Summer jobs provide real-world experience

At the end of each spring semester, campus is buzzing with talk about summer plans.  Students of every major are scanning bulletin boards and websites hunting for coveted summer internships.

After all, everyone wants to boost their resumes.  According to a study in the New York Times, only 55.6 percent of 2009 college graduates under the age of 25 are working in jobs that require a college degree.

Unfortunately that means that as current college students we’re all in a fierce competition to outshine one another.  That internship is more than hands-on experience.  It’s a career lifeline.

Since we’re all aware of that importance available internship slots are filled faster than you can say, “unpaid work hours”.

So what about those of us left without a summer introduction to our profession?  If you’re lucky, it’s time for vacation.  For the rest it’s time to face the music and get the dreaded summer job.  Then again, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Let me go ahead and state the obvious. There is nothing glamorous about a summer job.

After a semester of cram sessions and term papers, you start to forget what work really is.  No matter how hard a class is, it can’t compare to smiling while being yelled at by a customer that insists his year-old coupon should still be valid.

A summer job will make you yearn for the days when all you had to worry about was understanding a professor’s lecture.  

Looking back on past summer jobs I can’t help but think I learned more in those short months than I did in any college classroom.

My summer jobs have run the gamut.  To name a few I have been a cashier, a waitress, a box-maker, a cake decoration consultant and a bakery front counter worker.  

One of the many lessons I learned from these jobs is that a lot of people out there love to feel powerful and they accomplish this by bullying anyone they can.  

We’ve all seen that person in a restaurant verbally abusing their waiter because their food isn’t ready.  I’m not talking about being upset after  30 minutes of waiting.  I’m talking about the person that’s furious after five minutes.  

Just so there’s no confusion, your waiter does not cook your food.  He/she has no control over the amount of time that it takes for your steak to become medium rare.  

My worst experience as a waitress happened two summers ago.  A customer ordered a meal that wasn’t on the menu and insisted that we make it for her.  

This wasn’t just ordering a salad with apples instead of tomatoes.  This was a five-item breakfast platter with each item being something not on our menu.  

After calling me incompetent because it took 15 minutes for her order to be completed, she called me several four-letter words because she thought her egg whites had a speck of yellow in them.

The worst part is that as the summer job holder you’re defenseless.  You can’t say a word because the customer is always right and you can’t afford to lose your job.

Some of the lessons I learned from my summer job didn’t come from customers acting like bullies.  They came from ordinary even -tempered customers.  They were all little things that I had never thought about before.

For instance, if you hand the cashier a twenty and they begin to hand you your change, don’t pull 37 cents out of your pocket and hand it to them.  They’ll have to redo the math in their head.  

Granted, the mental math itself won’t be difficult.  But the added pressure of keeping the line moving quickly, bagging your items, preparing to restock, keeping the drawer count correct and not cheating you of correct change makes that 37 cents an absolute nightmare.  I guarantee you that the person behind the cash register is doing at least five jobs at once.  Don’t make it even harder on them.

There are a few other lessons that I’m sure readers with similar summer jobs also learned, like putting your greasy used napkin and other trash on your plate before you leave a restaurant.  It takes two seconds but makes your waiter’s life so much easier.  

Another tip:  if you are ordering something, name it.  Don’t just point and say, “I want that.”  Usually your waiter or the person behind the counter can’t see what you’re pointing at.

I’ve always tried to be nice when I walk into any kind of business.  Since my experiences at summer jobs, I find that I’m extra kind to the employees.  

Chances are this isn’t their summer job.  This is what they do year round to pay the bills.  And it’s so much more trying than anything we’ll encounter in school.

We all know what it’s like to be up at four in the morning memorizing cellular terminology or working on the same math problem for pages and pages.  For those of us that had summer jobs, we know it’s still better to be sitting in the library surrounded by papers than it is to stand for eight hours getting burned by bubbling grease in a deep fryer.

I have the utmost regard for anyone who does this kind of work every day.  Whether it’s mopping floors, cooking our food, digging ditches or smiling in spite of malicious customers, these people work unbelievably hard for too little pay and too little respect.