Personal Finance: Hiring of teenagers heats up

04/29/2012 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:23 PM

Petco needs dog grooming assistants. Sports Authority wants merchandise handlers. Jamba Juice can use some juicers. And RiteAid hopes to find a "wellness ambassador."

From pet stores to pharmacies, the local job market for teens is warming up along with the weather.

And for teens thinking about a summer paycheck, now's the time to pounce. Hiring is expected to be better than during the pits of the recession, and there'll be less competition from jobless adults looking for part-time, seasonal work, say several hiring studies.

"Companies are doing better and have more room to hire teens. It's not a breakout year, but there's steady improvement in the job market and teens will get their share of that," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. in Chicago.

Challenger's annual study of summer teen hiring, released this week, said there's been a rebound from 2010, when teen hiring hit an all-time low of 960,000 – the lowest level since 1949. Last year, it was up 13.2 percent, as 1.08 million teens landed employment in May, June and July.

This summer? Challenger estimates 1.2 million teens could land a summer job.

But don't procrastinate: 80 percent of managers in a recent survey say they expect to have all their summer hiring wrapped up by Memorial Day, according to, a Richmond, Va.-based website for hourly jobs.

"Get looking now. Do not wait," said SnagAJob spokeswoman Courtney Moyer.

So where ya gonna go? When it comes to finding a job, there are always the traditional teenage go-tos: fast-food outlets, mall department stores, the snack bar at your community swimming pool.

And many communities are hiring. In the Elk Grove region, parks and recreation centers are hiring 170-200 high school and college-age lifeguards, concession stand cashiers, sports and recreation assistants, maintenance aides, even "pool party" staffers.

Of those, only 30 or 40 posts are still open, since hiring started in March.

"We pride ourselves on the fact that for many years, we've been the first job for many teenagers in the area," said Mary Kimbell-Smith, human resources manager for the Cosumnes Community Services District, which oversees parks and recreation programs.

Likewise, Sacramento city still has 60 or so openings for part-time jobs at community pools, day camps and after-school programs, said Dave Mitchell, operations manager for the city's parks and recreation department.

But the good news this summer is that teens will have far less competition from unemployed adults, who were desperate to take any job possible during the recession and often applied for seasonal jobs. Both Challenger and SnagAJob say teens' biggest competitors this summer will be their peers, not parent-age adults.

You can get started online. For instance, typing in "Teen Jobs" at pops up dozens of possibilities throughout the Sacramento region. The nationwide listings are grouped by city, from four openings in Antelope to 51 in Sacramento.

(For more details on where to apply for summer teen jobs, see box at right .)

And consider your application – whether you drop it off in person or push "send" from your computer – to be your first impression with a potential employer.

"It might be 30 seconds or a minute long, but it's essentially a first interview," said Moyer.

If you're stopping by an office with an application, show you're serious: dress appropriately, be friendly, meet the deadline.

If it's an emailed application, be sure it's not riddled with spelling mistakes. Proofread it not just once but several times, Moyer suggests. And use a standard, non-cutesy email address: i.e., your first and last names "as opposed to ',' " she noted.

Another tip: Dress for the job you're seeking. Forget the flip-flops – and the business suit, unless you're applying for work at a surf shop or an internship in a law firm.

The goal is to look "put together": a clean shirt instead of a T-shirt, a pair of khakis or denim instead of ripped jeans.

Once you've got a list of places, put together a basic résumé, then hit the road. Applying for work in person can make a difference. Take an evening or afternoon after school and you could easily cover 10 to 15 mall stores. Wherever possible, ask to meet with the manager, rather than handing your application to a clerk behind the counter.

What do employers look for in teens? According to SnagAJob's survey of summer hiring managers, they're seeking a "trifecta" of traits: the ability to work a flexible schedule (32 percent), a positive attitude (29 percent) and previous experience (26 percent).

Many teens worry they'll be left out based on a lack of experience, but Moyer says to think "outside the box." Baby-sitting, volunteering and other activities all count as experience.

"Just because it's not paid work doesn't mean you can't use that experience (on a résumé)," said Moyer.

And don't overlook what Challenger calls the "odd-job entrepreneur" opportunities. As many families cut back on monthly services such as lawn care, home cleaning or day care, teens can provide lower-cost baby-sitting, lawn mowing, housecleaning, window washing, pet sitting or walking, even flower or garden weeding. If you're tech-savvy, offer to help neighbors or seniors with computer skills. Or tutor neighborhood kids in math, reading, languages or other subjects.

"A teenager who can provide these services at a fraction of what professional services charge may be able to drum up enough business to earn a steady income," said Challenger.

Also look at places that get busier and may need extra help during summer months, such as hardware, home improvement and gardening centers. As the road trip season warms up, try places like JiffyLube or car wash outlets.

Employers can make it happen. "If you have two openings, consider a teen for one," said Terri Carpenter, spokeswoman for the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency. "Don't assume any young person doesn't have the skills and abilities to perform on the job. If they have a good attitude, are motivated and want to learn, that enthusiasm goes a long way."

For their part, teens need to put in the time and effort. Teen hiring experts say it takes more than a handful of applications to find a job. You need to hit the pavement and put out 20 or more applications to land a job.

"The job search is the job itself," said SnagAJob's Moyer. "You may need to put in 15 to 25 applications. Don't give up."


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