By Carter Ottele

Dear Binston Swongo,

How can I secure a decent summer job? People keep telling me that a Grinnell education goes a long way, but so far, it hasn’t even gotten me to the interview stage of any internship applications. I have strong grades and decent writing skills…what else am I supposed to do? As far as I know, there are only three types of jobs available to undergraduate students: highly prestigious unpaid internships with 0.5% acceptance rates, summer camp counselors, and dishwashers. I don’t like kids, I worked as a dishwasher last summer, and now I’m hoping to expand my résumé before applying to grad schools. Please help!

– Desperately Unemployable (or is it Unemployably Desperate?)

Dear Desperately Unemployable,

Let me guess: you’re a humanities/social sciences major who wants to “make a difference in the world” (or some bullshit like that). That sucks for you. If you were a CS major, you could just go make $40/hr at a morally questionable tech company. If you were a Biology major, you could find a lab to work in. But in the humanities and social sciences? Tough luck, unless you’re a nepo baby.

I was once like you: a strapping young lad (or laddess), eager to prove myself, determined to fight for justice in the world. I enjoy reminiscing on those days of naïve exuberance. After my freshman year, I worked as Spiro Agnew’s chimney sweeper. Needless to say, I made very little difference that summer.

My second summer, I used my experience in chimney sweeping to land a position at a nuclear power plant outside Cedar Rapids. You see, back in the old days, the plants weren’t as regulated as they are now. And we didn’t have the kind of fancy-schmancy technology that could clean the stacks automatically. So they’d hire some of the best and brightest young fellows in the country to stand inside the stacks and scrub away. To protect us from steam and radiation, we wore lead vests lined with mercury. 

I did quite well at the power plant, eventually being promoted to the very top of the stack. But I couldn’t work there the next summer because it shut down in January, owing to the radiation-resistant raccoons that had nested inside the reactor core. So I went looking for another line of work. This time, I used my factory experience to gain employment at a tire factory. My job was to poke the tires and see how bouncy they were. If they weren’t bouncy enough, I’d put a piece of blue tape on them. If they were too bouncy, I’d place red tape on them. 

I made enough money that summer to pay for room and board my senior year.

Coming out of college, I was offered the position of a factory manager at General Motors. I earned enough to purchase my first home at 23 years old, and had I so desired, I could have retired by 43.

The point is, I found a path that worked for me. My experiences in sweeping chimneys, dangling over nuclear reactors, and poking tires enabled me to secure a high-paying job directly out of undergrad. Why can’t you do the same? Instead of specializing in your field, why not get a manufacturing job? What’s the point of this Grinnell education if you’re going to squander it on “making a difference”?

I hope you keep these questions in mind. And don’t fret too much if your plans fall through—there’s always Applebee’s as a fallback.

With love,

Binston Swongo