How to get a summer job

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
March, 2016

There are many options when it comes to finding summer work. Discover how to secure a role that could help fund your student life or provide invaluable experience - in this country or abroad

Almost a quarter of first-year students who responded to The University of Sheffield's #TakeUSwithyou social media campaign engaged in some form of summer work in 2015. This indicates that while many undergraduates are ready for a holiday during the summer months, others are eager to work.

If you're in the latter category, here is some advice on how to secure short-term employment between June and August, and make the most of the summer break.

By utilising your university's careers service, this can help point you in the right direction and avoid a lot of fruitless job-searching

Decide what you want to achieve

Now that you've opted to go down this route, it's time to think about what you actually want to do, as this will have a strong bearing on your next move. Are you looking to earn some extra cash in preparation for the next academic year, or do you have a clear plan that relates to your future profession?

Whether the nature of your summer employment is directly linked to your degree subject and career ambitions or not, the experience can help to form ideas, and inform future decisions, says Laura Kerley, employability adviser at Sheffield Hallam University.

Andrew Ferguson, assistant director of business, community and enterprise at the University of York, agrees. 'Even if the opportunities on offer don't exactly match your longer term ambitions, you will gain skills and insight that will prove useful in the longer term.'

Make use of university support

It's often only when students are preparing to graduate that they really appreciate their university's careers service, but don't forget that it's there throughout your journey to offer support and guidance. Laura suggests making use of their expertise on writing successful job applications and preparing for interviews. You can also visit the National Careers Service and speak to friends and family.

Louise Cooper, placements officer at The University of Sheffield and coordinator of #TakeUSwithyou, advises those looking for a structured work placement to seek help in establishing which organisations may want to hire you. 'Placements for first-year or international students are examples of types of placements which aren't always revealed on standard job search sites,' she explains. 'By utilising your university's careers service, this can help point you in the right direction and avoid a lot of fruitless job-searching.'

Unless you've already secured work, you must show initiative by making use of the extensive range of job search methods available to you. 'Students will need to bear in mind, however, that not all jobs are clearly advertised,' says Laura. You'll need to be prepared to: hand out CVs in person, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors; be brave and phone the company to introduce yourself to a targeted individual, outlining what you're looking for.

And if you're struggling to find a job due to the lack of a work history, Louise suggests filling your CV with experiences from your university life. 'Society membership, volunteering, projects and ambassadorial work all look great,' she says.

Have an open mind

While many students feel the need to gain an internship with a high-profile graduate recruiter over the summer, Andrew points out that only a fraction of students are ever going to be able to do this.

He therefore advises students to consider the merits of working for a small and medium-sized business (SME). 'SMEs can offer work that will give a fantastic insight into the whole range of business functions, simply because they aren't big enough to have separate finance, HR and marketing departments,' he adds.

Andrew also emphasises that many universities offer programmes and opportunities to gain paid work experience with small, local businesses - useful if you're planning on staying close to the university during the summer.

Look around you for jobs

It's the location that often influences where you begin your job search. You may already be set on packing up your things and going home for the summer. Alternatively, you could let the job opportunities lead the way.

If your place of summer residence is already decided, Jay Russell, Job Shop and internship manager at the University of Reading, recommends that you keep an eye on big employers in your area, such as hotels, theme parks, racecourses, and shopping centres. 'Look out for any local job fairs where they might be in attendance and check their websites and social media pages,' he advises.

Jay also stresses the need to plan ahead. This is because some large organisations, particularly banks and supermarkets, can take more than 10 weeks from advertising a role to starting someone. However, if you really need to start working right away, target local shops, bars and restaurants, as they often take people on far quicker.

For jobs in the UK and Northern Ireland that involve working with children, your employer may ask you to get a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. These can take time to organise and you will usually have to pay for them yourself.

The money dilemma

The #TakeUSwithyou survey found that 22% of summer work was 'unpaid' and this was not limited to the arts, creative industries and charities. Students may therefore have to consider whether to only pursue jobs offering a certain wage, or place a higher value on the work experience aspect.

Louise reveals that the university doesn't advocate students working for free, but recognises that internships and work placements are often viewed as a means of getting ahead in their careers. 'Unpaid work is more commonly secured through family and friends, and can be a way to get a foot in the door,' she says.

Despite the understandable pressure that many students feel to make money over the summer, Andrew explains how it's worth checking that you've stretched yourself and tried something new as well, perhaps via work shadowing or volunteering. Although the activity may be unpaid, it can lead to far more interesting job applications in the future.

When you accept a job offer, it's important to know your rights, states Jay. For instance, if you're classed as a 'worker', you'll normally be entitled to the National Minimum Wage, which varies depending on your age. You may even have holiday rights in line with the number of hours you've worked.

Broaden your horizons

Every year, many students choose to embark on a global adventure during their summer holidays. A remarkable fifth of respondents to the #TakeUSwithyou campaign travelled overseas for their summer work experience, while gap year opportunities are always popular.

For those looking seriously at potential international options, Louise explains that due to cultural differences, a great UK CV may not be seen the same way in another country. University careers services are there to provide advice on applying for and looking for work abroad, in addition to any possible structured placements. 'If you're looking for an experience abroad there are organisations that, for a fee, will organise this for you,' says Louise.

You'll need to plan early if you wish to work at a summer camp in the USA or as an English teacher, notes Laura. 'Look for these opportunities from autumn onwards, as application deadlines are often in winter and spring, although it's worth checking for last minute vacancies,' she adds.

On the other hand, if you're an international student hoping to earn some money while in the UK, and you don't already have a National Insurance Number, Jay urges you to apply for one. While it's issued by the government free of charge, it can take between two and six weeks for a number to be sent out to you. As long as you have already applied for the number you can temporarily start work, but some employers will insist on one during the application process.