What We Wished We Knew Before Getting a Summer Job

Going into university triggers a whole list of questions that students ask themselves – what am I going to do with my life? What are my desires, my goals, my wishes, my dislikes, my neutrals? Many of these long-term, big-picture questions suddenly become very real and tangible, so much so to the extent that the shorter-term questions get put aside. One of the experiences that I completely did not address until I really needed to was my post-first year summer. Although I ended up scoring an amazing internship at the Vancouver Pride Society, I am all too aware that I could have spent it unhappy working in a hot, Italian grocery store. To gauge how other individuals reflected on and approached their summer, I interviewed two friends to showcase their experiences. 

  1. What is your name, faculty and year?
  • A: My name is Angus Larsen, I’m an international student from Denmark and the UK. I will be transferring out of McGill in a few weeks, otherwise, I would have gone into U2 Faculty of Arts studying Sociology and Gender Studies.
  • P: Psalm Tesalona, U1. Faculty of Arts. I’m in International Development and GSFS.
  1. Are you working this summer? Why or why not?
  • A: This summer, I am working as a bartender at a popular street food establishment in Copenhagen. I am working in order to save up money to pursue opportunities in the future that may better concern my studies and passions, such as an internship. Internships that concern my line of study and, further, my passion are hard to come by in my own community. In trying to pursue an internship or something of the like, I tend to have to look towards North America. Being an international student and not having citizenship or permanent residency in the US or Canada often renders international students unable to apply. 
  • P: Yes, I am! This girl’s gotta pay her bills! I’m also working to maintain a certain level of independence I knew I was gonna miss when I came back home for the summer.
  1. What do you wish you had known when searching for a job after your first year?
  • A: I wish I had been more active in reaching out to the CAPS office at McGill. Although I receive a sizeable monthly stipend from my government as a student pursuing a further education, the costs involved in working a typically unpaid internship in North America still run beyond what the stipend can cover. Combined with the hectic lifestyle of the typical student at McGill, the poor mental health resources and the seemingly ever-confusing daze that is entering a university as a first generation student, I often felt exhausted and lost. As I approached the end of my second semester (I entered as a U1 student), I felt so exhausted and so affected by my anxiety that trying to reach out to the whirlpool of potential resources the university has to look for a potential job did not seem possible. 
  • P: The job hunt was great, but oh my goodness did it come with a lot of work. I started looking into summer jobs in the non-profit and public service sector from the end of February onwards. By the beginning of April, I had applied to about 30 different organizations. Looking back, I don’t think job-hunting THAT early is necessary, but I will say that I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I managed to score interviews early, I established connections back in my hometown before I even physically came back, and I didn’t have to worry about scrambling to find a job because I was employed so early on. I also had enough time to think about taking on a second job because I already developed a realistic understanding of whether I could handle working two office jobs by the time everybody else started hiring.
  1. Anything else?
  • A: Personally, I did not feel that the lifestyle I was living as a McGill student would encourage or motivate my passion for my area of study to a point where I would actually want to make use of the resources they may offer to gain experience with ones study. I’m upset that I have had to move from an outstanding school like McGill, but I have also had to ask myself, “How valuable are the resources of a school or the name it holds if I constantly feel as though I cannot reap the benefits they advertise?” 
  • P: The whole process – from the initial job-hunting to the interviews, to the rejections, to finally getting employed – can suck so badly. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself unable to work, unemployed, working a job you think you’re going to hate. Be patient with yourself – if you fall short on your expectations for yourself, know that you’ve got tomorrow to work harder, and a whole lot of time to figure out what strengths you need to develop. Be realistic about your expectations, and know that all of the best things come in their perfect times. My advice would be to be proactive and direct with organizations you really want to work with. Shoot them an email regardless of whether they have a formal job posting or not! You lose nothing by showing a potential employer your genuine desire to work for them.
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