Getting the Most out of Summer Break

Summer is almost here! You're finishing up classes and dreaming about sunny days, flip-flops, swimming, reuniting with high school friends, and . . .  building your resume?
“Summer break is actually the perfect time for you to do things like career exploration, networking, self-reflection, and resume-building,” explains Claire Peters, a career advisor with the Career Exploration Center. She points out that while you're concentrating on midterms, papers, and other commitments during the academic year, you may have fewer distractions during break. 
People gather at the Memorial Union Terrace at the UW Madison during summer. Photo by Jeff Miller.
Peters has facilitated workshops where she helps students think about various ways they could get the most out of their summer. Below are some thoughts she’d like to share with you in response to a few frequently asked questions about career exploration and development.
“How do I build my resume when I’m just waiting tables?”
Whether you're working in retail or lifeguarding at the pool, there are always transferable skills to be gained. “Maybe you're learning organizational skills, communication, team-building, or time-management,” Peters says, “which are all skills that employers are looking for!”
Cross-College Advising Service (CCAS) advisor Emily Schmidt (left) meets with a student during an advising session. Photo by Bryce Richter/UW-Madison.
She adds that you could also use this time to do some self-reflection. “Start by asking yourself what you like and don’t like about different aspects of your job,” she suggests, and points out that this isn’t something you have to figure out all on your own.
You can always make an appointment with an advisor over the summer (and most advisors also do phone appointments if you don't live in the area).
“But I’m just going back to the same old summer job I do every year.”
You might see this as a rut – but Peters sees it as an opportunity to grow leadership skills. “Maybe you’re returning to the same summer camp for the third year in a row,” says Peters. “That’s wonderful! You can talk to your supervisor and express interest in increasing your responsibilities.” She adds that qualities like commitment and increased leadership look great on a resume.
“I’m working 40 hours a week – I have no time for anything else!”
“Sometimes students get discouraged about using this time to explore careers through volunteering or job shadowing if they feel like they’re swamped,” recognizes Peters. If this is the case she recommends looking for one-time volunteer opportunities that are just for a few hours or on the weekend. She wants you to remember that volunteering is a “great exploration tool” and it’s also a way to confirm that you're on the right career track. The following sites offer places to get started:
“Should I try job shadowing or informational interviewing?”
“Both!” says Peters, and explains that job shadowing allows you to observe what the average workday looks like in a particular field and to ask questions, while informational interviewing is an opportunity to have more of a discussion with a professional in a field that’s interesting to you.
She cautions that you should familiarize yourself with the etiquette for both of these opportunities. “This is not the time to bring out your resume, unless they ask to see it,” she stresses. “You’re there to learn and ask questions, not to ask for a job.” (For more tips on informational interviewing, click here.)
Peters suggests students learn the etiquette of informational interviewing and job shadowing before they begin reaching out to set up these opportunities. Photo by Jeff MIller.
“But how do I even begin to network? I don’t know anyone!”
Peters understands that you might feel intimidated by this, but notes that more often than not, worries about networking stem from an inaccurate idea of what networking is. “Students sometimes think it’s walking into an office with some business cards,” she explains. Instead, Peters suggests that you look for more natural connections by asking yourself if you know anyone who’s doing something interesting. For example, “Maybe your best friend’s mom works as a marketing consultant, or your cousin just got a job at the Department of Natural Resources. Start with who you know.”
She also encourages you to keep your LinkedIn profile updated, and to tap into the network of Wisconsin alumni, something you can do through Badger Bridge.
All work and no play . . .
While the summer can be a great season for you to learn more about yourself and the world of work, “It’s not all about getting ahead,” says Peters, voicing her concerns about students who take on too much. “Learning to balance your work life and personal life is an essential skill.” While she hopes that her tips are helpful, she urges you to make sure you also make time for fun, friends, and family.