There is more to student jobs than meets the eye

“Working at the Taco Stand, a fast-food Mexican restaurant, on busy Friday nights prepared me for deadlines in the newsroom,” said Scooter MacMillan, editor of The Charlotte News.

Service industry jobs demand that workers are not on their phones all day. Interacting with bosses, co-workers and customers can help build people skills, financial accountability and time management.

The Bureau of Labor statistics reported that 175,000 jobs were added this April with some of the strongest gains in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. This is an opportunity for high school and college students to consider summer jobs that are not preprofessional internships or remote work.

First, people skills need to be developed as students have grown up spending more time on screens during and after the pandemic. Online interactions can blunt nonverbal communication. There is less opportunity to see the importance of eye contact as a form of expression and encourage random conversations outside of scheduled meetings.

Working at restaurants and supermarkets are natural places to develop people skills. Taking a job at a local pizzeria, market or national sandwich chain can push a student outside of their comfort zone in working with managers, staff and customers. Each day is different in developing problem-solving skills and navigating the work environment.

For example, a student worked as a part-time bartender while attending college in New York City to earn money and pay back student loans. When interviewing for an investment banking job, the recruiter asked about how they identified people who had too much to drink and how they communicated with them to stop serving alcohol. This was a test to see how they manage difficult situations to keep calm, follow a process and stop the problem from escalating.

Second, financial accountability is achieved in having a job. The worker earns wages while being responsible for specific tasks. Workers learn the importance of having a positive attitude and interacting with others to make the work environment more enjoyable and productive. Employers can recognize top workers with extra hours to make more money and bonuses as a reward.

Workers can develop their money skills by paying bills, making purchases and saving for the future. There is a sense of pride when being able to afford a special purchase from the money earned.

Also, employers value the worker’s commitment to the team and interactions with customers. Businesses appreciate the employee’s contribution to hitting the company’s financial objectives.

Job responsibilities create social interactions that can be highlighted in college application essays. For example, the University of Michigan asks to describe in 300 words a community the student belongs to and their place in it. Sharing about the workplace highlights how the student accepts responsibility, values teamwork and is recognized by bosses.

Finally, time management is not a given. This February, Zippia Recruiting conducted research showing that 82 percent of workers are not effective in managing their time. This results in spending half of their time on less valuable activities.

LinkedIn explains how employer performance reviews identify employee time management issues. Missing deadlines, submitting incomplete projects and asking for extensions show a lack of productivity and quality of work. These are also criteria for how high school and college teachers evaluate students on assignments and for recommendations.

Work can foster time management by being on time (or early) and ready to add more duties. To be considered for promotion, it is important to be dependable to team members, productive to supervisors and approachable to customers.

For example, a high school student working part time at a national restaurant chain noticed a full-time worker who continually arrived late to work and was exhausted on the job. The manager later fired that person. Without that extra employee, the student stayed late to help the manager close the business.

By stepping up, the manager soon promoted the student for additional responsibilities and hours. This extra effort was recognized by authorizing the student to transfer to the Washington, D.C., location to continue working while attending college.

Having a job can make a student more poised for success in high school, college and beyond. Everyday work can build character and responsibility. Communication skills are formed while interacting with multifaceted people and unpredictable situations.

On-the-job experiences can create lessons that make insightful essays and conversations. There is more to working than just the task at hand.

(Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business, and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.)