• Abbie Tibbott

Part-Time Jobs at University: Things to Know

It’s no secret that university can be expensive, so getting yourself a job can really help to ease the financial stress that students can face. Thankfully, working alongside your studies has become accepted at most universities, with many offering the opportunity to work on campus with flexible contracts. I’ve worked since I was sixteen, so already knew that it would be necessary to get a job in term-time to support my lifestyle, especially during the first year.

I worked as a student ambassador, which entailed me leading tours, giving presentations, and herding groups of schoolchildren around. If you’re heading to university this September, here are a few things to consider when getting a job.

First of all, there are several reasons why a getting job is a great idea. Firstly of course is the money, which can vary depending on what you do. My wage paid for my social life, as well as clothes and transportation. Secondly, having a job looks great on your CV, which arguably is even more important than the money in some respects. I say this because when you leave university, employers will want to know what you’ve done with your time outside of your course. Being in your early twenties and never having held down a job makes you a lot less competitive than others who have worked since their teens. Now, I understand that not everyone will need to work, but just picking up a casual job as a barista for a few hours per week is better than nothing. Getting a job will also give you something to do, which is useful if you’re someone who likes to keep busy. Meeting new people and learning new skills is a bonus too, so don’t write off a job straight away.

The good news is university towns and cities are full of work for young people. If you already have some prior work experience, you’ll find it easy to get a job in a supermarket (request a transfer if you already work for a chain) or in the hospitality industry. Big shopping centres and high street shops know that students need to work, and just working at the weekends is entirely possible. If you haven’t had a job before, don’t worry, as there are many companies who will take on students anyway. Cleaning, door staff and waitressing normally don’t require any prior work experience, and you can always quit and find something better if you don’t like it.

If you live on campus, head to student services to find out about any potential work at your university. Mine had an online job portal which made applying for things quick and easy. A lot of university jobs are casual, meaning that you either have a regular shift, or you just sign up for the work that you can do. I liked having a zero-hours contract, as it meant that I could work more when I wasn’t as busy and cut back when the deadlines were tight. This does have its drawbacks, as exam season is usually the busiest time, and the beginning of semesters being the quietest, so there might be more competition for shifts. However, being reliable and a good worker often goes quite a long way in your favour. Being flexible to quickly cover a shift (if you have time) is a bonus if you’re going to be on campus anyway, and I picked up a lot of extra work this way.


Why you shouldn’t get a job

There are a few instances why a part-time job isn’t for you, so I thought I’d quickly mention them. Firstly, if you take a course that has contact hours of over 25 a week, or requires a significant amount of practical work, employment might not be the best idea for you. Now don’t get me wrong, plenty of my friends on courses with lots of contact hours had no choice but to work, and did manage to fit everything in. However, if you’re just starting out at university, give yourself time to see how you manage your workload before committing to a position. It can be difficult to manage the need for money and the need to do well on your course, and the system definitely isn’t perfect. I’d advise getting a zero-hours contract, so you can pick and choose your hours and be more flexible when your deadlines start piling up. Do not miss your contact time to go to work, that isn’t the point of going to university. If you’re struggling to pay your rent or buy food, please go to student services and ask what help is available.

If you’re just considering university, make sure you take into account whether you will need a job when applying for your course. The social sciences generally have less contact hours and more independent study, which may suit you better if you need to work. Struggling for money throughout your entire degree will make the whole experience go sour, so if you need to choose a course which will allow you to stay financially stable, then do it. I’m not telling you to give up your dream, but please factor this in when you make your decision.

If you want to continue with working and studying, there are a few ways to get around a lack of time. Working hard during the time you’re not at university is an option, especially over the summer. I worked as a cleaner during the summer holidays, taking on overtime and extra days when needed. I made a lot of money this way and kept my summer expenditure low by doing cheap activities with friends and hanging out at the beach or at each other’s houses. This allowed me to save a lot of money before term started, so it lessened the pressure a bit. I’d also go shopping in the summer sales before I went back to university, so I didn’t need to buy clothes when money was tight.

Another way to earn some cash is to sell things you don’t need, tutor friends and other students, or even buy and sell from charity shops. These require a bit of setting up, but I knew of several friends who had successful side-hustles while they studied.


Things to consider

When finding a job at university, there’s a few things that I’d advise bearing in mind. The most important, in my opinion, is the number of hours your university recommends that you work. The majority of universities recommend that you work no more than 20 hours a week, which I’d say is pretty reasonable if you’re studying full time and want a social life as well. Of course, if you don’t work directly for the university, they’re not going to know how many hours you’re working, but I’d try to bear this number in mind. If you do work on campus, often your hours are capped at 20 per week, so there’s no point working more anyway. I had several different timesheets while I worked for the university, so I carefully spread my hours across them to make sure I was getting paid for all of my work, which maybe wasn’t the idea, but I did it anyway.

Another thing to think about are the times you’ll be working. If you get a bar job, the hours will be pretty unsociable, think evenings and weekends as a definite. If this doesn’t bother you that’s fine, but if you like to go out and socialise, you might find yourself being left out as you have to work. Some businesses also aren’t that flexible, as they operate with the reasoning that if you don’t want to do those hours, they’ll just find another student who will. You might have to work through holidays, which isn’t ideal if you want to spend time with family or just take a well-deserved break.

Finally, some managers are just downright shady, expecting you to be ultra-flexible or extending your shifts without asking. Those are some serious red flags, so don’t be afraid to ditch that job and find another that suits you better. Sadly, some people will take advantage of students, but you deserve to find a good work-life balance.


Things you’ll need

A lot of part-time work is easy to come by, especially if you’ve held a job in the past. However, I’d recommend making sure you have a few things before you start job hunting :

· CV – Put down your A Levels, degree and any prior work or volunteer experience you have. If you don’t have a lot to say, emphasise your work ethic and reliability. A page of A4 is better than nothing, and it’s something you can add to over time.

· Cover letter – I will say that a lot of jobs don’t require these, and it’s being seen as quite old-fashioned. However, some will, so it’s worth writing one. A side of A4 is plenty, just introducing yourself, your availability and any key skills that make you suitable. There are lots of templates online, so just keep one in your files that you can quickly edit and send off when needed.

· Smart clothes – Interviews are usually pretty chilled out for casual work, but make sure that you have smart skirts or trousers, a plain blouse or shirt and a cardigan or blazer, along with a nice pair of shoes. I’d recommend that you have a smart outfit in your wardrobe anyway, as it can come in useful for times like this.

· Comfy shoes – Lots of places provide uniform, but you’ll be expected to provide your own shoes. For anything involving manual labour, opt for some sturdy black trainers (work boots should be provided or an allowance given to buy your own) without flashy logos that you are comfortable in all day.

Jobs are a fantastic way to earn some extra cash at university, so on the whole I’d recommend finding one. I really enjoyed my work at university as it was so varied and very customisable depending on what I fancied doing. I packed bags for welcome events, set up a massive tent, gave countless presentations and sat on multiple panels for schoolchildren to ask their questions. It really gave me a passion for the higher education sector, especially the work being done to provide children with a route to university which they otherwise might not have had. It was time and effort well spent in my opinion, but whatever you choose to do, make sure that you’re being treated with respect and that you actually have some passion for it, otherwise it’ll be the thing that you’ll dread every week. I hope this has given you an insight into jobs at university so you can find a position that’s perfect for you.

Happy studying!