My College:
Career Prep

The Summer Sponge Experience

Guest Contributor

If your college student is working, interning or volunteering this summer, they have an opportunity to get an extra benefit from these weeks or months of “outta classroom” experience. Encourage your student to be a sponge:

“A person having a sponge-like capacity, as for drink, knowledge, etc.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary)

The summer job can be more than an entry on the resumé or a boost for the bank account. It’s also a chance to connect with people across various age groups with different skills, backgrounds, interests, concerns, ideas and opinions and to practice what some of the most successful people do: look, listen and learn from others (free of charge), and have fun doing it.

Here are four pointers to help your student get the most out of the summer sponge experience.

1. Never Eat Alone

If your student spends their lunch break playing games on their phone, they're missing a chance to get to know a coworker (or two or three) and to discover what’s important to someone whose background and perspective might be very different from their own as well as find out more about the organization they're part of for the summer.

Many years ago, when I was just starting out on my first real job at General Motors, I quickly learned the value of lunch with my coworkers. We had 45 minutes to spend any way we wanted and could have peeled off in 10 different directions but instead we met every day to eat, connect, discuss, analyze and joke. Some of us were college educated, some not. Some of us were on salary, some paid hourly. There were part-time farmers and entrepreneurs. The point is we valued our time together. “Never eating alone” helped us work better together, and reduced our stress levels, too. I could ask questions and never feel out of place.

2. Study the Boss

One of the most important people for your student to practice their look, listen and learn skills on is the boss. The boss must have done something right to reach that position — encourage your student to ask for tips and advice.

Coworkers may talk about the boss, and there is value in listening, but it’s most important for your student to develop their own opinion. What does the boss do well? Does the boss just issue orders or provide leadership, coaching and training? What does your student admire about the boss that might be worth emulating?

Does the boss have shortcomings? Is so, what are they and what seems to be the source (not enough people, insufficient training, time constraints, work environment)? What would your student do differently in a similar situation?

Bosses and summer interns have something in common — they’re both people, trying to get a job done. Each boss I had was different and most were inspiring and helpful. They were worth getting to know.

3. Learn How Things Are Made

We all see the finished products we buy, packaged and displayed to catch our attention. But how often do we know where they come from or how they’re produced? When we actually see something being made, quite often we're amazed at what goes into the creation of everyday items we take for granted. Watching raw materials come together, run through equipment, be processed, inspected and packaged reveals the importance of key processes, including quality control, manufacturing and process control, supply chain, maintenance, safety, inspection and more. The processes come to life and mean something.

Watching how things are made — whether coffee or cars, books or buildings — will give your student a better understanding of what they buy, and how to buy the best. The same goes for services — legal, financial, medical, educational. Maybe your student is working for a sports or political organization, on a theater production or at an architectural firm. The summer job is a chance to see the world in a new way, and imagine the roles they might play in creating or building something.

4. Keep an Eye Out for Intriguing Careers

During these summer months, in addition to getting the most out of their job or internship, your student should be on the lookout for other careers that might be of interest. They may or may not be in your student's general field of study. There are many possibilities that could be a good fit for their personal goals and objectives.

A friend once advised me to “Look at the career, but also focus on what you might like to do every day. Find something that excites you. Do watch the person in the role, but remember the job/career is what is the most important, not the person.”

Russell J. Bunio began his own career with an entry-level position at General Motors and later became vice president of The Boeing Co. and vice president of supply management and procurement at Cummins Engine Co. He has served on numerous boards of directors and received the National Minority Supplier Development Council Appreciation Award for his commitment to helping minority suppliers enter and participate in corporate America. Bunio shares 50 best work practices that he picked up from successful leaders and adapted to his own successful work ethic in his new book The Graduate Handbook which you can buy here.
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