collage of money, charts, student working and graduating

Workin’ for a Livin’

Besides the title of an old song by Huey Lewis and the News, working for a living is something that most of us do and what many students seek to do every summer.   Let’s think about the benefits and costs of different approaches, as well as your goals.

Perhaps the first question is what are your goals from the experience?  Do you want career related experience, similar to what you can receive from an internship, or are you in the job market for the money?  There can be a huge difference.

Let’s talk about doing it for the money.  The benefits are obvious: wages, tips, commissions, and etc.  The larger the pay, the better, right?  With unemployment hovering around 8.8%, finding a job may be more daunting than usual.  There are huge differences in summer experiences and, if you need the money, the monetary rewards can drive your decision.  Being a waiter in a posh restaurant or club can lead to lots of tips, as could a job in a well-paying construction job – if you can find them.  Yet, the experience may carry the opportunity costs of not providing much in the area of career related personal development.   You need to consider the costs of every job, including opportunity costs.  Other costs include: transportation expenses, either a car or public transportation; living expenses if you need to rent a place; specialized clothing; taxes on your income, as some cities have their own income tax; as well as any benefits you might qualify to receive, even if only for the summer.  (Thinking of benefits, you are probably in as low of a tax bracket as you will ever be, so saving some money for your retirement in a Roth IRA might be good to add to your list of summer activities!)

Some students opt to seek internships for the summer.  In fact, many university degree programs have expectations for students to complete an internship and, yes, job experience(s) in your chosen line of work can help propel your career.  The bad news is that many internship opportunities are unpaid and some of these offer the best experiences, as well as references for your future “real job”.  Moreover, if you are not getting paid, you are often able to receive more varied experiences, as the “employer” is not expecting as much productivity from you.  That is the good news.  For some additional bad news, many of the best experiences are in Washington, DC, New York, NY, or other large metropolitan area.  Thus the costs of living may preclude this option.  Of course, you can limit your search for an internship to areas where you have lodging and transportation – your home town – or you can branch out.  If you move to a big city and the internship pays little, be prepared to take a second job, consider living in a dormitory for a local college or university, or limit your search to where you have relatives that welcome you for the summer.  (Of course, you can always search for a roommate on Craigslist!)

When do you begin searching for your summer job?  If you’re reading this in May, you may have waited too long.  I usually recommend to my students that they begin their search in Thanksgiving of the year before the summer they want to work.  Why not introduce yourself to employers and set yourself apart from others?  Call professionals who work in the area you’d like to work and ask them if you can interview them about their career, so you can learn more about the occupation.  Be prepared with a list of questions and be ready for them to say “yes”, as people like to talk about their life.  When you go to the interview, be ready to be interviewed – have your resume and transcript in your portfolio.  Importantly, do not be afraid of setting yourself outside of the crowd of peers.  Take steps to make yourself a part of the 20% that make things happen for them, as compared to being a part of the 80% that wonder what is happening to them.  Assume the best is going to happen in your life and financial success will be in your future.  Assuming the worst is going to happen in your life is likely to assure that you are correct.

Good luck.  Now, get to work!