SportsCenter anchor Rece Davis has what many males I know consider to be a dream job. But his work life didn’t start out quite as glamorous.
On the Marketplace radio series “My First Job,” Davis explains that his first job as a teenager in his Alabama hometown was scrubbing tar off of trucks.
Though clearly not as fun as his current gig, he does credit this first position for teaching him the value of an unwavering work ethic.
(Though it made him never want to wash a vehicle again—even his own. Today he drives through the carwash.)
We all remember our first jobs. (Mine was at a frame store, which lasted two days until the shop owner, Justo, fired me and said that I didn’t have any natural ability to cut out matting for frames.)
As parents, there comes a time when our kids want to—or have to—work in order to earn some money.
But the realities of student life make it tricky: Research shows that high school students shouldn’t work more than 15 hours a week or else their grades start to suffer significantly.
And though studies show that college students who have part-time jobs actually get better grades than those who don’t work at all—perhaps offering them some needed discipline—that benefit starts to decline once a student hits a work week of 10 hours or more.
Summertime, however, is much more likely to be open season on work, meaning there’s no reason to limit the hours a student works.
The big limitation, however, is the ability to get a job in the first place.
Between 2000 and 2011, the employment rate for high school students plummeted from 33% to 14%, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution.
Even college students are finding it tough to get hired. While the total unemployment rate is 6.7%, the rate for teens 16-19 is 20.9%.
That said, finding a summer job is still doable.
More than 2 million young people found jobs last summer (that’s on top of the 17.6 million already working), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and employers expect to hire just as many (if not more) new workers this year, according to a new survey from SnagaJob.com.
(By law, your kid needs to be at least 14 to be hired for many jobs, and 16 to be hired for jobs without restrictions on hours worked, though more informal jobs like delivering newspapers or babysitting are available for younger kids.)
Here are five tips to give your teen so he or she can score a summer job.
Start looking now (most jobs will be filled by May)!
With the job market this tight, you need to get your resume together right now.
(According to that SnagaJob survey, 74% of employers will fill positions by the end of May.)
You can find tons of sample resumes online, but the basics to include are your contact information, education, and work experience.
Don’t underestimate what you’ve done. Been a babysitter? Voila, you’re a “childcare provider”!
List your exact duties, like feeding, bathing, and helping with homework (aka “tutoring”).
Shoveled snow or fed a cat for a vacationing neighbor? That shows you’re someone who can be counted on.
List any clubs and activities you participate in, awards you’ve won, and special skills, like speaking Spanish or cooking.
Oh, and after you proofread your resume (because of course you were going to do that, right?), get someone else to look at it, too. One typo can kill your job prospects.
Then brainstorm two or three people who can serve as references if a potential employer asks.
You can use a former boss or, if you’ve never had a job, a teacher in a class you aced, a Scout leader or soccer coach, or a neighbor you’ve done yard work for.
Sorry, you can’t use Mom or Dad. And (this is important), ask your references ahead of time if it’s OK to list them.
Get creative—and network with everyone you know.
Sure, you can hunt the old-fashioned way: Check out your school’s job board, summer internships, and other opportunities offered in the counseling office.
You can also look for jobs online at places like GrooveJob.com, which focuses on part-time, hourly, and seasonal work for teens.
But if that doesn’t work, you need to up your game.
Make a list of everyone you know. And everyone they know.
Do your parents’ friends—or your friends’ parents—own businesses that might be hiring? Could your employed friends recommend you to their bosses?
Finally, hit the pavement, asking local stores, restaurants, summer camps, and neighborhood organizations if they’re hiring.
Think seasonal—camps, ice cream stands, parks—and make a personal appearance to stand out from the crowd of anonymous online searchers.
And speaking of appearance: This may sound obvious, but dress nicely. Not a three-piece suit, but keep the midriff under wraps and the sweatpants in the drawer.
Don’t be a job snob.
When it comes to summer jobs, don’t hold out for a dream job.
Research shows that if a teenager works between one and 13 weeks in one year, he’s a third more likely to land a job the following year.
So if a job opportunity comes along, say yes even if it’s not perfect.
Whatever the job, it’ll look good on a college application because it shows you know how to work hard and take some financial responsibility for yourself.
Plus, it’ll give you a story to tell someday on the Tonight Show, as Michelle Obama did recently when she described perhaps the world’s most boring job, assembling folders in a book bindery.
She hated it so much that it motivated her to go straight to college.
Put that paycheck toward “The Big R”.
If you do land a job, and you suddenly have cash in your pocket every week, you may be tempted to blow through it like the Kardashians on a shopping spree.
Reality check: College is around the corner, and saving for it has to be a huge priority.
Estimate what your summer costs will be, including things like gas money and lunches. Then commit to saving most of the rest for college, and some for even later.
I recommend opening a Roth IRA, an “individual retirement account.”
(Whoa! Retirement? Well, yes, because it’s really just a super-smart savings account that lets your money grow tax-free for life.)
If you’re 16, putting in just $1,000 today and never touching it again could result in $10,921 by the time you hit 65, at a 5% rate of return.
That said, it’s OK to treat yourself to something small on payday.
Expect rejection, and keep your eyes on the prize.
Getting rejected when you apply for a job you want doesn’t feel good, but it’s not the end of the world.
You can still earn money by taking on odd jobs like mowing lawns or babysitting. (Many adults these days find themselves in the “gig economy,” too.)
Consider volunteering, which can give you solid work experience and boost your college application.
Get started at a site like VolunteerMatch.org, or contact non-profits near where you live.
The bottom line.
Just remember that the entire experience of summer job hunting, rejections and all, is important life experience.
It’ll help you later when you’re navigating the world of work, which you’ll be doing in one way or another for the rest of your life.
And it’ll give you some great stories to tell your kids.
In fact, if your parents haven’t told you yet about their first jobs, ask them. What was their first summer job? And what was the wackiest one they ever had?
I bet you are in for some extreme parental enlightenment.
Parents: What was your first job, and what did you get out of it? Share in the comments below or send me a tweet using the hashtag #firstjob.
© 2014 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved
Beth Kobliner is the author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life, and is currently writing a new book for parents, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not), to be published by Simon & Schuster. She was recently appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.