When it comes to summer jobs, connections aren’t everything

It’s February. For some of us, the hunt for a summer job is well underway. For others, like myself, it has just begun.

Securing solid summer employment is difficult for most students, unless you’re one of the lucky few who have a connection that can get you a job without the stress of multiple interviews and months-long application processes.

Thankfully, my high school years consisted of working for a wonderful small business. I’m lucky that my bosses played by the rules, were lenient in scheduling and often went above and beyond in their kindness towards myself and the other ladies who manned their bakeshop’s counter.

But when I realized it was time to branch out (and that it would be nice to work somewhere without ovens running eight hours a day), I was scared. My parents’ jobs have provided me with a lot of great things, but connections leading to summer employment were not one of them.

Since I didn’t know where to start, my mom helped me out. She suggested I apply to a summer student program with the local police force in my hometown, and given my interest in a potential legal career, I was all in. Before applying, I proofread my resume for the nth time, ensuring it was decked out with my personal accolades, and hoped for the best. When I received my invitation to interview, I was ecstatic. I totally thought my hard work paid off.

Despite this, I was far from confident. Given that my only prior job interview involved me discussing the best concerts I went to that summer, I had little experience in the world of formal interviews. At my mother’s advice, though, I went in with an open mind.

There were 25 spots available for the program, and given that part of the interview was essay writing, I thought I would have no problem moving on to the next stage — but when I got to the police headquarters for the session, something wasn’t sitting right with me.

I quickly realized that I did not have the same leg up as the other candidates. It was January, and it was cold. I was standing outside waiting to get in the locked doors, and in the meantime, other applicants’ parents came up to the door, unlocking it for their kids with a pin code.

As many summer students often do, I tried my best to not let it shake my confidence — but it did. It also didn’t help that the first question on the application asked if I had a parent currently serving as a police officer. I had a feeling I was one of very few in the room who answered “no.”

After I finished what I thought was a well-structured, meaningful essay about my love for the law, I felt pretty good — but there’s nothing worse than getting an email immediately saying you 1. weren’t going to progress, and 2. would not be given a reason why.

Truthfully, I knew why I didn’t make it. The reason was likely based on my answer to the application’s first question.
    I then did what a friend recommended to me: I applied for summer student jobs through the province. Although my friend used her experience to help me write my resume with the right keywords (thanks, Katie!), I had little hope.

Two months later, while checking my email in class, I read “INVITATION TO ATTEND INTERVIEW” and freaked out. After what became two long months of interviews and security screenings, I had my first adult-ish job. I wasn’t serving croissants — I was serving justice at an iconic Toronto courthouse.

Actually, I was photocopying parking tickets. But it’s the same thing, right?

I had a few chats with my supervisor during the summer about why she hired me out of the dozens of students who applied for my position. She told me that at the interview, it didn’t come down to experience: it came down to character.
    She also assured me that when an interview is done fairly, connections mean nothing.

My boss and group leader at the courthouse, who came to be one of my favourite people in the office (and, like, ever), also told me that it really is your attitude that lands you the job — not your qualifications.

She sent me a text the other day, just to check in and wish me good luck with the semester. “Stay as sweet as you are!” was how she ended the message. It made my day knowing that I was remembered in the office not for simply being competent, but by coming into the office with an open mind and smile on my face (and the occasional espresso with her name on it).

Looking back on it, my first mistake in job hunting was believing that all institutions hire fairly. After my first interview experience, I realized this was naive.
     My second mistake was believing that employers would care more about awards and GPAs than how people enter the room and answer their questions.
    Thankfully, if your future supervisor has a level head on their shoulders, this will be a myth you can bust yourself.

If there was anything I learned last summer other than how to get out of a speeding ticket, it’s that connections aren’t your stepping stool into the real world: your attitude is.
    Go into that interview with an open mind, a genuine smile, and express that you are always willing to learn. Despite the stresses interviews bring, I’m excited to do this all over again.

That’s because I’ve learned firsthand that being a kind, hardworking individual will never do you harm; and, frankly, employers who care more about who you know than who you are don’t deserve the time of day.

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