing or two (and have connections to others who know a thing or two) about your areas of interest, it is time to search the career databases that your college or high school offers. Ask your Career Development Center or guidance counselor for resources. Your regional workforce support/career center also offers free seminars and advice to people seeking opportunities. You can use their databases and oftentimes their career counselors to help you find employment. Many larger areas have regional job search websites that you can peruse similar to Indeed, Idealist and Glassdoor. Finally, if you feel comfortable with social media, developing your brand online, connecting with employers and perusing opportunities via LinkedIn and Twitter can be really effective. At Mount Holyoke, I speak to students about building their professional brand through social media and help them to be conscientious of what they are saying when connecting with professionals in person as well.

4. You also need to consider geographic location. In order to find the right kind of internship or job, you need to narrow down your search areas. High school students traditionally do not have as much geographic leeway and this experience may be similar to a first or second year college student. In my experience at Mount Holyoke College, more juniors and seniors tend to want to travel to a new city, state or country for their internship. We have a large percentage of international students at Mount Holyoke and so the desire to gain experiences all over the world is very prevalent. I help students negotiate these factors for the search and the logistics of working and living abroad often with the assistance of colleague across campus and in reference to databases such as GoinGlobal. Again, it is all about your goals and interests and keeping your focus and perspective when conducting your search. Narrowing allows for greater focus and continued feelings of success.

- Meghan Lynn Godorov, Mount Holyoke College


High school students:

Start developing your network right at home. Talk to your parents, relatives and/or neighbors for ideas. You never know who they might be connected to. Your high school counselor may also have helpful tips and suggestions for you.

When applying for various positions, try to follow up with employers in person or on the phone rather than simply submitting applications and resumes online.

Do you like being outdoors most of the time? You might want to consider working at an amusement park, being a lifeguard or a camp counselor. Are you quiet and shy? Perhaps decorating cakes, working in an office setting or stocking shelves might be good options for you to consider. Are you an outgoing extrovert? Maybe you could use your strong interpersonal skills as a sales associate, front desk clerk or bank teller.

College students:

Plan ahead. Deadlines for summer internships vary depending on what you are interested in, but it is wise to start planning in the fall. Federal agencies and well-known companies, for example, post summer internship deadlines as early as fall.

If you are feeling stuck and need more information about internships, visit your college career center and speak to a career counselor.

- Mona Patel, University of California


When looking for an internship, I have two pieces of advice:

1. Start early. Internships can be hard to find. Don’t wait until your senior year to start thinking about internships. It’s never too early to get the experience you need, and these days, employers are looking for a lot of it. So jump in!

2. Choose wisely. Don’t settle for just any internship. Seek out internships that match your educational program and career goals.

High school students should seek out experiences from larger and widely-known organizations. These businesses are often more flexible with opportunities and are often looking for ways to give back to the community. College students should focus on career-specific opportunities at any company in which they can find them. The more experience they have that relates to their degree and career aspirations, the sooner they’ll be hired by an employer after graduation.

- Kim Whiteside, Bellevue University


First, figure out what the right kind of internship is for you. If you’ve never had a job before, look for something that would develop skills and provide exposure to a field you think you might want to pursue as a career. Use the time to explore and be sure it would be something you will enjoy! If you have some experience under your belt, try interning in a different industry than you are used to. For example, if you’ve always done internships in a corporate setting, you might try to find one in a non-profit or government setting. If you are an Accounting major and you love music, try interning in the accounting department at a music label. The objective is to use internships as a way of developing new skills and exploring the fields in which you can apply your knowledge and skills.

- Amy N. Bravo, New York Institute of Technology


Start the search early, preferably February or March at the very latest. In Central Pennsylvania, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts is one of the largest employers of high school and college students. The majority of those positions are filled by the end of February. If you wait until May or June to look for a job or internship, you will probably have to settle for whatever is left, if you are fortunate enough to still find a position. If you are a college student hoping to land a summer internship in a field such as criminal justice, where there could be extensive background checks and clearances required, you may need to start the application process 9 months to a year prior to the desired start date.

- Steve Hassinger, Central Penn College


Whether you’re a high school student, a college student, or a new professional, job searching can be time consuming and little stressful. However, every job seeker can be successful if he or she is proactive in his or her job search (and yes, all of these tips are the same for high school students). Have your tools ready! Create a strong, error-free, 1-page industry resume that shows off your strengths. These can be equally effective when submitted for general employment jobs. Proactively apply to job opportunities through your college (or high school) Career Center. Build your network and let friends and family members know that you are seeking a job. Build a professional LinkedIn profile and state in your summary that you are seeking a position. Know your strengths; know the companies you are applying to through research; and most importantly know how you can apply your strengths to make a positive impact on the organization’s goals.

The job types will differ, but it is never too early to start with the proactive, professional approach.

- Jean Manning-Clark, Colorado School of Mines


For a high school student I would encourage them to focus on the experience. Take a position. Demonstrate how they are the best suited for the position. Learn how to bring value. Approach every task, no matter how routine, as a great learning experience. It will be those experiences that will help them develop a brand, and to begin to learn about work, what they like and do not like in order to make informed choices down the road.

- Larry Goldsmith, St. Petersburg College


At what age does career-specific experience start becoming a priority?

A student is never too young to build professional experience. Internships during high school and college can be beneficial even if the position is not directly in the intended field. The student should take every opportunity to enrich communication, problem-solving and analytical thinking skills. These skills can even be honed in retail or the food industry.

- Stephanie Kinkaid, Monmouth College


Age is not a factor as much as ‘station in life’. Students are all ages now – very young and the returnee. Career-specific experience should always be the goal – it becomes more imperative as one advances in education but if possible, the high school student (even the freshman) should aim for the job of his dreams on the first rung of the ladder. The high school student with unrelated job experience will not be questioned as much as a college Junior. As the student gets closer to graduation, he/she should have amassed contacts and referrals to make the career-specific position easier to obtain. A robust LinkedIn profile should be mandatory for every college freshman which would enable the student to create a network of like-minded individuals who can assist the student in this search.

- Amy Soricelli, Berkeley College


Internships, part-time jobs, and volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations in addition to course work help students both in their career exploration and in developing tangible pieces of work. When students become more familiar with a career by talking with professionals, gaining hands-on experience, and enrolling in relevant courses they become more aware of whether the career would be a good fit for their strengths and interests or if their passion lies elsewhere. Gaining experience relevant to career is especially important for students pursuing industries that require portfolios of work samples.

- Kathleen A. Monroe, William Peace University


I would get as much as you can as soon as you can. The college recruiting process is starting much earlier and in some cases students who have interned for firms have accepted their full-time offers before starting their senior year.

- Stuart Mease, Virginia Tech


It really depends on the industry. Some industries, the trades for instance, seem to be very accepting of high school students getting their feet wet, while healthcare – well, not so much, because of patient confidentiality issues. Generally speaking the higher the education level required to enter the field, the older the student is in climbing into it. Professions dominated by people with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees like business, engineering and nonprofits tend to give college sophomores and juniors, age 20 or 21 their first break with an internship or part time job, so that’s becomes the norm.

Places requiring more training and specialized degrees like law and healthcare tend to be less accepting of younger students, as there are fewer opportunities for them until they get into specialized academic programs. I’m painting with a pretty broad brush though, and would encourage students to simply ask for the opportunity. They’ll never know if they never try.

- Jeffrey Nevers, University of New England


The best time to start getting career-specific experience is as soon as possible, not only to make you a competitive candidate in the long run, but also to help you determine if you actually want to go into the field you are considering. Remember that ‘experience’ doesn’t have to be a job or internship, it can be volunteer work, service, or shadowing.

If you are interested in working in health care but don’t have the required courses completed for an internship and still needs to be making money for the summer, you could work a “money making” job and volunteer at a hospital, nursing home, or clinic on the side. That way you are both gaining experience in their field and making money for the summer.

Keep in mind that every field, and every person’s career development, is different so don’t feel like you missed the window or are behind if you don’t have that perfect industry-specific internship just yet, simply find other ways to keep developing your experience and knowledge.

- Rachel M. Gibson, Creighton University


Career-specific experience is always important. However, if you don’t know what career field you have an interest in, then testing the waters in several different areas can help you narrow things down.

- Karen Andrews, Kennesaw State University


I think it should when starting high school;however, one must seriously have a career plan when starting college.

- Nasser Hedayat, Valencia College


Definitely college should be the time for career-specific experience. Even when I am working with college students with several areas of interest, I encourage them to try a couple of them out through internships. I often recommend more than one internship or experience.

- James Westhoff, Husson University


I tell students that their resume starts the moment they enter college. Your student activities, community service, study abroad, and internships, all can have a wonderfully positive impact on your resume. Look at your opportunities as not just ‘fun’ events but as ‘functional’ opportunities. For most graduates, you aren’t going to have a lot of professional experience so use you activities to showcase your employable skills.

- Judy Samuels, McDaniel College


I don’t think high school is too early to start seeking career-related experience. However, experiences for HS students will most likely be at a lower level than those of college students. For example, a HS junior working at a law firm may be hired to do filing or data entry, while a college junior may be asked to do research for a lawyer. Speaking as a college career counselor, sophomore and junior year are the ideal times to start accumulating related experience via internships or co-ops.

- Lou Lamorte, La Salle University


College is the best time to begin seeking out career-specific experience. Some common ways that students acquire this experience is through clubs and organizations or a position in their desired field. One of the best pieces of advice that I give students is to start building your resume as a freshman in college, rather than a graduating senior. That longevity of professionalism and experience will definitely set you apart from other job-seekers later on in life.

- Jonna Myers, Southwestern Oklahoma State University


I think that everyone builds career-specific experiences starting at a young age. When they start to matter is when the individual has reached a more serious and intentional stage in their development. I would say that this begins around age fifteen or sixteen as parents and teenagers begin to focus on what is beyond high school that they may want to pursue. They start looking into colleges, others start asking them what careers they are considering, begin to reflect on who they are and what they want and may understand their interests and experiences thus far as potential career paths.

The college application or vocational track processes assist with this contextualization and reframing of your experiences. All of the student’s experiences up to that point start to matter; therefore, some shift what they choose to spend time on in order to demonstrate their interest or follow their passions, helping them get to wherever they would like to go. Therefore, career-specific experience happens before we even realize it. Once we know more about who we are and what we want, that is when career-specific experience becomes relevant to our future, as well as a priority to contextualize and gain more in the form of internships.

- Meghan Lynn Godorov, Mount Holyoke College


It is never too early to start gaining skills in career fields that you are interested in. But it is highly recommended that you complete an internship related to your field of interest between your junior and senior year in college. Not only will this experience help you stand out among other applicants, but you will also gain insight into career goals and job prospects for the future.

- Mona Patel, University of California


There’s no certain age for career-specific experience to become a priority. Artists know this very well. Many dancers, musicians, singers, painters started when they were children. Quiet as it’s kept, the same can be true for business and other careers. For example, a high school student that wants to study psychology can volunteer at a shelter or family service organization where counselors and therapists work. My recommendation is to get the experience you can as soon as possible. Why wait?

- Kim Whiteside, Bellevue University


There is no magic age in answer to this question. It depends a great deal on the student’s career aspirations. For some careers, it may be very difficult to find an employer who is able or willing to hire someone under the age of 18 due to industry regulations. Certainly, college students should make an effort to seek positions which relate to their career interests.

Summer jobs and internships are a great way to explore various types of jobs within a career field to further delineate one’s career interests. At some colleges, such as Central Penn College, classes are in session year round. However, my recommendations would still be relevant for part-time positions or internships throughout the school year.

- Steve Hassinger, Central Penn College


I believe any experience gained in high school is great. This can be gained through projects in high school, student organizations, volunteering, job shadowing, informational interviews, athletics, coursework, etc.

- Jean Manning-Clark, Colorado School of Mines


Career – specific experiences become a priority when a major is established. A student cannot start soon enough to establish their credentials once they have a focus. They should always be in a job search mode once they hit this period. Every person they meet may become a lead towards their career path.

- Larry Goldsmith, St. Petersburg College


What types of positions are best for people who don’t really know what they want to do yet?

Any position that allows a student to work with the public can help build imperative skills such as compromise, customer service and the ability to think quickly. Many employers report that no matter what field a student ends up pursuing, positions in the public service arena can stand out on a resume. Ultimately, it is what a student makes of the position that attracts potential employers.

- Stephanie Kinkaid, Monmouth College


Office work in an interesting industry is a good way to get ones foot in the door; clerical work, data entry or phone work is needed in almost every industry. I suggest to students who are truly lost about their interests – to visit the website of a staffing firm or college career office and look at the types of postings that are listed. Look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook and key in a word that is of interest e.g. ‘Fashion’ follow the matrix and see where the title leads – see what other positions are available within that ‘industry type’. The key to informed decisions is research.

- Amy Soricelli, Berkeley College


While in college we encourage our students to explore careers by attending panels of alumni who describe their career journeys and give advice for how to get started in their industries. Students who are undecided on a particular career path can gain more knowledge of opportunities in the work force by engaging with alumni at events and networking.

- Kathleen A. Monroe, William Peace University


Sales, customer service, business development, retail. Anything customer facing that will generate revenue for the firm. If a student does not have a billable skill set like IT, health, law, engineering, accounting, etc., then the next best option in terms of quantity is sales. If the student is not interested in sales, then they will need to master the job search process to differentiate themselves.

- Stuart Mease, Virginia Tech


Careers are always evolving, coming and going. There’s a new position now called Data Historian, which is designed to put meaning behind all the data organizations produce these days. It is an interesting job that requires the aptitude of a math major and the intellectual curiosity of a historian, and didn’t exist five years ago. I bring it up as an example of how fluid the job market really is, so trying to determine ‘what to do’ for a job is very hard when you’re aiming at an ever-moving target. That said, I’d recommend new grads pursue positions that allow them to develop their ‘softer’ skills – like prioritization, communication, organization, empathy – those vague words that are necessary in any and all jobs. If a student isn’t sure what he wants to do, I tell him that work is repetition of tasks, so he’d better find something he enjoys repeating eight hours a day.

Find jobs that are broad based in their duties – think customer service, and administrative assistant type jobs. Sales is often overlooked and gets a bad rap, but those jobs are also great entries into the labor market and develop a versatile skill set to move in different directions later. These jobs are also great in that they let new grad workers network and develop contacts. Temping is another good route to take, as is per Diem and part time positions. The working world is a big platter, sample as much of it as you can before you find yourself settling down for the main course of your career.

- Jeffrey Nevers, University of New England


Find a job you will enjoy doing and challenges you a little bit. If you are doing something you like every day, you will enjoy your job more, your quality of work will be better, and you might just find a new career option. Think back to what clubs, extracurricular activities, volunteer experiences, or classes you liked the most. If you loved art class, maybe be a job at a bakery decorating cakes or at a store where you could design merchandise displays would be a good fit. You’ll gain additional skills, like communication, organization, and money management that will help you in the future while also doing something you enjoy. If you’re still not sure what you type of position you would like, look for jobs that require lots of communication. No matter what field you go into, good communication skills will always help you be competitive.

- Rachel M. Gibson, Creighton University


Try a variety of jobs to test your work values (do you want to work outside or behind a desk? Do you want to interact with the public? Do you enjoy a variety of duties or prefer the security of sameness?).

- Karen Andrews, Kennesaw State University


Any position that could help to build individual’s soft skills. Jobs that require direct contact with people such as hospitality would be very helpful.

- Nasser Hedayat, Valencia College


I think any kind of work experience is important for college students. I think it teaches students what employers are looking for such as work ethic, how to work with people, problem solving, and just showing up on time. I try to encourage students to strive for leadership positions in their jobs as well.

- James Westhoff, Husson University


If you aren’t sure what you want to do yet, don’t worry. You are not alone. The best jobs for those exploring options are positions that offer a lot of diversity in tasks. Look for jobs that have you working in a lot of different areas. Usually, even if you don’t have a specific career in mind you will know an area you are interested in. Look for positions that encompass an area of interest. Think about it as a career exploration.

If you are a college student, this is where internships are a great opportunity. Try doing a series of small internships or micro-internships to explore career options. If your college campus offers Job-Shadow opportunities try signing up for a few to get an insight into different types of jobs.

- Judy Samuels, McDaniel College


At the risk of sounding too vague, any position that either takes advantage of an individual’s strengths or helps them enhance/improve skills in which they are lacking. The professional association to which I belong (NACE) surveys employers on the most important skills they want in a college grad and among those are: verbal & written communication, team work, problem solving, and ability to influence others. Thus any job that will help individuals improve or be able to demonstrate those skills would be better for the long term.

- Lou Lamorte, La Salle University


It is very common for college students to remain ‘undecided’ well into their collegiate experience. However, that is not an excuse to avoid working all together. I often recommend that students pursue employment in positions or places where they think they might like to work someday. This will give first-hand experience into the field and the specific organization. But, remember, you can never repeat a first impression. So always put your best foot forward, knowing that many internships later turn into full-time job opportunities.

- Jonna Myers, Southwestern Oklahoma State University


I believe that volunteer-types of positions with some flexibility to propose projects and work that fit your skill set and the needs of the organization are best. Know that this is not always possible; a less formalized experience can allow the student to dabble in a variety of tasks and areas of the organization so that they can truly explore their options and interests. If you have some authority or freedom in being able to shape your experience by writing the job description or convincing the employer to let you take on a special project, then you can also demonstrate your ability to meet the needs of the employer and develop skill sets that you feel you are lacking in (based on what you propose you can do).Putting together several shortened experiences in a variety of environments can also let you test out a few different fields or help you blend the building of several competencies at once.

Remember that an experience you disliked is just as valuable as one you loved so go for a position that helps you get something on your resume. You may be surprised by what personal and professional value accrues from it!

- Meghan Lynn Godorov, Mount Holyoke College


For people who are not sure about what they want to do, consider temping with a temporary agency. Federal positions (local, state, and federal) also provide a wide range of opportunities.

Be open-minded. Think about specific skills that you would like to gain and put into practice.

College students can ask upperclassmen, recent grads and grad students about their internship experiences.

- Mona Patel, University of California


For people who are still deciding on a career, entry level positions at larger companies (500+ employees) work well. Large organizations have all types of positions: accounting, IT, human resources, marketing, public relations, management, sales, customer service, etc. Working at a large company gives you the opportunity to network with people in several areas, job shadow various positions, and see first-hand how different roles contribute to the success of a company. These experiences allow you to explore career possibilities and make an informed career choice.

- Kim Whiteside, Bellevue University


Volunteering for non-profits is a great way to build a variety of skill sets that can help you figure out what you love to do. There are so many types of volunteer opportunities these days that you can find one doing just about anything. At New York Institute of Technology, we have found volunteer positions for architects, engineers, graphic designers and health students, all using the knowledge and skills they’ve developed in the classroom. For example, architecture students have volunteered at NY Sun Works helping to design and build gardens in classrooms. We’ve also had students serve as teaching apprentices for Citizens Schools where they taught middle-schoolers how to reduce their carbon footprints, and how to save a life. The opportunities are endless, and the experience looks great on your resume.

- Amy N. Bravo, New York Institute of Technology


Positions which allow the student to display and hone soft skills. Each year, National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) polls its employer members to find out what they consider to be the most important skills/qualities in a job applicant. Soft skills dominate the list every year. According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2014 report, the top five skills/qualities were: Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization; ability to work in a team structure; ability to make decisions and solve problems; ability to plan, organize and prioritize work; and ability to obtain and process information. Many different types of positions will allow the student to develop these types of transferable skills that will be important in other jobs. When writing a resume or answering interview questions, the student can focus on these aspects of the position rather than simply listing job duties.

- Steve Hassinger, Central Penn College


Exploration is important!!! Which environments appeal to you? In which kind of setting do you function best…outside, office, mall, around many people, or working by yourself? Do you like working with your hands and fixing things, or playing on the computer, do you like solving problems, are you good under pressure? Build lists of ideas, interests, and career goals and then determine how these might fit into an industry. Use the Career Advisors at your high school or university (even as alumni). Once you find a company that might appeal to you, go to their website/ LinkedIn site. Look on YouTube to see if they have videos of their interns and/or new grads talking about their jobs.

- Jean Manning-Clark, Colorado School of Mines


The person who does not know what they want should visit a high school counselor or stop by the career center at the local college. If time allows they could complete assessments for values, interests and personality to establish their likes and dislikes. The key is to establish criteria in order to make informed choices on the right positions, regardless where they are in their career pathway.

- Larry Goldsmith, St. Petersburg College


Is there anything wrong with taking a wait-staff/menial labor type of job?

If a student is struggling to find an internship, I do recommend taking a retail or wait-staff job. First of all, it is a paycheck. Secondly, tremendous opportunity can be found in these positions. Not only can students learn the soft skills so valuable to a future career, but the student may also be able to continue building a network by adding pleased customers and supervisors. A principal of a high school once told me that he seeks applicants specifically who have held these positions since he knows the applicant has learned the value of hard work.

- Stephanie Kinkaid, Monmouth College


There is nothing wrong with choosing to work hard for the summer and be part of the workforce rather than hanging around the beach or the house. Let the recruiters see that you are hard-working, self-sufficient, adaptable and realistic. Everyone eats in a restaurant – we are all pleased when there is a lifeguard watching the children…we are equally pleased to see the litter removed from our green park. I suggest to all students to be part of the workforce – let the recruiters see what you’re made of…they want that team spirit on their team.

- Amy Soricelli, Berkeley College


Many students work in retail and the food industry before they are employed in their first, full-time position and they gain transferable skills through learning to multi-task, provide excellent service to customers of diverse backgrounds, collaborate in a team environment, and to communicate professionally with coworkers. At times, students are noticed in their part-time jobs and given opportunities to gain higher level skills like assisting in the selection and training of new employees or managing social media to promote the organization. Supervisors can provide students with recommendations for future positions and also help students network with other professionals.

- Kathleen A. Monroe, William Peace University


Absolutely not. A student can get sales experience through a wait-staff role and by doing menial labor it shows they have good blue collar work ethic and a white collar degree. That is a powerful 1-2 punch in today’s market for college students. Humility is key.

- Stuart Mease, Virginia Tech


I read a stat once that said 1/15th of the workforce has been employed at McDonald’s at some point in their career, yours truly included. Survival jobs are sometimes necessary and help build a track record, which lets future employers see your potential and your flexibility. They help workers build skills too, like collaboration, attention to detail, and communication – skills you’ll be using in any job, even CEO. Also, since they are among the fastest growing segment of the workforce hiring managers are used to seeing them on resumes. They are fine positions to hold so long as they pay reasonably well and you have an exit strategy. Also, in today’s consumer driven world we all perform customer service in our jobs, no matter what field we’re in or level we’re at. What better way to get your feet wet than to be on the front lines.

- Jeffrey Nevers, University of New England


One hospital recruiter I worked with said no matter what the position, if she saw a recent graduate had worked in the restaurant business, she automatically took a second look at their resume. She emphasized that the same communication, flexibility, and problem solving skills that servers develop were incredibly important to have in health care professionals. The key to leveraging a seemingly unrelated ‘money-making’ job for your long-term career is to be able to communicate how it relates to your future profession. Look for and ask for opportunities that will help you in the future. If you are a server and have aspirations to work in education or human resources, ask to help train new staff members. Identify how your current work is relevant to your long term plans and seek out those opportunities.

- Rachel M. Gibson, Creighton University


Any job (waiter, retail, etc.) is of benefit. It shows you know some of the basics; showing up on time, dressing appropriately, following direction, working as a team player, good work ethic.

- Karen Andrews, Kennesaw State University


Not at all. In fact this is a preferred summer job for many students.

- Nasser Hedayat, Valencia College


No, not at all. For example, I worked my way through college at a do-it-yourself hardware store. By the end of my time I was a warehouse manager. I could put on my resume that worked full-time during college as part of a team and leader. I think that experience was just as good as an internship and I was able to market myself strongly after I graduated from college.

- James Westhoff, Husson University


If you are happy with your career choice then I don’t see anything wrong with taking a non-professional staff position. For many job seekers or recent graduates they don’t have any other option. For others they might genuinely like the style of work. But if you are unhappy with your career path, don’t stop looking. If you need to take a job to get by then do it but don’t get complacent. Keep your search open for the job that will fulfill you.

- Judy Samuels, McDaniel College


Actually these are the types of positions that usually have a higher income, especially at a younger age. So if a student is looking to make money, there is nothing wrong with those jobs.

- Lou Lamorte, La Salle University


Absolutely not! There are many transferable skills acquired in ‘wait-staff/menial labor type jobs’ such as work ethic, time management, organization, and people skills. I have found that young people with these types of experiences often possess the charisma and aptitude to transition seamlessly into the professional arena.

- Jonna Myers, Southwestern Oklahoma State University


No, definitely not. I refer back to my experience as a hostess as Red Robin all of the time. I learned what it was like to work with a team of people with different responsibilities and priorities. I gained greater awareness of the service industry, which set me up well for my first job out of college where it was important to consider the clients’ needs in the larger context of the goals and needs of social services’ system. Having something to put on your resume also feels really good psychologically.

Spending a summer meeting people who may be future connections for you in your job/internship searches, knowing what it feels like to be on your feet all day and making some money to save up for your study abroad experience or to pay for next semester’s books/courses will make the experience rewarding and certainly worthwhile. In many ways these experiences serve as a rite of passage and/or could really ignite a passion within you for the industry. Again, you never know when you might surprise yourself if you remain open to understanding and explore the many facets of the world of work.

- Meghan Lynn Godorov, Mount Holyoke College


Not at all. Working in food service, for example, might be a great way for you to take advantage of scholarships and tuition reimbursement programs. Many employers value strong customer service skills, being able to multi-task, work under pressure in a fast-paced environment and work well on teams.

- Mona Patel, University of California


Is there anything wrong with taking a wait-staff type job? Heck no! All legitimate employment is needed and has value. Waiting tables, customer service positions, and the like help you develop communication skills. They also provide excellent networking opportunities—especially if you are providing service at a high-end restaurant or an exclusive organization. CEO’s, VPs and directors of organizations ‘do lunch’ frequently. They purchase iPads, they get pedicures, and buy groceries. Working in an entry-level capacity gives you the chance to meet people of influence who may be able to hire you or put in a good word for you within their organizations.

- Kim Whiteside, Bellevue University


I see nothing menial about labor. Work is a great teacher. You learn how to manage your time, how to persuade others, how to speak to and work collaboratively with others, and how to be responsible and reliable. Work can build character and credibility.

MLK once said, ‘If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ Your attitude in any job, just as your performance, can make or break you. Let both your attitude and performance allow others to take notice and to be inspired.

- Amy N. Bravo, New York Institute of Technology


Absolutely not. In fact, wait-staff jobs are one of the best ways to develop the types of soft skills outlined above. Physical labor jobs can also allow the student to develop most of those skills. Again though, it is important to focus on the transferable skills developed from the position. Let’s suppose someone who worked as a waiter wants to eventually become a nurse. He could describe his waiter job on the resume by listing duties such as “waited on tables, served food, cleared tables”, etc. Alternatively, he could list something like (assuming it is true), ‘resolved customer complaints in an effective manner that led to repeat business’. The latter is a transferable skill that will be extremely important as a nurse dealing with difficult patients and will stand out on a future resume when applying with many other new college graduates who also had wait-staff jobs.

- Steve Hassinger, Central Penn College


Absolutely not!!! These are great positions to start with… general employment can help students to start developing great transferable skills to put on their resumes, such as customer service, teamwork, problem-solving, etc.

- Jean Manning-Clark, Colorado School of Mines


There is nothing wrong taking a wait staff/menial labor type of position. Especially if one needs the money to survive. Forget pride. A menial position can be translated on the resume as someone who worked their way through high school or college. Any type of work will earn respect. It reflects drive and ambition.

- Larry Goldsmith, St. Petersburg College

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