Competing With Students for a Summer Job

A few days ago I saw this article posted on the satirical site The Onion, and couldn’t help but laugh – not because I found the piece particularly funny, but because I was that teacher about a year ago when I was still working at the theatre:

High School Student, Teacher Applying For Same Summer Waitressing Job

Part of my job at the theatre was teaching evening acting classes for teenagers. There were a lot of issues with these classes, so enrolment was always low. While this made it incredibly hard to teach, it did mean that I really got to know my students. Before long, I found myself more interested in talking to them about their futures than I did about teaching them acting (which is one of many reasons that I knew it was time to switch careers). Occasionally, students would stay after class and I would give them advice about applying for college or help them out with a job application. That’s how I discovered that I was applying for the same job as one of my students.

This job wasn’t a summer waitressing position, but a part-time retail job at the mall. I knew that my student had a better chance of getting this job than I did, even though I do have some retail experience and she literally only had “babysitting” listed under her work experience. Maybe I shot myself in the foot by doing so, but I told her that she could list me as a reference. Sure enough, about a week later I got a call from the company – but they weren’t interested in booking an interview with me; they wanted to know more about my student. She not only landed an interview over me, but she was also offered and accepted the position.

I wish I could end this little anecdote here, but I ran into another similar situation about a month later. My job searching was still not getting me anywhere, so I was applying to more part time and temporary jobs, including one at a bookstore. When I went in to drop off my resume and application, the staff member was, of course, another student of mine. I guess she didn’t have much pull with the hiring manager because I didn’t get that job either.

A coworker at the theatre was also looking to get out of that increasingly toxic work environment. Back then we used to joke that if all else failed, we had an “in” with the night manager at McDonald’s. This manager just happened to be our high school co-op student (who made more per hour than we did, because our salaried positions included a whole lot of mandatory over time). Thankfully, we both eventually found new non-McDonald jobs, but my coworker was unemployed for months and things got a lot worse for me before they got better.

Unfortunately, it’s not just teachers that can relate to this article/video. Anyone working a seasonal job (like I sort of am now?) will probably find themselves in a similar situation. It is the nature of our chosen career paths, after all. But that doesn’t mean all teachers or seasonal workers are doomed to borrow money from mom and dad or compete with high school students for a summer job. It does, however, mean that we need to listen to the Boy Scouts and “be prepared.

I knew that accepting a contract position with the college would mean being unemployed and spending another summer searching for the few non-“full time students under 30 only” jobs available. Although I did a lot more to prepare myself this year, I could have/should have done a lot more. Why did I wait for my contract to end before I started applying for something new? Why didn’t I apply for those part time jobs that actually sounded pretty cool? Why did I spend so much money on booze and fast food instead of putting it into my emergency fund? And so on…

If I am re-hired at the college or find myself working another seasonal job somewhere else, I will heed my own advice and hope that I never have to compete with my students for a job again.

Have you ever found yourself applying for the same job as a student or someone much younger than you?
What advice would give to teachers or seasonal workers when it comes to money?

Amanda Kay

Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.

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17 thoughts on “Competing With Students for a Summer Job”

  1. When I was a teacher, I worked at Target seasonally for some holiday cash… and I had to be supervised by a former high school senior of mine. It was the worst. To make matters worse, I was constantly running in to parents and students that shopped there. One parent even said, “Don’t you make enough?” NO!!!!

    • I’m not sure if I knew that you were a teacher before! Having to work retail on the side of a profession has to be so difficult… especially at a major chain store where you not only work with students but run into the parents all the time, too. I’m so glad that you are taking your career into your own hands!

  2. Thankfully I never have, but I have a feeling that if I looked for a part time job right now, I would run into this problem. I’m aiming more for a PT office job than retail, but even so, if the duties are light enough they might not bother with me. I honestly didn’t realize the timing of our move would coincide with kids getting out of school, since I wasn’t really focused on that. There are a decent amount of colleges around here as well, so many graduates are probably looking, too.

    It stinks that your students got jobs over you, but it was nice of you to help that one out. There has to be good karma for that!

    • Yah you’re timing is not ideal to be working for part time jobs. Right now you’ll be competing with college and university students and then the high schoolers will be added into the mix from now until probably July? If the job market where you are is anything like it is for me, you won’t even be able to apply for most new job posting because they are government subsidized for students only. Hopefully you (and me, too!) can find some freelancing and/or online jobs instead?

  3. That was strange! By that you are controlled by younger person than you, or I must say the least experience one. Well, here in our country, the qualified for summer job are 18-21 I guess. So that cases never happened here.

  4. Awkward alert. I have seen people I work with and other students at side hustles I do, which is awkward. They think I’m not making enough, which I don’t, or they feel pity on me. I hate it.

    • Ugh, that does suck. I was/am trying to avoid any part time jobs that would expose me to a lot of teenagers. For example, applying for jobs at Fabricland vs. American Eagle.

  5. My teacher friends have their paychecks set up so that their salary is spread out throughout the entire Summer, making it easier to take the three months off instead of working. If I was a teacher I would get my paychecks set up so they are spread out over 12 months instead of 9 and I’d probably just do a lot of freelance work or build up a small business/side hustle during those Summer months.

    • That’s a brilliant approach for teachers and seasonal workers! I don’t think I can formally do this if I end up back at the college, but I could always do it myself and earn a little extra interest in the meantime.

  6. I haven’t found myself in this situation before *knock on wood* but living in a small city and working part time at the local College means that if I did need to look for a side hustle I would most certainly be running for positions against some of my past or present students. Ack 🙁

    I completely feel for anyone, not just teachers, that might be finding themselves in this position. It hardly seem fair, really! Perhaps this is a good time to work any social connections you may have – see if someone you know is looking for some part time help to give you a leg up on younger applicants?

    • Yes – chances are that I’ll find myself competing with some of the college students I worked with too. I guess I just thought that wasn’t as bad as loosing out to high schoolers?
      I unfortunately suck at networking, but I can’t use that an excuse. I think you’re right – it’s time to put those connections to use!

  7. I’ve never had to search for a seasonal job, mainly due to the industries I’ve worked in. No advice there!
    Anyway, I hope that you find a way to set yourself apart so that you don’t have to compete against teenagers. I know I wouldn’t like being in that position.

  8. My mom is a teacher and she sometimes picks up side gigs in the summer (these days she teaches summer school). When I was a kid she worked retail to make a little extra money. What was interesting (and sad for her) was the retail places actually preferred to hire high school kids because they could continue working when she went back to school full-time.

  9. I feel you girl. I’m not a teacher, but I’m with you on the job search struggle. I need a change, but there is not much out there. I have found my dream job in a few temporary positions, but am unsure about what happens after. I can’t risk not being able to pay my mortgage.


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