“Getting a summer job is a great way to spend the holidays, and it can help open doors for you in future when you can use it to demonstrate that you have gained experience and handled your responsibilities well in the past,” says Zabo Mhleli, Team Leader in the Student Advisory Department at Oxbridge Academy, which serves more than 20 000 South African distance learning students every year.
“Young people often complain about the catch-22 of needing experience to get a job, and needing a job to get the experience that employers want. With a summer job, you can get a foot in the door at junior level and, just like with capital gains, you can build on this experience with every new job or responsibility you take on. Down the line, when you want to apply for your first big job, this will put you in a much better position than someone who was committed to holidaying during the holidays, and who now needs to try to land a job with zero experience,” he says.
Mhleli adds, however, that those opting to gain experience need to use the time wisely, and not just rock up for work, do the job, and go home.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to build a portfolio of experience, with concrete evidence to demonstrate your track record,” he says.
It goes without saying that young people should get the basics right: being on time, being neat and presentable, and performing their responsibilities to the best of their ability.
But more than that, some strategy can go a long way in making your holiday job a legacy project. Here are some strategic tips to take into account:
FIND A JOB THAT HAS SOME CONNECTION TO YOUR FUTURE PLANS
If you want to go into communications, then working as a waiter, for instance, will bring with it a wealth of practise in dealing with the public. And if your dream is to become an engineer, then rather head down to the industrial side of town and find businesses that might be looking for a driver or someone to help out as an apprentice.
Being able to match the experience to the potential requirements list on future job applications will be far more beneficial than just being able to indicate that you have unrelated work experience.
IDENTIFY SPECIFIC SKILLS THAT YOU CAN LEARN IN THE POSITION
No matter what type of work you’re going to be doing, you’re sure to have the opportunity to learn some transferable skills – that core set of skills that will be applicable in most industries and positions. Waiters, for instance, could focus on learning customer service, communication, and problem-solving skills, even if they have no intention of going into the hospitality industry. The aim is to identify the skills you will need for your future career, and then to figure out how your summer job can help you learn them.
Hint: search for job advertisements for positions in your dream career, and note what kind of transferable skills are desired.
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS AND GROW YOUR NETWORK
It is not the whole truth, but there is some truth in the saying that it’s not about what you know, but who you know. Of course it is important to ensure that when you apply for your dream job, you have the required qualifications and knowledge to be able to perform your duties, but often, opportunities are identified through networks and relationships in the first place.
Your fellow holiday colleague could turn out to be a future interviewer, or a customer you serve could be looking for an intern for next year. Bring your best to your holiday job and to your interactions with managers, colleagues, customers, and clients every day, and you are sure to make contacts that will help you as you grow your career.
WORK ON YOUR WORK ETHIC
A major complaint of employers is that young graduates and new recruits don’t understand how to operate in the workplace. That means that young people who demonstrate a sound work ethic from day one are much more likely to make good progress in their careers right from the start.
Your summer job provides the perfect opportunity to learn how to be professional, how to navigate the unwritten rules, and how to manage tricky situations and politics you may encounter in future.
GO ONE FURTHER AND START STRATEGISING YOUR JANUARY JOB SEARCH
If you have a good idea of what you want to do next year, you can also start looking at options in your chosen industry and sign up for a short or distance learning course that will provide you with some of the knowledge and skills you’ll need to apply for an entry-level position in your industry of choice. Having additional skills and relevant experience, along with a demonstrable track record, will mean that your two months of effort will pay off exponentially as you prepare to launch into a career.
“Most people would love to just relax and do as little as possible during the holidays, and that is understandable,” says Mhleli.
“However, many need the additional income, while others choose to get a head start on their careers. Whatever your situation or reason for taking a summer job, if you are going to work, you can do more than just rock up at work every day. You can make this job count in a way that will pay off well into the future if you go about it wisely,” he says.