By Carol Alexander
“Don’t cha think he should’ve taken off his shades, Mom?” asked my teen one evening about a young man who came into his place of employment looking for a job. Even though this restaurant was not hiring, the manager took the time to speak with him, and the boy didn’t remove his sunglasses during that interview. I don’t think he intended to remain anonymous; I think his parents just failed to teach him job-hunting skills. With summer close at hand, let’s look at a few ways to help our teens find a summer job – despite the competition.
Build a résumé
That doesn’t mean what you think it means. The time to start preparing your child for his first summer job is years before he is ready. My oldest boy volunteered at the local library and a museum to gain experience before his 15th birthday. My husband trained our boys on the care and use of power tools, as well as basic carpentry and woodworking skills. When the time came for them to start looking, they had a skillset to put down on an application. In fact, when our second son arrived at his first job, the employer immediately upped his agreed-upon wage when upon learning he could use the needed tools without supervision.
To fill out a job application a teen must know or have access to his social security number, know how to spell the names of his parents, street address and state abbreviations. (You would be surprised to know how many kids are challenged in this area.) He also needs to accurately spell the names of his references and have their contact information available. Remind your child to secure permission from key adults in his life to use as references before he begins his job search. Teachers, coaches or youth pastors are ideal candidates, but don’t forget the neighbor he’s been mowing grass for since he was 12 – that neighbor can more readily attest to your child’s work ethic than most others.
How often have you, as an adult, started filling out a form on the wrong line? Practice filling out applications at home with your teen. (You can find an assortment of sample forms online.) Don’t be tempted to fill out the application for your child. The employer will figure that out and pass him over for the job.
The importance of work ethic
If your child struggles to get up each morning for school, don’t think that a summer job requiring him to be on-site at 6 a.m. will teach him to get out of bed on time – it will only frustrate him, your household and his employer. Age does not excuse poor work habits that will write his reputation for a long time to come. Small business owner Ralph Wakeman says that his best employees “work while they are working. If they finish something and can’t find something to do, they dust.” He also says that a good employee will “show a desire to go beyond what is done. They have a desire to always be learning.” Only twice has Wakeman had to encourage a teen to seek other employment; both times it was for lack of self-motivation.
Practice people skills
When my third son applied for his current position, he told the manager he wanted to work at that restaurant to improve his people skills. He was hired because the manager saw a boy that was honest about his abilities. Wakeman says he only hires teens that show an ability to interact with adults. He believes that “most kids don’t socialize with adults enough on a regular basis” to build this quality.
If you think your child needs a little help in this area, try role-playing with him. Pretend to be the employer and ask him challenging questions. Review body language and dress. Remind him to remove his sunglasses before he gets out of his car, turn off his cell phone, smile often and look the interviewer in the eye when he speaks. Help him to prepare questions in advance so that when the interviewer asks if he has any, he doesn’t look clueless.
Build a network
Of my four older children, only one ever went job-hunting. The others found their jobs by word-of-mouth. If you have a teen looking for a job, tell everyone you know. Remind him to tell everyone he knows – especially adults. Don’t be shy about asking business owners if they have work for your child. Our oldest son had a baseball coach who was a building contractor. One evening after the game my husband approached him, told the man what skills our son had and asked if he had anything Drew could do for the summer. “Have him at my house at 5:30 Monday morning,” he said. “I’ll see what he can do.” Drew worked for him for eight years. Our daughter found her job in a café through friends. They knew of her baking abilities and approached the café owner as soon as a position became available. It pays to have someone that knows you on the inside.
An acquaintance recently blamed the economy for his son’s inability to find a job. There may be fewer jobs out there, but those prepared for the hunt will come out on top.