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Many kids find jobs through their parents, says Sum. Check your address book for anyone who might be willing to hire your teen. Then have your child rehearse a script with you before he picks up the phone, as in: "My mom is in your book group and she suggested I ask if you could use some help with your landscaping business." Also help him develop a good follow-up line, which is important because many teens will feel shot down if they hear anything other than an enthusiastic "You're hired!" Explain that he should create an opening for future conversations by saying, "Thanks for taking my call. Let me give you my number, so if things change or you hear of anything else, you can contact me. And is it okay if I check back with you in a week or so?"
Classic summer jobs—at camps, beach town burger joints, and amusement parks—that are open for only a few months annually are still a good bet. "We hire something like 2,500 seasonal employees for this park every year," says Cutter Matlock, director of administration for Six Flags America, in Bowie, Maryland. "About half are returnees, but the rest are new. As long as kids can follow through with the online application process, and convey that they are confident, passionate, and fun people, we're interested."
Companies that specialize in providing short-term workers are almost always busy when the economy is coming out of a recession, says Melanie Holmes, vice president at Manpower, a global employment service firm based in Milwaukee. Employers that use such agencies typically want workers 18 and older but sometimes will take younger teens, she says. Those who have experience with anything that can be described as customer service, including retail, will have an edge.
Sending your kid off for the summer to relatives who live where there's work may seem extreme but may be her best shot. "We're seeing huge geographic variability in teen employment," says Sum. "About half of all kids in farm belt states had work last summer, and in Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, and Wisconsin, it was as high as 60 to 65 percent, and we expect that to happen again this year. But in states like California, New York, or New Jersey, we are forecasting that it will be more like 25 percent." Currently, large cities with low unemployment rates include Des Moines; Honolulu; Little Rock, Arkansas; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Portland, Maine; and Rochester, Minnesota.
Suggest that your teen contact local hospitals, nursing homes, and retirement communities. "These employers might have entry-level jobs that don't require any experience and are perfect for teens," says Holmes. Encourage your kids to dress neatly and spend several days knocking on doors, asking to speak to human resources, filling out applications, and inquiring how and when they should follow up.
Kids and parents need to understand that teens may have to get their hands dirty in jobs that even a few summers ago might have seemed low-status—washing dishes, cleaning hotel rooms, or hauling trash. That's where the action is now. Despite the downturn, restaurants last summer hired around 380,000 workers, many of them teens. The National Restaurant Association thinks hiring could be the same or better this year. Similarly, kids willing to get physical with entry-level jobs like cleanup crew should work their way through "Construction" in the local Yellow Pages. "It seems counterintuitive because of the economy," says Holmes, "but construction hiring always picks up in the summer, and we're already seeing signs an of increase."
Teens with any extra or unusual credentials or training have much better odds of success, says Marie Schwartz, president of TeenLife Media in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Kids need to offer employers, who face an avalanche of applications, something that says, 'Look at me.'" CPR and first-aid training, taught at YMCAs, usually for less than $100 for single-day classes, make any potential employee stand out from the crowd. A child applying for office jobs will have an edge if she's proficient in PowerPoint or Excel. (While some online classes may charge as much as $400 for longer tutorials, your child can find useful lessons for free. Have her try office.microsoft.com for a good one that takes less than an hour to complete.)
Parents' most important role this summer will be giving plenty of pep talks. "A lot of kids are going to get very discouraged," says Sum. "Many employers won't even let them drop off applications. But it's important that teens understand the need to cast their net as wide as possible and not give up early. The longer and harder they look, the better their odds." And keep in mind that no matter how the search turns out, and how much wailing goes on along the way, your teen is learning some tough but essential life lessons.
While the largest Web sites, like Monster and Career Builder, get the most attention, there are thousands of others that can lead to jobs—including the online classified section of your local paper. (Just warn your teen away from any service that charges a fee.) Encourage him to check out:
Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.