How to Earn $20K at Your Summer Job

Young adults planting trees for their summer job.

You can earn more at a summer job than you think!

Can you picture yourself graduating debt-free AND with a healthy bank account thanks to a summer job?

Believe it or not – it IS possible.  Really.

My brother recently came out of university after four years with something much rarer than his degree (although he got that too): nearly $30,000 in the bank.  He did this while living away from home (although he did get some financial help from my parents as well).  My bro rarely worked during the school year, and certainly didn’t live like a monk – so a reasonable person might ask how he managed this.  No, he didn’t win a lottery – but he did have a summer job that was financially rewarding.

This job didn’t require any super niche skill sets or fantastic connection networks to track down.  It also allowed employees to see many exotic natural locales throughout the summer.  Of course, the job did call on him to get on a helicopter and fly away for three weeks at a time with fifteen minutes notice.  It also meant that he had to trudge through bogs, forest, and swamps hauling 60+ pounds of gear on his back while inhaling smoke and getting bitten by giant mosquitoes for 16 hours a day – but hey, no job is “all gravy” right?  If this trade-off sounds great to you, you might want to consider signing up to fight forest fires for the summer.

Most post-secondary programs give you just 2-4 months over the summer to go out and earn enough money working full time.  That makes summer a crucial period of time each year, if you hope to come out of school debt-free and still afford to have some fun once in a while.

The unfortunate reality is that many students don’t realize how important summer jobs can be, and consequently don’t put nearly enough time, energy, and preparation into finding a summer gig that will truly give you an advantage in the long run.

There are many stories out there that are similar to my brother’s.  It is possible to earn a substantial amount of money in only 2-4 months if you plan for it and are willing to embrace some non-traditional opportunities.

I myself made close to the $20,000 mark during several summers when I worked 40 hours a week as a Student Border Officer and then worked at a variety of other places when I wasn’t at my main gig.  I also know several people who have planted trees all summer and made $20,000.

There are many attractive opportunities available, but in my experience most of them have these things in common:

  • They aren’t located within a three blocks of your house.
  • They select their employment short list months before many students start looking for a job.
  • They require a large degree of sacrifice relative to lower-income jobs.

When it comes to wisely choosing a summer job – money isn’t always everything.

If you hope to break into the world of marketing one day, perhaps you might weigh the pros and cons of taking a low-paying (no-paying?) internship position for the summer, and decide it’s to your advantage – even if it means going into some debt.

It’s important to try and balance the need for earnings with the need to acquire skills, connections, and experience that you may need later in your career.  Obviously in a perfect world you can try and snag job that satisfies both needs.

  Résumé and Interview Hacks

 In order to secure a $20,000 summer job you have to start looking early, and look further than just the obvious places.  You also must make sure that your résumé stands out and that your interview skills are on point.  If you want my full list of proven résumé and interview techniques check out the appendix to the book I co-authored.

Here are my top five quick hitting résumé tips:

1) Avoid spelling and grammar mistakes.  These kinds of errors are the first thing potential employers will look for when thinning out the résumé pile.

2) Don’t make your résumé any longer than 1 double-sided page.  If you can’t put your best foot forward in two full pages, then you’re doing something wrong.

3) Squishing information in is not worth it.  You need to have a balance of information and white space in your résumé.  If it’s too crowded you risk giving a negative impression.  If you try to cram small print in, the document simply becomes less inviting, and can actually be intimidating to some readers.  You want the person reading your résumé to be attracted to it from an aesthetic perspective.

4) Get fresh eyes on it – several pairs.  Ask someone else to read your resume and give you some feedback; rinse and repeat.  The more opinions you get on your resume the more general patterns you can pick out.  DON’T try to incorporate everyone’s opinion because you will drive yourself crazy.

5) Make a separate cover letter for each position.  Most people will generate a generic cover letter when they are sending out job applications.  If you want to be just another résumé in the stack this is a fine strategy.  If you want to stand out then steer clear.

AND my five can’t miss interview tips:

1) The informal dialogue at the beginning on an interview is extremely important.  This is when first impressions are made and when personal connections can be secured.  Don’t be in a hurry to end this part of the interview and have something prepared for the “tell us about yourself” question that inevitably follows.

2) Do some research on the company you’re interviewing with.  This initiative will leave a positive impression on the interviewers and can allow you to answer any questions with relevant examples.

3) Use specific situations and scenarios as opposed to vague clichés.  Ask anyone who does the hiring somewhere when the last time they interviewed someone who wasn’t all about “teamwork” and you’ll see their eyes roll.  Instead of spouting meaningless platitudes, have a story in mind you want to share that illustrates your aptitude in an area.

4) Use the professional vocabulary associated with your job.  You want to show that you can step into the workplace tomorrow and hit the ground running.  Using the specific words and acronyms that are unique to the specific job your applying for allow you to prove that you’re ready to walk the walk because you already know how to talk the talk.

5) Follow up with a thank you within 24 hours.  This courtesy gives you an opportunity to leave a positive impression and conveys your professionalism, as well as how sincerely interested you are in the opportunity.  I have always gotten a positive reception to a phone call – even if it is just to leave a thank you message.

 

Kyle Prevost

Kyle is a teacher by day and personal finance blogger by night. When he isn't limping up and down a basketball court, you can catch him on his soapbox at Birtle Collegiate or providing the answers to Gen Y’s questions over at YoungandThrifty.ca and MyUniversityMoney.com. He is also the co-author of a critically-acclaimed book for Canadian students: More Money for Beer and Textbooks and has written for several of Canada's premier publications including the National Post, Globe and Mail, and Metro News.

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