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Why You Should Care About Your Summer Job

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Although a summer job is often seen as "just a paycheck," it could turn into a real career or come with a pay raise if you take the position seriously. Experts say the skills you're learning and the people you're meeting could be your ticket to something great. Check out the top five reasons you should take your summer job seriously.

1. You're going to need your boss as a reference.

Treating your summer job as simply a vehicle to make money sends a signal to your boss that you can't see the bigger picture and don't value the experience you're gaining.

"Current managers can serve as references for your next position, says Tom Gimbel, president and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago staffing firm.  

"Job-seekers not only have to perform their best while on the job, they also have to leave on good terms to list managers as references for their next positions. It's a small world and you never know who someone may know," he says.

Even if you aren't interested in working long term in your summer job, your bosses are likely well connected in the community or in their industry.

"Your name can be brought up in a casual conversation, so it's important to always put your best foot forward," Gimbel says.

2. You'll gain experience that will translate to any career.

Summer jobs help you develop professionally by teaching you about a new industry and allowing you to learn things that will be useful in a future position, such as dealing with different types of people or handling an upset customer, Gimbel says.

"At the end of the day, even if the job has nothing to do with the job-seeker's career track, these opportunities provide chances to network and become better equipped to land the job they really want," he says.

Paul Millard, co-founder and managing partner of executive search firm The Millard Group says some of his company's best hires have been those with experience working as a server in a restaurant or in construction.

"It's obvious that these people were not afraid of hard work and that they were go-getters who did what it took to make the money," he says. "Little things like showing up early, staying late or learning on the fly are huge whether you worked in an office setting or McDonald's."

3. At the very least, you're eliminating future career options.

Even if you hate your summer job, it's a good lesson in what you don't want to do for the rest of your life. For example, if you always thought you'd like working with animals, a summer job at a veterinarian's office might let you know otherwise.

"Temporary or seasonal employment can act as a test drive to see if the job is the right fit, Gimbel says. "If someone doesn't like the position, they can end the assignment and search for other opportunities."

But every temporary role should be treated as if it's a permanent position, he says.

"Temporary positions are 'working interviews,' in the sense that while on the job, employees need to go above and beyond to prove their worth and that they are indispensable to the company."

4. You're gaining another role for your resume.

In today's ultra-competitive job market, a summer job is less about filling time or your wallet during the summer and more about filling in the experience portion of your resume, says Joe Weinlick, vice president of marketing at Beyond.com.

"Summer jobs can lead to invaluable training for future careers. It's hard sometimes to see the bigger picture, but each new experience is a new opportunity," Weinlick says.  

During interviews for future positions, employers will want to talk about real-life work experiences more than educational experiences, says Paul Millard, co-founder and managing partner of executive search firm The Millard Group.

"Employers are looking for what makes a person unique, and a summer job can be that thing," he says. "It is crucial that the person extracts all of the valuable lessons from the position they held and that they can discuss this with a would-be employer."

5. You never know who you'll meet.

A lot of CEOs started out delivering pizza. Be aware that your colleagues may one day offer valuable contacts or job opportunities.

"You should always aim to make a positive impression in the workplace, even in a summer job, because you never know who might become a valuable long-term contact," says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam.

Never burn bridges during a summer stint. If your assignment ends, thank the manager and keep in touch.

"This person could be a reference for you later," Hosking says. "Be positive with everyone you meet and adopt a service mindset."

Use your summer job as an opportunity to collaborate with a diverse set of individuals, he says. This is critical for broadening your experience and building a network of professional contacts -- and can be quite beneficial during a search for full-time employment.

Don't hesitate to develop relationships with your customers, either, says Thomas Claxton, CareerTagged advisory board member.

"Networking opportunities are abundant and you never know who you are going to meet," he says. "Look at every interaction with your customers as an impromptu job interview. You never know who you are interacting with, and they could be your next boss."

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