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ExPRessions :: College :: 10 Lessons Learned Through Having Multiple Jobs Through College

I’ve had several jobs since my freshman year. Now that I’m a senior, I’ve realized that each job has helped me learn more about myself and move my career forward.

Starting out as a student worker in a CMU department office, I learned how to fix copy machines and look the other way when the secretary made snotty comments about students. I honestly hated the job.

But, looking back, it was my first taste of office politics. I remember on my first day being told, “Sometimes we talk about people in here and anything we say is not to be repeated.”

Lesson #1: Office politics exist. Don’t get involved in the talk around the water cooler, but also don’t take offense to it. It’s not worth your time.

After my freshman year I worked as a carriage driver. Whether it was 98 degrees and humid, or below freezing in a blizzard, we drove the horses through the streets of Frankenmuth. My shift usually lasted about 13 hours and I worked five days a week (and we never were given weekends off).

Lesson #2: Work hard while there is work to be done, even if that means extra hours and weekends.

But, one of the most important things I learned during my time as a carriage driver was how to talk to people. Part of my job was to give a 20- or 40-minute tour of the city. In the meantime, it was necessary to get to know the customers and answer their questions. The more they felt connected to you, the better tip they left you with.

Lesson #3: There are many benefits to getting to know people, even if you only get to spend a short time with them. Be authentic and interested.

I was so excited when I got my first job in PR as the publications intern at CMU Public Relations and Marketing. I pretty much could write an entire post about what I learned while working with Dan Digmann and Cynthia Drake, both of whom remain my mentors today. I did everything from writing articles and shooting video to designing publications and writing ad copy. They helped me learn more by giving me advice and I took initiative by checking out books about PR and design.

Lesson #4: Take advantage of every opportunity, take each piece of advice to heart and strive to learn more about your field.

Next, I worked at Central Michigan Life, CMU’s student newspaper, as an account executive. I spent most of my time on the phone, making cold calls and pitching specials to clients.

Lesson #5: We might have e-mail, text messaging, Twitter and IM. But, phone skills are still key in your career. Work hard to develop them.

After awhile, I realized that advertising sales isn’t really my thing…

Lesson #6: If a job isn’t right for you, don’t feel like you have to stay for too long. You won’t do a great if you don’t enjoy what you do.

During last summer, I interned at Fahlgren Mortine. I learned a lot during my internship, but I also learned a very important lesson before I even moved to Ohio. In order to get the internship, I had to apply for their annual Founder’s Award and go through a phone interview. I was once asked if I thought I was lucky, but….

Lesson #7: It’s not about luck. You can’t get what you want unless you work hard and are serious about your career. From developing skills to networking, it all ties together and every aspect of your professional life is important.

When I returned from Ohio, I began working for Heather Huhman’s company Come Recommended. When the position was open, Heather sent me a direct message encouraging me to apply.

Lesson #8: Social media isn’t all about telling the world what you’re doing. There is great value in building relationships with those you know through Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other forms of social media.

While working for Come Recommended, I worked one day a week at AGP & Associates, a marketing communications firm in Midland, Mich., for class credit. I loved working at the company, so I talked to the CEO about working three days a week during the next semester.

Lesson #9: It’s worth it to volunteer your time in order to get your foot in the door.

I’m still working for AGP and I absolutely love it. Between working more than 20 hours a week and being a full-time student, I’m not left with much time. I somehow manage to juggle being the press secretary for SGA, freelance writing for Vision Mid Michigan and other publications and blogging. Other opportunities to improve my skills keep popping up. This leads me to the last lesson I’ve learned over the past four years:

Lesson #10: It’s OK to say no to opportunities. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but it is necessary if you are already pressed for time.

What lessons have you learned?


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rachel M. Esterline and Rowena Briones, Dan Schacter. Dan Schacter said: Learned a lot of the same in college RT @rachelesterline 10 Lessons Learned Through Having Multiple Jobs Through College http://ow.ly/YPsQ […]

  2. Thanks for such an insightful, thought provoking post! I had five internships throughout my undergraduate career, and I must say that I pretty much taught myself the same sort of lessons you are finding out for yourself through your various positions.

    One lesson that I have learned through these experiences is to never burn bridges. Even if you are at the point where you need to move on, it’s important to keep a positive relationship with those you have worked with, as you never know when you may need them for a referral or for advice. It’s been 2 years since I had an internship doing PR with an American Red Cross chapter in NJ, but I still have such a great relationship with their PR director that I still call her for help on research projects to this very day.

    Now still in school about to get my M.A. degree in May, one thing that I am still trying to teach myself at the moment is the fact that I can’t plan too far in advance in terms of my future. As someone who is very futuristic and forward thinking with a back-up plan for EVERYTHING, I’m beginning to realize that sometimes I need to take a step back and see what opportunities will come my way. I will continue to work hard, yes, but instead of always working towards that long-term, ultimate goal, maybe I need to check to make sure I’m accomplishing the short-term, day-to-day victories first.

    Again, great post – lots of good advice for up-in-coming young professionals!

  3. I have definitely had my share of random jobs throughout college and have learned these very same lessons.

    Just going off of Lesson #3, I’ve learned to surround myself with positive people/influences/mentors. This is important to me because these people inspire you to be the best you can be. I try to avoid having friends/being around people who drag me down/hold me back from what I want to do. I want to be with people who bring out the best in me and push me to challenge myself.

    This is a great post. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it.

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  5. Fantastic tips Rachel! Numbers 6 and 7 really hit home for me. I am about to take the great leap and start a new position in February. It’s hard to leave behind a work environment that you’re comfortable in; however, it’s wrong to stay just because you are comfortable if there is no professional development occurring. — I also completely agree that we create our own luck. When I was offered my new position, a friend said to me that I was “so lucky.” I found that slightly offensive… I mean I don’t juggle a full time grad school schedule with CR work, freelancing and a full time job for nothing, do I? No, I’m creating my own luck!

    End rant :) Great post!

  6. Rachel, nice post. I love that you learned valuable lessons at your non-PR related jobs as well as at the internships and positions in your chosen field. Keep up the great work.

  7. Excellent advice! I think this information is great for anyone, at any stage of his career. Young or “seasoned,” every point is still relevent for any careerist who wants to be fulfilled and accomplish good things. Thanks much!

  8. Really great post – and I think you highlighted a particularly important point about seeing the value in all job/volunteer experience. It’s surprising how experiences in summer jobs or part-time/volunteer gigs can teach you about both yourself. One of my lessons from journalism school was how interesting it can be to seek different experiences to meet new people and learn different perspectives. Now I purposely seek events/learning opps outside of my field.

    Look forward to reading more of your blog!

  9. Great post! I’ve learned similar lessons as well. I guess we all have to live and learn, but I sure wish someone told us all those things four years ago! Also, I totally agree with number 10! As hard as it is to say no, even to a great opportunity, sometimes it’s simply the best decision!

  10. Thanks, Allison! Saying no is the hardest thing to learn, but it’s also empowering to finally do it!

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Rachel M. Esterline works in public relations and marketing communications. Her blog, ExPRessions, contains her musings about PR, marketing, career and professional development, Gen Y issues, personal branding and more. Rachel also does freelance consulting and writing. She is originally from Genesee, Mich., and will graduate from Central Michigan University in May 2010.