While filling my résumé with publications and writing experience — all suited for the summer internships I was applying to — I came to a standstill. There was a chunk of blank space I could have easily filled with details of my two-years experience working at a grocery store, but I hesitated: The job seemed trite considering my lack of internships, like a testament to my financial insecurity.
As any retail or customer service worker knows, the demands of these jobs — constant stocking, satisfying customers’ every whim — are just as taxing as those faced by employees in more elite professions. As students, we work these positions not for experience, but out of grim necessity, often blinding us to their value.
Though a student’s customer service experience becomes irrelevant after they’ve held multiple career-specific positions, those who are still looking to land their first internship should find value in relevant service-industry experience and include these positions on their resumes and cover letters when applying.
In 2017, a study found that 52% of college students work at least 27 weeks out of the year. This is hardly surprising: In addition to aiding students in paying exorbitant tuition costs, most part-time work requires little prior experience, a plus for students still working toward their degree.
But despite the opportunities these jobs provide students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, we’ve been conditioned to look down upon restaurant servers, grocery clerks and other positions stereotypically associated with low motivation. This outlook contributes to employee stress, in addition to damaging their self-esteem. At the store where I work, for example, after countless interactions with condescending UT students, I feel compelled to shrink away whenever someone strolls up to my register wearing a Greek-letter emblazoned pullover.
It’s this negativity coupled with the dull routine nature of customer service tasks that makes students think customer service experience is inconsequential to potential employers. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“The skills that you’re getting from retail or food service, these introductory roles, are applicable in internships,” said Moody career advisor Megan Vallee. “Employers like to see that you’ve held a professional position, and since you’re a student, that holds a lot of weight.”
Students can even draw from negative customer encounters, constructing these instances in their cover letter as examples of conflict management skills and self-assertion.
“Working customer service, especially in an environment as chaotic as a supermarket, you’re forced to meet hundreds of people on a daily basis,” said Mason Waters, advertising graduate and former student worker. “You learn how to best manage every personality type.”
Naturally, the end goal isn’t to accumulate a lengthy list of retail and service industry positions, but rather to use these experiences as a springboard to achieving higher roles where we can eventually ditch these mentions from our résumé altogether.
Sally Garcia, an advertising freshman and former fast food worker, included her service industry credentials on earlier résumés and landed her first internship with this experience alone. “After I got some internships under my belt, I ran out of room on my résumé, so I chose to include these career-oriented positions over my restaurant employment,” said Garcia.
When clocking out after a closing shift, feet aching and socially drained from eight hours of stocking or scanning bar codes, it’s easy to dismiss customer service work as meaningless — the limbo before your future career. But rather than shying away from time spent on menial labor, extract value from your work, add this to your résumé and apply for that internship feeling confident in your abilities.
David is an advertising sophomore from Allen.