It’s that time of year. School is back in session, everyone’s trying to keep their New Year’s resolutions, and Career Services is sending you emails asking if you’ve applied for summer internships.
Internships have incredible value. Professional experience prior to full-fledged employment rounds out your resume and shows your commitment to learning about a professional field you wish to enter.
But, freshmen and sophomores don’t need to launch their careers just yet. Forgoing the summer internship in favor of entry-level jobs is an excellent option.
At the end of my freshman year, I moved to my family’s tiny trailer in Priest Lake, Idaho and worked at The Leonard Paul Store, the general store that has served the south end of the lake for more than a century. At the end of my sophomore year, I worked on The Anchor, which is a houseboat that had been converted to a food truck on water.
Both were unique experiences and are definitely conversation starters. And both jobs also taught me skills important in the professional workplace.
At the general store, I learned how to interact with customers, dealing with angry “Karens” who felt entitled to the perfect vacation and thus screamed when their huckleberry pancakes took longer than 30 seconds to cook. On the boat, I learned how to keep my cool in extraordinary circumstances, like when we were in rough waters trying to hold customers’ boats without losing a hand or getting smashed between our pontoon and their bow.
Those jobs are directly related to my success in my summer internships. As an intern for a minor league baseball team, I knew just how to deal with those who didn’t follow COVID-19 guidelines in the ballpark. When issues with ticket sales arose, I knew just how to calm down the angry “Karen” on the phone. I could have performed decently well without my prior work experience, but it was those entry-level jobs that made me that much better.
These entry-level jobs also shifted my perspective about the world at large.
At the general store, I served tourists and locals. The vacationers were often upper middle class with money to spare. They bought t‑shirts, ice cream, and fishing licenses. On the other hand, the locals often lived paycheck to paycheck. Some came in like clockwork for their nightly pack of Schlitz and a take-and-bake pizza. Others were forest rangers coming down from their mountain posts to stock up on supplies.
We often grow up cocooned in our own little worlds, our parents intent on protecting us from the harsh realities of life. I did. But, working at the lake stripped a lot of that away and showed me the differences in life status and opportunities.
Summer internships can cocoon us even more. It takes a certain privilege to work many of them. Most are unpaid and the cost of living in cities with high-profile opportunities is high. Those lower on the socio-economic scale have a harder time participating in them because of those factors.
As a result, most of the people you encounter in the professional world are about the same: college-educated and middle class or higher. That’s not a bad thing. But, those in the professional world are often more concerned with the next promotion than if they can put food on the table.
When this level of socio-economic status is what we’re exposed to, one can think that it’s the norm. That the “real world” is the professional world.
But it’s not. When you work an entry-level job, you’re introduced to all sorts of people. It teaches you that the “real world” is much less elite than you think, and more matters in life than the next professional promotion.
You’re at just the right age to do something different and unique. So work at the camp you always went to as a kid, or as a barista at that coffee shop in your hometown that you’ve always loved, or pump gas for boats at the resort your family always vacationed at. Any of these kinds of jobs will prepare you for the professional world, teach you a few things, and result in a lot of fun summer memories.
Regan Meyer is a senior studying rhetoric and public address.