When Kyra Kelly, a 15-year-old who lives in the Bay Area, decided she wanted to find a summer job to save up for a car, she checked the websites of the local businesses she and her friends visited regularly.
“I found that an ice cream place was hiring, and I went to their website and signed up,” said Kyra, who then received an email from the store manager and went in for an interview.
Her experience applying both online and in person is typical, but may be unfamiliar to parents who are not sure how to help their teenagers navigate today’s job market.
In addition to the benefits of making money, having a summer job can help develop organization, time management, communication and conflict management skills. And at a time when helicopter parenting often extends into young adulthood, getting a job on one’s own can be a step toward independence.
But fewer teenagers are working traditional summer jobs. According to a 2018 Pew Research Report, only 35 percent of teenagers ages 16 to 19 held a paid position over the previous summer, compared with 51 percent in 2000. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that more teenagers attend school during the summer months than those in previous generations. In July 2016, 42 percent of teenagers were enrolled in school, compared with just 10 percent in July 1985.
Despite historically low unemployment levels, “teens just work less now,” said David Neumark, a professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine.
Personally, I liked most of my summer jobs, which included working at a candy store, making sandwiches at a local lunch spot, selling furniture and fine linens and tutoring students. Looking back, I now realize the problem-solving and negotiation skills I used to avert a customer’s impending meltdown about her wedding registry can have lifelong applications.
Now, in my work as an educational consultant, I’ve seen many students use the summer months to take classes, fulfill community service requirements or work in unpaid internships, perhaps seeking to bolster their college transcripts. Student-athletes on competitive travel teams often find intense practice and tournament schedules don’t match up with employer needs. So a summer job may not work for everyone.
But Adam Peck, interim vice president for university affairs at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Tex., believes students should look at summer jobs as an opportunity to develop skills they’ll need in their careers and seek out jobs that provide a chance to refine those skills. “That doesn’t always mean working in the exact industry that you hope to go into,” he explained.
Given how much of the application process happens online these days, navigating a summer job search may be confusing. Here are some strategies for teenagers and college students to land a summer job.
Brainstorm Online and in Real Life
Thinking about the kind of job you hope to do and asking friends and family about potential openings is an important first step.
Monica Thomas, student services manager for Year Up, a national nonprofit focused on young adult work force development, believes much of the challenge is not knowing what is available. Parents, mentors, educators and community members can help identify opportunities that might not be widely advertised.
Jobs may vary based on location and transportation options. In Charlotte, N.C., the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program builds partnerships with private, public and nonprofit employers to create paid work experiences for students over age 16. The program’s mission is “to provide all Charlotte youth with equitable career development opportunities to explore the world of work, build social capital, and enhance economic mobility.” Similar programs exist throughout the country, though program requirements and opportunities vary by city.
Craft Your Pitch
Many students make the mistake of focusing on why they want a certain job — ideal hours, a convenient work location, a fun work environment — but “an employer needs to derive return on investment when they pay somebody,” Dr. Peck said. Crafting a successful pitch is all about helping an employer see what you bring to the potential role.
Before applying for a job, take stock of your skills, abilities and previous experiences. It can be helpful to use online resources to mock up a résumé, as well as to draft an introductory email or cover letter that can be customized for each position.
Even if you don’t have formal work experience, you can list leadership skills and responsibilities you’ve gained from clubs, volunteer work and specific academic experiences, said Fahnie Stewart Shaw, community relations and engagement program manager at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County School District. According to Dr. Shaw, an often-overlooked part of a successful job application is having strong references who “will answer phone calls, and emails, and get back with people for you, on your behalf.” If you’ve helped neighbors with babysitting, dog-walking or yard work, they could serve as potential references.
Apply Both Broadly and Specifically
Being both flexible and specific can be crucial to receiving a job offer. Talking to potential co-workers and getting a sense of different work cultures can also be a helpful part of the application process. Online job sites like Handshake, focused specifically on college students and recent graduates, and Indeed.com, allow users to filter results based on certain preferences.
“I knew I wanted to work in the food service industry, but I didn’t really want to work in a sit-down restaurant,” said Ben Hosansky, 17, who got a job at Chipotle Mexican Grill in Louisville, Colo., last summer. “I applied to a number of fast casual places, including Chipotle, and they were the first to set up an interview.”
There may be more opportunities for students in food service, or entertainment and sports venues, than in retail. Students who like working with children might contact their local recreation center or nearby day camps. Nonprofits like the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools Program, a six-week summer literacy program with 183 program sites across 28 states, can also provide summer employment opportunities.
Even employers interested in hiring students might get distracted by day-to-day operations, and a gentle reminder could be welcome. Ben initially applied to Chipotle online and then visited the store in person when he didn’t hear back. “I asked if they still had jobs available,” he said. “They actually told me to sit down at a table and interviewed me about 15 minutes after that and then hired me that day.”
Handle the Paperwork
Many states require work permits for minors; check your state Department of Labor’s website. Some information about child labor laws is available through the federal government, too.
Kyra, who lives in California, received her work permit through her high school. Many states also require those handling food to get an additional card or certification.
It’s also a good idea to find out if a job requires you to purchase a uniform or follow a dress code. If it’s a food service position, you deserve to know how and when tips are distributed.
If you’re saving toward a goal and trying to calculate what you will be earning each week, remember that taxes will be taken out of your paycheck.
And if the job you land isn’t exactly what you had in mind, give it a chance. Before Ben started at Chipotle, he had his sights set on a noodle shop closer to his school. He said he likes his job now, in part because “I really know everybody, and we kind of have a nice little community.”
Ana Homayoun is the author, most recently, of “Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World.”