Working outside the box

Your thankless, irrelevant summer job doesn’t have to be meaningless.

Come May, many of us put down our books and get a job. Some find work that allows them to pursue their passion and build their resumes, while some others aren’t as lucky. Some of us have to settle for less-inspiring gigs to pay the bills, while others struggle to find any work at all.

In April, I strapped on my boots and began work at the barn I horseback ride. I put in the odd weekend shift last summer, but this year marks my first foray into full-time mucking, a decision I made because, frankly, the job was readily available.

My day begins at 7:30 a.m. with a hay feeding and doesn’t end until at least 4:30 – after all the horses have been out, the stalls have been cleaned, everyone has eaten and I am dead tired.

The long days have given me time to ponder the question: Am I wasting my time? I’m worried my job will come back to haunt me when I eventually try to break into a career. Scrubbing stalls and scattering hay have little to do with becoming a lawyer.

I’m hardly unique in my employment situation though. Many students choose to fill the warmer months with work unrelated to their programs – it’s tough to land a resume padding gig without experience. But that shouldn’t mean you’re not learning anything valuable.

A far cry from designing computer software, Catherine Chisnell, CompSci ’15, spends her summer days working at the Tim Horton’s in Kingston General Hospital. Chisnell isn’t wholly unaccustomed to the job – she worked for the chain during the past school year and even considers it a guilt-free distraction from academic pressures.

She enjoys spending time with her fellow barista, bakers, and sandwich-makers, as well as being able to meet new customers, she said, but she still worries time could be better spent carving her way into a career.

“Applying to any job without relevant experience is a risk,” she said.

“I’ve learned things during school, but I don’t have relevant job experience.”

Whether or not the job experience is strictly relevant to her career after school, Chisnell admitted she’s picked up a few life skills she wouldn’t otherwise have attained.

“When I didn’t have a job, I kind of tended to put things off a lot more to the last minute,” she said. “Now that I’m working, I have to get things done in a certain time frame. And it really is almost better — I get things done sooner because I have to.”

Laura Baker opted to remain poolside this summer — she took a job as a lifeguard at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. She chose to head southward for the experience, rather than for its networking potential, she said. So far, she hasn’t been disappointed.

“Telling people what I was doing, I either got the reaction, ‘Wow, that’s so cool,’ … or ‘I wish I could do that.’ And I’d ask, ‘Why aren’t you?’ and they’d say ‘Oh, I have to work in an accounting firm or marketing firm,’” Baker, Comm’16, said.

The job might be out of the norm — especially for Commerce students — but that’s exactly what Baker loves about it.

“At school everyone gets pretty into a routine. Everyday [here] is different,” she said. “Meeting different people has been cool and knowing that there’s so much more than the bubble that I’ve been living in.”

Her exposure to an array of cultures and nationalities is just one of many ways Baker expects the job to benefit her in the future.

She also isn’t too concerned the experience will hold her back when it comes time to put her Commerce degree to use.

“There are the schools that are like ‘what was your GPA?’ and that’s it. At Queen’s you do that, but you also have your PSE and other stuff,” she said.

“They don’t just care about what your marks were, they care about who you are — that’s why I chose Queen’s. I’m hoping that when it actually comes time for me to find a job that, I can find somewhere that cares like that.”

But she doesn’t intend to make a career out of lifeguarding. If anything, the exposure to a low-paying job has acted as an incentive.

“It’s a bit of a motivator — I can’t imagine myself doing this specific job for the rest of my life but it’s fun for now just because it’s different.”

Christine Fader, a career counsellor with Queen’s Career Services, advocated an open-minded approach to summer work of all kinds.

“If a student is working in a summer job that does not seem immediately directly career-related, it’s useful to remember that all work is valuable and is a sign to future employers … that a student has developed broad, work-readiness skills,” she told the Journal via email.

Fader also advised students to consider what they are looking for in a summer job on a variety of levels before writing an opportunity off as irrelevant.

“A ‘good’ summer job looks very different for each student. We suggest that students think about what they are trying to get out of their summer work.”

There are reasons aside from earning potential that attract students to particular jobs, she added. New skills, developing contacts for networking, living in a particular location and trying out a field of interest are all important factors to consider.

“If a summer opportunity offers a student the ability to get any or all of their drivers met, then that opportunity probably makes sense to pursue,” Fader said.

Mucking stalls might not be anyone else’s idea of a great morning, but in this case, it seems my passion for riding is worth the dirty work.

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