4 stories: My first summer job and how it got me where I am today


The idyllic image of a teen or young adult summer job — life guarding, scooping ice cream, bagging groceries — has faded a bit in American culture in recent years. Over the last decade, the number of teenagers working during the big school year break has declined from highs in the 1970's. Sixty percent of teenagers worked or looked for work in 1978; only 35% did the same in 2016.
There are several reasons for the shift: more teens are enrolled in summer school; seniors who aren't ready to retire are occupying jobs younger people historically took on; and, to a certain degree, it just doesn't look cool anymore. Perhaps, as suggested at The Atlantic, the "social feedback loop" that made unpaid internships and volunteer work the thing to do make summer jobs look outdated. (And unfortunately, low-income teens often lack both the ability and connections to get unpaid labor, even if they'd love the resume boost.)

However passé it might seem, summer jobs can make a big different in young people's lives. Mike Minton, assistant director of the Career Center at Illinois State University, told the Chicago Tribune that "students with notable work experience from their teen years often come to college with a strong sense of time management, strong verbal communication skills and a good work ethic" — attributes any employer would want. Not to mention the fact that getting a head start in the workforce may help clue people in to the things they do or don't like, or skills they'd like to hone.
Ahead, we talked to four women in different fields about how their first summer jobs helped shape their careers years later.

Kaethe Schuster

DowDuPont Performance Building Solutions, Sales & Marketing National Account Manager
Schuster is an account executive with a focus on commercial, retail, tile roofing and specialty markets. She is an active member of the Florida Roofing & Sheet Metal Association (FRSA), National Women in Roofing (NWIR), Tile Roofing Institute (TRI) and holds a seat on her regional U.S. Lacrosse Chapter board of directors.

"My first real summer job was as a Marine Patrol Officer for the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department in Michigan. I was selected, in part, because of my SCUBA certification, the department wanted to establish a Search & Rescue division, which I helped to mobilize. I was young, and one of only a few female officers, so I learned a great deal about managing my emotions and reactions, diplomacy and arbitration, assertiveness, respect, and interacting with a very broad range of people during extremely emotional events. Being a 'rookie' is never easy, and learning how to effectively transition into a new role and a new team, especially as a young female, was a priceless experience.

"As a deputy, I became accustomed to ongoing training and testing — continuous learning and improvement are important personal goals, no matter your industry. I love helping others and I love water, boating, and diving, and being passionate about the job was what made the long hours, hard work and trying situations rewarding. I woke up every day excited to go to work, and I knew so many people who didn't. My goal was to always make sure I was still that passionate as my career progressed.

"I also learned quickly about labor laws, unions, taxes, and benefits, areas in which a classroom can never fully prepare you. As for the pay: I could have earned more bartending, but I would never have had the depth of experience that I had as a deputy. Working in law enforcement was very humbling. My mentors there played a major role in helping set the course for my career; they are true heroes, and inspired me to always strive to make a difference for the better, while always having my team members' 'sixes' (backs)."

Kristen Sonday

Paladin, Co-founder & COO
Sonday works with Fortune-500 companies, law firms, law schools, and bar associations to staff, manage, and track pro bono work. Prior to Paladin, Kristen worked on international criminal matters in Mexico and Central America for the U.S. Department of Justice.

"My first summer internship in college was with a large law firm in New York City. I was introduced to the firm through a family friend who was a partner there, and I started off making $15/hour as a paralegal. I traveled over an hour each way from my parents' house in New Jersey and worked long days. The high-pressure, fast-paced environment was exciting!

"I returned to the firm the next summer because I loved the team and learning about the law firsthand, but ultimately felt that my interests were better aligned with the public sector. As a result, I decided to work for the Justice Department full-time out of college. My DOJ work was incredibly fulfilling and inspired me to start my current company, Paladin.

"At Paladin, we help legal teams scale their pro bono programs to increase [clients'] access to justice. Knowing how to navigate both public and private sector legal teams has been essential to working with our clients, and Paladin is a great way to merge the two worlds for good. Even if they're not a perfect fit, I've found that internships are stepping stones that can help inform the perfect position for you in the long term. There's a lot of trial and error in finding the right career, but you're always learning!"

Cassie Divine

Divine is part of the Small Business and Self-Employed Group at Intuit, where she leads a team focused on serving the global population of freelancers, independent contractors, and "businesses of one".

"My first job was babysitting. I think I started when I was 11. Taking care of kids and being accountable to their parents taught me a lot about responsibility, accountability, patience and effective communication, and using creativity to motivate people to meet a goal. (Anyone familiar with kiddo bedtimes knows what I’m talking about.) On top of that, I learned a lot about managing money and how to network."

Dr. Stacia Pierce 

LifeCoach2Women, Founder & CEO
Dr. Pierce is an award-winning life coach, motivational speaker, author and entrepreneur who has been featured in EssenceFast CompanyHuffington Post, and on the Steve Harvey Show.

"At 21, I worked as a BeautiControl Consultant, where I learned the very valuable skills of communication and presentation. Having to give presentations about the product helped me become comfortable talking in front of groups. I also learned how to sell — and I discovered that I was very good at it. My job didn’t feel much like work because I was doing something that I love and the experience drew out many of my natural talents and put me on the path to doing what I do right now. Working in teams with other consultants also taught me the value of networking. A few years later, I opened a full-service salon with a clothing boutique and launched my own makeup and skincare line.

"It is important to gain experience in your areas of interest so that you can find your fit career wise. I would advise young adults to explore their interests by getting jobs in fields that they already love and maximizing that experience. Keep a journal of your work experience and look for learnings. Ask yourself, What I am here for? The answer will come to you."

 (c) Refinery29.com
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