- Reuters/Carlo Allegri
It’s that time of year when American youths around the country take a break from their academic studies and gain some hands-on, “real world experience.”
This got me wondering: aside from money earned, what other value do we derive from summer jobs? To find out, I asked readers and Business Insider staff to chime in with their most memorable stories of summer jobs past.
If I’ve learned anything from sifting through the submissions, it’s that awful summer jobs are a great equalizer.
Whether you’re Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who had to castrate bulls on his grandparents’ Texas ranch, or you’re me, who spent a summer slinging some “truly authentic” Irish fare like Monte Cristo sandwiches and fajitas (my family in Ireland would be so proud) for about two bucks an hour (plus tips), so many people have had at least one terrible summer job, and everyone walks away with some lesson learned – even if it’s simply that you never want to do it again.
Here are some of the most interesting horrible summer job stories people shared:
Some answers have been edited for clarity.
‘That song still haunts my dreams’
- Yo Gabba Gabba/Nick Jr.
“My first job in high school was working as a sales associate in a kids clothing store. It was terrible.
“There was a TV in the back of the store that parents could plop their kids in front of while they shopped. The TV would play an hour-long DVD of random clips of kids shows, so if you worked for four hours, you’d hear the same songs four times.
“My personal favorite? ‘Please don’t throw things at friends, please don’t throw things at friends!‘ That song still haunts my dreams.”
“What I learned is that I am in absolutely no rush to have children of my own.” –Tim Mulkerin, video game intern at Tech Insider
‘I … was able to defuse the situation before the police arrived’
- AP/Damian Dovarganes
“The biggest problem with working in a gas station was personal safety on a daily basis from either people who refused to put out their cigarettes on the forecourt next to spilled fuel, people trying to drive off without paying, or even people coming into the shop and threatening or trying to rob you.
“The ‘highlight’ for me was one evening, someone came in and threatened to physically attack me if I didn’t discount his gas bill, and he refused to leave. He even leaned over the counter to try and grab me. The worst part was that my manager ran into the office behind the shop floor door and locked it behind her – leaving me outside – and then when I pressed the panic button, it didn’t work.
“However, what I learned from the experience is that I am pretty calm and collected in a crisis and was able to defuse the situation before the police arrived.” –Lianna Brinded, finance editor at Business Insider UK
‘The next day at work I heard words that even 16-year-olds didn’t know existed’
- Francisco Osorio/flickr
“When I was 16 years old I got a summer job at a grocery store near my house called Wegmans. I hated everything about the store – the customers, the bosses – and the only reason I stayed was because it payed me an insane amount.
“One day all my coworkers were in the break room chatting when a man walks in the room, and everyone quickly goes over to greet him and talk to him. After a while I go over there and start talking to him, and for some reason I start to completely bash my boss and tell him that’s she’s one of the worst bosses and that my four-year-old cousin could do a better job then her. A while after the man leaves the room, and I go to one of my colleagues, and ask ‘Who is that guy?’ and he said that he’s our bosses husband.
“Let’s just say the next day at work I heard words that even 16-year-olds didn’t know existed.” -Anonymous
‘I injured my back … and every year or so it plays up, leaving me in agony’
- Mario Tama/Getty Images
“Throughout university, I spent my summer holidays (and most other holidays) working at a flour mill near my parents’ home to make some cash. I would not recommend this.
“The mill was very traditional, and mostly un-automated, which meant 10-hour-days of carrying 70 pound bags of flour up steep flights of stairs. I injured my back while there from all the lifting, and every year or so it plays up, leaving me in agony.
“On the bright side, I now know a hell of a lot about flour.” –Rob Price, technology reporter at Business Insider UK
‘The girls were mortified when they woke up to the outcome’
“I worked as a camp counselor at an Anglican overnight camp. Once my cabin of 12 year-old-girls were curious as to how people got hickeys from kissing and stayed up all night experimenting. Worse, they made up rumors that spread across camp stating that the older boys had snuck over to visit.
“The girls were mortified when they woke up to the outcome. I then led them on their walk of shame to breakfast line-up; each of them covered head-to-toe in dark, very obvious hickeys.” -Instagram user ssyd_daoust
‘ … I proceeded to rub my hands all over the butter cow … ‘
- Katherine Johnson/flick
“In the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school, I accidentally got a job at the Ohio State Fair (I stumbled into a group job orientation and later claimed my name wasn’t on a designated folder despite signing up).
“It was a typical ice-cream scooper position. I worked 12 hours a day for a week and a half. There was sun burn. I hated myself.
“However, at the end of the fair, a giant butter statue of a cow that was displayed in the entrance of the ice-cream shop needed melting down, and we got extra money for helping with that. So I signed up for the job, but skipped the meeting on how to properly melt the giant butter cow because I figured it’d be self-explanatory.
“When I showed up everyone was hard at work re-wiring some of the metal structure within the giant butter cow, and I definitely looked out of place. So naturally, I proceeded to rub my hands all over the butter cow while everyone around me actually knew what they were doing (the butter cow was moved to a heated room with a lamp over it, and as it melted, we were supposed to make sure the the wires inside that held the butter cow up weren’t damaged).
“It was really bad. I learned a lot that summer, like how butter cows are melted down, and how you can play dumb into an actual job.” –Emmanuel Ocbazghi, associate producer for Business Insider
‘ … no one tips the kitchen guy’
“One summer in high school, I signed up to work at a local summer camp. I was a ‘counselor in training,’ which is a euphemism for ’employee who doesn’t get paid.’
“Instead of being assigned with a group of kids, I was put on kitchen duty. I basically helped heat up lunch, and threw out the trash afterwards. My salary was supposed to be paid in tips at the end of the summer, but no one tips the kitchen guy.
“After two weeks of lugging around smelly, heavy trash bags, I quit. The person in charge of the camp was mad at me and told me I wouldn’t get paid because I didn’t give two weeks’ notice. I didn’t care. A few weeks later, I found a job as a cashier at a local bakery and got free cookies every day.” –Jacob Shamsian, INSIDER reporter
‘At least, I hope it was dog poop’
- AP/Mike Groll
“I worked as a lifeguard throughout high school. One summer, I started working solo at a new beach across town. My second day on the job, I showed up and found that someone had smeared dog poop all over my lifeguard stand. At least, I hope it was dog poop.” -Anonymous
‘Sometimes it can really help people to just lend a friendly ear’
- REUTERS/Brian Snyder
“Of the literally dozens of horrific jobs I’ve worked, probably the worst was credit card collections at this really shady company that would just give credit cards to anyone and seemed to specifically target at-risk individuals.
“We had to relentlessly harass these poor people who had run up so much debt and had no idea how and/or no means to get out of it.
“Our managers would listen in on our calls or stand over our shoulders to make sure we were collecting.
“I was horrible because I could never collect and spent a lot of time life coaching or just listening to people’s problems. Lessons learned were: credit card debt is real, and sometimes it can really help people to just lend a friendly ear.” –Caitlin Harper, Business Insider operations manager
‘The kids were all total spoiled brats’
- Flickr / Camp Pinewood
“I spent a terrible summer as a kitchen and maintenance worker at a summer camp for very rich kids in New Hampshire. The work was hard, the pay was low, and we slept in a wooden shack a bit like the ones the prisoners are kept in from the movie ‘The Great Escape.’
“The kids were all total spoiled brats – although to their credit they became much more normal and mature by the end of their nine weeks at camp. We asked them what their parents did, and their answers were, ‘My dad is an investment banker,’ ‘My mom is a lawyer,’ ‘my dad owns a hospital’ and so on.
“Except for one kid. He just said, ‘My dad used to make pens.’
“We only realized a couple of days later the kid’s last name was Scheaffer.” –Jim Edwards, founding editor and editor-in-chief of Business Insider UK
‘I was expected to sell enough product to cover my salary — I rarely did’
- Carolyn Coles/flickr
“I worked for one of the worst companies in the Ohio Valley region during the worst financial crisis in a generation. I was 18 going into the summer of 2009 and my father got me a job at the company he worked for. My job was to go door-to-door in neighborhoods and convince people to buy a product they didn’t want, and in some instances, probably couldn’t even afford.
“Sales is hard. Door-to-door sales is even harder. Cold selling someone weedkiller to fix up the yard of the home they just lost in the housing bubble is practically impossible.’Oh your house is underwater? Maybe if you kill these atrocious weeds it will increase the property value. With your unemployment insurance you can afford $25 a month right?’ SLAM!
“I will admit that I had more tact than that, but that was essentially the situation I was in: day after day, door after door. It was hot and humid, and I was required to wear khakis and a dark blue polo. I was expected to sell enough product to cover my salary. I rarely did. I worked there for three months and at least got enough money to buy a PS3, which was a pretty big deal at the time.
“Currently I am a young lawyer who wants to focus on litigation. My experience in door-to-door sales actually helped prepare me to become a better litigator. If I can convince twelve people to buy lawn care in the middle of a recession (I think I sold 20 to 30), if I can convince twelve people that toxic herbicides ‘actually help the environment because healthy lawns recycle more carbon dioxide than weeds’ (yeah, I really told people that), I can convince twelve people my big bad corporation didn’t do anything wrong.
“My PS3 finally died last summer. I bought a PS4 with my lawyer paycheck. It felt a lot better.” -Marc Manley, Bowling Green, Kentucky
‘In the camp world that’s a pretty terrible problem’
- Carissa Rogers/flickr
“I worked at a day camp when I was 17 for six weeks. I had to miss a few days of the summer, and in the camp world that’s a pretty terrible problem.
“I was hired as a ‘floater’ instead of a ‘counselor’ because I was missing four days. Floater basically meant that they could put me wherever someone else was missing.
“I imagined my job would be different every single day. I spent four weeks of that summer going through arts and crafts inventory. That’s basically a fancy way of saying I sorted through a box of what was essentially unidentifiable wood chips, trying to match tiny wooden leaves or tiny wooden flowers, all of which were completely broken.
“The box was the size of Tupperware you might use to put away every Christmas decoration you own, or and entire family’s season wardrobe. It was huge.
“I also, to this day, have no idea what the purpose of that task was. I don’t think they did anything with the little wooden pieces except put them away at the end of the summer.
“I had to bargain with myself to show up every day and not quit. It certainly wasn’t the summer of sun and fun that I imagined when I was hired.
“In retrospect, I learned to make sure I completely understand what my job will entail before I accept a position. I also definitely learned that I can endure about a month of any tedious task.” -Anonymous