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Navigating the Summer Job Maze

If Natalie Weber and Michelle Phillips, both students at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI, had one wish for how to spend their summers, they know exactly what it would be. "We'd work at Disneyland!" they said, almost in unison, reaching up to slap hands over the table in the college cafeteria. "We'd be the people who say, 'Watch your step, please; watch your step.'" Craig Fraser, another Hillsdale student, says his ideal summer job would be "working on a programming internship" with one of the companies for which his father worked, such as Internet security firm Cerberian, Inc., or Enterasys Networks.

Despite their lofty summer dreams, all three students have more realistic plans for their summer job prospects. Craig intends to work for a temporary employment agency, as he did last summer, although he says the slowing economy in Utah has reduced the number of available jobs.

His hometown isn't the only area experiencing employment shortages. "Florida cuts down on summer jobs," laments Hillsdale sophomore Amber Enright, "and all the jobs are taken by the time I get home [from Michigan]."

What these students and you might not know is that your dream job is available. With some help from your school, the Internet, and even the corporations you want to work for, you can find enjoyable employment that is challenging, and that can contribute to your career after graduation.

In the Beginning ...
The ground floor of Hillsdale's Knorr Student Center building is the first place these students can go for help. The Career Planning Office is staffed by Joanna Wisely and Vicky Arno, who assist students with finding summer jobs, among other things. Wisely and Arno speak enthusiastically about job fairs, mock interviews, resume writing workshops, and other career office programs that help students find jobs for the summer and after they graduate.

While each school's career office works differently, the same general guidelines apply when you seek help, starting with having a current resume available. That'll inform career office staff about your work experience, and allow them to offer tips on how your resume can be tweaked. You should also have an idea of where you would like to work. And dressing well, in business casual clothing, is recommended.

Your Summer Job Can Find You
Visits from on-campus recruiters representing major corporations can be very fruitful. Each year these companies scout college graduates as well as current students to work between semesters as interns. Hillsdale typically hosts visits from companies such as Merrill Lynch, 3M, Thrivent Financial, and some of its own administrative offices, such as the college's admissions department. It is at these visits where students often find jobs in their fields before they graduate, since companies are specifically searching colleges for qualified workers. Plus, taking on a summer internship can help you build long-term relationships with companies that will be likely to make job offers after graduation.

Soren Schmidt and Kate Shuster, both campus recruiters for summer camps in Michigan, say they look for "energy and enthusiasm" in candidates. No matter what, practice professionalism at all times. You never know when a potential boss will be watching!

Take It to the Web
Let's imagine for a moment you're a free-spirited college student who seeks an adventure this summer. How would you like to work on a cruise ship? At a summer camp? For a national park? These jobs and so many others are listed each winter and spring on Internet sites specifically geared toward finding summer jobs. Surf sites such as,, and to find jobs in your area or far from home, at YMCA camps or those with special themes, ranches (training horses and wrangling dudes), amusement parks (these especially need trained lifeguards), cruise lines, and national parks. You can also locate summer jobs through government agencies at

Ready to Work?
1. Make sure your resume is current and polished, listing your actual work experience, relevant club memberships, extracurricular activities, and any leadership experience that makes you an especially great candidate.
2. Build up a pool of solid references for yourself--you'll need both work and character references. Your campus job or other work you do during the school year can help you with this. Being a dedicated, hardworking employee during the year will show employers you can do the same during the summer.
3. Attend workshops offered through your school on resume writing, interviewing skills, and image management (a combination of confidence-building exercises and ways to dress for success).
4. Know the companies or organizations for which you'd like to work, understand any special requirements for the job you want, and make sure you are compatible with your potential employer's values and practices.
5. Even if you are applying for a 'fun job,' maintain a professional appearance through the whole process. When you attend an amusement park, for example, you are responsible for the fun other people are having (your own should come second).

>> If you're already in the working world and want to head back to school, get started on choosing a college by filling out the free request form above.