Memorable Summer Jobs

As part of our ongoing series on summer jobs, Michele Norris and Robert Siegel hear some of the valuable lessons learned while on the job. Advice columnist Amy Dickinson talks about learning how to be a good employee; Utah Sen. Bob Bennett talks about being a mailboy in his grandfather's paint company; and we hear letters from two listeners, one who quit her summer job rather than do something unethical, and another who was wrongly accused of misbehavior.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We've been sharing stories this summer about influential summer jobs - jobs that have a lasting impact, despite their seasonal status. Today, it's all about valuable lessons that stuck.

Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Advice Columnist): I don't think any kid knows how to work for someone.

SIEGEL: That's advice columnist Amy Dickinson. She rented bicycles and mopeds to tourists on Rhode Island's Block Island in the summer of 1980.

Ms. DICKINSON: And we worked for this amazing woman. She was just a great boss in all the important ways. She was very compassionate, but she was pretty formal. She really taught me how to work and how to work for someone. You're on time. You had responsibilities. And if there was a problem, she would speak to you about it, but there was an idea that if it wasn't working out, she would find someone else. And, boy, there's a lesson.

Senator BOB BENNETT (Utah): I was relief for the mail boy.

Ms. DICKINSON: That's Utah senator, Bob Bennett. He was 14 when he started working for the family's business, the Bennett Glass and Paint Company.

Sen. BENNETT: The one thing they discovered after I had done it for a little while, particularly when the regular mail boy went on vacation and I had that all to myself for two weeks, was that he was goofing off quite badly. He would go out in the afternoon supposedly to the post office and he'd go shopping or go to a movie or something of that kind and they wouldn't see him. I didn't realize you could do that, and I would come back and be working around and they ultimately they fired him.

He was vulnerable and that was another lesson that I learned at an early age. You don't take advantage of people looking the other way.

SIEGEL: Well, now a couple of lessons from some of you.

NORRIS: Sister Laurian Seeber of Berlin, Vermont writes: On the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I was selling sportswear in a dress shop. We had too many size 10 dollar blouses and had run out of size 16s. My boss cut out the size markers of the 10s and put them on the 16 pile. People weren't allowed into the dressing rooms to try on dollar blouses and no size 16 woman could fit into a size 10 blouse, so I quit. I learned I could be asked to do things you could not pay me to do.

SIEGEL: Well, John Jackson of Roanoke, Virginia tells us about an experience that he had working the concession stand at a golf course. He was called into his manager's office to account for bad service given to one of the golfers by some blond kid. Jackson writes this: Given that I have blond hair, I had to be the guilty party. As I tried to explain, if the incident did occur the day before, it couldn't have been me because I had that day off and that didn't seem to matter.

Jackson apologized despite his innocence. And 20 years later, Jackson is now a manager and he says this: Whenever a boss or employee reports an incident involving a coworker, I start asking questions instead of jumping to conclusions. It's not that I doubt what happened, I just want to make sure the facts are known before a decision is made. That courtesy wasn't extended to me, but I figure it's the least I can do.

NORRIS: We'll hear more of your summer job stories as the weeks go on. In the meantime, you can share your experience at NPR.org. Just make sure summer job is in the subject line.

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