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Juggling school and a job can often prove as a difficult challenge for full-time students. Yet, studies show that students who work 10 to 15 hours a week are more likely to stay in school and graduate.

According to the US Census Bureau in findings reported by CBS, as of 2011, 71 percent of the nation’s 19.7 million college undergraduates were working. Of that number, one in five undergrads were working at least 35 hours a week year-round, with more than half working at least 20 hours a week.

While we know internships help students get their foot in the door, what about those who work their way through school to pay the bills?

To better understand how college jobs prepare students for the real world, we pulled some of the Personify staff and asked about their experiences.

By far, retail and service industry jobs were the most common off-campus jobs. Employees who worked in retail and employees who worked in the service industry all agreed that learning how to interact with customers was the most valuable skill they learned.

One of our employees noted that tense conversations with unhappy customers in her retail job taught her to keep a cool head.

“In tough situations with unhappy customers, I learned how to become a better listener,” she said. Adding that, “even if you can’t fix the problem, you can make the customer feel heard.”

She noted that this approach has helped her in her professional life when working with clients and co-workers, alike.

“I always bring my A game to work, but on the off chance that I slip up and make a mistake, I’m quick to take responsibility, rather than shrugging off my mistake.”

Another employee noted that working lunch rushes at a cafe introduced him to the concept of time management.

“In restaurants a lot of chefs abide by the ‘mise en place’ rule, meaning everything you need to cook is set out and ready to assemble before you start,” he said. “I saw the success of this and began to practice it in my own life, first as a student and now as a young professional.”

The employee said he applies this toward meetings by crafting an agenda that gets sent out prior to the meeting time. By prepping beforehand, he makes sure his meetings are productive, rather than drawn out.

In a different take from retail or the service industry, another employee said he spent summers working on his family’s farm. While it’s a bit of a stretch from working in an office, the employee said he could see the correlation.

“It sounds cliche, but working on my family’s farm every summer taught me the value of hard work. Getting up early, doing physical labor in the heat, throwing hay: none of that is easy, but I powered through.”

Our employee said learning to stay focused on the task at hand now helps him stay sharp when deadlines approach.

If you’re currently working a college job that doesn’t match up with your career aspirations, remember that there are still valuable skills to learn. Listening, preparedness and a commitment to deadlines are all important skill-sets to have when starting your career.

Our best suggestion? If you’re unsure of what skills you’re gleaning from your part-time job, make a list. Even small tasks like knowing how to count back change or go through closing procedures will translate into desirable qualities later on.


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