For most of the past decade, my summer jobs have been haunted by screaming children. Don’t think “scary movie,” though — more like “public pool” (and “summer camp,” and “family-friendly restaurant”).
Despite the decibel level, I managed to learn a few tricks in those jobs, even when the work itself seemed like an inconvenience on the way to a paycheck, and then to the beach.
If you have to work all summer, you might as well make the most of it.
Focus on evergreen skills
Chances are, you won’t have a 30-year career as a pool snack bar attendant (although if you do, more power to you). So you might be wondering how your skill with the smoothie machine matters in the long run.
Here’s the thing: How the smoothie machine works doesn’t matter in itself. How you work with the smoothie machine is the real question. Are the smoothie ingredients stocked for the lunch rush? If the machine jams, do you know how to fix it? Do you know how to prevent it from jamming in the first place?
You can learn these basic skills and habits at practically any job, and they will serve you well no matter where you end up. You can learn to do things such as follow through on your commitments and responsibilities; solve problems independently and proactively; and work cooperatively with your boss and co-workers.
If these things seem rudimentary, you might want to keep in mind that …
It’s easy to clear a low bar
If you’re an employee who shows up on time and fulfills your responsibilities with minimal supervision, then guess what? You’re likely ahead of the game. Many of your co-workers could be as new to the world of work as you are, and maybe haven’t figured out those basics yet.
So if you’re competent, you can just coast. Or you could leverage that basic competency into startling adequacy — maybe even all the way up to incredible mediocrity. I’m joking, but the point is that when the bar is low, it’s really easy to look like a superstar. (And that involves helping your co-workers look good, too, if they need the assist.)
But why put in even the minimal effort necessary to stand out in an ephemeral job? Because you’ll also want to …
Networking is fancy business jargon for a simple concept. You might know it as “talking to people.” Talk to your co-workers, talk to your boss, talk to your customers if you have them. You don’t need to do any of that “personal branding” or “selling yourself” stuff. Just talk to people, help out your team and do your job well.
You never know who will have future opportunities for you, and if that person remembers you as helpful and hardworking, you’ve already got your foot in the door.
Don’t fake it. Just have a good time. It’s summer, after all, and this job (hopefully) isn’t life or death. Just remember to …
Save some money
This might be the first time you get a significant chunk of disposable income, with no strings attached. It’s your money and you can spend it how you like! Except maybe don’t, at least not all of it. That money can carry you through the next school year, or help pay your tuition.
» MORE: How to save money
If you’re a real overachiever, you could even open up a retirement fund and start stashing. The retirement outlook for us millennials isn’t as rosy as it was for our parents, but time is the most important factor for building up retirement savings. Take advantage.
Stephen Layton is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected].