How to make working part time at university manageable and beneficial
A couple of years ago several national papers, along with University publications, began debating whether working part time should be banned by universities for its students. Many agreed, arguing that the affects it could have on their studies, as well as their ability to build up extra curricular activities to paste all over their CVs, could be damaging to future job prospects. But, quite frankly, what better extra curricular activity could you put on your CV than demonstrating that you were able to work part time as well as complete a full undergraduate degree? In many cases, the arguments against working part time came from Oxbridge students where there is the common knowledge that students at either University are told they will have to sacrifice one of three aspects of their lives; either work, sleep or social. We all need sleep and we all need to let our hair down every once in a while. However, for many and more crucially, not having some kind of part time work is not an option with university expenses and living costs rising every year. Not surprisingly, therefore, at the same time as the arguments against working part time came to light, a NUS survey in 2013 found that 57% of students work part time whilst studying. That figure has now risen to over two-thirds. But before we look into what areas of work are best for getting the right balance, lets look at the benefits.
Organisation is certainly something that many students struggle with. I have myself had to create multiple calendars on my wall, phone and laptop to ensure that I remember to get certain things done by a certain time, whether it be work or for university. I even leave post-it notes around my room and write lists every day. I never thought I could be more organised! But it is a valuable skill that I know will benefit me in the long run when my schedule in full time employment will be far more hectic and crucial than what I have to deal with today.
Many have argued that the type of job you will be able to hold down at University will not really add any benefit to your CV. ‘They will be simple, mundane and unskilled jobs’. But I disagree on two levels. Firstly, there are plenty of jobs available for students that provide valuable skills for the future. Lets take working in a pub or a coffee shop. It may not have the glamorous appeal of working in a big financial or law firm that some students may be fortunate enough to gain experience in, but the experience you gain working behind a bar can be just as valuable. Working in a busy and stressed environment for hours and hours, having to remain friendly to customers who shout and get angry at you for your attention. Being able to deal with difficult situations whilst working a job that can be pretty demoralising at times when you know your friends are on the other side of the bar whilst you’re stuck behind it is incredibly valuable for your future employers to know.
This leads onto the second point. Commitment. In todays competitive working climate employers aren’t just looking for someone with an impressive CV but are also looking for someone who will be an asset to their company; someone who they can rely on. Demonstrating that you were committed to the most challenging of jobs in terms of environment can be a significant bonus. Jobs that don’t require you to power dress whilst you sit in a swanky office on the top floor during an internship (however nice that may be), can be just as impressive and important to any employer – even if they do sit in a swanky office with a great view.
If you do find some work, one of the biggest concerns that still remains is ensuring that your degree does not suffer as a result. Therefore, finding the right type of work is crucial. I recommend firstly looking for jobs within your university itself. Whether it be directly with the Union, bar work at the several bars around each uni campus or it could be an alumni telephone fundraiser in which you get previous students to donate to the university. I am constantly inundated with my University asking if I would like to work for them doing this. The hours are flexible and some uni’s offer over £9 an hour for the privilege (this is a London uni so wages will be naturally higher – nevertheless, in most university cities including Canterbury Universities, it is likely to be above minimum wage whatever university you attend). The other great bonus about working directly for your university is that they are going to be most understanding when it comes to your studies, as will your colleagues. When working out your shifts, you are most likely going to be able to ask for shifts that work around your uni schedule. And if you need to swap, chances are you can – quite easily. You will often get added bonuses such as discount at bars and clubs. Also a fantastic way to meet students outside your course.
When looking outside of university for work, check out recruitment agencies that hire students for events such as weddings, sport matches and parties for days or evenings. It is a great way to get flexible working hours that work best for you. Of course the more shifts you turn down the less likely they are going to ask you to work, but there is often work available each week. It tends to be bar work or waiting on tables at the various events and each shift is several hours long. Even if you did one shift a week, you could easily earn up to £200 a month. I signed up to one last summer and within 48 hours I was registered, had a quick interview and had work a couple of days later stewarding and working a bar at Kent v Australia cricket in Canterbury. No previous experience needed as they will train you on the job.
For something a little more consistent, supermarkets and chain stores are probably the best options. The particularly great thing about working for a shop like Waitrose or Sainsbury’s is the ability to continue working when you head home for holidays. They will allow you to transfer to your local shop as their part time students head back to their local stores so spaces become available. They will be used to having students working for them so they will be understanding when it comes to your studies, but it is important to check to make sure you can fulfil your working contract before agreeing to anything. It will be less flexible then working for a recruitment agency as a part time agency worker, but you are likely to earn more and the benefits will be more fulfilling. It just depends on your working schedule and other commitments. It is also likely that many of you will have applied and been turned down as they are extremely competitive (me included last year by pretty much every supermarket! But do not despair! Other posts come up pretty frequently and so it is worth checking on a regular basis. Also ask any friends you know who work for places like Sainsbury’s and see how they structured their CV and application to get the job. A bit of research beforehand could really help.
Research is key to many things, and it certainly applies to working part time at university. Whether it is research in the employer or looking ahead to your own schedule, if you put in the time beforehand, it will make a tremendous difference to your studies as well as being impressive to any further employers. Leydon Lettings will provide future blogs in the coming weeks with further advice about looking for work and managing your time whilst studying.