The Best Side Jobs for College Students

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- As the new school year kicks into gear, many college students are trying to line up part-time jobs or internships to build up their resumes -- and their bank accounts. But for anyone stressing out over finding the perfect position, take heart: Job experts say the only wrong answer is doing nothing at all.

"Any experience students get is helpful on a resume and helps you with networking, time management and teamwork," says Lindsey Pollak, a Generation Y career expert and author of Getting from College to Career. "You can always make a job into more once you have it. You could work behind the counter at a gas station and talk to every customer who comes in and network that way."

Just by working any job while in school -- be it a customer service position or volunteering at a clinic -- students can prove to future employers that they are capable of juggling schoolwork with a career and, perhaps as importantly, that they are familiar with the fundamentals of showing up on time and being a team player. This, Pollak says, will give them a leg up on the many students who choose not to work while in school.

The factors that matter when accepting a job in college will vary somewhat based on the student's situation. If the student needs to pay his or her own way through school, the job itself may be less important than the salary, but for those looking to build their resumes, there is one simple rule to follow when job hunting in school.

"Think 'industry first, brand name second and the role you'll play third' when you are looking for a job," says Carolyn Hughes, vice president of people at, a job search engine. "It's the industry you want exposure to that matters most and then the brand name on the resume that will be recognizable to employers in the future, and only then the skills you develop."

MainStreet spoke with several career experts to pick out the side jobs that are the best fit for students of all interests, whether they are looking to build their resumes or their bank accounts, or just to sample possible professions they may be interested in going forward.

Retail Sales

Working in retail is undoubtedly one of the more popular options for college students looking to make extra cash, and there's certainly no shortage of them. SimplyHired alone currently has more than 300,000 listings for retail sales associates, far more than any other position that commonly hires college students.

Retail positions often come with flexible schedules and decent salaries that can cover much of a student's living expenses for the year, but the benefits of working retail go above and beyond the money.

"Many of the recruiters I know think it's very important, no matter the job, for the candidate to have retail and customer service experience," Pollak says. "A lot of students have never worked before and do not know how to have a boss and deal with colleagues."

Beyond this, just working in retail can get students in the habit of having a real job and making money, not to mention learning how to manage that money.


After retail sales associates, restaurant workers have the second most listings of any job on that is geared toward college students, with more than 150,000 postings for hosts, waiters and bartenders. And like retail jobs, the leading incentive for college students to work in restaurants is the flexible schedule and the potential to make a lot of money very quickly, depending on the tips.

For restaurant jobs -- and indeed for all positions on this list -- experts say it's important to strive to make the best impression possible, even if you have no intention staying in that job or even the industry in the long term, because it may come back to haunt you. After all, today's waiter may just become the hiring manager at your dream company down the road.

Virtual Jobs

As Pollak and others point out, the beauty of being a student today is that it's easier than ever to find work that you can do from the comfort of your own dorm with a more flexible schedule, if you know what to look for.

Graphic designers can offer to do freelance Web design work, writers can blog for online publications and if you're great with foreign languages or another subject, you can make a little extra money by tutoring students online. What's more, any student comfortable with Facebook and Twitter -- which we're going to assume is most of them -- can reach out to small businesses and offer to help them with their social media efforts.

Campus Positions

Campus jobs have been harder to come by in recent semesters as college funding hasn't been able to keep pace with the growing number of students looking for these positions. Still, these jobs are a great bet for students looking to sample different careers.

"If you're interested in publishing, get a job at the alumni magazine. If you're interested in film, work at the campus movie theater and if you are thinking about law school, get a job in the university's general counsel's office answering phones," Pollak says.

Each of these positions provide students with a taste of what the profession is like, offer networking opportunities with college faculty and alumni, and since they are handled through the college, the schedule and expectations are geared specifically toward students.

Many of these jobs are intended for students who receive financial aid, but not all. Consult your campus career services department to find the positions that are available for you.

Low-Level Jobs in Your Profession

If there are no jobs available on campus, students can emulate this strategy off campus by searching for entry-level opportunities in their industry, no matter how menial the positions may be.

Those interested in pursuing medicine can answer phones at the doctor's office. Likewise, aspiring lawyers can get their foot in the door by answering phones at the firm. If you're interested in going into finance, you might try working as a teller at a bank. Volunteering and working internships at companies is another way to accomplish this, but in each case students should be mindful of one concern.

"Social jobs will have much more value to your career than task-oriented jobs," says SimplyHired's Hughes. "You should always opt for a job that lets you be out on the floor and lets you build up your network."

For this reason, she suggests avoiding jobs that place you in the corner and ask you to do filing all day, since it will make it that much harder to create strong relationships with people in the industry.

Work Sharing

The tough economy has forced many companies to cut back their payrolls, but in the process, it has led to a unique opportunity for younger employees and college students.

"A lot of employers are getting creative and choosing to hire two part-time workers to fill one full-time position," says Jodi Chavez, senior vice president for Ajilon Professional Staffing. In this way, employers can avoid having to pay out the benefits that come with a full-time position. For some, this of course means fewer full-time job openings, but for students looking to get a foot in the door, this can be a good opportunity.

According to Chavez, job sharing typically occurs for entry-level positions that require little to no expertise so that the employer doesn't need to waste resources training two new employees at once. Some of the more common work-sharing opportunities Chavez has seen were for data entry and customer service positions, but it's important to keep one thing in mind with these jobs.

"If you are just looking for a job to get you through college, this is a fine opportunity, but if you are looking for something more permanent, you might need to tell the employer you'll need a full-time job once you graduate," Chavez says.

Odd Jobs

In addition to all the other job opportunities out there, students should always be on the lookout for any odd jobs that may be available in their community to make some extra money.

John Challenger, CEO of the career research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, suggests students consider babysitting and caddying as ways to make money quickly on a flexible schedule. Aside from this, tech-savvy students can also consider doing tech support for neighbors and small businesses that may not be as good with computers and electronics. In this way, students can put their strengths to good use and make good connections as well.

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