It's not every day that you get to meet soccer player David Beckham and actor Ralph Fiennes as part of your weekly routine, but celebrity encounters are definitely one of the perks of Erin Zuke's part-time job waiting tables at the Irish Embassy Bar and Grill in downtown Toronto.
However, while rubbing shoulders with athletes and actors is nice, for the 34-year-old Ms. Zuke, who this summer completed a political science degree at the University of Toronto, the appeal of working in an upscale restaurant and bar is definitely rooted in a more fundamental necessity.
"You don't have to work very much because you can make a lot of money in a very short period of time," says the native of Richmond Hill, Ont. "I work Friday, Saturday nights and make good money, then you don't have to worry about working the rest of the week."
Like many students, working has become a mode of survival for Ms. Zuke, who benefits from having her husband of two years shoulder the lion's share of their rent while she pursues her dream job of becoming a policy analyst. And though she admits that the hours – she routinely starts at 5 p.m. and finishes at 3 a.m. the following morning – make it hard to be motivated to put in some study time on the weekends, she says the pros of working in bars and restaurants far outweigh the cons.
"Most of my friends that I go to school with, they work in the same industry as me because it's the biggest payoff for the shortest amount of work," she says, adding that with tips on top of her wages she can make $200 a shift. "If you worked at the Gap or something, you're making $10 an hour or whatever minimum wage is, so if you work five hours, you make 50 bucks. "I think people in the service industry have it the best as far as students go. All the people I know work in bars." Networking is another key benefit of Ms. Zuke's job – CEOs, CFOs, former mayors and city councillors have all made their way into the Irish Embassy during her time there.
Her hours are flexible, and she can fit shifts around her class schedule, but this is likely because she formed a relationship with her employer over a number of years, she adds, and may not necessarily hold true for everyone in that industry.
For students concerned with fitting work around their studies, an on-campus job, such as a research assistant or teaching assistant, might provide a better solution than working in the service industry and retail.
"A lot of [students] want to work on campus and there are a lot of pros to that," says Kristen Woods, employment and internship co-ordinator at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. "Some of them live on campus, so it's easier for them to work here as well, but it is also nice because the employer then knows the student's schedule and keeps that in mind.
Students who land on-campus jobs also benefit from the fact that the wages are generally above the minimum wage normally found in retail positions. But while extra money is nice, it shouldn't necessarily be the deciding factor when it comes to finding a job.
"Students obviously need financial resources to go to school and that's often times the motivator for part-time employment," says Jan Basso, director of co-operative education and career development at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. "But, also I think, it's really important that they're looking at the kind of skill development to help them around exploring careers and augmenting the marketable skills they have for employers upon graduation."
With long-range planning in mind, Ms. Basso recommends that students look at participating in a co-op program if it's available, and not just because of how it will look on a student's résumé.
"Many, many students are pursuing programs that offer co-op options, because then they will get directly related experience to their program of study and the pay on those is significantly higher," she says.
But whatever line of work a student pursues during their university career, any kind of job will be beneficial when it comes to moving on to a postgraduate career.
"I think there's value in all employment, because we develop transferable skills no matter what we engage in in life and I think if you're able to relate that to the world of work – teamwork, communication, etc., – that you gain through your university studies, you're able to transfer that," says Gayle Langlais, director of career services at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. "So sure it's great if you can get directly related work experience, but if you can't, there's still value in any work experience."
It may be just as important as academics, suggests one student adviser.
"Having the degree is important, but it's certainly not the most important thing you would highlight," says Kevin Chaves, co-op student adviser at Carleton University in Ottawa. "It's important, certainly, but it's one piece of the puzzle that you would need.