For most college students, with no burning desire to upend the status quo, let alone deconstruct his or her bourgeois assumptions, summer is a chance to pad one’s resume with important, or at least important-sounding, work. Or, for those with upper middle class guilt, it's a chance to launch a five-year “working class hero” phase, featuring a series of consciously chosen blue collar jobs – I chose dishwasher, carpet cutter, bread factory doughboy, bulk bin clerk, organic gardener, apple picker, mover -- to test one's self-effacing, wealth-eschewing, bodhisattva mettle.
However, in today’s economy, competition is so fierce, salaries so stagnant, that such casual, if solipsistic, exploration is a bit dicey. In the early 1980s, as the Reagan Revolution hit full stride, the economy could afford millions of college kids like me using their summers to discover who they were, from where they hailed, and how best to “save the world,” let alone oppose Mr. Reagan’s “Revolution.” While I still believe that the best use of a summer vacation, let alone the first few years after college, is to embrace an array of jobs, locales, and identities to unveil one’s true calling, today’s lackluster economy no longer affords “Young Americans” the luxury of such peripatetic experimentation (funny how widespread wealth enables ribald creative expression, isn’t it?).
Luckily, today’s student can do several things to further their career aspirations and education, if not dramatically raise their standard of living. Below are five summer employment options — identified by the fine folks at Questia, the world’s largest online library — chased with real world, if characteristically cheeky, Crotty commentary. The list was determined by running a search of 10 summer job titles on HighBeam Research to see which title received the most media mentions over the past year when searched with the terms “summer” and “job.”
- Freelance Writer. Working as a freelance writer will teach you invaluable research and writing skills. The financial reality, however, is that, unless you work in “strategic communications” (i.e., getting paid top dollar to accrue earned media for your client), you are likely to make more coin digging ditches (with maybe a union backing you up). Nevertheless, as a freelance writer (read: blogger), you will learn how to write concise copy, as well as how to construct your articles -- self-deprecating irony alert! -- for maximum "link bait," er, “viewership.” Conventional wisdom says that media companies teach writers basic SEO (search engine optimization), so their pieces can be “seen by millions of readers." Unconvential wisdom: I’ve been at this freelance shtick for nearly three decades and not once have I had a piece read by even a million readers, though my MITx piece came close. Pay varies by outlet – Good Magazine pays $250 a piece, Variety pays around $350 a piece, Huffington Post pays squat -- so you can take on as many or as few assignments as you choose. Moreover, freelance writers don’t have to follow a set schedule. This is also the enemy of efficient, timely writing, and, thus, traffic generation, as one tends to write long-winded rants in one’s K-Mart pajamas well into the afternoon. Just remember: Stay In Your Lane. Your job as a freelancer is to narrow your focus, not expand it. That is, to become, as former State Department press secretary, James Rubin, told me in my Playboy interview of him, a "specialist." Here's Rubin's exact words: "My best advice is to develop some issue that you're very good at, that you're interested enough in to work really hard at, and then learn not only the substance of that issue but the politics of that issue, the history of that issue and the future of it. You will quickly find yourself special ... Once you're a specialist, then other specialists talk to you. They also think you might be knowledgeable about things you don't know anything about because you're a specialist." To find freelance writing opportunities, check out The Barefoot Writer or Freelance Writing.
- Server: Serving tables is hard (because you must endure persnickety foodies, who ask inane questions like, “What’s good tonight?”) And it’s one of the holy trinity of occupations that fame-seeking Actors, Models, Whatevers invariably fall into – the other two are yoga instructor and acting teacher -- before finding their trust-funded or corporately connected spousal unit. Waiting tables requires people skills and energy (this is where that addiction to benzoylmethylecgonine can develop). And, as Steve Dublanica notes in Waiter Rant: Thanks For The Tip--Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, serving often requires one to fend off advances from pompous patrons and their face-lifted freak shows. The good news is that serving can be rewarding (and not just in un-reported cash tips). You will learn how to act graceful under pressure and keep a cool head even when everyone else around you is losing theirs, which comes in handy down the road when working for charismatic narcissists. FYI: I lasted only one week as a waiter because I was more interested in quizzing patrons on their background and occupation than serving overpriced vittles. As a waiter, you will increase your memory skills and -- if you work at a fine establishment -- your knowledge of esoteric food allergies (“I can’t have anything with tree nuts, strawberries, dairy, gluten, eggs, salt, sugar, and taste”) and emergency medical procedures (read: Heimlich), while honing budding sommelier skills (which neatly feed any latent dipsomania). In addition, you get to hobnob with self-impressed “VIPs” and make valuable “contacts.” Naturally, if you even attempt to approach a “valuable contact,” you will be given a perfunctory email address they never check (try firstname.lastname@example.org) and will be summarily fired by the restaurant that very evening. Visit Jobs2Careers to find available serving positions across the fruited plain.
- Nanny: Busy self-involved parents with kids out of school for the summer will often pay great rates for a good sitter who knows not to unnecessarily shake, rattle, and, thus, roll their child. Not only will you be paid well (and get a glorified closet and pencil thin bed to call your very own!), but you can also spend your summer reliving your childhood with fun activities and possibly a tryst with the boss (notrecommended). A good nanny demonstrates creativity and responsibility. Whether you want to be a teacher, a physical therapist, or a doctor, having experience with children is an enticing skill to put on your resume, and it will allow you to interact one-on-one with kids in a relaxed and fun setting (again, don’t shake them). Best of all, being a nanny is always something you can fall back on if you have a hard time finding a job after college (in this economy, it is something you likely will fall back on, so get good at it). By building your resume and contacts now, you will have sparkling recommendations to offer interested parents (and kids) in the future. SitterCity is one of the most trusted resources, where you can search for nanny positions as well as create your own online profile so employers in need can find you.
- Entrepreneur: If you are having trouble finding work or just want to launch your own paid pastime, summer is the time to do it. Mow lawns, walk dogs, paint houses, or take the lead of some British medical students and sell your body—whatever you’re interested in—and learn lessons in startups while you’re at it. Lesson number one: 60% of startups fail within the first four years. Creative destruction, baby. Nevertheless, in tech clusters like Silicon Valley, the surest way to get funding for your next startup is to have failed once before. You can get valuable tips on growing your own business from books like Rules of the Hunt: Real-World Advice for Entrepreneurial and Business Success by Michael Dalton or visit Entrepreneur Magazine to network and read success stories in your field of interest. Though, for me, the best advice on starting a business, let alone any endeavor, came from Scottish mountaineer, William Hutchinson Murray: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way."