Explore your career options with a summer job

It’s that time of the year when many students are either in the process of looking for a summer job, or they’ve already landed one.

There are a myriad of reasons for summer jobs, chief among them: Post secondary students need to earn money that will sustain them through their next few semesters, employers need to fill the employment gaps that pop up as permanent employees take summer vacations and there are seasonal operations that routinely hire students because with little job security offered, it just makes sense.

New game plan

But just because summer employment is designed to put money in students’ pockets and fill seasonal employment gaps doesn’t mean you have to play the game that way.

What I mean is, what if you looked at the summer job experience — whether you’re a student between semesters, someone entering the workforce or, even, someone looking at career transition — as a way to explore positions in fields you’re interested in, but not yet sure you want to pursue?

Far too often I’ve seen people accept full-time, permanent jobs even though they’re not sure they want to be in the industry, much less working for that particular company.

What a waste of time, both for the employee and the employer — from the job interview all the way through to the exit interview and all the frustrations in between!

The beauty of the summer job is that it’s defined by a season. You’re in it for two or three months, you get a taste of it — hopefully enough to determine if you like it or not — and you can build on it from there.

Also, employer expectations are to some degree limited. They assume you’re there for the money and general working experience and they know that you’ll be gone soon enough. If you’re good, they’ll ask you to come back the following year. If you’re not so good, that’s the way it goes with seasonal employment — no harm, no fowl.

When I was younger, I was in it for the money, and it’s reflected in my summer and seasonal job choices: camp counsellor, lifeguard, summer recreation program supervisor, retail sales, security guard, daycare helper, gas station attendant.

There’s nothing wrong with that and each and every one of those jobs gave me insight into a different facet of the working world. However, it might have been more to my advantage to try out more career-oriented jobs in fields that held my interest.

My advice to those who want to “try out” a career — do it in the summer. Be upfront about it with prospective employers. Tell them you’re in it not just for the money, but for the practical experience that might help you decide on your career path.

The beauty of this approach is that it may just give you a shot at any full-time, permanent positions that come available during the summer or, if an employer likes how you’ve performed over the summer, they might keep you in mind for future positions.

Star employees

I’ve also seen employers create new full-time, permanent positions for star summer employees who want to stay on.

At the very least, if things work out, you’ll have a great reference for your resume and you’ll have a better idea about the industry in which you spent your summer.