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Seven Ways to Make Your Part-Time Job Experience Relevant to Colleges

By Emily Childress

Have you ever questioned whether your part-time work experience in high school would be valuable? Many high school students work one or more part-time jobs, yet few realize that their experience is relevant. It does not matter where you are employed, or what for your work experience can be valuable to future employers and college admissions officers in more ways than most may think.

When I was 15 years old, I got my first job as a hostess in a small local restaurant. I worked there for the next year, learning more than I ever thought I would. Below, I have listed seven of the most helpful skills that I learned from working that job, starting with the most relevant.

1. My part-time work experience primarily cultivated my leadership skills. While you may not be in a leadership role upon first starting a job, if you are a good and hard worker there are plenty of opportunities for promotion. Since I worked at a small restaurant, there were only two or three other hostesses working there. When I first started, I was the third hostess hired; however, within my first three months, the other two hostesses both quit. Suddenly, I was the one training the new hostesses and overseeing host duties.

Leadership experience showcases personal responsibility and a strong work ethic; most college essay prompts will include a question about leadership in one form or another. Furthermore, future employers will also want to see that you can move up in a company, rather than being stagnant and not taking the initiative to take on more leadership responsibilities.

So how can you use your leadership skills in a relevant way? Try applying for leadership-based scholarships. Many colleges will have their own, but reach out to your guidance counselor if you want even more resources. On your resume, make sure to note your specific leadership roles in each job or activity. Finally, try focusing a personal essay on how being a leader has shaped you as an individual, and what it has taught you. You should use specific examples to highlight your experience.

2. For the most part, any part-time job that a teenager would work will involve customer service responsibilities. As a hostess, most of my job was dealing with customers. I handled complaints they had about the food or service and took pick-up and delivery orders over the phone. Dealing with difficult people while still being cordial is a lifelong skill, and many future employers value workers who can effectively communicate.

One of the most significant aspects of a college admissions package is the essay. Communication skills are not only relevant to spoken word, but writing as well, and a college admissions essay is a crucial way to make yourself stand out during the application process. For instance, you can discuss your work experience in depth in the personal essay. Make sure your commitment and responsibility shine through in your essay and you will be able to transform your high school job into an impressive extracurricular and an asset to your college applications.

3. My part-time job experience allowed me to gain the understanding that demonstrating loyalty is an essential skill. For instance, staying at one job for a long period of time can be very revealing of character. It shows loyalty and the ability to persist when things get difficult, as is the case with all job experiences. Therefore, I worked at my first job for an entire year before moving on to a different one.

Obviously, there can be very good reasons for quitting a job to find a new one, but a resume that demonstrates job-hopping or jumping from job to job in short periods of time can make you appear unorganized and careless. Meanwhile, staying at one, or even a couple of jobs, for longer periods of time can convey consistency and loyalty.

Loyalty is something that does not need to be explicitly stated, but rather shown on a resume. By adding the dates of when you worked a specific job, you can show your consistency without having to overtly state it. This can also be a good skill to bring up in an interview, when a future employer may ask about your strengths. You’ll have the evidence needed to say you’re a committed worker.

4. Problem solving is a beneficial characteristic that I learned from my job working as a hostess. In any business, there are constantly things going wrong, and oftentimes, there is not a manager around to fix things. In other instances, the problem is too small to involve a higher-up employee. At the restaurant, I often was left to deal with customers who needed accommodations or had problems with their orders. This taught me how to come up with solutions on my own, and those problem-solving skills have come in handy many times since.

Problem-solving skills can exhibit independence, creativity, and intelligence. College admissions essays often ask how you have overcome a specific issue or hurdle in your life, and showcasing your ability to solve issues on your own is a great way to impress a future employer or college admissions board.

5. Proper time management is something that you may learn at your part-time job. For instance, I had many tasks to do throughout each shift, and it was my responsibility to figure out when I had the ability and time to perform each one. There was not always a manager around to tell me when I could leave the hostess stand to do another task; it was up to me to decide if it looked like I could quickly do something else without leaving customers waiting for a long time to be seated.

When you are in high school, you may have support at home or at school that encourages you to manage your time well. At college and out in the professional world, you will have to depend on yourself for proper time management. This is a skill that requires you to take responsibility and demonstrate organization, two important aspects that college honors programs and future employers look for in applicants.

Time management is a great strength to talk about in an interview. Whether it be an interview for college admissions or employment, the ability to manage your time is an impressive skill.

6. Working as a hostess taught me that it is vital to learn quickly on your feet and to adapt to new environments and situations. Beginning a new job means learning new skills that you have probably never used before, such as learning how to navigate a specific computer program, memorizing the ingredients in menu items, or being able to tell a customer where to locate an item in the store. My first job taught me a lot about learning and memorizing different things about the restaurant, and I implemented this skill in the future whenever I began a new job.

At college or at a new job, you will also have to quickly learn how to adapt to new situations and places. It can be confusing and sometimes scary, but having prior experience will make it much easier. Also, it can be refreshing for an employer or college counselor to know that you will be fine adapting on your own, and that they will not have to constantly check up on you to make sure you are doing things correctly.

A situation where you had to quickly adapt is another great topic for a personal essay. Going to college means adapting to a new environment, so it will impress college admissions counselors that you are aware of this and have experience doing so. I personally had to write a personal essay about a time I reacted to change, so it is always a possibility. Use your specific example to then transition into discussing your strengths in adaptability and learning. Finally, you can note adaptability as a skill on your resume. You should always match your resume skills to the job description you are applying for and list other relevant skills with examples.

7. Follow directions. When you start out at a job, you usually begin at the bottom before you can work your way up, and following direction from others well will allow you to eventually take on a leadership role. Before becoming a leader, you must learn how to follow directions as an essential skill. When I began my job, I had never worked anywhere before, and often had to ask people for help and follow their instructions.

In college you will often have to follow the instructions of a professor or coach, and at a full-time job you will always have a boss. Following directions efficiently and properly is a skill that may not sound difficult, but can prove difficult for many people, especially earlier on in their professional careers. Demonstrating to a superior that you can be a good worker under authority will prove to be an impressive asset to getting you hired or accepted.

Emily Childress is an Embolden intern and a student of the College of William & Mary and University of St Andrews Joint Degree Programme.

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