Dear Students, Please Get a Job

No, this is not rant against “dirty hippies” or a blind ignoring of the miserable economy; this is the best advice I have to offer college students today. Because I keep meeting students who don’t know this simple piece of wisdom: to get a career, it helps to have had job experience.

I don’t have children, but I mentor teens and college students on career choices. One of the most surprising extensions of teen-dom I come across is meeting new college grads and college students who have never once held a paying job. Not because the economy is awful, but because their parents insisted they not work for a penny while in school.

I feel for those kids. They have never had a single workplace experience or had to pay a bill on their own. And their resume’ is useless when it comes to applying for a job. When I’ve been on teams hiring students, we always pick the C student with great job references from McDonald’s over the straight A’s who’ve never worked. Every time.

Here’s why.

We do not need to hire someone who is good at writing papers or taking tests. We need to hire someone who will show up in a timely fashion, who has worked well with others, who has had a supervisor and demonstrated the ability to get along with a supervisor, and who can support the required workload. All of the Harvard course credits in the world may show that you are smart, but they don’t tell me anything about your job skills – the day-to-day ins and outs of interacting in a workplace.

Before you explain to me that no one will hire you around your class schedule for the kind of job that fulfills your inner spirit animal, please note: it doesn’t matter if the job is in your “field.” Or rather, it doesn’t matter much. Yes, it would be wonderful if you had years of part-time experience doing whatever you do when you apply to do it full-time. But it’s not necessary. You want to be a lobbyist, but you’ve only worked retail? Fine. You’re bringing to the table working for long hours, the ability to discuss other people’s concerns and complaints, multi-tasking skills. These are all useful wherever you go.

Your skills, from job to job, all go into your toolbox. Believe me. I know. I have had, at last count, at least 52 jobs. Why? Because I worked as many part-time jobs and internships as I could while in high school and college (initially because I liked having my own money to spend, and eventually, because I needed the money). One job leads to another, leads to the next.

As some of my friends start parenting older children and teenagers, I see them struggling with whether to “let them” get jobs. Parents, you are only preventing them from getting where they want to be. Even if you can afford to pay all of their bills, a job for spending money is not out of the question. It may be the extra piece their resume’ needs to get them out of your basement one day.

(steps off high horse).



Filed under Working for a Living

7 responses to “Dear Students, Please Get a Job

  1. Pure Klass

    Oh my goodness YES YES YES EXACTLY.
    We have three young folks who graduated from college last year working in our lab. Two of them have never held a paying job before, and one of them has had several. The difference is night and day. It really doesn’t matter what you do as a teen – but working teaches you discipline and focus and attention and how to think about something and someone other than yourself.

    So, uh, if you’re done with that high horse, I’ll take it for a ride.

  2. I agree with this! I worked a few retail, telemarketing and admin jobs while in university and it’s helped me a lot in my job search after graduation. It’s been three years and interviewers still ask me about those jobs. But not a single interviewer has asked me anything about school. Not my grades. Not my major. Nada. Maybe some kids can’t handle school AND work but on a resume that just reads as “can’t work very hard”.

  3. free penny press

    Here! Here!.. My children worked in college and that was how it was going to go down in my house. Parents that spoil or think they are putting too much pressure on Suzy or Johnny have really done them a grave disservice..
    Great post!!

  4. Marian

    #16 on your 43 Things could be accomplished if you would send this post in.
    It’s great.

  5. jeanniekay

    We made the decision to pay for tuition (at a state university – INSTATE) and books (thankyajeezus for Chegg), but the kids have to save and/or work to pay their own room and board. We figured they’d have to pay R&B their entire lives and they might as well get used to it. Plus, they can’t control the cost of tuition and books, but have some control of R&B.

    So – Thing 1 had enough savings to pay for his first year R&B, then worked summers, winter breaks and at food service 15-20 hours a week the rest of his college years to cover his expenses. Now, I did on occasion fill his car with gas or buy him some groceries, but that’s it.

    Fast forward to May 5 – graduation day and the day he is officially off of my payroll – he is leaving college with $2k still in his savings, a pile of junk car that runs but looks like crap, NO STUDENT LOANS and was able to take a job that he wanted, with opportunities because he doesn’t have a penny of debt. No credit cards, no outstanding obligations anywhere. To be fair, he’s not high maintenance – clothes cover his body, keep him warm or are ok to wear while swimming, but other than that, he doesn’t care. He’s not a picky eater – quantity is still vastly more important than quality (and his metabolism still supports that) and he will skip the bar if he has enough money for a 12 pack of Natty but not enough for sufficient draws.

    He’s been working since he was 16 – except for his freshman college year – and has only called into work twice, both times to go to the first FB game of the year. His letters of recommendation all clearly stated how great his work ethic was.

    Funny thing? We gave him almost nothing he asked for. We didn’t even let him spend his own money on crap. 1/2 of every dollar he earned had to go to savings. 2 presents on his birthday, 4 at Christmas. We could have easily done more, but I had a ringside seat to the spoiled, obnoxious kids that were given everything and made a conscious effort to NOT do that. Was it hard? Yup. Was it worth it? Double yup.

  6. J

    my mom made me get a job towards the end of high school, for the exact reasons you mentioned. i was a dishwasher at a small family restaurant, and it absolutely sucked. i told my mom i hated it; i hated going, i hated the work, and it wasn’t going to help me with any of my ‘dreams’ down the road. she always said, and this sticks with me, “i know it’s not fun, or fulfilling. but that’s why they *pay* you.” and i can’t deny it was nice to have something real to put on a resume.

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