By Julie Landry Laviolette
When Becca Baker was 14, she looked at her neighbor’s Girl Scout troop and saw a job opportunity. She began offering babysitting services to moms of the girls, and soon had a steady clientele. Now 17 and a high school senior, Becca works three jobs: as a babysitter, Dairy Queen cashier and restaurant hostess.
Though summer may seem a world away to most teens, now is the time to begin laying the groundwork if you want a job during school break. And considering today’s high unemployment rate, finding a job may take teens even longer as displaced adult workers are now competing with teens for some of the same jobs.
“You’re going to see more adults working in fast food, which you wouldn’t have seen before,” said Olivia Almagro, spokeswoman for South Florida Workforce..
Still, the job market “looks promising,” Almagro said. “We’ve seen consecutive job growth in the past several months. It seems like it’s getting better.”
Here are some tips to give teens an edge on a job hunt:
Determine your interests
“One of the most important things is to know what interests you. That will help you determine where to go,” Almagro said.
If you like clothes, look for jobs in retail. If you have a driver’s license, you can make deliveries for a restaurant. If you want to be outside, check out camp jobs.
Yanique Jean Philippe, 20, always had a knack for fashion. When she was a high school junior, she began fashioning her own clothes out of thrift-store finds, adding rips, zipper, rhinestones and studs to give them an urban edge.
By her senior year, Philippe, had financed her prom, homecoming and Grad Bash with proceeds from selling her designs to friends.
Assess your skills
Do you know how to use special programs on a computer? Are you a good swimmer? Do you like to draw? Figure out what you do better than potential job competitors.
When Andres Cardona was 16, he got turned down for job after job. “I thought ‘what do I love so much that I would do it for free?’” said Cardona, now 18 and a student at Florida International University.
The answer was basketball. As a high school junior, Cardona founded a baskeball academy that offers year-round clinics to help players develop skills.
When Baker began babysitting, she created a network of clients by reaching out to coaches and friends. She took a childcare class her freshman year in high school, and put promotional fliers in the cubbies of the preschool kids in her group.
Then she pounded the pavement at neighborhood shops.
“Just apply at all the little places. Apply everywhere. When you’re in a restaurant, say ‘By the way, are you guys hiring?’ That’s how I got my job at Dairy Queen, when I went in for ice cream one day,” Baker said.
She snagged the restaurant job because a friend who works there gave a recommendation.
“Use your network. Tell your friends, your parents, your parent’s friends,” said Mason Jackson, CEO of Broward Workforce One.
Stop by businesses in your area. Have a script in your head and look like you’re ready to work. Check with your city government – often there are camps, community pools or parks needing summer workers.
The biggest mistake teens make in job seeking is not using the tools that are out there, Jackson said. “Google ‘teen jobs;’ look up internships,” he said.
If you’ve chosen a career field, see if a business in that industry is looking for an intern. “An internship can be a great opportunity to test the water in a career field and get real world experience,” Almagro said.
Have a resume and information on references ready to upload if you apply for a job online. Ask permission before you use someone as a reference – then get their names, addresses and phone numbers. “Sometimes teens don’t think that through,” Jackson said.
Use a conservative email address. “Some kids have email names for friends and games, things like hotbaby33,” Almagro said. “You should get an email address specifically for job hunting.”
Be careful what you post on Facebook – a prospective employer may check your page. “It’s definitely not the place to complain about your boss,” Almagro said.
Look up a company online before you’re interview, so you know what they do.
Review past experience and see what transfers to marketable skills, Jackson said. “Just because you haven’t held a job before doesn’t mean you haven’t worked,” he said. Look at your school, church and club experience. Teaching Sunday school can show dependability. Volunteering at a camp can show responsibility. Running a school club shows leadership.
“Try to relate what you’ve done in the past to the job you’re applying for,” Jackson said.
Dress the part
If you land an interview, dress for success. Guys should wear a collared shirt and pants, but no jeans (and no underwear showing.) Girls should wear a dress, skirt or pants. Cover tattoos and wear understated jewelry.
“Be sincere. Be engaged. Show enthusiasm,” Jackson said.
Once while he was at a movie theater, Jackson saw a teen talking to a manager about a job. The teen was slouched over and uncommunicative.
“Sometimes young people use that as a defense mechanism, showing an attitude they don’t care,” Jackson said. “But you have to look interested if you want someone to give you a job.”
Make a good impression
Turn off your cell phone before you speak with an employer. Make eye contact when introduced. Shake hands firmly. Be ready to talk about yourself – do some practice sessions before with a parent or friend.
“If you look eager and ready to work, that speaks volumes,” Almagro said. “If you look like your parents pushed you there to get a job, you’re not going to make it past the front door.”
Create your own job
If you can’t find a job, create one. Start a lemonade stand, babysit or have a garage sale. Offer house painting, lawn mowing or taking care of pets.
“There are so many creative ways for people to make money. If you start your own business, you can hone your communication and business skills, which you can one day add to your resume,” Almagro said.
Ask your neighbors if they need help with car washing or pulling weeds, Jackson said. Make up a flier with odd jobs and prices, and leave them with neighbors you know.
“Make it clear up front that you’re not a volunteer and it’s not a favor,” he said. “Agree on a fee before you do the work.”
Philippe and Cardona turned their ideas into businesses, with help from the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (Nfte.com).
Cardona said he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. In middle school he bought candy in bulk and sold them by the piece at a profit to classmates. In high school, he bought used graphing calculators from graduating seniors and resold them the next year to incoming students.
In October, Cardona launched his second business, PublicizeUs.com, to help small business develop websites and eCommerce.
“If you have an idea for a business you should launch it,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is only going to make your next business that much stronger.