Why Students Shouldn't Limit Themselves in Their Summer Job Search

While manning a shovel full-time in North Dakota's oil fields after freshman year, I never imagined sitting in a college classroom again.

An attempt to secure financial aid proved fruitless; savings from various high school jobs ran out; and no businesses hiring summer employees found my résumé -- with a "skills" section that might as well have listed Guitar Hero and Slurpee taste-testing -- too intriguing. So I embarked to Dickinson, North Dakota, a boomtown on the state's western outskirts, where I labored from May to early August.

Even as cash from 70-hour work weeks accumulated, the maintenance position, one that consisted of shoveling sand piles and tightening bolts on heavy machinery, seemed like a dead end: lessons learned at a construction site smack dab on the Bakken oil formation seemed inapplicable to experiences at college.

I'm graduating this May, though, and attribute a large portion of my academic growth to that dust-depleted summer in Dakota.

If my story is any indication, students seeking summer jobs shouldn't shy away from opportunities that, one, have seemingly little to do with their desired career paths and, two, take them far from the classroom for a few months. Career counselors and employers push the idea of obtaining internships -- rightfully so, for the most part -- but young adults need more than résumé builders; they must also immerse themselves in situations that develop traits such as thinking quickly and reacting to environments that feel foreign, like the construction pit did for me.

I'll never include my maintenance position under "employment history" or list shoveling under "skills" when applying for jobs in my chosen field. Personal development brought while working construction, however, could separate me from peers.

As a college freshman, I scoffed at assignments that seemed like busy work, but post-North Dakota, completing a two-page analysis of a journal article is OK compared to carrying tools around in humid heat. Before, skipping that 7:30 a.m. class occurred frequently; I awoke at 4:30 that summer, though -- before dawn lighted rig silhouettes on the horizon, so I have little excuse to sleep through courses.

Basically, I not only developed those aforementioned traits, but manual labor also gave me perspective; without higher education, I understood the three-months spent shoveling could become a career -- that brushing my teeth with yellowy water and sleeping on a tattered pullout couch might become the basis of my life, not just a difficult summer vacation.

So don't narrow your scope too much when searching for jobs for when class isn't in session.

I don't suggest you decline that internship at the company you wish to work for post-grad in favor of shaft mining or paving highways. But if your first options fall through, take a chance; get less glamorous job experiences out of the way, and your dream career becomes more important.

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