by Teri Fritsma
Are you a high school or college student who’ll be job hunting this summer? You may face some stiff competition. The recession has hit workers of all ages—but it’s been especially tough on younger workers. Youth ages 16-24 are experiencing the highest rates of unemployment on record. And 16 to 19-year-olds are faring worst of all: in 2009, roughly one out of every four teens who wanted a job could not find one. These are national statistics, but the outlook for Minnesota youth is similar.
Why have teens been hit so hard by the recession? For one thing, they’re competing with more experienced workers for a smaller number of jobs. Young workers have traditionally found summer jobs in food service, retail, and other low-paying, high-turnover sectors. Older professionals may look for work in these sectors to make ends meet after a layoff. Rightly or wrongly, employers may believe that an older, more experienced applicant will make a more reliable employee than a teenager. Your job is to present yourself in a way that counteracts these stereotypes.
- Make a good impression from the start. If you walk in off the street to respond to a “help wanted” sign, be professional. Make eye contact. Use confident but pleasant body language (stand up straight, smile, and ask to speak to the manager on duty). Come prepared to fill out an application. Have everything you need with you, including your drivers’ license, social security number, a list of references, and a resume.
- Dress the part. Whether you’re walking in off the street or coming in for a pre-arranged interview, plan to dress slightly more formally than you would if you got the job. If you’re applying for a job at a retail store, for example, wear something nicer than a t-shirt and jeans.
- Have a resume at the ready. A functional (as opposed to a chronological) resume can highlight your special skills and interests. Never written a resume before? Read these tips.
- Consider volunteering! Volunteering is a great way to gain fulfilling experience, while showing prospective employers that you’re dependable, take initiative, and stick to your commitments. Learn more about the benefits of volunteering, and find volunteer opportunities at DoSomething.org/Volunteer.
- Clean up your online identity. Are you active on Facebook and Twitter? Guess what—so are most employers! Employers are getting increasingly savvy about screening potential employees by looking them up online. If your prospective employer googled you, what would s/he learn?
- No txting or slang. Texting language and slang is still considered unprofessional by most employers.
- Get a work-friendly email address. Is your email address “HotPrincess@email.com” or “MrMan@email.com?” Remember, every part of the package you present needs to show that you’re mature and professional. Consider getting a second, work-appropriate email address for professional communications.
- Tailor your application to the employer’s needs. This seems obvious, but remember: you must show an employer that you understand what the job is about and that you can fit the bill. If you’re applying for a job as a sales clerk at a clothing store, highlight your interest in clothes or your ability to interact with customers. If you’re applying for a pizza delivery job, focus on your good driving record and your punctuality. A generic resume sends a signal to the employer that the job isn’t that important to you.
- Be flexible. Teenagers have one thing going for them that older workers may not: flexible schedules! Are you able to work weekends, late-night shifts, or other odd hours? Be sure to mention this if it’s appropriate to the job you’re applying for.
- Follow up. Learn the art of follow-up. Be sure to express your appreciation for an interview with a firm handshake, a smile, eye contact, and a follow-up thank you note. If you promised to provide more information, make sure you follow through on your promise.