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Best Student Jobs

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Students doing a variety of menial tasks, including toilet cleaning, dish washing and floor sweeping.

Whether your focus is having fun, gaining experience or just the pursuit of filthy lucre, it's practically a rite of passage to have worked your way through a mind-boggling array of student jobs. Have you been the subject of a clinical trial? Worked in a bar that wouldn't look out of place in a Dickens novel? Dressed up in an embarrassing outfit as part of some marketing executive's misguided campaign? How on earth do you cope, and how on earth did you get into the game in the first place?

However, this entry isn't just about excruciating episodes you'd rather not recall, it's mostly about getting those elusive, rewarding jobs that pay well and will give you relevant experience for your chosen career. Just how do you land a job that can lead to greater things? And how do you cope with the sort of job you could only do for the money? Here's what you told us...

Working with Students

It might seem a bit obvious, but your first port of call could be your Student's Union. see if there are any jobs in the uni bar, shop or any other facilities there. And if you don't have any success with your own halls of learning, there's nothing stopping you from applying for jobs in another college or university.

I work for my student's union. It's great, I usually do 2 shifts a week and as it is a student's union, I only work during term time. They are also really adaptable when it comes to exams or time off as they usually employ quite a lot of people to cover shifts.

It's worth remembering that it's not just students who have time off during the school year. During the summer holidays, there are numerous summer school schemes set up to try and keep kids amused and (supposedly) improve their education...

A couple of years ago I worked for the 'Children's University' scheme in Birmingham, and the pay wasn't bad - anything from £5-£10 per hour across the board, student employees and qualified teachers alike. Really though, to work with unruly kids and get glue poisoning from all the 'art work', I reckon I should have been paid more.


A good idea is to try and find a job related to the subject you're studying. It helps very much when you're applying for a job after you've got your degree; after all you show some vocational experience. It may be difficult, but at least when you're studying something technical, there are jobs available that are actually paid well.

As a student (Computer Science), I eventually found a job in a small company supporting the IT guys and, after a while, I got to write individual software for them. Paid well, and it wasn't just a summer job but a part-time job throughout the year.

Medical Jobs

Some students have cottoned on to the bright idea of helping others with their studies while being paid - by being test subjects in medical trials. You could try phoning up your local hospital, as, according to one Researcher, they sometimes run these trials. You just phone up and ask if they do clinical trials and do they pay:

Last year I did a clinical trial, got £915 for it and gallivanted off to Australia. This year, I'm going to do the same - it's safe, it's easy and the money is great - all for taking a pill and letting the nice nurse take a few blood tests...

A word of caution - the whole point of testing the pills is that no-one can be 100% sure what will happen when you take them. Be warned - read the small print!

The one I did had a disclaimer basically saying that if I didn't follow the rules (dietary requirements or suchlike) and it mucked up the test, it was my own fault. But if they're testing something on you and you take a bad reaction or something goes wrong, you are compensated. But they do have a rigourous screening and let you know exactly what happens, so you are well informed. Also, a lot of these drugs tested are actually improvements on existing drugs - and they are tested in the lab in simulations because it would be against the law just to give anyone some new drug. There are some horror stories but it goes with everything. The clinic I went to has a very high reputation. Mind you, they were also the ones to help clone Dolly the sheep...

As with most medical degrees, optometry students have to practice on real people. This is especially important for exam times. If you have an unusual prescription for your eyes, (such as one Researcher who needs prisms in their lenses to stop double vision), then you could be a perfect patient, and get paid for the privilege.

I got paid £25 a day for sitting for about three hours of tests, got biscuits and drinks and spent the rest of the time revising for my exams. Also it gave me a chance to see the tests I'm going to be sitting in three years time. Easy money.

Working in Bars and Restaurants

Most restaurants, taverns and pubs do greater business in the summer; the weather is nice, more people are walking outside and therefore there are more people likely to need that drink. Which means that these places are often on the look-out for casual staff. This is one Researcher's story:

At the University of Michigan, here in the States, I bartended each summer I stayed on campus. I'm a rather big fellow (6'1", 250lbs) so they used me to check IDs at the door and assist with unruly customers. After successfully keeping underage drinkers barred and throwing half-a-dozen drunken fraternity boys on their butts, the powers that be decided I was worthy to be trained as a bartender.
After a month or so the entire waitstaff (we were all pretty new for summer pub-work) was cooperating, drinking in our bar after we closed and the partied at one another's house for the rest of the morning until it was time for work the next day. Since most of the waitstaff was 18-21 year old ladies, this was a dream job. Being behind the bar and being basically the guy who solved everyone's "problems" (I was still the guy throwing people out) I was everyone's friend. The money was great. I could make $200-300 on a busy night. Most of that was in cash which we (illegally) didn't report on our taxes.
I ended up bartending until I graduated. I am in medical school now, but I still daydream about those glorious summers behind the bar.

Working in Tourism

On the other end of the scale, you might consider working for royalty - or at the very least, getting seasonal work in the stately homes or other tourist attractions. The advantages here are that you will probably only be required to work during peak periods during the year, leaving you free for your studies.

One of my friends worked at Buckingham Palace one summer too. She says it's not as glamourous as it sounds, just lots of annoying tourists supposedly.

A lesson learned by this experience - don't apply for jobs in tourism if you have an extreme dislike for tourists.

Civil Service

With holiday student jobs you can do worse than try the civil service. There are plenty of posts that specifically require people during peak holiday times, such as the Passport Office, though you could also get term-time work on twilight shifts if you can cope with that; just don't leave yourself so tired that you find yourself falling asleep in lectures! The upside of working in the civil service is that, although it might be boring and office-based, it is reasonably well paid. However, if you want to get a summer job, you must remember to write in during the spring (around April time) with a CV (resumé) and covering letter as they tend to get a fair few applications.

I myself still work for the civil service after a brief stint in the real world. The pay is actually poor, but you get plenty of holidays and if you have in your hand a piece of paper/piece of computer hardware/mug, it is quite easy to get away with doing nothing (especially after lunch).

For all those in Britain still looking for a job, try the government's employment web page, (which is actually quite good!) which has vacancies all round Britain, part time/temp/full time, and also some vacancies in Europe. Other governments around the world will probably offer similar services, so it's worth making enquiries at your local job centre or careers advice centre.


Working for temporary employment agencies (or 'temping') can offer the eager student plenty of freedom to set their own working hours or avoid being stuck in a rut. You can put yourself forward for full or part-time temporary work, and you can turn down assignments (but just be aware that the more you turn down the less likely they are to call on you again). Make sure to apply to as many temping agencies as you can; the reason for signing with more than one to start with is just to get a better chance at something reasonably interesting.

Don't go to an agency that doesn't have an office and invites you to go there in person to register. Make sure that someone knows where you are going and when you expect to leave until you have checked things out. Also, don't accept a job until you know you can get to it; no use expecting mum to drop you off everyday. Get hold of the local bus timetable and keep it by the phone so you can easily check. If you have transport limitations mention it in the interview, they won't listen but they get really cross if you suddenly bring it up later.

Temping agencies exist for all sorts of things other than office work so don't confine yourself to photocopying for the whole summer. Light industrial labour is a good way to go:

I worked in a jelly factory which was hard work but certainly a change from answering phones. I also did a lot of cleaning. To be honest it is actually preferable to sitting in a strange office and being the victim of power-crazed office managers.

If the temping agency for office work want to do a brief test on you, make sure you prepare before you go. Tests for basics seem to include typing speed and Windows familiarity. Therefore, make sure you know all the basics, like headers, footers, paragraphs, left and right alignment, layout of letter, bold, italic, font change, font size, mail-merge, insert tables, insert spread sheet, insert chart, etc. You need to be able to go straight to these things. Most tests are automated so you can't go to a menu and see if something is there, nor can you use the help feature to guide you through, even though this would be a normal thing to do when the task is one you do not do everyday and therefore get rusty at. If the typing test is automated make sure you find out what the computer counts as errors. There is normally a practice run first, take advantage of this.

Other light industrial work is normally paid the same as basic office work, sometimes more. The only way you will get more money though is if you have a particular skill. People with high typing speed or proven date input skills can get more money, or website programming can rake in a fortune if you know your stuff and fall on your feet.

After your stringent tests, you can expect to be asked to make tea, do lots of photocopying, filing, envelope stuffing and every other job that the full-time workers loathe doing. Take boxes of finger plasters with you - paper-cuts are guaranteed!

If the agency offer you a boring one-day job and you have nothing else booked then unfortunately you must take it. Paper-stuffing's not that bad, actually; set up a system to get everything in the envelope and have competitions with your self so you don't fall asleep. As a general rule, if you plan on taking a personal stereo into work to relieve the boredom, it's essential you make sure it is appropriate to use it where you are. A lot of places frown on this.

On your first day at a new temping job it is a good idea to take a packed lunch because you have no idea what facilities are available. Also take some change in case you need them for locker hire, cups of tea or other unforeseen expenses. Ladies, it is a good idea to shave your legs and take pair of strong tights just in case you have to wear a uniform. Usually you will be warned but it is best to be prepared. Also, wear layered clothing. It could be freezing (air-conditioned) or boiling hot in your place of employment and going blue or stinking is not a good way to start. If you have a mobile phone don't forget to turn it off at work. You will not be popular with your temporary boss if your mate asks you down the pub in the middle of something important.

Your aim as a temp is to make the people you are working for give a favourable report to the agency. The first few assignments they are likely to ask for feedback. The better you are, the more likely they are to send you to nicer jobs. But don't be the person who will stick any rotten thing thrown at you, it's a difficult balance; you'll have to read between the lines.

Be ready on a short notice. Some companies ring you up and expect you to be able to go somewhere there and then. Find out if your company does this or if they have a minimum notice period for when you have to get somewhere. Also find out what you do if you are sick, etc. You need to know who to contact, your agency or the work you are at. A good excuse is always a bonus; have a few handy but don't use the same one twice...

Golden Rules

  • If you don't know what to do, ask.
  • Don't lie about capabilities - you will get caught.
  • Keep every item of paperwork you are given, just in case.
  • Always express a keenness to learn.
  • If you must sleep on the job, learn how to sleep with your eyes open.
  • Imply you would like to work for them again, even if it's not true.

Odd Jobs

Not every person will have the same experience in finding jobs. Some will be forced to take that job on the check-out at the local supermarket, others will be like this Researcher:

I once spent the summer working for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) at the Dounreay site in Caithness. The job was great fun, but the perks were even better. On future job interviews I could be mysterious and non-specific about what the job entailed as I signed the Official Secret Act and am not permitted to disclose information about my time there. I got the job through the well-known and widely used method of nepotism. Every Tuesday at a certain time, the site evacuation alarm was tested and we had to assemble outside. (A strange thing to do if there's just been a release of radioactive material into the atmosphere.) It was always fun to watch the newcomers panic on their first experience of 'Test Tuesday'.

Read All About It...

Working for a newspaper can be a great job for students, even if they have no interest in writing. All you need is a knowledge of computers and the ability to remember lots of little tasks. Pay varies widely if you work for a local newspaper or a state paper with a larger circulation. Oftentimes, working for a local paper makes it much easier to get into a bigger one.

If you can make greeting cards and write a Christmas newsletter, you're probably competent enough to get a newspaper job. Many local papers assume from the beginning that you have no experience whatsoever anyway and start you training from the ground up. Papers can be a great alternative to food services and retail. You hardly ever have to deal with customers and dress codes are usually casual.

Should you be unable to get into the newspaper business through the familiar routes, there is a slightly less prestigious alternative... newspaper delivery. One Researcher discovered the benefits of being an early riser:

In Sweden it's light very early in the morning during summer, meaning you don't have to work in the dark. If it's a rainy summer, it seldom rains so early in the morning. There's no boss checking up on you; you can work to your own pace. It's reasonably well paid even if you're under 18, especially if you work fast, and it can keep you in shape.
... and as for getting up early in the morning (3.30am) - if I did my round fast, I'd be home by 5.30am, have breakfast and then go to bed again - I split my sleep in two, because I didn't go to bed earlier than usual in the evening. Of course, I had the rest of the day free, either to hang around with friends, go swimming, enjoying the summer... or get another job as well later in the day, to earn as much money as possible...

How About Lifeguarding?

Lifeguarding is an excellent traditional summer job. The training can be a bit pricey but the availability of jobs, plus the fact that they tend to pay a bit more than minimum wage, makes it worthwhile. Every local pool, beach, and camp is in dire need of lifeguards over the summer, and because the peak period for many of them comes to an end in September, it doesn't matter that you're a student and will be leaving for school. Plus, once you have that lifeguard certificate you don't particularly need to be trained since you already know what to do. Along with your basic certification, you will need to be able to conduct conversations with small children, yell at the ones who deserve it, and work on your tan (if you're lucky enough to be working on an outdoor pool). You also need to learn how to flirt with attractive members of the sex in which you're interested while paying very close attention to what's going on in your part of the pool or lake.


Not all student jobs work out for the best. Some are low interest and high repetition, others are positions you wouldn't even consider if you didn't need the money so much. Whether this be menial work like cleaning toilets in a factory or working in an Alaskan fish plant, you might have to accept a job out of necessity.

The worst job I ever had was working in a hospital laundry. This is a favourite starter job for agencies as it helps them see how desperate you are for work; no-one sticks it for long - I managed a day. Apparently the agency record was nine days. If you get offered something like this then do it for a day or two and then claim that it is making you sick. When I did it, it was particularly humid outside so in a laundry it was unbearable. The money is appalling for laundry work as well.

If you find yourself in a job that you truly loathe that you can't afford to ditch, then just reassure yourself that it will only be for a short time, and that it might give you something interesting to talk about at your first proper job interview.

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