A summer spent flipping burgers or perched in a lifeguard chair has been a teenage rite of passage — but not for the current young generation.

This year, teen joblessness promises to peak yet again, topping the record of the summer of 2008, when roughly two-thirds of 16- through 19-year-olds were not working, says Joseph McLaughlin, senior research associate of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

6 job-hunting tips
  1. Start early
  2. Go to the government
  3. Think seasonally
  4. Surf and stop in
  5. Be businesslike
  6. Depend on yourself

The toughest job for millions of young, inexperienced workers will be finding a job, experts say.

It’s worthwhile to start a summer job hunt using the tactics outlined below even as spring flowers are just starting to bloom, especially because the payoff for finding work stretches beyond August.

Although a stint bagging groceries or busing tables may not seem like a resume enhancer, early work experience correlates with better employment prospects in young adulthood because employers like to hire workers with some experience, says McLaughlin. 

“We will have millions of teens who will have never had a job by the time they are age 20,” says Renee Ward, founder of Teens4Hire.org, a Huntington Beach, Calif., Web site specializing in teen postings. “I believe if they never have the fulfillment of a job, they’ll be frustrated and that becomes perpetuating.”

In the nearer term, a lack of summer earnings will cause many students to scramble to cover their share of college expenses. Lots of students will be visiting their college financial aid offices asking for loans, grants or other ways to plug the gap they expected their summer paychecks to fill, says Phil Shreves, director of student financial assistance at the University of Central Missouri.

While millions of job slots are needed, each individual teen needs to find only one opening — and that’s not an impossible task, say experts. Here are tips to help in the search:

1. Start early

“Job searching is all about contacts,” says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions, Northampton, Mass. And sufficient lead time is necessary to connect with job possibilities. Parents might ask their own employers about summer positions. Neighbors, friends and relatives may also provide leads.

2. Go to the government

The big stimulus bill enacted this February includes some $1.2 billion in youth-related jobs and training. This money is distributed through states, and some of the funds are targeted for jobs this summer, says Paula Brantner, executive director of Workplace Fairness. These jobs may be targeted toward teens from households under certain income limits. The best way to find out what’s available is to start with the one-stop career center near you, says Brantner. These centers are affiliated with state unemployment offices all around the country.

3. Think seasonally

Some employers — children’s camps, park districts, amusement parks, music festivals — staff up for each summer. Hiring is likely to be down this year, but it won’t disappear, says Ward.

4. Surf and stop in

This generation has a propensity to job hunt via the Internet, says McLaughlin. While there are job openings that can be uncovered via the Web, there’s also value in pounding the pavement, says Ward. Indeed, even though her Web site lists jobs, she advises teens to look for “now hiring” signs in their community. Small local businesses often don’t advertise on the Web. Plus, teens who make a personal appearance may impress potential bosses. “Employers want to hire people with a positive attitude,” she says.

5. Be businesslike

Especially this year, teens are competing with older job seekers who may strike employers as more mature, responsible and reliable. Teens tend to act and speak as if they’re trying to impress their peers, and they should make a conscious effort to shed that mindset — even when no one is around, says Ward.

Lots of jobs at large retailers require applicants to fill out online applications and/or  behavioral assessment tests at kiosks. “You might not see anyone around, but there are cameras. Everything is timed and monitored,” Ward says.

Although there are no “correct” answers to assessment tests, teens will do better if they’re reminded “they’re in a business environment, and not impressing friends with their responses,” says Ward.

6. Depend on yourself

Some of the 2.5 million teens visiting the Teens4Hire.org site detail their personal success stories, and many of those involve entrepreneurial ventures, Ward says. Ideas that may prove profitable, she says, include offering to sell items for neighbors on eBay, light housekeeping for the elderly and establishing a service to responsibly dispose of old computers.

In the event the employers aren’t clamoring for your services, you can still try to earn some extra bucks this summer by being your own boss.

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