Looking for a Summer Job? Reach Out to a Hero

If you're young and looking for a summer job (or any job) here's one approach: reach out to somebody you really admire and ask if you can be his/her bitch for a few months. Say you'll be happy to do grunt work so long as you get lots of face time with him/her. Say you're a self-starter who won't be a nuisance but rather will find a way to make their life / work easier. Identify a few things that you think you could help them on (anything involving technology / blogs is good, or logistical help, or communications outreach).

Learning on the job comes primarily from the people you get to work with. So pick out a few people who impress you and send them an email and see what they say! Don't worry if their exact line of work isn't on your radar screen; the goal is to work with the most impressive person you can. I guarantee you'll learn more by being a supercharged personal assistant to someone really smart / interesting than you will by doing a generic internship.


Unrelated but since we're talking about careers and young people: Your major in college doesn't matter!

OK, maybe it matters a little for your first job, but still, I can't believe the number of people who say, "As a History major I'm screwed because I now want to go into finance but can't because I didn't major in econ or business" or "No one wants to hire an English major." Bullshit! Employers hire people. Stand out, be remarkable, knock their socks off. Forget about your major. If you went to a liberal arts school it especially doesn't matter, since to "major" in something means to take a very small number more classes in your major topic than in any other topic.

And since I find myself in ranting mode: Economics is no more practical an academic undergrad major than English! Don't major in Econ thinking you're studying the most useful subject for getting a job. Major in what you find interesting.

18 Responses to Looking for a Summer Job? Reach Out to a Hero

  1. Jake Russ says:

    Ben,

    Having been an economics major myself and now having jumped back in for a Masters, I couldn’t agree more. People like to throw around stats saying how much more money one major gets rather than another (Economics is usually near the top I’ll add), or what the fastest growing major in the U.S. is this month. Economics is a great thing study, but it can’t be forced. In the same way engineering can’t be forced, or art. Study what you want to study and if you find out later economics is needed, you can pick it up along the way, just ask Megan McArdle. Especially given how many Econ professors are writing blogs, for free.

    Education is an investment where the single greatest determinant of ROI is being interested. Study the subject that gets you out of bed in the morning chomping at the bit to attend class.

  2. John Doe says:

    Do you have experience with this Ben?
    I’ve thought about this a couple of times, though not sure how to write to maximize success rate.
    would you attach your CV? or just say like I’m very motivated and I think I could help you with X, Y and Z?

  3. As an English major working in commercial wind, I can relate to what you are saying. I have also worked in IT for a couple of years before switching. The one exception is that often in corporations with operating procedures, if you do not meet a checklist of criteria, you won’t even get the interview. I have succeeded because I was able to get an interview. Great post though, I still get curious looks when I tell people what my major was. Consequently, I am finishing up my MBA right now. So much for the outlier.

  4. Funny, when I was college it was well known that economics was what you majored in if you got rejected from the business school.

  5. I’ll confess to being another one of those economics majors. And I’ll also confess to not having the slightest interest in going to business school during my college days.

    Since I got my degree, I’ve worked in all sorts of jobs. We’re talking everything from digging ditches to writing press releases, running cash registers to annotating academic books, and repairing bicycles to helping produce a magazine.

    I now work as a graphic designer and photographer.

    I have gone back to my alma mater and visited the economics department. They don’t quite know what to make of me, as so many of their graduates have gone on to careers in the FIRE* sector of the economy.

    As far as I’m concerned, that’s the economics department’s problem. I’ll just keep on being Eclectic Martha.

    *Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate.

  6. Ben Casnocha says:

    Yeah attach your CV but try to stand out with a unique outreach.

  7. Ted says:

    As usual, I think you are overgeneralizing about college. There is no way you will become a physicist without studying physics for years. For liberal arts majors, I agree that major matters little.

  8. Ben Casnocha says:

    There are always exceptions to generalizations. Unless one wishes to qualify every statement down to a granular level of specificity, a generalization will expose unstated exceptions. This is a blog not an academic paper so I try not to go overboard on the parsing.

    I agree the medical profession — namely doing pre-med as undergrad — is an exception.

  9. Kevin Cassidy says:

    I don’t think all technical degrees should be considered an exception. For fields that are still more about “gut-feel” than precision, this may be true. A person without a degree in engineering may reach the same place as someone with one – but it might take them 10+ years to do so.

    I think all of your statements about credentialism make a lot more sense with this major caveat mentioned. Now that I realize what you were talking about, I’m not sure why anyone goes to college for a liberal arts degree, but that’s because I’m one of those engineery-types.

  10. Dan Erwin says:

    I’m with you Ben on the liberal arts. Liberal arts teaches a person how to learn, how to think, and how to make an informed decision. And the good colleges of liberal arts do it better than any tech background.

    Here’s some significant input and support for our case: Glen Hubbard, Dean of Columbia’s business school, said in an interview that Columbia’s MBA program places an emphasis on graduates’ ability to “think on their feet” and “adapt quickly.” In an even more pointed statement, when asked what he’d tell teenagers today, he responded: “Pick a good liberal arts school, and learn how to think.”

    That nails the issue!

  11. Ben Casnocha says:

    Dan: What does “learn how to think” mean to you?

  12. John says:

    I have to disagree. It does matter what you major in for many fields. Maybe not for consulting, which is what you seem to suggest, and in relation to business school. Many jobs CMCers, especially econ majors, are interested in require applicants to be studying certain fields to even get an interview. That could mean a “quantitative” major or an analytical one, or it could be more specific.

    Just check out the listings on CMConnect, Ben. Many of them explicitly state that you need to be an economics/accounting/math major, etc.

    Not everyone at CMC had the help or the experience you’ve had. Don’t call it bullshit when CMCers try to follow the “path” to employment or success. It’s not easy to get a job right now.

    What even qualifies you to offer such important advice? Sure, this is just a personal blog, but many underclassmen take what you say as expert advice considering your high school success, so please be careful what you advise.

  13. Dan Erwin says:

    Ben: Excellent question. We are training people today in very specific thinking skill sets. For example, Peter Senge and others are working with the Ladder of Inference, a means of distinguishing between fact and inference, and of teaching people to recognize assumptions, mental models, and beliefs for what they are–and to debrief and question them. In addition, there is a great deal of “thinking” training focusing on “framing”–teaching people how the perspective they use ultimately determines their actions–and training them to assess and reframe to come up with more creative and innovative solutions.

  14. Ben Casnocha says:

    This post has nothing to do with CMC and is not directed at its students or anyone in particular.

    I think people should follow the “path” to employment or success. I just think that one’s major has very little bearing on this. And since the widely held view is that one’s choice of major is decisive — and since many students attribute lack of job opportunities to one’s major — I thought I’d propose a thought to the contrary, based on my own limited experience working, hiring, and talking with lots of students from lots of different colleges about their jobs / career.

  15. Sean Brown says:

    John: In Ben’s defense, he did say that “it matters a little for your first job.”

    IMO the first idea is a great one. As for the second one, as other commenters have implied it all depends on the nature of the job you want (e.g., working as an engineer, doctor, physicist vs. CEO, consultant, writer, VC, etc.).

  16. Josh says:

    I really enjoy your blog. But I disagree with you on this one. I happen to actually be a history major who has worked in finance for many years. But it wasn’t easy to get that first job! I was competing with people who had studied economics, and I think that it was a considerably higher hurdle to convince employers to hire someone who was a little bit different. In fact, I wasn’t able to get a finance/business job coming out of college, and I went to work in another field, which ended up being for the best. (Later on, I offered to work in finance for free, which got people’s attention.)

    In fairness, I do think you can reduce the negative impact if you have other things in your background that show you have an interest in your chosen field — I’m sure if I had done a hero internship for someone in finance, then finding a job would have been a lot easier!

  17. Ben, just out of curiosity: When you wrote this post, were you thinking that this kind of position would likely be paid or unpaid?

  18. Ben Casnocha says:

    Depends, probably a stipend.

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