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August 21, 2007 5:14 PM   Subscribe

JobFilter: Should I return to my high-paying summer job next summer?

Apologies for the length, but I want to get the details straight. (I did search through old job and career posts, and while the "work at something I like or work for money" threads were helpful, I need something more specific).

I am a university student, with 2 years left before I graduate with 2 undergrad degrees. My grades are such that my tuition is paid with scholarships. I work each summer to make enough money for living expenses (rent, groceries, utilities, etc.), books, my car, and entertainment. Right now, I'm looking at graduating debt-free, or with minimal debt and a good chance of paying it off soon after graduation.

Because my dad worked at a unionized warehouse for 20 years, I was allowed to work there for the past 2 summers as a student. The job paid extremely well ($27/hour) and was a guaranteed 40 hours/week, for 10 weeks.

This summer, I was asked to be the student supervisor. This is all well and good, but the job absolutely sucks. I make the same amount as I did before, but I have a lot more to look after. I don't get treated well (and this isn't just a case of needing to grow thick skin), I work really long hours (5.45 - 7, and Saturdays), and the worst part: the work means absolutely nothing to me.

So. I'm 8 days away from being finished this summer (hooray!) but my bosses want to know my plan for next summer (i.e. if I'll be available in June). Next summer would have to be my last summer if I go back because they limit the number of summers for every student.

Do I:

- stick it out and work there next summer, to make enough money for school, and put away money for my huge post-graduate travel plans?

- find another job and never look back?

I really, really, really hate this job. I can stick it out and make it through another summer, but I'm of the school of thought that "life's too short to waste any time not doing what you love". I don't know if I'm okay with spending another one of my youthful summers hating my life and working 14 hours a day at something that means nothing to me. $27/hour is great, but I already regret spending so many hours in a place that sucks the life out of me.

So, what say you?
posted by gursky to Work & Money (23 answers total)
I'm not clear on two points. Did you enjoy the job when you were not a supervisor? And is your only option to go back to a supervisory role at this company?
posted by acoutu at 5:20 PM on August 21, 2007

Sounds like you already made up your mind. Nothing is worse than feeling like you're wasting your life. That being said, knowing that you will graduate with absolutely no debt would be a fabulous feeling.
You can find other jobs that will pay the bills, but you might have to kiss that huge post-grad holiday goodbye. I say quit.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:22 PM on August 21, 2007

What's your earning potential if you weren't working there? Figure out the difference in how much money you'd make and see whether it's worth it to you.

But I would say don't do it--in your situation getting experience that's relevant to what you want to do after you graduate is a lot more valuable than cash. And it looks like a career in warehouses isn't for you. Do something that'll help you get a job/get into a grad program after school or explore a potential career. This goes double if you already have some kind of leadership experience on your resume.
posted by phoenixy at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2007

Figure out how much they'd need to pay you for you to _not_ resent it, then ask them for that much money. If they say no, you're free! If they say yes, you can travel after you graduate, or not work the following summer, or eat really well, or take someone out on excellent dates!
posted by amtho at 5:59 PM on August 21, 2007

Not even sure if this is an option, but split your summer if they let you. Work half-time at the mind-numbing job and half-time at something low paying or no-paying that really interests you.
posted by PY at 6:00 PM on August 21, 2007

I'm ten years out of college with an engineering degree from a top twenty university, still whittling down a debt load of $50k, making approximately 27/hr. Really, dude? Suck it the fuck up.
posted by notsnot at 6:09 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Say "yes" now, and then back out later if you find something better. It may burn your bridges, but this is the last year, right?
posted by smackfu at 6:28 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

For some perspective: I'm a student and make less in a year than you do in 10 weeks. You have to work somewhere you don't like for 10 weeks, yes. But, on the other hand:

1. You do not have to work somewhere you don't like for 42 weeks.
2. You are able to focus on school instead of plotting out your class schedule so that you'd have to time work at convenient times.
3. You will graduate with no financial obligations and will get to do something fun immediately afterwards.
4. If you look a bit closer, the job does mean something to you: it means that you are free during the school year, and you will be free after college.

This is one of those instances where you really have to look at the young and reckless things that you will do in your future and see if you want to sacrifice that future of fun and foolish behavior just because you do not want to work for 10 weeks at some crappy place for a crazyhigh wage.

Some ideas for dealing with the crappiness of your job, though: see if you can stop being a supervisor, find something to do after your work shift is over that does have meaning, during downtime plan future adventures in your head.

Seriously, though. Don't quit your job. I know why you want to, but it is a really, really good deal. At the very least, tell them you will come back and then devote some of your free time (that you have in your 42 weeks off from work) to look for other summer better-paying jobs.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 6:36 PM on August 21, 2007

Ditto acoutu's questions. If you didn't hate the non-supervisory gig, why not ask your boss if you can return to being a regular summer student type next year? Freedom from debt and huge post-graduation travel plans sound like something worth working toward.
posted by mumkin at 6:42 PM on August 21, 2007

Is this summer job relevant to your majors? If not, it might be even more valuable to you in the long run to take a pay cut and find a lower paying, resume building internship for next summer. That way, even if you do take on some debt, you'll have a better shot at a job you like when you start paying off said debt.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 6:50 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with those who said suck it up for the ten weeks.

Then, when you get back into school, get a part-time job in the field you want to go into that pays peanuts (because, no doubt, it will only pay that much). Make sure it's a job you *love* with a really interesting workload that you only need to do, say, 10 hours a week.

As for relinquishing your role as a supervisor, tell the company that you would prefer to let someone else have the "valuable" experience of being a supervisor, and that you would gladly give up your position so that another student may benefit from the work as you have. It sounds nicer than just, "Please, demote me!"
posted by nursegracer at 7:06 PM on August 21, 2007

Agree with smackfu. People's plans change, and I don't see how they can hold it against you much if you turn out not to be available 9 months after you said you would be. Even if they do, you weren't going to be able to work there again anyway, right?

So, see if you can line up some reasonable alternative by next summer, and if not, you have this to fall back on.
posted by dixie flatline at 7:11 PM on August 21, 2007

they already want you to commit to next summer? that's weird.

tell them you want to explore your options and look into internships/summer work in your field. ask them if you can give them a call in the spring if nothing turns up.

we all have jobs we hate, but there is probably something more satisfying out there for similar pay. a bad job can really grind you down.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:18 PM on August 21, 2007

phoenixy's point is good- do you have the qualifications to get a job you want after you graduate? Depending on your field, next summer might be much better spent on a job or internship directly related to what you really want to do. Oftentimes a degree is not enough. Related experience and connections might be worth a little bit of debt.

If you're getting your real-career experience and connections other ways, though, I'm with the suck-it-up crowd. 10 weeks is 10 weeks, but student debt is forever.
posted by doift at 7:49 PM on August 21, 2007

I agree with sucking it up - however, try to negotiate for more money and at the very least, a better title or duties next summer. It will show progression and responsibility on your resume, etc. Being student supervisor is akin to holding a leadership role, yes? And that salary is unreal.

If you really hate it and are nervous about committing, say that you can't really commit at this point, but would like to stay in touch and discuss the issue next spring. You can look for other opportunities in the fall and spring and if nothing pans out, then you can take this job again. That way you might not feel like you're missing out on something related to your degree by taking the job again.

FWIW, I'm guessing a lot of us had soul-sucking jobs in college (I worked retail and had a short stint as a telemarketer for example). You're definitely not the only one, but you are probably one of only a few making bank at the same time. This is not your only chance - you have quite a few more years to decide you want to earn less to pursue your dreams.

You are getting paid overtime for your 14-hour days right? Surely you end up working more than 40 hours per week?
posted by ml98tu at 8:28 PM on August 21, 2007

I took a summer job between junior and senior year of undergrad studies that paid well but had nothing to do with my area of study while other people I knew in my area of study were off working internships with companies in our field. They got jobs at those companies. I didn't. In the end it worked out alright because I was able to use the connections I made to get my first post-grad job and then move on and up from there, at least 'til I decided to return to school and go for the grad degree.

So, YMMV, but if you're studying something you want to work in, I'd pass up the job that makes you miserable and go for the experience that might get you hired, if that's a choice that's available to you.

HOWEVER, I recommend that you don't tell them this until next spring -- better to have the well-paying but crappy job as a backup. If you do find a better option, you lose nothing by burning bridges then. For the record, my job involved supervisory responsibilities working 5:30AM through 5PM or later doing physical labor in non-air-conditioned spaces, so I do understand what you're going through and how much it sucks.. but believe me, unpaid bills suck worse..
posted by Alterscape at 10:01 PM on August 21, 2007

it's a means to an end - you can endure anything for 10 weeks when the payoff allows you immeasurable freedom.
posted by wayward vagabond at 1:56 AM on August 22, 2007

I'd agree with some comments above. In most fields of study, it's not unknown to look for an internship sometime during your college career. Mention that you can't commit because you'd like to look into those options. Unless they're completely unsympathetic to your academic life, they'll acknowledge it's a good point.

Now, as for the money/work/life thing: is it possible they'd let you work for seven or eight weeks instead of ten next year? You could travel the other few weeks and have some of the best of both worlds. Alternatively, and possibly preferably, look into studying abroad. It's one of the things I wish I had done that I didn't and I still regret it. You'd still be able to work all summer yet would have time outside the country traveling. Also look into a nice post-graduation trip.

I'd ignore some of the crankier comments, too. There are different financial situations and you've found yourself in a pretty agreeable one. The fact that you have options doesn't mean that you should choose the most financially useful one at the expense of your happiness.
posted by mikeh at 6:54 AM on August 22, 2007

Sucking it up is the responsible thing to do. It's fine to be irresponsible on occasion, however, and you've Done The Right Thing these past summers, so if you really feel like your quality of life is suffering for no benefit other than just cash then write yourself a waiver and do something that will make you happier.

Or, better yet, something that's in your field. Next summer's your last internship possibility, if that's pertinent for you, and that should be a higher priority than this gig even if you didn't hate it.

The best of both worlds would be if there's something at that location that would be more valuable to you that you can suggest you do as an alternative. It's always best to respond to problems with suggestions of solutions, so if there's something there you could float the idea of, do it.

Otherwise, why not avoid burning bridges? You can probably tell them with fair honesty that you don't want to say no out of turn but you think you have a chance at some valuable opportunities for internships next year. State that you don't want to simply say no but you also don't want to make a promise you can't be 100% sure you can keep. If you can come up with an alternative job there then this is also a decent negotiating tactic. "I don't feel like I can say yes when there's a chance I could have the opportunity elsewhere to do XYZ" gives them the chance to say "Do XYZ here."

All that said, if you give this place the finger and move on, do you have an alternative financing solution for your last year?
posted by phearlez at 9:58 AM on August 22, 2007

Internships are important for two reasons:
1 - You get to test your planned career, and you still have time to change gears if you discover that you HATE it.
2 - If you like your planned career, you have something to put on your resume to put you ahead of all the other recent grads applying for the same job.

You won't make $27 per hour, but internships do pay (or should -- in the US they're legally required to pay unless you get academic credit for your work). Be frugal, and you'll have something set aside for the year ahead.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:59 AM on August 22, 2007

Here's the contrary view. I was in a very similar situation when I was in college. My blue-collar dad got me a union job at a factory, where I got paid some good money but worked in a 30-below freezer everyday. I (with the other summer college kid) was tormented by the regular workers - like you said, not just a case of needing to grow thick skin - who resented us for our youth and our future away from the factory. I HATED that job and didn't go back after the first summer (like you, I could have). The next summer I worked two jobs - one at a school for kids with special needs and one at a video rental place. Neither job advanced my careeer aspirations, but I loved both of them.

I graduated college and went on to graduate school. With scholarships and grants and stuff I came out with about $50K in debt. Five years out, thanks to a high-paying job and avoidance of dumb spending, it is paid off.

You can't know what you will make in the future, but if you are going into a high-paying field, I say screw that job and find something you will enjoy. $11K for one summer during college is a lot of money, but in the long run it will likely mean little.

Get a satisfying job that pays reasonably and has typical hours. Use your free time to go out in the evenings with your buddies or learn a hobby or play golf or read a bunch of books or something. You have learned your lesson - hard, unsatisfying work is hard and unsatisfying - so go forward with thanks for the knowledge and a determination not to find yourself there again.
posted by Duluth?! I Hardly Know Her! at 10:40 AM on August 22, 2007

croutonsupafreak is mistaken. There is no requirement under U.S. labor law that internships pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act outlines conditions that must be met in order for a position to be considered a "trainee" or "volunteer." None of the requirements involves school credit.

I think that you should tell them that you cannot commit now to a job next summer because you need to keep open your ability to take a job related to your field of study, but that you'd like to remain eligible for rehire. If you can get yourself "demoted" from supervisor, so much the better, because it sounds like that job has no benefit for you. Then, spend all year trying to find a better deal: either a job that pays comparably but doesn't bite as hard, or one that doesn't pay as well (or at all) but is far more rewarding. If you can't find a better job, slog through another summer where you are. But don't give up now when you have 10 months to find something better.
posted by decathecting at 10:34 PM on August 22, 2007

just a follow up in case anyone happens to check out the thread in the future...

to answer:

- going back as supervisor was the only option

- i was not able/allowed to ask for more than $27/hour because it's a temporary contract, pre-written by the company and the union (and the union won't allow one student to be making more than the rest, supervisor or not)

- sadly, i would not be able to split my summer or work less hours. the place is pretty strict on attendance/hours, sort of an "all or nothing" scenario

today was my last day. i went in, said my goodbyes to everyone, and left feeling so free and light. i won't go back next summer. $27/hour or not, no one should hate their job so much they'd rather be badly injured than be at work. i feel so much better. and to ease my financial worries, i've lined up 3 awesome jobs for the school year (instead of 2, like usual) so i'll be okay.

thanks everyone!
posted by gursky at 5:31 PM on August 31, 2007

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