A relevant part-time job: What even is that?

An homage to the relevant irrelevance of part-time jobs.

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«A part-time job relevant to your future career»: Can somebody, once and for all, please explain this concept to me?

The last few years, I have worked part-time as a waitress at Peppes Pizza. The location where I work is among the busiest in Oslo, and the customers make up a shockingly wide spectrum of personalities. This is a place where I’ve shed bitter tears in the back room, after both having yelled at and been yelled at by customers of varying repulsiveness.

Simultaneously, I have never felt as appreciated in a work environment as I have at Peppes. My colleagues are the epitome of caring and fun, and a majority of the Heavy Heaven pizzas I carry out end up at tables of smiling customers. Knowing that, it’s strange how a majority of the conversations I have with new acquaintances about my job tend to go like this:

«Do you have a part-time job beside your studies?»

«Yup [uttering a dry and slow laugh], I work as a waitress at Peppes [offering a tight grin, nodding nervously]. The work is alright [fumbling around for ironic distance]. Well-paid, I guess [throwing my hands in the air, totally undermining myself].»

Apparently, a part-time job as a waitress is not good enough, whether in terms of social status or study relevance. And I study social sciences.

In Norway, more than half the population of full-time students have a part-time job, while at the same time another 50 percent of students say they would have appreciated having more time spare for their studies. Judging by a 2015 report by Statistics Norway on European students’ economy and setting of study, this is a strange gap compared to the rest of Europe. In Finland and Sweden only 30 percent of full-time students work in addition to their studies.

It seems Norwegians are experts at part-time work, but also quite decent at social mobility. What the mothers of today’s generation of young achievers told their kids, might at the end of the day turn out true in one of the world’s most well-run welfare states: «You can be anything you want to be». In a recent interview with Aftenposten, Denmark’s «voice of the year», Professor of Psychology Svend Brinkmann said that «self-realization has become an obligation». And maybe that’s only natural, when a majority of the young population of Norwegians is pursuing higher education.

However, the years at university are also the only period in your life when your one real obligation is to learn in every possible way. On that basis, it is shocking how unforgivably low we continue to rank very ordinary, down-to-earth kinds of jobs. These are the type of part-time positions students are taught to think of as highly temporary, while they wait for the proper stuff. The kind of work we are highly dependent on to get through in our daily lives, putting food on the table, nurturing social relations and keeping our body in shape.

It is like students are now dedicated swimmers in a pool of the hot, comfortable and therapeutic kind, but throughout their childhood they have of course made the mistake of swallowing a few mouthfuls of the potentially bacteria-rich water. Because in order to learn to swim, you need to get through those less comfortable experiences. Just like the «not-directly-relevant» part-time work seems to be reduced to a period you just have to fight through in order to end up at some decent place later in your career.

When it comes to building social skills, creativity, and the art of mastering stress, working as a cashier at a supermarket or as a support person for someone with physical disadvantages might serve the same purpose as a, on paper, more relevant part-time position. The three qualities mentioned are constitutive for the majority of job vacancies available at the job forum Finn.no. According to UNICEF’s advertisement, working as a sales ambassador as part of their team will have you saving the world in no time. Or if you apply for the vacancy at Sporveiene, you will be working with other «reliable, devoted and collaborative tram drivers». Remove «tram drivers» from that sentence, and the advertisement can function in whatever career context.

It is fine to both question, and to provide different answers to what the purpose of a part-time job should be: economic independency, personal growth or social and professional networking. Looking at the dictionary understanding of «relevance», the term is about having practical and especially social applicability. When I started a new job at the beginning of this year, as a cultural editor of Universitas, several people compared it to my waitressing position, saying «wow, that is a step up». Of course they did – it makes perfect sense. Truth be told, we all want to rightly season our resumes, when we, after all, have chosen to spend several years of our lives studying particular topics. However, do personality and work need to be synonyms?

If I am to end up in my dream job, it is not singularly my experience from university media that will secure me that position. It is also the more or less wholehearted attempts I made to meet the customer’s preferences when I worked in a bookstore. Or the drunk fifty-somethings I have refused their sixth round of beers at Peppes. Or the soccer teams I have served, where in the middle of service I have tried to remember the face of that one poor kid who was forced to choose Coke Zero by his over caring mother.

Not to mention all the different personas I have encountered in colleagues and bosses throughout my years of part-time work. That experience is crucial, whether my next part-time job will be of hyper-relevance to my future career, or as the majority – extremely ordinary.

So I promise, next time somebody asks me about my job as a waitress, I do intend to pull myself together.

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