Avoid a Summer of Nothing

Having trouble finding a summer job? It seems as if everyone is, from high schoolers to lawyers-in-training. This Sunday's New York Times has an interesting article on the unemployment issue facing teenagers and college students.

Among the sobering statistics:

  • 24% unemployment for 16- to 19-year olds (up from 16.1% last year)
  • 21% decline in internships available to college students versus last year

A psychologist quoted in the article opined:"[T]here is something to be said about sitting out on a warm evening and looking at the stars  — they need more of this contemplation and self-evaluation."

While I understand what he's saying, it's also important to consider what an "empty" summer will look like in the future when you apply for jobs or admission to graduate school. If you're a college student aiming for a permanent post-graduate job or admission to a graduate program, you'll more than likely be submitting a resume as part of the application process. Students will naturally have less material to include on their resume than someone who has been out in the working world for some time. But that doesn't mean you're going to get a free pass if you can't get a job for the summer.

On the contrary, each summer when you could have worked will be scrutinized by those reviewing your materials. In addition, hiring managers and admissions officers know how to spot a "hole" in a resume. With fewer years in the working world for you to gain experience, the marginal impact of an "empty summer" is that much greater. So what should you do if you're having trouble landing a traditional summer job?

The short answer: anything.

Find something meaningful to spend your time on during the summer. Work on a political campaign, volunteer at a hospital, become a Big Brother or Big Sister, coach a youth sports team. Doing something substantive is guaranteed to make your summer more enjoyable but it will also pay off in the long run. Going through the summer like some of the subjects in the NY Times article -- "loaf[ing] through days," "playing trumpet or guitar," "watching DVDs at one another's houses" -- may create a hole in your resume that you cannot later fill in. 

Competition for post-college jobs and graduate admissions is always going to be intense. Rather than creating an obstacle to your future by inaction this summer, take steps today to fill in that hole.  Your summer work does not need to be permanent. It doesn't even need to come with a paycheck (though it would be nice if it did...). It needs to give future employers or admissions representatives an indication that even in difficult economic times, you found a way to make a meaningful contribution to some organization. 

Questions or comments about the summer job hunt? We want to hear from you!

Gregory Henning is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge R. Lanier Anderson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then became an Assistant District Attorney in Boston. As part of the Anna Ivey team, Greg works with law school applicants.