The first summer job idea is you better get one. If you are in college, now is the time to gather experience so that you will have some idea what you want to do with your life when you get out of school. Graduating from college is a very hard transition. One way you can make it emotionally treacherous is to try to support yourself with a job when you have no experience in a job.

There are lots of different strategies to take when you are looking for something to do in the summer. But each strategy has one thing in common – starting now is better than starting later.

There is wide consensus that you really must be doing something in the summer that teaches you real world experiences. So don’t sign up for summer school thinking that businesses will be impressed. Surely you already have enough school under your belt. Eighteen years, right? Summer is the time to try something new.

Look for something that will help you grow personally and professionally. Even if you don’t have a great startup idea in your back pocket, you can still think big. You have good reason to demand that your summer job be fun and stimulating — there are enough jobs out there that you don’t have to take a terrible one.

Also, don’t restrict yourself geographically. When you have two kids and a mortgage then relocation is terrible. But in college, relocation is an adventure. Apply for summer jobs all over the country.

1. Get money to go to start a company.
You have to have an idea, but if you have a good one, Y Combinator will give you about $15,000 to move to Cambridge, MA and be surrounded by people like you doing the same thing. This is a great way to learn how to build a startup. The arrangement is friendly and supportive, and even if your company doesn’t get off the ground during the summer, you will learn a lot.

Relatively few women apply to do programs like this one. So I am taking a moment to encourage women to try it. Starting a company is not only about being able to program a computer. It’s about being able to see an unmet need and find a solution. Apply by April 2.

2. Experiment in social entrepreneurship.
Experience just announced a fellowship program that matches students with non-profits for the summer. The students not only get paid to do good, but they also get paired up with mentors from management consulting firms, which really makes this is a great learning opportunity. The fellowship program was only recently announced, so you may benefit from the fact that a lot of students don’t know it exists. Apply by March 1.

3. Call someone you want to work for.
Really. Just try it. The trick is to call someone senior enough who can make an independent hiring decision, but junior enough that there are not three layers of assistants protecting him. The person you call will be flattered, and mostly likely will listen to you.

Tell this person about what you can bring to the company. (Probably your most appealing offer will be some combination of your wet-behind-the-ears enthusiasm for working and I’m-younger-than-you flair for technology.) Also, tell the person your goals for the summer, so the person can understand how they fit in. Then ask for an internship. You just might get one.

What if you try all three of these ideas and they don’t work? Keep trying. You will spend a lot of your life job hunting. You may as well get good at it now, before your life depends on it.

6 replies
  1. Ann
    Ann says:

    Great tips and information, Penelope! Have already sent the link to my (college student) son who is already working to try and line up something interesting for next summer.

  2. Susan
    Susan says:

    Great advice as always, Penelope. It’s better do a little advance work than get stuck making tacos in the mall food court (trust me on this). My brother has had huge success by doing #3: his new mentor not only offered him a paid summer internship in DC, but also offered to share his corporate apartment and is helping him land an even better internship this summer. Now he’s a visiting professor at little brother’s university and asked him (a sophomore) to write the syllabus for his graduate-level course. There’s someone who knows how to leverage his political connections! Men generally feel comfortable making the ask, but many women struggle with this, wondering “why would so-and-so want to help me?” and “what do I have to offer?” Time to step up!

    * * * * *

    So true about men being better at asking than women. So here’s something to think about – if you are a woman, don’t worry about asking too many times or asking for too much. The odds are so low that you are doing that. Really. Also, you look strong and focused when you ask a friend or associate for help to get something you want. If you never ask for help, you deny yourself that extra moment of looking like a winner.

    -Penelope

  3. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Some smart people are good communicators. But many aren’t. If you plan on bugging someone at work, you’d better practice a short pitch a hundred times so you can leave it effortlessly on voice mail. You should also be able to effortlessly tell any stranger what you do in an easy to understand, logical manner proceeding from the general to the specific. You should also be able to explain the processes you follow to get things done.

    I just interviewed two smart people with post-grad degrees for the same job. One was an exceptional interviewee and told me everything I needed to know in an orderly manner. The other person was very interesting to speak to but couldn’t relate all the bases he covered in planning an annual strategy for his area of responsibility. And my project manager told me to put him on the backburner.

  4. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I graduate in May 2007 and I would have loved to know about the opportunities you mentioned! I am a future entrepreneur, and the social entrepreneurship program would have been one I would have loved to try! I had a hard time finding a job in an area I want, but I just heard back that I am accepted into the graduate program of my dreams and they require a summer internship in order to complete the program. I agree that is always helps! My fiance’ spent a semester and summer working for a company on coop, and now he has job offers coming in left and right thanks to his experience!

  5. emily xyz
    emily xyz says:

    That “just call someone you want to work for” tip is right on — I’ve gotten some of my best jobs that way, from an internship at Punk magazine in 1977 to an interview w/ a local cake bakery just last week. (No opening yet, but the interview went great!)

    * * * * * * *

    Thanks for posting this, Emily. It’s so much easier to try something new after people weigh in with real-life success stories.

    Good luck with the bakery.

    -Penelope

Comments are closed.