Making Your On-Campus Job Work for You

Jessica_Jordan_post2Finding an on-campus job can be tricky, especially if you are a freshman. I remember that one of my first thoughts after unpacking my dorm room was, “I have got to get a job.” For most Quest students, it’s a fiscal reality that they will have to work during their time at college in order to pay their scholarship’s student contribution or afford basic necessities. It can be easy to panic and accept the first job that comes along, but if you take a deep breath and commit yourself to finding a job that’s a great fit for you, your work can be so much more than just a way to make money—it can help you make friends, teach you invaluable skills, and be a truly meaningful part of your college experience.

What you can do:

1. Check out your school’s work study job board.

Most schools have an online job board where students can browse available work-study positions. At Wesleyan, many of the positions were listed the summer before my freshman year started, so even though I had no real idea of what campus looked like (having visited only briefly once before), I could start trying to picture what part of my routine might look like. This is a really great jumping off point—for some of you it might be both the beginning and the end of your search—but remember that many jobs will not be posted until the school year has officially started, so check the board often for the most up-to-date listings.

2. Don’t get discouraged, and keep your eyes open.

After perusing Wesleyan’s job board for weeks before I moved into my dorm room, I had found a job that sounded perfect for me: assistant in the rare books room at the library. I was so desperate to get that job. I counted down the days until I would be able to turn in my application to the archives office. I could see myself in that job. I was perfect for that job! I dreamed about that job. And then I didn’t get it. I didn’t even come close to getting it. And then panic set in—I hadn’t applied to any other jobs, and many of the on-campus positions were filling up fast. I applied to several other jobs that were less exciting, but didn’t get any of them either. One rejection was even after what seemed to be a very successful interview, which was particularly crushing. By my second week on campus, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to survive there. What would I do if I couldn’t find a job?

I finally found my first job when I was walking through the library. A flyer was on the door of an office labeled “Interlibrary Loan” advertising for student workers willing to work mornings. I dropped off my application, the office manager asked me a couple of questions, and then she hired me on the spot. Not all of the jobs available on campus will be listed on the job board, so be sure to keep a look out for postings on notice boards or word-of-mouth opportunities. I worked at Interlibrary Loan for four years, and it was a great job, even if it wasn’t the one I dreamed about in the beginning.

3. If you’re not happy, don’t stop looking.

My job at Interlibrary Loan was okay—I pulled books from the shelves to send to other schools, processed book requests on the computer, prepared packages for mailing, etc.—but it wasn’t as exciting as I knew some other on-campus jobs could be. In my first semester at Wesleyan I took a theater class called Basic Production Techniques, where the coursework was comprised of assisting the department in different aspects of theater tech. We helped hang lights, we made props out of Papier-mâché, and did all other kinds of menial tasks. My favorite part of the class was when I got to help out in the Costume Shop, even though I knew next to nothing about sewing.

The Costume Shop, besides being a place where work I was interested in was happening, was also a happy place to be. The manager was friendly and the atmosphere was fun. We listened to the Harry Potter audio books while we worked and joked with each other. When I came back to Wesleyan after Christmas Break, I learned that a friend who was employed in the Costume Shop would not be returning to Wesleyan. In what is perhaps one of the boldest things I’ve ever done, I emailed the manager of the Shop and asked if I could have her job. He said yes, and that is one of the best things that happened to me during my time at Wesleyan.

I kept my job at Interlibrary Loan, but I greatly reduced my hours and started working more and more in the Costume Shop. Not only did I learn how to sew, by my senior year I had been promoted to student manager of the costume collection, which taught me countless useful skills that have served me well in my search for jobs after college. Most importantly, the Costume Shop is where I made one of my best friends from college—the manager who hired me! I can’t express how much my life at Wesleyan was enriched by working at the Costume Shop and by the friendship I found there. Working during college was a necessity for me, but luckily it turned into a wonderful experience rather than a burden.

It’s easy to feel bad about having to work while in school. After all, you are expected to perform on an equal level with your non-working peers even though you may have as much as 20+ extra hours of responsibilities a week. But if you don’t give up and are willing to work to find the right job for you, working doesn’t have to be a bad thing. While it’s true that most of you won’t become best friends with your boss from your work study job, you may very well meet others there who will either become good friends (vital to making it through college sane) or be good resources for when you want to get an internship or a post-graduation job. Don’t give up if you don’t find the perfect job the first week of school, and don’t be afraid to switch jobs if you find that your position is detracting from your experience rather than adding to it. There are lots of great on-campus jobs just waiting for you!

Jessica Jordan, Quest Scholar Alum, Wesleyan ’13