A while ago I entered a link to an interview in Spiegel online with Silvana Koch-Mehrin, member of the European Parliament for the Liberal party (ALDE), where she talks about her most terrible student job. In her case it was in a call center working late hours and calling people according to the rhythm of ads running on TV channels.
There are basically two reasons for working while being a student:
1) First, you need to earn some money in addition to what your parents provide you with or to the grant you get so that you can afford another beer, an overseas trip or what not.
2) Secondly, you gain experience in the real world, in business, experience that you can add to your CV, usually accommodated with a nice letter of recommendation from the employer.
The latter has become more and more important over the last, say, three decades. The kind of jobs students are doing has become a one of the key factors for Human Resource departments in selecting the candidates that get invited for job interviews. And students, in turn, show the tendency to believe that they need to get the best and greatest record of qualifications in addition to their studies for having a chance on the labour market when finishing.
While our parents and grandparents worked as bricklayers or at petrol stations or in bakeries, there is some societal pressure nowadays for doing something “better”, more “relevant”, more “qualifying”. The trend clearly is for internships in large, multinational companies or organisations, best coupled with some time in a foreign country.
Quite honestly, that's fantastic to do and I would love my children to pursue such an opportunity when it's their turn – some more years to go, though.
In addition, however, I firmly believe that society – including, most notably, Human Resource departments – ought to acknowledge that some odd jobs are equally valuable even though they are not at all like high profile international internships.
In probably any kind of job you gain a lot experience which you can use in your profession later on. It's above all the soft skills that matter. The interaction with people you are working with, the integration of yourself into existing teams and work environments. This includes individuals, strata, business domains, etc.
In other words: What is important is to gain experience. And with the most horrible horrible student job – as described in the Spiegel interview series – people might make the most valuable experience for their later profession, and, in fact, for life.
Negative experience, seeing and learning how things don't work and go wrong, is vital. We all know that since our childhood and we see it repeating with our own children. It includes the experience of failing, of disappointment, of having to muddle-through for getting things done. Who never went through tough situations is more likely to fail when confronted with them. After all we don't live in egg shells.
So jobs that qualify people for leadership positions can be different. There is no one size meets all needs. And jobbing for life could – and perhaps should – mean to aim for a good mix of high profile jobs and real grunt work.