Teen walking dogs for a jobDespite what the thermometer outside might say, it’s not too early for your teen to start looking for a summer job. And this year it may not be easy.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the proportion of teens aged 16 to 19 who work in the summer has been on a downward spiral since 2000. Last summer was the worst summer hiring season for teens since 1949, according to an analysis by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

There are many reasons for this trend, some benign, some not. In a recent article, Teresa L. Morisi, a supervisory economist in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said, “The recent declines in summer employment rates among teens have been large and unprecedented, and have occurred across all major demographic groups. Several reasons for the declines are related to education. First, the proportion of teens enrolled in school during the summer was on an upward trend over the period examined. Second, a number of factors suggest that teenagers are facing greater academic demands and pressures than in the past, which, together with the desire to achieve, may incline them toward placing greater emphasis on academics than on working. Finally, teenagers were affected by the two recessions that occurred during the 2000s, which likely resulted in both reduced job opportunities and increased competition for those jobs that were available. The declines in summer 2009 employment rates were especially steep.”

In the current economic climate, teens who want to work are competing against unemployed older workers, new college graduates, and others looking for entry-level work as government-funded summer jobs dwindle. So to land a job, your teen will have to be at the top of his game.

First Teens Should Determine the Type of Job 

First your teen should determine the kind of job he wants, considering variables like type of industry, location, hours, and wage. If he doesn’t like kids, for example, he shouldn’t be a babysitter or camp counselor. But if he loves animals, he could look for work in a veterinary office, pet shop, or animal shelter. Or he could become a dog walker, pet sitter, or groomer.

Then he should list the assets he can offer a potential employer. What are his skills, both interpersonal and technical? What paid or volunteer experience does he have? Has he had experience at school that would help in a job?

Next your teen should draft a resume and cover letter. Each cover letter should be tailored specifically to each job for which she applies. The spelling, grammar, punctuation, and format of both the resume and cover letter must be flawless. Many websites can help with this step. Proofread carefully what she writes.

Now you and your teen can connect with your pool of friends, relatives, colleagues, teachers, and anyone else who might know of appropriate job openings. Your teen also should surf the web, establish a profile and network on LinkedIn, and read newspaper classified ads. And, of course, he should approach local businesses and fill out applications.

If she’s lucky enough to score an interview, help her prepare for it. She should learn about the company, develop answers to common interview questions, compose questions of her own to ask, and practice her interview skills (including a strong handshake and eye contact). Role-play interview scenarios together. Be sure his interview attire and grooming are appropriate (flip-flops are taboo; visible tattoos should be covered as much as possible).

Where Teens Can Look for Jobs

We’re lucky in New Jersey. We have abundant malls, the shore, corporations, tourist attractions, and more. And it’s an easy commute into Manhattan, which expands the potential job pool. But your teen can start by looking for work with local merchants and small businesses; golf, tennis, and swim clubs; restaurants and fast-food outlets; parks and recreation departments; and local, county, or state programs.

Or there’s the entrepreneurial route. Many teens have started landscaping and lawn-mowing services, do house painting, and offer their computer savvy for a fee. If your teen drives, she might run errands and grocery shop for new moms or elderly or infirm neighbors—again, for a fee. The trick is to try to anticipate a need and then fill it.

Teach your teen the importance of being motivated and responsible: arriving at work on time with a can-do attitude; cooperating with coworkers; and cheerfully doing whatever an employer asks. In return, he’ll gain more than a salary. He’ll acquire real-world experience, learn the importance of teamwork, and add a line to his resume.

Sites & Sources

Carol Lippert Gray has written career advice articles for magazines and websites. She is the editor for Raising Teens, a New Jersey Family publication.