The Beginner's Guide to Summer Jobs

03/24/2012 03:26 EDT | Updated 05/24/2012 05:12 EDT

Summer jobs are the best. When I was in high school and university, as soon as the buds were on the trees, I would be pounding the pavement with my meagre little resume in hand. I wanted retail jobs, I wanted hostessing jobs, I wanted waitressing jobs and file clerk jobs and any number of other gigs that would let me put a few thousand dollars in the bank towards school. That money would also finance new summer dresses, Slurpee runs to the 7-Eleven, drinks on the patio, and piles of magazines to read on the beach.

Now that I'm older, the seasons are supposed to contain one long, unbroken string of employment: my summer job should be the same as my Christmas job. It's tough not to feel nostalgic, though. Summer jobs offer a fair amount of flexibility and freedom, and there's a light at the end of the tunnel: heading back to school in the fall is a deeply ingrained part of my psyche. Work four months, go to school for eight. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But if you're looking for work this summer, start early. Once you're back from spring break, start looking at job boards and calling old bosses. If you can't start right away, be open about the fact that you're in school -- most bosses don't mind waiting a few weeks for the right candidate to come on board, especially if they can do the interviewing and hiring ahead of time. Don't wait until school lets out in April or May. By then, the super-premium jobs will have been snapped up.

Take risks. Apply for jobs that are outside your wheelhouse, especially if you're still in school. I strongly encourage folks to try getting in touch with their creative sides; so much emphasis is placed on making boatloads of money after graduation in order to repay student loans that some folks will otherwise never get a chance to, you know, play. Conversely, if you're studying something arts-n-lit related, try your hand at some office skills-building. Everyone should know how to write a great letter, make a spreadsheet, and take a comprehensible message. If there are holes in your academic background, now's your chance to fill them.

If you can afford it, try an internship. The non-profit sector might not pay, the corporate sector will, but neither makes you rich. However, internships often offer a much more enriching experience than a typical entry-level position. You are encouraged to network, to take on short-term projects, and an internship is a great resume-builder.

If you can't afford to be an intern, try volunteering a couple hours a week to build your resume -- your school or local community centre will have suggestions on where you can help out. Avoid overextending yourself, though: I had plenty of friends who worked two, three, or four jobs during the summer to make as much money as possible. They all, somewhat unsurprisingly, burned out (if not during the summer, then during the school year, when it hurt more). Downtime is important. Use your summer break to take an actual, you know, break. I repeat: Downtime. Is. Important.

For something completely different: travel! Pick a city, any city -- Vancouver, Dublin, Toronto, San Francisco -- and expand your worldview. You might not save as much money, but you can rest easy knowing that's only for a few months. Like your creative side, your worldly side can get a boost that might not be as available to you once things like "permanent positions" are on the horizon.

Take the long view. Employment opportunities aren't amazing for freshly graduated students, so if you can build a relationship with a company in your teens or early 20s, you might be able to turn that into more long-term employment later on. Talk with your supervisor about guaranteeing a position for the following summer. If your school schedule allows you to work into the fall, take advantage of the chance to both make more money and impress your supervisors.

No matter if you're just starting out or have settled comfortably into your career, remember to have fun: summer is stuffed full of long weekends, beach days, trips to the air-conditioned mall, and drinks on the patio. You might have to work those long weekend and give up some of those beach days in the name of making money, but enjoy the little things: a walk in the sun, a cool drink outside, and your well-earned paycheques.