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Hard at Work

How to make a part-time job suck less.

4. Give your boss a heads-up as soon as you know you need time off.

If you’re going on vacation, preparing for exams, or know you’ll be missing work for any other reason, tell your supervisor as far ahead of time as you can. As long as you’re otherwise reliable about showing up when you say you will, your boss should be OK with it. I was once so scared to ask for a day off of work for my birthday party, which I’d been planning for weeks, that I invented a story about getting last-minute tickets to a Mamma Mia! stage show out of town.

For whatever reason, I figured an elaborate surprise involving an out-of-town theater trip was a water-tight alibi, but it just stressed me out more. The next time I saw my boss, I had to invent the details of the musical I’d supposedly just seen. I based them on the movie version: “Oh my gosh, it was so good! Um, the DANCING and the…um…lift! They did the lift in water! Um, yeah, it was on a stage so it must’ve been, like, a pool? IT LOOKED SO REAL!” Simply telling my boss I had a party planned and would be unable to work one of my usual days would have been a lot easier and less guilt-inducing than my musical-theater-based lies.

5. Be realistic about how your job impacts your other priorities.

After almost two years of working at the CD store, I wasn’t getting as many shifts as I needed, so I left for a traineeship at a department store that offered me a guaranteed number of workdays per week. I got a little more than I bargained for, though: A few months after I started, my grades were slipping because I was at school every day and working for five hours almost every night afterwards, plus on weekends. I loved the money that came with those long hours, but the situation just wasn’t sustainable. I was exhausted and underperforming both at work and at school, but didn’t want to ask for fewer hours in case my boss cut them altogether.

Looking back now, I wish I’d simply explained to my boss how much time I needed to dedicate to school and downtime and asked for an adjustment to my work schedule. Instead, I burned out and wound up quitting after less than a year. When you’re in school for 30-something hours every week, you should be working no more than 15 hours at an after-school job, and your boss should understand that. Remember, it’s an after-school job, not an instead-of-school job.

6. If you decide to quit, give notice.

After I graduated from college, I got a job that required me to train and oversee a team of interns, which was a weird shift in power dynamics for me. Having been in their position not long before this, I understood that some of them might not be into the job once they got it—the workload could be overwhelming, and or some of them it just wasn’t the right fit. I totally understood the legit reasons one might have for quitting, and I didn’t begrudge anyone who chose to. I made sure all of them knew how I felt. And yet! Some of them would still bail on the job at the last minute, without giving me fair warning. This left me totally in the lurch, and I scrambled to fill shifts, occasionally taking on their work myself.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the appeal of slinking away and sending a text saying “sorry not comin bak xo.” It’s not the easiest thing to work side by side with someone after telling them you’re leaving. But it does give them time to cover your shifts and/or look for your replacement, which is way more respectful in the end.

When it came time to break the news that I was leaving my job at the convenience store, I arrived 15 minutes early and told my boss before I started my shift. Offering your resignation at the beginning of your workday lets your boss know you’re going to see out your responsibilities, so you’ll feel less like you’re guiltily fleeing the scene. I told him I’d honor the times I was expected to work that week and thanked him for the opportunity to work there and the professional experience he had given me. (Generally, though, you should give at least two weeks’ notice whenever possible.) Giving him notice was good for both of us: It reassured me that I wasn’t screwing him over by bailing and provided him time to restaff my shifts. When a boss gives you work, experience, and money, the least you can do is give them a decent heads-up when you know you’re about to take off. And leaving on good terms is especially important if you’re going to ask them for a reference in the future!

7. Quit in person whenever possible.

I quit my next few jobs in writing or over the phone, but now I see that I had it right the first time: It’s always best to break the news face-to-face. It can feel a bit awkward, I know, but it shows maturity and respect when you sit down with someone, explain your situation, and allow them the opportunity to clarify anything or ask questions. This is especially important if one of your co-workers or a certain element of your work environment is the reason you’re leaving. You might not want to stick around to see if things get better, but your boss will want to know if some specific person or thing was bad enough that they it compelled you to leave, so they can take care of the issue in the future.

If you’re nervous about quitting in person, it may help to remember that your boss is fully aware that you never intended to keep your high school job forever, and you’re not the first or last person she will ever receive a resignation from. She’s not going to hold a grudge or take it personally. I’m gonna repeat that for emphasis: YOUR RESIGNATION IS NOT A PERSONAL INSULT TO YOUR BOSS. You never have to feel guilty or selfish for doing what’s best for you.

***

It took me years, and multiple jobs, to get to the point where I could tell my boss what I needed, ask for clarification when I didn’t understand something, and identify when (and, more important, why) it was time to move on to something else. None of this came naturally for me, and I’m just gonna go ahead and say that that’s partly because I was socialized as a girl. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, most girls in our culture are taught to put others’ needs before our own—to be accommodating and gracious, to say “thank you” in return for the most basic kinds of acceptable treatment, to not step out of place.

That conditioning can make it hard for us to advocate for our own needs and desires, which sucks, and it takes practice to assertively ask for what you want and what you’re worth. The fact is, you deserve to be comfortable at work (and, at the very least, not crazily overwhelmed or anxious like I sometimes was)! Unless you’re asking for time off every single week to go see fictional performances of ABBA-centric musicals, I’m sure that your professional concerns, whatever they may be, are totally reasonable—and any good boss will see that.

So don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong by asking for a schedule that makes it possible for you to get your homework done, or needing to be shown how to put a check into the register instead of just hiding it, or respectfully telling your supervisor that you’re accepting a better offer elsewhere (or just that you are leaving—you don’t actually owe them an explanation).

Get the heck out there and grab those jobs! ♦

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17 Comments

  • soviet_kitsch February 6th, 2014 3:38 PM

    wonderful article, but i now have “dancing queen” stuck in my head

  • elliecp February 6th, 2014 3:40 PM

    this is actually so helpful…also really reminded me I need a job real bad

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • chelster759 February 6th, 2014 3:51 PM

    I totally wish I’d read this in high school!

  • annalucy1997 February 6th, 2014 4:19 PM

    fab article, I’m in a bit of a sticky situation with my job at the minute but this has really helped :) xx

  • wolnosc February 6th, 2014 4:22 PM

    I love this article!
    Awhile back, I got my first job, and it was really great. But they wanted me to work 20 hours per week, which was too much with school and homework too. I asked for less time, but they were completely inflexible and I had to quit :( This article is very helpful, I wish it I had when I first started.

  • rhymeswithorange February 6th, 2014 5:33 PM

    I love that a “pretending to see mamma mia” tag exists now.

  • Beatrice February 6th, 2014 7:17 PM

    I have to say, in my personal experience working at a record store was great but I ended up developing crushes on total randos based solely on what they were buying.

    http://fromthekittywell.blogspot.com/

  • paige.xo February 6th, 2014 10:57 PM

    i needed this article like three years ago. i was the youngest at my first job. (i was fifteen) i was terrified of talking to my boss, especially to ask for leave, and felt really awkward around my older (and infinitely cooler) coworkers. it got better as i got used to it and made friends, but no one ever talks about how intimidating your first shifts at your first job are.

  • .Pearl. February 6th, 2014 11:34 PM

    I just had my first day of training to work at a nursing home. It’s my first job and I’m really nervous. Perfect timing with this article!

  • Adrienne February 7th, 2014 1:33 AM

    Great article! I actually just quit a job I had since sophomore year. Bonding with co-workers was more fun that I expected actually… only we could understand each other’s suffering! But since the job was cutting into my schoolwork and sleep, and since the hours were completely random, I had to quit. I definitely recommend doing it in person, and I gave my boss a 2-weeks notice so they can look for someone else in the meantime. And also, you could recommend your friends or classmates to replace you!

    Just wondering: since I quit around a month ago, is it weird to ask for a reference letter/letter of recommendation from my boss? I realize I probably should’ve done it earlier!

  • flocha February 7th, 2014 3:55 AM

    This article is so funny and useful, and I totally agree about the whole asking for help thing! I have learnt from (painful) experience that simply ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, it normally just means they get worse and inevitably traced back to you…

    http://whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk/

  • K8 is Gr8 February 7th, 2014 9:00 AM

    This is gonna be super helpful in the future. Can’t wait to have an actual job :) for now, it’s just babysitting….

  • Hayley February 7th, 2014 10:21 PM

    This:
    “Giving myself the freedom to speak up not only helped me relate to my manager, my co-workers, and our customers, it also improved my performance at work, since I was happier and less anxious.”
    TRUE, this is a thing! Navigating “professional boundaries” is hard though…I’m struggling with that now, really. It’s tough because I would really love to talk about my life with my coworkers because I want to get to know them, but that means I have to tell them about my girlfriend! Which means I have to tell eeeeverybody that I’m gay. Sigh. I wish I didn’t live in Oklahoma. (I can still be legally fired for that here…my university is great about it, but.)

  • girlhero February 10th, 2014 6:01 PM

    this is great! I REALLY wanna see an article about resumes, and interviewing, and basically just like a helpful guide to getting into the industry you wanna be in …

  • sans.sheriff February 10th, 2014 8:59 PM

    Ugh, I wish I had heard this when I had my first job. I only worked there ~3 months but what was supposed to be a part time job quickly escalated into 35+ hours a week during the school year, keeping me out until midnight or one nearly every night. I ended up walking out, in tears after a confrontation with my boss.
    Honestly I wish I had just stood up for myself, even though it might have gotten me fired.