To cap off our three part series on summer jobs, we asked four adults at different stages in their careers to reflect on their best and worst summer jobs and to explain how these jobs did or did not train them for their current careers. Below are just a few highlights.
Rick, Age 40, Media Director, IT Sector, New York City
“Just after graduating from high school, I was at a job fair and saw an advertisement for a product demonstrator. I had no idea what a product demonstrator did, but the advertisement was posted by a marketing company, and I knew I was interested in exploring business and marketing. I went for the interview and was hired. It was only after I was hired that I realized what I would be doing—I had been hired to demonstrate this weird plastic contraption that you could use to stake your tomato plants, and I would be spending 12-hours a day for 3 weeks demonstrating this product in the agricultural pavilion at a national exhibition. Basically, they gave me the contraption and told me to come up with a good pitch, since I’d be on a small stage and have a microphone. They also told me to wear a suit. It was pretty brutal, but in the end, it was an important summer job. I learned about marketing—how new products are launched and how companies gain customer feedback and how this is used to improve products not yet on the commercial market. They didn’t really give me any real training, but through osmosis, I learned a great deal. I made $2500 in three weeks, which was a lot in 1994.”
Fran, Age 47, Senior Acquisitions Editor, Academic Publishing, Boston
“My first summer job was working at McDonalds. I was 15-years old and it was the only job I could get. I lasted three weeks. Yes, they trained me, but I apparently lacked the customer service skills and deference needed to succeed as a McDonald’s employee. In fact, I had such a bad attitude that by the second week, they had relegated me to cleaning toilets for my entire shift! I realized then and there that the service industry was not going to be my future. I started to think about careers focused on writing and books. By my mid twenties, I was working in publishing. Today, I’m the senior acquisitions editor for a university press. I don’t know if it is directly related to the McDonald’s experience but that summer job did help me rule out a few other future options!”
Omar, Age 28, Tax Compliance Officer, IRS, Washington
“After my second year of college, I was hanging out in my parents’ basement playing video games when my uncle came over for dinner. He asked what I was doing for the summer, and I said I was playing video games. Before I went to bed that night my father told me to get my suit out and to take the number 79 bus downtown to my uncle’s office the next morning and to be there by 8:00 am. Okay, I wasn’t very happy. I was doing a degree in film studies, and I wasn’t really interested in business. My uncle was an accountant and he ran his own auditing firm. I spent the rest of the summer working as a clerk. At first it seemed really boring, but I eventually got completely obsessed with helping him investigate particular files. The next year when I returned to college, I started to take courses in the business school and by the time I graduated, I had enough accounting credits to take the CPA exam. I now work as a tax compliance officer for the IRS, and for some reason, my uncle seems to think this is hilarious.”
Cal, Age 54, VP Finance, Aerospace Industry, Dallas
“I grew up in a middle class suburb of Boston—my parents are both chemists and worked in research laboratories—but my mother was actually from a farming community in Kansas. When I was twelve, they started to send me back to Kansas every summer to work on my uncle’s farm, and this went on until I was seventeen. To be clear, this wasn’t a hobby farm. Farming is really what my Uncle Rick did for a living. I shared a room with my older cousins, and we worked six days a week doing all sorts of things—feeding animals, haying, cleaning out stables, organizing tools. We usually started at dawn and then took a break around noon and worked again later in the day to early evening. It wasn’t all work. My uncle would let us go swimming in the middle of the day or bring us into town for ice cream when he had to pick up supplies. What does this have to do with my current job? I have a degree in engineering and an MBA, and I’m VP Finance for a jet manufacturer! It’s unrelated, but I learned a lot about business from Rick—he was one of the few farmers in his area who didn’t have to have a job in the winter to make ends meet—and I learned a lot about how to collaborate and respect all kinds of people I would have never met in Boston. Obviously, I learned a lot about work. I often put in long days but nothing like Rick’s hours. So definitely, that summer job, in a really surprising way, was a phenomenal training opportunity for me. I’m still grateful.”
Have a summer job experience that trained you for your current career? Let us know about your experience!