does supervising students count as “real” management experience?

A reader writes:

I’ve worked in various departments at a large university. It’s very common for these departments to hire student workers, and many of them are paid through the federal work study program. They’re all capped at working 20 hours/week.

I’ve supervised student workers in all of my positions, and they’ve held various titles ranging from Administrative Assistants to Research Assistants to Marketing Assistants. So, on my resume, if I say that I managed/supervised two Research Assistants, is that disingenuous?

Of course, there are clear differences between a student worker and a regular part-time worker who is not in school. We are generally much more supportive and flexible with student workers. We very much understand that work is not a top priority for them–school is. If they need to study for an exam or to write a paper, there is no problem with them taking the day off, for example. And since they are working toward a degree, they generally don’t bring a mindset of digging in and looking for more professional opportunities in the office. They are there temporarily to make some money to support themselves while they are in college, and they will probably leave without looking back. On the other hand, managing students takes a lot of knowledge that “real” managers have, from the nitty-gritty of coordinating scheduling, personnel paperwork and verifying time cards to the higher level areas of building teams, teaching processes and managing workloads and deadlines.

At my university, there is a clear understanding that managing student workers is not “real” management. That experience would never, ever be something that qualifies you to supervise a “real” position. One time we were interviewing candidates from other universities for an opening in our department, and one person’s resume said that she supervised a team of 5 people. When she came in for an interview, it became apparent that the person actually supervised 5 student workers. Management here instantly felt that the person led them on in their resume, and they did not move them forward in the interview process.

That candidate was “found out” (IF there was something TO find) because people in university environments know how the system works and have already made their judgments about it, fair or not. But what about other organizations or for-profits? Can I say that I “supervised three administrative assistants” on my resume for those places?

This is one of those things that I suspect everyone around me is putting on their resumes, and I’m being the only dumb/honest one that is selling myself short because of this sticking point. And I certainly don’t want that.

Why not just say it more clearly, so that you’re not misleading anyone about what the work involves? Instead of saying “managed three administrative assistants,” write that you “managed three student administrative assistants” or “managed three administrative assistants (part-time student positions).”

Managing student workers is very different than managing regular employees. In addition to the differences you cited, the bar for their performance and their accountability and commitment is lower, which means that you’re not giving the same type or amount of feedback, you’re not having tough conversations about performance (or you’re having them at a far different point), and you’re not making the same types of hard decisions that stem from holding that kind of high bar. And good management is very much about those things, so when you cite experience managing, those differences are a key detail.

Think of it this way: You’re doing some of the “management 101” stuff, but not the 201 or 301 pieces. And that’s fine — there’s nothing wrong that.

But you do want to be clear about it and not make it sound as if it’s the equivalent of managing a team of three regular employees, because (a)  if it comes out in your interview that these were really part-time student positions, you’ll look naive about what’s really involved in managing, and that will weaken, not strengthen, your candidacy, and (b) if it doesn’t come out in your interview, then you risk ending up in a job where you’ll crash and burn. And I say the latter because managing well takes experience and skill — it’s not something you want to bluff your way into; if you’re going into it relatively inexperienced, you want your employer to know that, so that they don’t hire you for a position you won’t excel in, and so that if they do hire you, their expectations will be calibrated correctly and you can be given an appropriate amount of support.

(Granted, a good hiring process will ferret this out anyway, but since many hiring processes are not good, it’s in your best interests to be clear about your experience up-front.)

That doesn’t mean that you don’t get credit for the work that you did — just that it’s important to be clear about exactly what your experience does and doesn’t entail. That’s how you’ll find yourself in a job that matches your experience well, and that you can excel in.

{ 72 comments… read them below }

  1. The IT Manager*

    Interesting. I never would have thought there’s such a prevelent opinion that managing students was not equal to “real management” and that people might be considered trying to pull a fast one by not disclosing that they supervised student workers rather than adults. This is a good explanation of the problem.

    Would you say this just in a school, work study enviroment or does this apply to people who manage part time student workers?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just to clarify, I don’t think it’s about pulling a fast one; it’s more about genuinely not understanding why it’s not equivalent.

      I think it’s true any time you’re talking about managing student workers who aren’t held to the same bar you’d hold non-student workers to. It’s really just about being clear — like how if you managed 12 people who each worked 2 hours a week, it wouldn’t be reasonable to just write that you managed a “team of 12.”

    2. College Career Counselor*

      Absolutely the bar is lower with managing student workers. That said, in the career services offices where I’ve worked, we had some of the very same conversations about issues that you see on AAM.

      “No, you can’t smell like that in the office–no matter how much water you’re saving by not showering.”

      Aappropriate attire:
      “I should not be able to see your underwear/navel/risque tattoo while you’re at work.”

      “You have to call IN ADVANCE and/or arrange for your shift replacement if you have a conflict.”

      We figured these were all situations where the student could benefit from learning professional norms and good habits, so we attempted both to model appropriate behavior and to require it (in case “workplace osmosis” wasn’t cutting it). Some students got it right away, others had to be informed more directly, and some students were let go.* A few of those let go actually came back later and thanked us for providing a wake-up call to get their act together.

      *Some students are harder to reach/teach than others, however. A former boss likes to tell the story of the student who grew increasingly frustrated when given projects. Turns out, she thought “work-study job” meant that you got paid to study, so she was EXTREMELY annoyed that she was expected to work.

      1. Christine*

        Thumbs up to your approach. Students need to learn this while in school, not upon their graduation to the real world.

        1. Jessa*

          Excellent approach. Students do need to learn this before they go out into the working world. They won’t have the resources they have when they’re in school.

      2. FD*

        There might even be some particular achievements you could list–showing that you have experience in training people new to the workforce in appropriate professional behavior. For example, if I were looking to hire a manager who’d mostly be supervising entry-level workers, that might be a plus to me.

  2. W.W.A.*

    I had a couple jobs that involved managing student workers, and then I suddenly found myself in a new position managing an actual assistant. I didn’t crash and burn, but man! Managing the students did not prepare me at ALL.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      My boss was on medical leave last year and I was given the chance to supervise some of the staff here. Some of the student stuff has crossover, but the other stuff. Yeah, there was a marked difference. Although in my case, it may also have been more difficult because I was suddenly supervising people who were hitherto my peers.

      1. W.W.A.*

        I was 26 when I took that job and my assistant was about 40. She had probably had 20 bosses before. I know we’re supposed to pretend this makes no difference, but it was a little bit intimidating.

  3. Jen*

    It makes me very depressed when I hear these sorts of things. I have only done management of volunteers, interns and students and very much would like to move into the next level of my career and I keep being confronted with this “That’s not real management” mindset. It’s very frustrating to want real management experience but be unable to ever get these jobs because you don’t have the “right kind” of management experience.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But it’s not just some BS mindset — it’s rooted in the reality of the differences in managing volunteers/interns/students and regular employees. I definitely get why you’re frustrated, but it might help to realize that this isn’t just some line of crap that you’re being fed.

      It’s also true that if you’re doing an amazing job of the intern management and treating them as you would regular employees (meaning holding a really high bar, addressing problems forthrightly, being willing to replace people when they’re not meeting that high bar, etc.), it can make it easier for someone to visualize you doing employee management.

      This may help too:

      1. JPT*

        The bigger problem is that many offices hire student employees and give them those low expectations, and don’t manage them they way the would full-time employees. And this really depends on what they do… if they have an actual role in the office environment and real responsibilities, that’s different from being in a work study position where they just do their homework at their desks. The students who I supervise have set responsibilities and extensive training. I hire and train a new group every year, which is definitely what I would consider “real” management experience. If managing in a fast-food restaurant is management, so is managing student employees–but it’s not the same if it’s a student just taking up space who you dump leftover/clerical work on, and it wouldn’t be genuine to just say “I supervised X employees” and let them imply that they were full-time office staff if that’s the nature of your work.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree with all of that, but wanted to add that usually managing in a fast food restaurant isn’t going to be seen as management experience that would qualify you for a management role in a non-retail, non-food-service environment either. I’d actually compare it more to supervising students.

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            I know it’s not the same, but I do want to vouch for the idea that managing at a fast food restaurant is much more “real” than managing students in most work-study jobs. The main difference being that it’s a real job; it’s practically impossible to get fired from any work-study job that I’ve ever known about, because they’re so flexible. In food service management, you have to have those same “difficult” conversations, but the stakes for the employees are much higher, and there’s a true risk of being fired if you don’t comply.

            Though I definitely don’t argue that it’s different than managing people in an office, it definitely should be considered in a totally different category than managing students!

            1. Liz in a Library*

              Just throwing this out there: I have used performance plans and ultimately fired student workers. We saw the role of our department in professionalizing them as a mentoring one that required us to hold them to the same standards as any staff member at that duty level.

              So not all student worker positions are inherently more lax than a “real” job. I’ve always treated student work like a real job, from the hiring process to separation, when necessary. Many student workers appreciate the skills that come from seeing a realistic work environment.

        2. JPT*

          Also, there’s a difference between “managing” student staff (giving them work to do and telling them to be on time), and actually being their supervisor of record, which implies that you’ve had legal compliance training…

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m not sure about that last part, actually — lots of managers have had zero legal compliance training. But agree that there’s a difference between managing work and being someone’s manager.

            1. JPT*

              This is true… where I work it’s required if you’re a supervisor; but that doesn’t mean every department actually does it.

        3. fposte*

          The other thing about student employees is they’re inherently term limited, so if they’re problematic it’s common just to wait them out until they leave rather than fix them.

        4. Anonymous*

          At many universities these days, students are relied on to perform work that would normally be done by regular employees, but students are cheaper. If the work is something a regular staff member would do in another industry, the bar should be held high.

      2. Andie*

        I’m in the same boat. I have managed interns and volunteers but have never had staff that reported directly to me which I feel is hindering my ability to move into a higher level management role. I have a manager title because I manage grant funded projects carried out by other people i.e., I approve all expenditures, do all the reporting, review contracts, make sure they are following grant guidelines etc. I have to keep track of everything. The staff reports their activities on the project to me but I am not in a supervisorial role. They all have supervisors. I was left off an org chart that listed all managers and when I asked why they said because you manage projects not people.

        I feel like I am managing staff because I have to get them to do the work and meet deadlines etc., which is even harder because I am not their supervisor but this doesn’t seem to translate to having true management experience.

      3. Jen*

        I do want to clarify that I didn’t say it was a BS mindset – just “this mindset” – I realize it’s a real thing, it’s just frustrating to deal with. I understand some of the logic behind it – if I were in charge of hiring I would likely not hire someone untested to manage a team of 8 people. But as someone with the intern, student and volunteer management experience that everyone says to try to get it’s still hard to get over that last hump to become a Director or a Manager somewhere.

    2. Jane*

      Ties back to the management 101 versus 203 or 303.

      I have had a ton of experience managing teams of volunteers. We had a rigorous hiring and training process for these volunteers. We also did the same things which most managers do – make sure they’re on task, address issues, and provide positive feedback when they did a great job.

      Where it really became a different for me was when I had to get into the financials. Sure, I could put together a volunteer list to to hold an event, but now you’re saying I have a budget of X thousand dollars and I can only give % increase to Y?! Oh, and my employee is asking for Z increase and title change?

      Thankfully, I was in a position where my boss helped guide me through that process. However, I certainly couldn’t imagine taking on that responsibility immediately after just managing volunteers. It did help though that I didn’t have to struggle through the other parts of management.

  4. COT*

    In my campus job, I became the highest-ranking student employee, meaning that I had some supervisory duties. I helped with interviewing, training, evaluating performance, coaching struggling employees, etc… but I wasn’t ultimately responsible for hiring or firing. I didn’t have to defend a decision to the higher-ups or discipline problem employees–my boss did. To me those are significant parts of management. So my resume makes that clear: that I “assisted with training, evaluating, and motivating up to x student employees.” I think it shows fairly impressive experience for a student worker, without ever being misleading.

    Even at my current nonprofit, I supervise interns and volunteers, but not paid employees. Again, there’s a difference. I definitely have to hold folks to a certain level of performance, but we are more flexible with unpaid folks than with those we pay. There are definitely ways to nuance this stuff on your resume so that you give yourself credit for what you do without overselling your experience.

  5. higher ed girl*

    I also work at a university and manage student workers- so I say: supervise para-professional (graduate assistants primarily) and student staff.

    1. Elizabeth*

      I don’t love this. Maybe I’m being oversensitive, as a graduate student, but I consider myself a professional- not a paraprofessional. I work 25 hours a week, more in the summer, and handle the same volume and type of work as any other part-time employee at my office (an applied research foundation). I have a master’s degree, just like every other analyst there. The fact that I’m still working on my doctoral degree doesn’t make me less of a professional than if I’d stopped after my master’s degree.
      Yes, I am on a graduate assistantship contract. But I’d be really annoyed if I didn’t feel like my team regarded me as a professional because I happen to still be in school.

      1. higher ed girl*

        I too, am in graduate school (completing my EdD), but am working full time as a staff member as apposed to a graduate assistant position. While we very much value the work of our GAs, when it comes to things like strategic planning, policy creating, responsibilities, and the like, there are things that aren’t appropriate for them to be involved in, at least at the initial stages. This doesn’t mean we don’t think of them as a professional but the scope of their position is vastly different. Hope this makes sense. As always, it may be different in other places.

      2. Liz in a Library*

        Perhaps it is a field where definitionally these positions are paraprofessional? In my current workplace, there are numerous folks with advanced degrees who are in paraprofessional positions…

        1. Ariel*

          Liz, I think you’re right. In the library world, being a professional doesn’t just mean you have a degree or an important job. It means you have a specific job or set of jobs. Everyone else is a paraprofessional.

          Librarians, we love labels, eh?

  6. Anonymous*

    Supervising student employees gave me lots of experience with difficult, awkward conversations. I’ve had more than one discussion about appropriate work attire (gah! too revealing!) and the importance of being on time and not leaving early.

    I’ve also wondered about how to list it on a resume since I have past experience. Would it be OK to frame it as, “Responsible for hiring and supervising student employees”? Or would it be better to specify what sort of work they did?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, it definitely does (or should!) give you lots of experience with those conversations! Where it differs from other tough conversations, I think, is that it doesn’t usually give you experience in the category of, say, having to talk to a 45-year-old employee who’s working hard but not cutting it and who — to make this even harder — has a family to support. Or someone who moved across country to work for you but isn’t working out. Etc.

      Anyway, I think the way you’re framing it is fine if they were doing general office work. If the jobs were more specific — bookkeeping, for instance, or event planning — then I’d say that.

      1. Anonymous*

        There are plenty of graduate students who have families to support. Some undergrads do as well.

        I worked 40+ hours a week for the majority of my grad school studies, beyond my school work. My job was hazardous. My projects were long and complex. I was there for 7 years. While I recognize that not all graduate programs involve that level of “real” work, I was a full employee in any sensible term of the word. People who manage folks like me absolutely deserve credit as “real” managers, not as student-managers.

      2. Kat A.*

        I’ve managed student employees at a college who ranged in age from 18 to over 50. Most did not have another job, thanks to the economy. So I had people who were trying to update their skills by going back to school, work this job (that’s only open to students), pay rent and who also had families.

  7. Ann O'Nemity*

    I agree that managing students is very different from other types of management. It’s best to be clear on your resume or you risk being seen as disingenuous. And please do not claim that you have managed “research assistants.” That title has very different responsibilities and expectations outside of academia. For some reason, universities love to slap that RA title on student workers, even if they are doing little more than clerical work.

  8. Jamie*

    I think this is kind of like project management, in a way. In some cases PM can give you experience in parts of the management experience and is certainly better than no management experience at all …but leading a team of 30 on a project is different than managing a team of 30 for sure.

    So if someone were to put that out there as if it were equivalent I would be skeptical that they either didn’t understand the difference, or didn’t think I did. But if someone were to use that to show transferable skills they’d bring to the table they would have my attention.

    It’s just a question of being upfront that it’s not the same – but here’s how I can use my experience at X to excel at Y.

    1. darsenfeld*

      PMs can and often do manage teams, depending on the project’s nature of course.

      that said, management is not solely about handling people, it’s also about managing processes, tasks and operations. A Finance manager whose only role is to compile financial and management accounts is still a manager by definition.

  9. Victoria Nonprofit*

    It sounds like a lot of the distinction you’re drawing is about part-time employees. Would you give the same advice to someone who had managed non-student part-timers, or is there something specific about students that changes the dynamic? What if the role is not associated with a university or student program and an employee happens to be a student? etc.

    1. CatB*

      Yeah, I was wondering about that “student-specific dynamic” myself (though in a platonic way, since I will probably never look for a job in the US). I managed full-time employees who were students and, beside accomodating exam dates and such, there was no difference whatsoever compared to regular workers. And by “managed” I mean hiring, firing, holding them to the regular performance bar… the whole nine yards.

      1. Jen in RO*

        I think the name “student workers” is a bit misleading to us foreigners. What I understand from the description is that the OP is managing students who are working in the university as opposed to people who are working in a regular job and happen to be students. I think that’s much less common here in Romania, but some of my friends did that during their studies (basically helping a professor with whatever he needed).

    2. Kate*

      Having supervised student workers, I think there’s something specific to hiring a student who attends the university you’re working at. Maybe the OP and I have had very different experiences, but I don’t see it as the same as working for, say, an insurance company and hiring a student to do part-time administrative work.

      Some differences:
      -Hiring, training, and scheduling are tied to the academic year.
      -Pay is 100% set by the university; there’s no negotiating over raises, benefits, etc.
      -If you’re hiring and paying students through the federal work/study program, your pool of applicants is limited to students at your university who qualify for work/study. It’s a different process from hiring on the open market, or even hiring among candidates who all happen to be students at various universities.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the difference is strongest when it’s student employees. If someone had managed part-time non-students, I wouldn’t automatically assume that it wasn’t the equivalent of regular managing, but I’d definitely probe to make sure.

    4. KellyK*

      I think there’s a big difference between student workers in a school program and employees who happen to be students. If a college provides jobs specifically for students to help them with the costs of college, the kids working those jobs aren’t necessarily going to be held to the same standards as a regular employee holding a similar position.

  10. OP*

    OP here.

    What about saying, “Supervised two part-time Administrative Assistants” on a resume? I definitely agree that there are big differences between managing multiple full-time employees and multiple student staff. But what about hourly part-time staff? Is there something disingenuous about saying that? I mean, they technically *are* hourly part-time staff. There’s lots of parallels, I think–high turnover (we’re constantly interviewing and hiring, sometimes firing), always coordinating scheduling and coverage, and there’s not much expectation for professional development.

    If I managed a McDonald’s and supervised two part-time cashiers who also happened to be community college students at the same time, they wouldn’t be called “student workers”, right? That’s how the students I supervise function on our team. We can’t be without them; we rely on them and they do a LOT of work for us that we absolutely need to get done–it’s not like an internship. That’s what I fear outside orgs will interpret “student” as.

    1. Joey*

      Its best to refer to them the way your boss would. It would sound a little decieving if someone called your old boss and he said”nah, he didnt supervise any admins, they were student workers.”

    2. KellyK*

      I’d call them student workers and give details about both what they did and how you managed it. If you have achievements in areas that aren’t typical for managing student workers (e.g., firing, performance plans, etc.), then I’d definitely highlight those.

      It would be better to be up front about the fact that they’re student workers and then explain how you do hold your kids to a high bar than to be thought to be trying to exaggerate.

  11. Nikki J.*

    Sadly, the OP has a ground to stand on…Higher Education is its own worst enemy. They will be the first to discredit and discount their own line of work as valid. Then they go and require Master’s degrees and 2-3 years of previous full-time supervision experience but only be willing to pay just under 30K. My experiences supervising students have been much more well received and appreciated since I left Higher Education.

    While it may be different (in some ways) I will be damned if my time spent supervising students is not real management. I’d even argue at the level it was harder than managing full-time employees and where I credit most of my (praised) management style. All the same challenges are there and you’d be amazed at how much is applied. Keep in mind I’m not blanketing this for ALL student supervision but that goes the same for any type of management. Supervising a crew of dishwashers and supervising a crew of top level suits is very different, but it’s still real management and so many of the same principals apply. I promise you that those stiff suits who are acclaimed managers wouldn’t know what to do with themselves in some of the roles I’ve had and wouldn’t last a week.

    1. OP*

      Definitely agree with you about higher ed being its own worst enemy. I think there’s some kind of weird inferiority complex about the whole thing, at least where I am. There’s a huge aversion of promoting from within, for example (as in outsiders are just ALWAYS better, especially outsiders coming from for-profit backgrounds), and work that is done is just not considered “real” work. Just like how student workers are not considered “real” workers.

  12. Receptionist*

    The problem is that “Administrative Assistant” is such a vague term, it could mean a whole range of different things. The fact that these workers are students working on campus is what makes them unique in this case. I’m not sure that just adding “part-time” to the job duty really does the trick. Besides, managing cashiers at a McDonald’s who just happen to be students is a bit different from this case, because being a cashier has nothing to do with their schooling; although the two are comparable. I think you should wait if/until you get to the interview stage of hiring, and at that point you can fully explain the scope of the students’ work and your role.

    1. OP*

      I used the title “Administrative Assistant” as an example. The work that our students do have nothing to do with their schooling. Some actually are cashiers (albeit not for McDonald’s). It just happens that the job is on campus and we may only hire current students for the role. If they didn’t get this job, they probably would find something at McDonald’s.

      What kills me even more, is that for all intents and purposes, they ARE part-time staff. They take up the same exact space in the department, financially and in the org chart.

      1. Chinook*

        I think you may have found the line between the two – if, due to lack of applicants, would you be allowed to hire a non-student to do the job? In the case of someone working at the campus bookstore, then the answer would be yes. But, if you are managing someone as part of a work-study program that is only available to students (as in, if none applied, there would be no one to supervise), then that is a very different kettle of fish.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree. Also, I’m assuming that because they’re students, their positions are by definition term-limited — only for a semester or a year or whatever. That creates a different dynamic all on its own, one that often results in less feedback/coaching/tough conversations/goal-setting/etc. than you would do with someone who was there indefinitely.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          One other thing related to that: There’s a lifecycle to an employee and your management of them. If they’re all leaving after 6 months or whatever, you’re really only ever experiencing the early stages of that lifecycle and not the things that often develop once someone has been there longer (raise requests, development needs, outgrowing a position, managing change, etc.).

      2. Casey*

        I was in a similar situation at a university, supervising part-time student employees who were not work/study students. The job was competitive and required quite a bit of training (usually 4-6 months until students were trained on all duties), and I was involved in training and hiring (not evaluation or firing). Unfortunately, the supervisory aspect of my job wasn’t reflected in my job title, although it was written into my job description.

        OP, have you talked to your supervisor about how to frame your experience? My former supervisor helped me to sell the unique aspects of supervising students, and paid for me to take a supervisory course (I had been concerned that my job wouldn’t be taken seriously, even though I was a full-time salaried employee, because I began working there when I was a student).

  13. Anonymous*

    In my experience (as a student worker) I wasn’t really allowed to do much “work” at all so I wasn’t really “managed” either.

    1. Anonymously Anonymous*

      From what I remember I just showed up and was handed stuff to do. Mostly typing and filing. I didn’t really feel like I was being managed but I did show up every day and do something.

      1. Anonymous*

        Pretty much. Show up, shred things.
        I just feel like the “managing” was a wildly different experience than what went on at an actual office without student workers. It’s a far leap to think you’re qualified to manager actual workers if you’ve only managed student workers.

    2. Frieda*

      The silver lining to the low expectations of student work-study employees is that, as that student work-study employee, it’s REALLY easy to stand out from the crowd. I had three different work-study jobs when I was in college and all of my managers raved about me, just because I did basic things like show up on time, stay awake the whole shift, and pay attention when I was trained how to do things. It’s was really great when I graduated and actually had good non-academic references right out of school.

      1. Anonymously Anonymous*

        I worked in the Athletic Directors office sometimes esp when my area got too uncomfortable; the student workers in there never showed up or at least not on time. The regular admins used to praise me for doing work. This was my first real “work” experience (my mom had always expected me to put more emphasis on school) and while the workload wasn’t huge, I didn’t want to take it for granted. I learned how to use all the office machines esp the laminator :) and the main AA would let me use her fancy computer with MSWord. My university was small and the computer lab was in the library and there was never an available computer at anytime. I probably gained more experience there then in my academic courses…

    3. V*

      I really think it depends on the position/ school.

      I was a Public Relations major in college and my school had a student-run agency. I was a paid Account Manager for our agency, and I can tell you that it was very much a “real job,” albeit part time.

      We had very clear cut expectations… (high quality of work, good contacts with clients, properly managing other students). We were getting paid, but it was also for a grade.

      My manager was my professor, so she isn’t really looking to move into the corporate world, but I would definitely consider her experience ‘real’ management experience.

      We had to have serious conversations about problem students, difficult clients, and we were responsible for creating a strategic plan to improve the Department of Communication as a whole.

      I realize that a lot of student positions require mindless work, but some of them are very similar to the ‘real world.’

      1. AL Lo*

        Agreed. I had two work-study positions in grad school, one of which was also for credit. Yes, it was a temporary position while I was in school, but I was the resident producer of one of the school’s performance spaces, and my job included programming, curating, and executing the season. We (my co-producer, our production manager, and I) had some faculty input, of course, but we had virtually complete control over it — to the point where we actually had the authority to overrule the dean’s request for our space because it conflicted with programming that we had already scheduled.

        In my other work study job (in the school’s media relations office), I had the official title of “Media Relations Assistant,” and the biggest variations from a “real” part-time assistant’s position were my schedule flexibility and the months that I didn’t work over the summer (although my student co-worker did work over the summer, in a non-work-study position, in the exact same job that he did during the school year).

        All that to say, I found that my work study positions were actually really helpful job experience, and I wouldn’t have considered them to be just busy work — but I do know that there were definitely positions like that on campus.

  14. Anonymous*

    I’m kind of surprised that people found supervising student workers to be so much easier and require less…skill. Managing part time I can see. But I managed interns, consultants, and “real staff”. The real staff were much easier than the interns. Interns required much more work, I had more of those difficult conversations with interns that I did with the staff. I never fired an intern but I did manage a few out, gave them options and they chose to end the internship early, which is also how I tried to work with staff. Managing people who have mostly had “real” jobs before, who understand about coming into work every day, doing a good job, not swearing at clients, interacting with others, taking constructive criticism, that was easy. Having a conversation with an intern every few days, oh and I didn’t get to pick the interns they just got a assigned to me, that was exhausting and difficult, that was hard work.

    I’d much rather see someone who had done a good job managing interns or students than someone who managed easy grown ups.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But again, it’s the 101 stuff with interns. It’s not the more sophisticated 201/301 issues that come up with regular employees, even when those regular employees are all good.

      If you really found managing regular employees easier than interns, then I’m guessing that you either didn’t manage a lot of regular employees or did so in an unusual environment.

  15. Cassie*

    I can see there’s a difference between student workers (say work-study) and full-time staff, but honestly I don’t think there is a whole lot of difference. In our department, at least, supervisors are much more likely to actually manage the student workers (provide feedback for improvement, deal with problematic issues, etc) than they managing staff. I think it’s because in our dept, supervisors are somewhat afraid to “manage” other adults, for fear that the adults will get upset! They hold student workers to higher standards (in general)!

    I guess best practice would be to be specific on resumes – “supervised 5 student workers” rather than just “5 employees”. I wouldn’t take it as an applicant trying to trick the interviewers but as we can see from the OP’s post, others may.

    I find it ironic that although I have never supervised anyone (no student workers, no staff), coworkers and faculty have told me that I would be suitable to be a manager or a supervisor. I think I agree with them. Yet there are people who have either been in managerial positions for years (10+) who utterly lack the skills to be a good manager. And the worst part is that those people don’t even recognize their shortcomings.

    The closest comparable experience I’ve had is teaching ballet class and running rehearsals. Actually, running rehearsals – getting dancers to not be lazy, work up to their potential, work towards the collective good – takes a lot of management skills. But it’s a bit too abstract so an interviewer might think I’m trying to pretend like it’s relevant experience when it’s not.

  16. anonz*

    I managed students for a number of years, and I have to say, it DID put me at ease for those “difficult” conversations. I also made sure that the students got real, practical skills to take into their careers — and served as a reference for many of them. It can be hard to get references when starting out, and I was happy to oblige.

    That said, I think it’s often a bit more than 101, but not quite 400 level work. I ran a tight ship and the students in my office very much got the work end of “work-study”, as opposed to the cream puff “sit and play Facebook games and get paid for it” jobs that were in other offices.

  17. Teacher*

    I have very competent student staff, but this is because they already self-selected to attend my classes and participate actively and they already proved on the exam that they paid attention to my performance expectations by doing well.

  18. darsenfeld*

    Another thing, could it be the positions you are applying for? Whilst managing student employees does give a valid grounding in management, if you’re applying for jobs that require more extensive management experience, this may be a drawback from employers’ standpoints.

    If you’re applying for tactical or even strategic level positions (like a divisional manager or even director/VP level) then this may not be what employers are looking for. If it’s at the operational/functional levels, then this may be more of an asset. As an example, managing an HR team looking after a group of offices in a city could suffice, but not necessarily as head of the HR department, or even head of all operations for that country.

  19. Beth*

    I have supervised numerous student assistants, and I always make clear in my resume that they are students.

    There are certainly managerial elements which impart transferable skills. Still, as mentioned, the bar is lower in terms of expectations for the workers. Turnover is expected so retention is not an issue. Performance evaluations are rarely completed. Development of the employee doesn’t usually enter into the managerial experience. The student employee rarely has much autonomy in the workplace. They rarely have any ability to impact the bottom line. And so on…. It’s NOT the same as managing permanent adult employees.

    Now, managing, say, a group of PhD students is quite different from a bunch of undergrads doing office work (or whatever.) Even in that case I would accurately describe the nature of the employee, but it might be considered closer to “real” management.

    The jump from managing student employees at an educational institution to managing employees in a for-profit setting is even greater, of course. I have managed a team of students and casual workers in a long-term project with a lot of moving parts – logistically complicated operations, with a lot of turnover of students, making things more complicated. That experience was viewed by a for-profit as somewhat valuable when it came to operations, but NOT valuable when it came to what this company really wanted… the ability to develop a professional staff. And that came as no surprise to me and I think that is as it should be.

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