Thinking about a summer job? This year, as more people compete for fewer openings, you'll need to start looking early, do your research, and apply to more positions. So it's more important than ever to have a job search plan.
What's the Right Job for Me?
To find a job that's right for you, make a list of your interests and strengths, as well as your dislikes and the things you need some improvement in, and keep them in mind as you look for a job. For example, if you love books or writing, a job in a bookstore or library might be perfect for you. But if little kids drive you crazy, a babysitting job may not be ideal.
A job or internship should be about learning as well as making money. Try to find something that can help guide you toward your long-term goals. For example, if you want to study veterinary science in college, finding a job in a vet's office or animal shelter, or even a pet store, may be better choices for you than working in a restaurant.
As jobs become harder to find, you may have to take whatever's available — and that's OK. Learning to readjust goals and priorities is another important life skill. Just try to find some aspect of the work that you love and can learn from.
A good résumé is your best job-hunting tool. Unlike an application form, which you only fill out when you apply for a particular job, you can hand résumés out to relatives, friends of the family, teachers, and other people you know. Talk to your school counselor for advice on preparing a résumé.
Find Job Leads
For job listings, check out online teen job sites or the classified ads section of your local newspaper. Lots of online sites let you search by zip code for job opportunities in your area.
Of course, some of the job listings you'll see — like those that claim you can make thousands of dollars a week working at home — may be too good to be true. Be sure the job ad mentions what the work entails (e.g., "server, evenings and weekends" or "day camp counselor").
Some people get job leads from their school counselors. Others fill out applications or drop off résumés at prospective employers and temporary employment agencies. If you're interested in working at a restaurant, bookstore, garden center, or other service business in your area, the best approach is to go there and fill out an application form.
Your parents, relatives, or other adults you know might be able to help you connect with possible employers. Don't feel that it's not right to ask them. Once you get the interview, it will be up to you.
Be Your Own Boss
Traditional summer jobs in malls, stores, or restaurants are harder to come by in a tough economy. If your job search hits a dead end, don't give up: get creative and entrepreneurial. Start a pet sitting, dog walking, child care, computer services, yardwork, or cleaning business — whatever there's a need for in your area.
Print up flyers advertising the services your business offers, your rates, and your phone number or email address, then drop one off at every house in your neighborhood or ask supermarkets or coffeehouses if you can post one on their community bulletin board.
If you can afford to work without pay, volunteering is a great way to build experience that looks good on a résumé. Plus, if your school requires you to get volunteer credits, summer is a great time to earn them.
As with paid jobs, you can find volunteer opportunities online. Here are some other places to check out:
Your local Y or community center. Offer to coach or help out with a summer camp.
Hospitals. Think you might want to be a doctor or nurse? Sign on with your local hospital's volunteer office. You don't have to be interested in medicine, though. Some hospitals have organized volunteer programs where you can do everything from help out with patients to work in the public relations office.
School. Talk to your favorite teacher and offer to help tutor summer-school students. Some schools run summer camps for kids, too — maybe you can volunteer as a counselor.
Local environmental organizations. Get involved in a river cleanup or help the National Park Service maintain hiking trails in your area.
Some companies and businesses offer bright students short-term, hands-on training in exchange for a willingness to learn and work hard. A few internships even pay, although the point of internships is usually to get work experience, not earn money.
If you do well at your internship, you may be offered a full-time job next summer or even an ongoing part-time job. Internships can also provide you with valuable references that can help you to land future jobs.
Start by asking adults you know — your parents, their friends, your pastor, your school counselor — if they know of any internships in your area. If you're willing to work for free, you may be able to create your own position at a family member's or friend's company. Or, check out the websites of companies in your area to see if they offer internships.
When searching for jobs online, be sure to keep a parent or other adult informed of what you're doing. If you decide to apply for a position you find online, run it by a parent or school counselor first — and definitely don't go for an interview without involving an adult. Unfortunately, a tough economy can mean more online scams.
Jobs to Avoid
Some jobs just aren't right for teens. Jobs that involve working alone late at night can put someone at risk for muggings or assaults, particularly people who are young and inexperienced. The National Consumers League warns teens to avoid working in farm fields or with agricultural processing equipment, landscaping or lawn service jobs, construction jobs, jobs that involve driving or operating heavy equipment, and jobs that involve door-to-door sales.
Know the Law
Federal and state laws limit the number of hours teens can work. For summer employment (when school is not in session), the federal government does not allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m., and they cannot work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. You can find out your state's laws and curfews (times when teens are not allowed to work) by calling your state department of labor. If you know your curfews and mention them when interviewing for or starting a job, your boss can keep them in mind when he or she schedules your start or quitting time.
If you don't have your license or access to a car, be sure your job is within walking distance or on a regular bus route. If you drive, leave a few minutes early — especially on the first couple of days you're working — to be sure you arrive on time without feeling pressured.
What do job interviewers look for? It's not just previous work history or unique skills that matter at the interview. Interviewers want to hire candidates who are smart, who think quickly and clearly, and who can express themselves and communicate well — regardless of work experience. Both your attitude and your appearance affect your chances of getting the job you want, especially when the job market is super competitive.
Here are two things to remember:
Dress the part. When you head out for your interview, avoid looking too casual. That means no sandals, jeans, or cutoffs. Even if you'll be scooping ice cream behind a counter, it helps to look professional for the interview. Not sure how to dress? Ask a parent or adult.
Do your research. You know what you want — a job. But what does the company want from you? You might not know many details about the position until you interview, but you can prepare by researching the company itself. Go online and learn everything you can about the organization, from its corporate mission (the company's purpose and what it's trying to achieve) to what customers say about its products or services. Then use what you learn when answering the interviewer's questions.
Why Get a Summer Job or Internship?
Summer jobs and internships (whether they're paid or not) are a great way to prepare for life after high school or for college. The skills you learn early on will help you develop the professional talents you'll need throughout your life. These include basic but important skills like customer service or working with people who may be very different from the friends you hang out with.
Work experience can also help you feel good about yourself. The self-esteem and self-confidence you can develop at a job or internship will come in handy when you're ready to interview for college or a job after high school.