Your grandma was right: Bad jobs do build character. Here are four other benefits of spending this summer with your nose to a less-than-pleasant grindstone.

Share story

Here we are again — the time of year many teens and college students head out to find summer jobs.

Let’s leave aside the question of whether you will even be able to locate such work (with unemployment in this age group hovering around 17 percent, it’s far from a sure bet), and address a much larger philosophical question: Are these “bad” jobs worth it? Does scooping ice cream or mowing lawns truly, as they say, “build character”?

First, of course, it’s probably not fair to label the kind of low-skill, service-industry-type job a random 17-year-old might land as a bad job, at least in the way that cleaning up crime scenes or artificially inseminating pigs are bad jobs. Scooping ice cream can actually be kind of fun.

For a day.

Then tedium sets in. You quickly realize that menial work is, well, menial — not to mention boring, exhausting and stressful.

So why do it? Here are four not-bad reasons:

You’ll meet people from diverse backgrounds. In our own little worlds of family and school, it’s perfectly possible never to run across someone of an opposing political belief or from a different religious or cultural background. In the workplace, you deal with all sorts of people. It’s a good skill to have.

Earning money is a habit best started early. Research shows that, in the long run, those who start working in high school earn up to 10 to 15 percent more than those who didn’t dip a toe in the job market until after college graduation.

A summer job is a safe training ground for more “real” work later on. In a family, and to an extent at school, you are loved and valued simply for who you are. In the workplace you are valued for what you can do. This is a big difference! Best to learn how to perform under these circumstances when the stakes are lower.

Earning (and spending) your own money feels awesome. Yes, volunteer work can be very rewarding. An internship can teach you work skills and help build your career network. But nothing fosters a sense of competence and self-esteem like a paycheck with your name on it. It’s a thrill that never gets old.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at