Student Life

The value of working a summer service job

For most, the quintessential image of summer calls to mind beach getaways and backyard barbeques, not washing dishes or consoling cranky customers from behind a cash register. By the end of a long school year, students are more than ready to embrace the summer vacation mindset and relax, but the months ahead provide the perfect opportunity to land a part-time job. As a small fish in a big university pond, it is common for students to feel pressured to score a resume-boosting internship, so many feel as though they have failed when they work in retail or service instead.

Internships can provide students with valuable work experience in the professional world, but paid positions are hard to come by in Quebec. Meanwhile, jobs in retail and service are a guaranteed way to earn an income, and they equip students with valuable work skills, building character, and fostering a strong work ethic.

Kirsten Wesselow (BA ‘19) recently graduated and is now working full-time, but she worked service jobs during previous university summers. Wesselow worked as a cook and counterperson two summers ago, as a cashier at La Diperie during Fall 2017, and had another cashier gig last summer.

“I applied to internships every summer, but the only one that ever worked out fell through because of a housing issue,” Wesselow said in an interview with //The McGill Tribune//. “I definitely felt pressured to have an internship and often felt ashamed or like I had failed by working a service job instead. It was especially relevant when all my friends in town for the summer had internships or 9–5 jobs, and I almost never saw them. They often tried to convince me to come hang out with them after a very tiring work day versus them making time for me on one of my rare days off, which made me feel like they did not see my job as real work.”

As students, it can be easy to compare our experiences and feel the need to measure up to peers. Service jobs are likely not students’ ultimate career goal or even their first choice of work, but earning money is crucial for many to help pay for tuition and living expenses.

Philippe Masson, U4 Arts, went home to Maryland for the summer and worked as a camp counselor at a neighbourhood pool during the week and at a bakery on the weekends. In his spare time, he sold pastries at a local farmers market and ran his own neighbourhood landscaping business. Masson worked an internship two summers ago for a Seattle-based startup, but felt that the experience was isolating and boring because he was working from home and staring at a computer screen all day.

“The sales skills at the bakery are applicable skills,” Masson said. “I really enjoy working for the bakery because I get to learn a lot about French cuisine and pastries, as well as interact with customers and improve my sales skills. I wish I could have had a paid internship or something more resume-building rather than working as a camp counselor because it’s not really what I’m interested in doing, but I like working multiple jobs because it’s always different and I can rotate my focuses.”

Customer service skills are a major asset for students entering the professional workforce. Oftentimes, customers are rude, impatient, and demanding, so service employees have to be quick to resolve conflicts without losing any potential business. Service jobs require patience, effective communication, and resourcefulness. There’s something to be said for working long, tiring shifts with few breaks to sit down or catch a breath. Service jobs shouldn’t be seen as a failure, but rather an honourable foray into the workforce.

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One Comment

  1. Sophia, I love this piece. Excellent job!

    As an industrious teenager, I waitressed full-time over summers and through the school years to pay for college. I ended up with no debt, an English degree, and experiences that translated into a great work ethic, exceptional customer service, and management and PR skills that helped me land my first “grownup” job and move into other areas of the organization. Service jobs are internships about human behavior, financial management (your own!), dependability, efficiency, respect and the value of hard work. I would do it all over again – it gave me a deep appreciation for humankind.

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