This Is What A Successful Summer Looks Like

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The worst thing

You missed the boat. I get it. Recruiting is tough -- especially if you're younger. You have fewer marketable skills, which means fewer companies are willing to give you a chance.

What are you going to do now? It's mid-June.

The worst thing you can do this summer is nothing. The second worst thing you can do is busy work that doesn't maximize your potential. Summer is an incredible time to supplement your learning in school and have fun!

To salvage your summer and stand out from your peers you need to focus on the big picture and not settle for random opportunities that keep you busy.

Many corporate strategists use a popular technique to stay focused on achieving the company’s goals: understand what success looks like and work backwards to get there.

Similarly, thinking about your summer opportunities using the following criteria will help you understand what a successful opportunity entails. Once you understand these components, you will be able to work backwards and come up with creative ideas that maximize the criteria and therefore your potential this summer.

I came up with these criteria through helping over 50 friends (freshmen through seniors) with their summer opportunities. I noticed that some of my friends had better summer experiences than others.

In fact, I could guess who would have a great experience and who wouldn’t before the summer even started. Usually I was right, because there tends to be a pattern to successful summer experiences.

That pattern is broken down by the following criteria:

  1. Fun
  2. Personal Learning
  3. Professional Investment
  4. Money

The best experiences maximize these 4 criteria. Let's take a quick look at each one.


This one is obvious -- do something that is fun and exciting! It's surprising how many people choose to spend their summers doing something they find boring.

Remember your elementary school days? There was a distinct positive vibe during the last week of class because everyone was looking forward to the summer.

Try to recreate that energy during your last few summer breaks by doing something you will genuinely enjoy. The key is to balance fun with the other 3 criteria.

Personal Learning

Each summer is an opportunity to test and refine any of your current career-hypotheses.

Ask yourself this question: will I be able to prove or disprove one of my career-hypotheses after this summer experience?

If the answer is no, rethink what you plan on learning with this particular opportunity.

Secondly, it's important to supplement classroom learning with a variety of non-academic opportunities.

Use the summer to learn something new in a different setting than your typical college campus. Personally, I found learning through internships far more interesting and beneficial to my development than learning through class. This is especially true if your career interests are inherently practical in nature, and therefore difficult to teach in an academic setting.

Aside from internships, there are many other ways to learn during the summer. Focus on varying your learning and find what works best for you.

Professional Investment

Given that this is a professional blog, I'm assuming one of your goals is to graduate with a job offer in hand.

Landing Your Dream Job = Network + Resume + Interview Performance  Invest in high-quality summer experiences to build your network, resume, and real-world knowledge (this will payoff in interviews).If you don't consciously invest in yourself, it's unlikely that you will be a strong candidate for your dream job. Don't let this happen!

With interesting and impressive experiences, you will find that networking with professionals becomes a lot easier -- conversation flows because your experiences do the heavy lifting.

Secondly, don't overly optimize for your resume. I really hate the idea of doing something purely because it looks good on your resume. In my experience, students who optimize their choices to pad their resume tend to sacrifice personal learning and fun.

That being said, your summer experience can positively impact your resume -- use it to your advantage.


Lastly, your summer is also a great opportunity to make some extra money.

In general, try to minimize making choices based on how much money you will make. It's important to play the long game, and this can sometimes mean choosing a lower wage (or unpaid) for a better experience.

For example, last summer I chose an internship with half the compensation of my other offer. It was one of the best decisions I made. I maximized my personal learning, professional investment, and enjoyed exploring a new city.

That being said, this criterion's importance will vary depending on your financial situation. Prioritize this criterion a little more if you need extra money to pay off student debt or other necessary expenses.

Now that you understand what success looks like for your summer experience, try coming up with your own ideas that maximize all 4 criteria (Fun, Personal Learning, Professional Investment, Money).If you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas, check out next week’s post. I will tell you my 5 favorite summer opportunities -- all of which you can still take advantage of mid-summer.

I am not including those ideas in this post because it’s important to struggle and push yourself before asking for help.

So stop waiting and make a list of 5 opportunities to maximize your potential this summer.

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