Not Everyone Can Afford to Work for Free

How to Make the Most of a Summer Waiting Tables

By Published on .

Alex Kniess Alex Kniess
As the internship season comes into full swing, many of you will look around and think that your summer job just doesn't measure up to your buddy's unpaid internship in NYC. Although many agencies are cutting their internship programs in misguided attempts to remain solvent, some of the recent graduates and college upperclassmen have still managed to land that plum gig. For the rest of the Millennials who may be forced to find a job that is completely unrelated to advertising, there is still hope. After all, not everyone can afford to work for free. So even though pumping gas or waiting tables may seem to be the farthest thing from working in advertising, you can still turn your summer job or trip into a project that can build your portfolio.

Whether you are taking a long European vacation, waiting tables or just mowing lawns, your experiences this summer can easily become a valuable project and source of key learnings that will put you well on your way to working in advertising. The reality is that not everyone can have the perfect internship, so if you are taking a trip or are just "stuck with a job," use these guidelines to help make it more meaningful:

Turn it into an ethnographic research assignment. Even if you don't want to be a planner, agencies will value curious minds despite your discipline. Use the 40 hours every week that you are forced to sell cars as an opportunity to do a deep dive into a segment of American society that you otherwise would never know.

Identify patterns and insights. As you spend hour upon hour in an air-conditioned department store, listening to the customers wax on about their exploits in the sun, keep your eyes open for patterns. What if you could uncover the secret motivations of 50-year-old empty nesters as they shop for appliances? Patterns lead to insights and insights lead to uncovering something new.

Record it. Whether you keep a daily journal tallying how many times your boss flirts with you or film your terrible commute, documentation of the experience and the process is key. It's always so much easier and better to show an insight than to merely describe it.

Bring it all together. So you've spent an entire summer hobnobbing with the social elite as a waiter at a country club. You've noticed that the staff that waits on those with the passes have a very distinct opinion on the clients they serve. Whatever your big insight, make sure that you create a final video, photo essay, handbook or anything that sums up your learnings.

Voila, you've just turned a summer job into something that added more value to your portfolio than a summer of making copies ever could.

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