When's the ideal time for your high schooler to start searching for summer work? Try late spring. That's right: Laying the groundwork while she's still in school is a savvy move to get a jump on landing not only a job – but one she might enjoy a bit, too.
And, especially when the economy is hurting, keep in mind: Your teen might be competing with regular adult workers for some of the jobs they'd traditionally nab with ease (think: fast food workers and entry-level retail jobs). Here are some tips to give teens an edge – and help them stand out in a job hunt.
1. Determine your interests
"One of the most important things is to know what interests you. That will help you determine where to go," says Olivia Almagro, spokeswoman for South Florida Workforce. If you like clothes, look for jobs in retail. If you have a driver's license, you can make deliveries for a restaurant. If you want to be outside, check out camp jobs.
2. Assess your skills
Do you know how to use special programs on a computer? Are you a good swimmer? Do you like to draw? Figure out what you do better than potential job competitors.
Any adult will tell you that the best way to get a job is through your connections. Teens should start learning that lesson and begin cultivating those connections, says Almagro. Ask friends' parents, relatives, teachers, coaches and the business owners of the places you regularly frequent if they know of a job you'd be suited to.
If you've chosen a career field, see if a business in that industry is looking for an intern. "An internship can be a great opportunity to test the water in a career field and get real-world experience," Almagro says.
4. Be prepared
Have a resume and information on references ready to upload if you apply for a job online. Ask permission before you use someone as a reference – then get their names, addresses and phone numbers. Use a conservative email address. "Some kids have email names for friends and games, things like 'hotbaby33,'" Almagro says. "You should get an email address specifically for job hunting."
Be careful what you post on Facebook – a prospective employer may check your page. "It's definitely not the place to complain about your boss," Almagro said. Look up a company online before you're interview, so you know what they do.
Review past experience and see what transfers to marketable skills. Just because you haven't held a job before doesn't mean you haven't worked. Look at your school, church and club experience. Teaching Sunday school can show dependability. Volunteering at a camp can show responsibility. Running a school club shows leadership.
5. Make a good impression
If you land an interview, dress for success. Guys should wear a collared shirt and pants, but no jeans (and no underwear showing). Girls should wear a dress, skirt or pants. Cover tattoos and wear understated jewelry.
"Be sincere. Be engaged. Show enthusiasm," Almagro says. Turn off your cell phone before you speak with an employer. Make eye contact when introduced. Shake hands firmly. Be ready to talk about yourself – do some practice sessions before with a parent or friend.
"If you look eager and ready to work, that speaks volumes," Almagro says. "If you look like your parents pushed you there to get a job, you're not going to make it past the front door."