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Video: New realities of the job market

By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 4/21/2009 9:43:16 AM ET 2009-04-21T13:43:16

Even in the best of times, teenagers face plenty of hurdles when they look for summer jobs. Would-be employers often worry that they’ll be undependable, late and generally flaky — and teens must convince prospective bosses that they’re actually reliable and responsible.

This summer could be even tougher for teens, though, because competition for jobs is expected to be so fierce. In many cases, teenagers will be going head to head against adults who have years of work experience behind them. And they’ll be doing so in a job market that has fewer positions available.

A recent survey by SnagAJob.com, an employment Web site that connects people with hourly jobs, found that nearly half of hourly hiring managers won’t be recruiting summer employees this year. Even more ominous, 73 percent of hiring managers anticipate receiving more applications this summer than they did last summer from job seekers of all ages.

Does this mean that teens should abandon all hope of finding gainful employment this summer? Not at all! The following tips can help.

1. Start looking now. Shawn Boyer, chief executive officer of SnagAJob.com, said employers are already thinking about their upcoming summer staffing issues, even though we’re only in the month of April. One way to beat out at least some of the competition is to start your job search early rather than waiting for the school year to end. “Consider telling them, ‘I can work 10 hours a week now, and then I can ramp up my hours after school gets out,’ ” Boyer said.

2. Get the word out about your job search. Begin actively telling people that you’re looking for a job. Think about all the adults in your life: your teachers, guidance counselors and coaches, your family doctor and veterinarian, your parents’ friends, your friends’ parents, and so on. This approach could turn you on to job prospects.

3. Plan for a repeat performance. The survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers revealed that 65 percent of their summer staffs will consist of returning workers. If you had a job last summer and you didn’t absolutely hate it, consider reapplying again this year. Your past employer will be interested in you because you’re already trained.

4. Be professional. Make sure that everything you include in your job application is spelled correctly and is free of grammatical errors. Don’t use all lowercase or all uppercase letters, Boyer advised. Be sure the e-mail address you put down isn’t silly or distracting. The same holds true for the voice-mail prompt on your cell phone or home phone.

5. Do mock interviews in advance. A job interview can be a lot more stressful than you might think. To work out the jitters ahead of time, do a few practice interviews with someone other than a friend or parent, Boyer recommended. “Practice with a guidance counselor, a teacher or a friend’s parent that you’re not that comfortable with so it will be more realistic,” Boyer said.

6. Show some energy. Employers who bring teenagers on board say they appreciate their enthusiasm and eagerness to do whatever it takes to get a job done. Display those traits on your job interview — and on the job, as well.

7. Get appropriately gussied. Dress nicely for your job interview, as if you were about to attend a religious service. Do this even if the dress code for employees is casual. Absolutely remember to send a handwritten thank-you note after your interview — a step many adults routinely forget to take.

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8. Play up your strengths. Many teens show a tendency to be hard on themselves and minimize their accomplishments. Remember that a job interview is not the place to beat yourself up. Instead, emphasize flattering details about yourself, such as being an honor-roll student, juggling extracurricular activities and volunteering in the community. “List out in particular the leadership positions that you’ve held,” Boyer said. “That helps to dispel the idea that teens aren’t responsible.”

9. Know where to look. As bleak as the job market is right now, Boyer said these places are still open to hiring teens: fast-food restaurants; movie theaters; merchandising companies that stock shelves for retailers — American Greetings is looking for this sort of help, he noted — and health care facilities. “There are a wide range of positions in the health care sector that don’t require you to have a certain level of credentials,” Boyer said. “There’s valet-parking people’s cars, working in a hospital gift shop, working in a cafeteria, being a receptionist.”

10. Consider working at a bank. If you’re at least 18, you also may be able to land a job as a bank teller. Banks often need help over the summer months when many of their employees go on vacation, Boyer said — and he added that a bank job can look good on your resume.

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