Enhancing career readiness through summer jobs


With the end of every school year, there are more graduating students to miss. Whether they’ve come just for college prep, or if they’ve been with me for some time, there’s a good chance we’ve established a very strong bond. I am a better teacher and mentor from having had the pleasure of working with and learning from them. Fortunately, those same students are always part of my life, even when their high school days are over. Sometimes at the request of their parents, or perhaps when I come across an interesting opportunity, I help those same students find internships that make their summers during college more meaningful. Increasingly, there is the chance that the right summer opportunity can have a dramatic impact on a student’s career readiness.

For College Students To college students, my advice is to start a spreadsheet of future possibilities now. Many organizations require a student intern to be a rising junior, for example. But if a rising sophomore really likes the idea of working for ______, he or she should keep a record of the entity, contact information and prerequisites. This can serve not only as a motivator for selecting courses, but it also enhances the possibility of getting a jump start on applying in the future.  (What if, for one day during a student’s 2012-13 winter break, he or she were to e-mail these contacts, anticipating that they may have summer 2013 openings not yet advertised?)

For Parents Most parents, and understandably so, really see the summer as a time to earn money. This raises a sticky question: what about unpaid internships?  I can address this concern from personal experience. When my son came home after his freshman year at GW, he did not yet have firm summer plans. Each of us looked diligently on the Internet (he welcomed my help, unlike during the high school years) and one day, I came across an ad from a boutique real estate company which was offering an unpaid internship. My son, always interested in urban planning, followed up, got an interview and, fortunately, an offer. This internship had countless benefits, allowing my son to see how his skills could be used on the job and how people in the real world lived. He loved it! He continued writing for the firm from his college dorm in the fall this time for pay and by the winter of 2012, he discovered and landed a salaried internship in Washington, DC, in part because of the skills and experience he picked up the previous summer! In addition to a paycheck, he earned college credit. What he learned in that internship laid the seeds for a paying summer job this summer and helped him gain the confidence needed to deal in the world outside the college campus.

For High School Students It is not easy to be employed during the summer between years of high school. There is fierce competition for jobs with peers and college students. Often, the position goes to the most ambitious or the most willing to show initiative in caring for others (for example, house sitting, pet sitting, teaching peers your favorite subject). So what if other high school students used their talents to find summer opportunities? For example, I have a student who draws Manga characters and has taught herself sign language. I’m hoping she tries to get some of her Manga work published, offers sign workshops, or volunteers in some way. This is career readiness, communication skills development, job experience, and college brag sheet material all wrapped together!

For All Students I do have advice for all my students, high school or college, which is to keep up their skills in social media. They should blog about subjects they like and get a company or an association to pick up their work. It will be helpful to learn about search engine optimization (SEO) and Internet commerce, which will so much be a part of their lives. (This is especially true for individuals who are aspiring entrepreneurs, academics or journalists.) If an individual is an athlete, he or she should consider volunteering at a sports camp and keeping up with listings for jobs in sports. Students should set up the skeleton of a resume on their computers and, before going back to school in the fall, stop by a prospective employer and inquire about next summer. All students should jump on any opportunities to interview; this is a life skill in the making. Certainly, nothing about the job search process is entirely fair, especially when it comes to prospective workers who lack experience. Corporations cut staff and farm out projects to business school students. Internships that may have come with a salary attached no longer do. People with connections grab positions before a company can post a job. Yet those who overcome odds and take risks have a chance to thrive. In a sense, that’s what career readiness is all about.

Nina Berler is a College Counselor and the founder of  unCommon Apps. She has over 10 years of experience in helping students navigate the college admissions process.

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