As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine
Finding a job in Europe for the summer can be difficult, especially if your only language is English. As the laws in Europe are strongly protectionist to favor EU citizens due to high local unemployment, it becomes increasingly difficult for employers to justify hiring Americans.
There is, however, still one corner of the European job market in which Americans can fine jobs in: tourism. English-language tour companies, abundant throughout Europe, have good reason to fill their summer vacancies with young Americans, because the majority of their clientele is American.
Summer Tour Guide Jobs
Competition for a position as a tour guide can be fierce and often, but certainly not always, require certifications only found in Europe, and the chances of securing a job without a face-to-face interview aren’t very high, but it is not impossible. For tour guides, personality, not necessarily a prior experience, is important. Many companies provide their own training and/or even a scripted tour, however that all-important EU passport is so often an obstacle. Tour guides spend day after day with large groups of strangers, and it is their duty to ensure everyone has a great time.
The position requires wit, humor, an easygoing spirit, patience, and increasingly a great deal of experience (see the requirements for summer job positions for some sense of what is required, e.g. an average age of 26). It is up to the tour guide to ensure that everyone in the group is entertained, informed, and has a memorable experience. If one is shy or has trouble speaking in front of a crowd, guiding tours can be nerve-wracking work. Word of mouth is incredibly important for the reputation of summer employers. And it is the tour guides themselves who shape the experience of the tour.
Unfortunately for applicants, the traits prospective employers seek are usually difficult to glean from an email or a letter. So when you apply from abroad, do not send a formal cover letter. Rather, write an entertaining letter about yourself, try to inspire a few laughs, don’t take yourself too seriously, and try to express your personality. This is one case in which you don’t want to make your letter short and sweet. Prospective employers are looking for the people who stand out, because applications often come in overwhelming numbers. The company for which I worked hired only one tour guide before we ever actually laid eyes on her, and we did it for the reasons listed above. Her email made an impression on us, and it was a decision we did not regret. The best way to find summer work in the tourism industry is to arrive in Europe in late winter or early spring and apply in person. The other option, perhaps the most common, is to work through American tour companies leading summer groups in Europe.
Many companies start their tours as early as March. This is also the time when hostels start their hiring process for the busy summer season—especially since many of their winter employees themselves go back to jobs with tour companies in the summer months. The experience itself is well worth the difficulties in finding a job. You have the chance to make lasting friendships, meet people from many different backgrounds and nationalities, and get to know the area you are living in more intimately than many of the locals themselves. Every day brings something new.
Other Summer Job Options in Europe
Teaching English and Au Pair Jobs
For those who are not inclined to the working the earth, teaching English in Europe, provided you have a TEFL certificate and a college degree, is still an option if you can find a company to sponsor you. Alternately, you can go through a teaching assistant program.
Being an au pair in Europe is often a very good option for the summer, since you can learn the language and immerse yourself in the culture while living with a local family. You often have a great deal of time off to explore your location while the kids are with their parents, in school, or otherwise occupied.
Short-term Work at Youth Hostels
For short-term summer work, English language tour companies and youth hostels are the best place to begin your search. Quite often youth hostels will hire summer travelers in exchange for room and board. Youth hostel websites provides online booking services, so it is useful for finding the names of prospective employers. If you have your sights set on a certain city or country, the search engines can be especially useful for gathering names to search and collect contact information about specific companies.
Organic Farm Work
Realistically, working on organic farms via WWOOF, HelpX, WorkAway, and other organizations are a common way to work in Europe during the summer in exchange for room and board, often in very beautiful locations all over the continent. Is the work easy? No. But the options to meet people and experience a new culture are tremendous and come at a low cost.