Opinion | Students should be picky about their jobs

By Anna Fischer, Senior Staff Columnist

Despite being responsible for a one-star review at my workplace that states “the little redhead behind the counter is rude,” I am a very good employee. I promise.

The cruel reality about customer service jobs is that no matter how good you are at your job, there will always be a handful of customers that believe you’ve clawed your way out of the depths of hell to claim ownership of their firstborn child.

I’ve been working since I was 16, which isn’t too strange considering more than 30% of people aged 16 to 19 are employed. At this point, it almost feels unnatural for me to not be employed.

For three years, I have worked as a cashier at a car wash in my hometown, and I never realized how good I had it. I was hired at $12 an hour — I just received my third raise and now make $17 an hour — and I receive commission on any sales I make. The management is organized, understanding and we have amazing rapport. I enjoy my job so much that when I left for college, I took a leave of absence instead of quitting, and I still work whenever I go home.

I was so accustomed to always working that when I came to Pitt my first objective was to find a job. I wasn’t picky because I knew I could do any job in retail or customer service well. I accepted the first job that was offered to me, and it is the biggest regret of my college life so far.

So many working college students are underpaid and undervalued, but are willing to accept mediocre pay and working conditions just for the sake of having a paying job. Do not make my same mistake. You should be picky about your job, even if it’s part time or for spending money or because you feel like you should have one.

When I arrived at Pitt, I made $8 an hour through the first job I accepted, with no possibility of a promotion. The kicker is that they didn’t even pay me for the first two months. It took multiple emails and calls to straighten everything out, but for two months, I worked completely for free. They eventually did pay me, but it took me months, tears and extreme stress. Even after all that, it took me a whole semester of working a job I didn’t enjoy at with a huge pay cut from my previous job for me to quit.

It’s not uncommon for many undergraduate students to work in tandem with their education — in fact, as of 2017, 43% of full-time students worked while attending school. While not all of these are work-study programs or jobs directly tied to the university, student workers are often underpaid due to a legal loophole that allows employers to pay full-time students 75% of the minimum wage for on-campus jobs. My job paid above minimum wage — that is, 75 cents above Pennsylvania’s absurd minimum wage of $7.25 — but, quite honestly, it was not a wage that warranted me having to deal with awful management and the expectations placed on me when I never received job training.

It was a job that I should have quit after the first month, but I stayed because I didn’t understand my own value as a worker. Working college students are often subjected to a difficult decision of choosing where to allocate their efforts and focus — school or work. Even though student workers are encouraged to focus on their studies, students who work more than 15 to 20 hours a week often see negative impacts on their grades.

Because of this, many students will choose to work jobs that require minimal hours and will schedule around class times. But in my own experience, because my job regarded us more as students instead of employees, we weren’t treated with the same respect as full-time employees or valued nearly as much.

But I still couldn’t bring myself to leave. I felt a strange sense of obligation to my first job in college, which is a very common reason that many employees will stay at a job that doesn’t value them. It took nearly all of my fellow student workers quitting for me to realize that my job didn’t care about me as an employee. I finally submitted my two weeks when the semester ended, and I’m proud of that first step towards finding a job that adds significant value into my life, not just as a student, but as an employee.

I took the first half of the second semester off — I wanted to see what college life was like without the added stressor of a job that I didn’t enjoy. I know that I speak from a privileged position as someone who has enough savings to live comfortably without a job, and as someone who lives in a dormitory with a meal plan who doesn’t have to worry about rent or food.

So many people don’t have the luxury to be picky about their jobs, but for students like me who are accepting subpar pay and working conditions simply because work is not your “main focus” as a student, I encourage you to rethink the value of your work.

Just because college students are expected to devote more of their time and effort to their studies rather than their job doesn’t mean that they should be treated any differently than other employees. As students, when looking for work, we should be willing to understand the value of our work as employees, and look for jobs with decent pay and management even for part-time workers and students. That also means being willing to quit a job if it’s not providing that respect.

I do plan on finding another job for the second half of the semester. But this time, during my search, I will make sure that I look for jobs that will adequately value my work regardless of my status as a student or not. College students should not have to accept mediocre wages and treatment simply because we have scholastic commitments outside of work. We are still valuable as employees and should be treated as such. If we aren’t being valued, we have to demand that respect, or quit.

Anna Fischer writes about female empowerment, literature and art. She’s really into bagels. Write to her at [email protected].