What to do if your summer job is a bummer

I blame The Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew for growing up with the idea that I could easily always have a cool summer job. Solving mysteries! Hanging with my besties and getting paid! What could be better?

My first paying summer job was as a babysitter and nanny, where most of what I had to do was live at the beach with a really nice family and help watch their adorable, well-behaved kids. It was as terrific as it sounds, and my tan was pretty enviable that summer. But it turns out, not every summer job is like that.

As I got older and tried to apply for jobs that complemented my career interests and college major, I realized the competition for summer internships was incredibly fierce and having my heart set on a particular one could potentially end in total disappointment. What I did realize by not always getting the position I hoped for? Mostly that every job counts and can help you, even if it’s not the one you always dreamed of having. Here’s what to do if your summer gig is less than what you hoped.

Even jobs you aren’t in love with can teach you a lot

I had a summer job working in an accounting department, which was light years away from anything I was possibly interested in. But I needed money for college, and so there I was. Even though I wasn’t thrilled with the ideas, dealing with invoices and balance sheets taught me the importance of being incredibly vigilant with my own money. Balancing my checkbook and studiously keeping track of my finances is what lead me to noticing accidental double charges from stores or when a payment got lost in transit. As boring as it seemed at the time, it was a reminder that spreadsheets of my expenses and bills could only be helpful to refer back to when needed in my personal life and much later a huge help when launching my own freelance business.

Don’t be shy about your goals and aspirations

When you’re in a summer job, everyone already knows that you’re there temporarily, so there’s no backlash if you’re honest about what it is you really want to pursue. Initially, when I was stuck in what felt like a dead end summer job, I didn’t confide much about my goals with my co-workers because I didn’t feel like there was a point. One day over lunch, I admitted how interested I was in advertising and marketing and my cubicle-mate asked for my resume to send to her brother, who ran a small advertising company. Months later I was able to intern in that company’s office for a month. You never know who can help you achieve your goals.

Working hard is important, even if the work isn’t your favorite.

So your daily responsibilities only include making coffee and filing? Then be the absolute best at it. Find out if everyone is satisfied with the current filing system. If they’re not, find out why and create one that saves time for everyone. Everyone will thank you. Summer jobs are typically full of tasks that full-time employees wish they had the time to accomplish, and it won’t go unnoticed if you go above and beyond.

Look for more responsibilities

Ask to sit in on meetings. Hearing what’s going on with the company can stir some suggestions that you can offer. Make it clear to people you work for that you’re willing to assist with anything they might need. This was how I ended up learning all the basics of changing a tire when I worked at a car dealership, and you know what? It really came in handy

Remember that the people you meet at jobs can help you in other jobs

When you’re fresh out of college, you’ll need to list references when applying for jobs. If you can’t list contacts from a place similar to the kind of work you’re seeking, a strong recommendation from a professional environment can still go a long way in convincing someone to hire you. The hiring manager at my first job out of college remarked that he was impressed with how my summertime bosses they spoke of my initiative and drive.

It can be a total bummer to not be offered the summer job we really want. But don’t stress! It’s still an opportunity to get the job you want later. Every job can teach us something as long as we are open to learning.


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[Image via Miramax]