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Gwendolyn Hodge | Courtesy

When I worked as a camp counselor at a Christian sleep-away camp in New Jersey, I never imagined my experience would help me get a job at the Supreme Court. Playing dodgeball and singing campfire songs with pre-teens might not seem related to attending office meetings in a suit with mid-level professionals — but they are!

With the arrival of spring comes the sudden onset of the discussion of summer plans. This summer, embrace the unexpected, the unusual, the unique.

What made my experience as a camp counselor valuable to my employers was its practicality and the way I talked about my job. Camp demands real problem-solving skills because you never can plan for a camper to kick a beehive and suddenly swarm 50 others with angry bees. When I talked about camp in interviews, potential employers could tell that I was passionate about what I was doing and that I put my everything into it. Counselling wasn’t the most glamorous or impressive job, but to me, it was. Learning how to market yourself and your experiences is one of the best skills you can learn.

I would not have interned in the private sector, with the federal government, for nonprofits had I not taken two summers to work as a summer camp counselor. When I was hired as an intern for the Supreme Court of the United States the summer after my junior year,  I was told verbatim that it was my experience as a summer camp counselor that convinced them to hire me.

High-profile internships at accounting firms or on Capitol Hill are often viewed more favorably than working retail or nannying, but most of these experiences have something valuable in them. Forbes reported on a study by The National Association of Colleges and Employers that examined the connection between internships and full employment upon graduation.

The results they found were surprising: Those who had completed an unpaid summer internship loosely related to their field had a hiring rate of 35 percent while those who had completed some sort of paid job, also loosely related to their field, had a hiring rate of 67 percent.

Take a job you never foresaw yourself doing. I have friends who have worked in salmon plants and learned more in three weeks about management than friends who have spent three months interning at some high-powered merchandiser.

Junior Jackson Ventrella’s past summer in Alaska processing salmon prepared him professionally to do his best no matter the task.

“Even though cutting fish 16 hours a day is quite frankly a pretty low job, it cultivates the ability to work hard,” Ventrella said.

Whether Alaska or abroad, students should seriously consider expanding their studies beyond just the Hillsdale College campus. My junior year, I spent my fall semester at the University of Oxford and my spring semester in the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program. My experience at Oxford helped market my résumé to the public affairs firm I worked for in D.C. This is not typical, however. On average, five students study abroad in Europe and around 20 participate in Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program each semester. Very few Hillsdale students choose to spend semesters pursuing these opportunities.

While I missed campus, I would not change the way I spent my junior year.  It can be hard to complete all of your major and minor requirements while missing a year of classes on campus, but if you plan ahead and talk to your department, it is doable and enjoyable.  

Every internship or job will teach important lessons and prepare you for your future in ways you never imagined, even if it seems trivial or worthless at first. Be proud of your experiences and learn how to market yourself. In the long run, you won’t regret it. Do the unexpected.