“Finding Bicycle Mechanics”: The Beauty of Local Part-Time Jobs
Scrolling aimlessly through the catalog of student jobs at 2:00 a.m. is inevitable for any undergraduate trying to pursue a career. There are excellent positions offered on behalf of the university; However, many of these jobs can be quite exclusive. A higher barrier to entry coupled with a low number of positions leaves many students with a “CV received” status as part of their application. The struggle of not having enough experience to access positions that to build the experience can serve as a discouraging cycle.
While flashy internships can be an initial consideration for part-time work, very rewarding opportunities can be found in unexpected places. By searching for unconventional job postings in the local student job catalog, you can gain valuable experience that is rarely found in an office or classroom.
After realizing that my CV wouldn’t be enough for the summer internships I wanted, my friend grabbed an opportunity he had recently missed: a bike shop. I had no mechanical experience and didn’t even like bicycles very much, but the rent had to be paid. After completing a very low stakes interview process, I was immediately scheduled to work the following Sunday.
It ended up being an incredibly rewarding summer job.
Working in this particular bicycle shop was a bit like participating in a traveling circus. There were different acts specializing in varying routines, all based in different locations. Bounce back and forth between stores for this and that, occasionally interacting with other performers. Almost none of the employees dreamed of working there as a child, but they were part of the show nonetheless.
The general environment was very relaxed. It was not a job where calm demeanor was just as obligatory as a collared shirt. We were not fighting for recognition or competing for promotions. We just fixed and sold the bikes – that was it. It was a relaxed and interconnected environment that provided valuable learning opportunities.
While working under management, there were very low quotas, no real deadlines, and (to be completely honest) virtually no pressure. Simply put, your job was to make sure things ran smoothly by helping out in whatever way you can. It was your willingness to learn new skills that determined what you did and your ability to adapt to change that kept you on the team.
I ended up falling in love with repairing and building bikes, the same way a lot of my coworkers did. It was this strange common interest that we all shared and that our friends outside the store didn’t quite understand. After studying with experienced mechanics, I became proficient in diagnosing and correcting mechanical problems. Not only did these skills keep me on the payroll, I was able to apply them outside of work. If I ever needed a little extra cash, I could buy a used bike from the store or the Facebook Marketplace, fix it myself, and then sell it for a net profit. For the sake of transparency, the bike shop paid me quite well where this practice was not a necessity. However, the ability to actually apply the new skills I was learning made the job much more rewarding.
Also, the extra money for beer was nice.
Another thing I have learned from working in a (semi) small business is that the scope of work you incur can be very large depending on the business. These companies are more likely to encourage an employee’s ambitions by allowing them to help and gain experience for things that were not necessarily in the job description. I worked with a young mechanic from the shop who helped design and manage the company’s website, just because he could. A more traditional work environment would typically leave this task to a dedicated web developer, but in-store this type of initiative was encouraged. You are much less likely to experience this functional flexibility in a more traditional internship.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by your peers with exciting internship opportunities, even if their parents knew someone who knew someone. While positions like these can have a certain prestige during Thanksgiving family questioning, they don’t solidify the career path or even guarantee a sense of fulfillment. You can learn valuable lessons while discovering new interests just about anywhere, regardless of title or salary.
By setting aside preconceived notions of success, you’re better equipped to find the things you actually enjoy doing. Isn’t that the point?
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