Mistake #1: Giving up too soon
Many teens start out with a defeatist attitude, telling their parents how much they would like a job, while at the same time complaining they can’t find one. Chances are they haven’t exhausted every possibility. They may be used to parents taking care of their needs. Often they make some effort, but give up, instead of taking ownership of the task and persevering. Some guidance may provide them with the proper mindset, which can result in snagging the coveted job.
Yesteryear’s help wanted signs are often found online today, on job-hunting sites or company websites. Job fairs and staff at schools, community centers and libraries are good resources, but there are other ways to find jobs.
#2: Assuming only companies that advertise hire help
In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cool Jobs for Teens, Bay Area author Susan Ireland recognizes that teens aren’t always proactive, writing: “Will a stranger knock on your door and suggest you come work for her?’” She tells teens to inquire at businesses that truly interest them, even if the firms aren’t advertising. Companies’ hiring needs can change day to day, and a teen’s natural passion in an area often impresses an employer.
The key is, “Call, write, or walk into the business and ask to speak to the manager (or to the human relations person if it’s a large company),” according to Ireland. If one store location is fully staffed, check out the other branches in your area.
#3: Not networking
Have you offered your teen help and been told “I can handle this!”? Parents may find the forthright rejection of networking assistance puzzling.
Teens are so busy trying to become independent that they may refuse an introduction to get them in the door, especially if it comes from parents. They don’t seem to care that they’d still need to prove themselves once there.
“They don’t utilize all their resources,” says Larry Berry, former employment coordinator for San Francisco YouthWorks, who spent 10 years working with teens. He says that teens gravitate to digital sources of info, instead of asking friends and relatives, who might be great resources.
#4: Overlooking lower-profile jobs and volunteer opportunities
Some teens don’t consider babysitting or working at small businesses because they set their sights on major retail establishments, according to Berry. He warns that they can’t expect or demand positions at a certain level without backing it up with the requisite skills, bringing a real-world perspective to their lofty ambitions. He suggest teens find a point of entry into the job market, even if their first job isn’t perfect.
Teens may also pass up excellent volunteer opportunities, despite the charitable benefits, because they think such positions will lead nowhere professionally. They discount the fact that small business and volunteer positions can provide skills, experience and recommendations from adults.
My movie-loving teen started out in a humble job tearing tickets at the local theater, but the knowledge he gained was surprisingly helpful as he advanced in the industry years later.
Parent Lisa Kennely encouraged her son, Jonny, to volunteer at a local animal shelter. They liked him so much they offered him a paying job at their Italian ice franchise.
“You never know who people know,” says Kennely, who, like her son, was unaware of the franchise connection. “Teens make presumptions about what people can teach you and who they know.”
#5: Not taking the interview seriously
What seems obvious to us is not always obvious to teens. Some attend interviews in revealing, wrinkled, ripped or dirty clothing, with dirty hair.
“Dress to impress,” recommends Mayra Nava, general manager of the Mountain View Hobee’s restaurant, reminding teens that first impressions count. She has interviewed teens who were too scared to answer her questions and others who communicated well and showed real excitement about working for her.
While understanding adolescents’ need for self-expression (think multiple piercings, purple hair and text slang), Berry tells teens they are multifaceted, and there is a need for “code switching” to find the ambitious, professional part in each of them.
Zeina Hissen, owner of Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in Lafayette, finds it unprofessional when teens call her “dude,” but was impressed with teens who did their research and asked about how she became interested in the business. “They looked us up and came to the store before they interviewed to see what we are all about,” Hissen says.
Preparation is the answer, especially if it is the teen’s first work experience. Berry suggests teens treat n interview like a test and practice with their friends, so they can remember to use active listening skills and articulate their strengths. He tells them to ask open-ended questions to gather as much information as possible and encourages them to create a “job kit,” containing sample interview questions and notes about what they have done.
He encourages teens to identify skills they’d like to acquire and tells them “think about three good things about you and one thing you’d like to work on,” noting many have never given any thought to their weaknesses.
He wants teens to support each other. If they know someone who has worked where they are interviewing, they should ask for a description of a typical day to get a sense of the job. If not, they should ask the employer to provide someone who can give them a fuller picture.
#6: Leaving the interview without giving or getting the necessary information
Some extroverted teens may make the mistake of talking too much about themselves, while others clam up.
Ever wonder why your teen tells you that highlighting her strengths to an interviewer is “bragging”? Some teens presume employers don’t want to hear an elaboration of their skills, since the details are right on the page in front of them. At the same time, parents wonder why teens don’t realize that reemphasizing relevant info in an articulate manner makes the employer’s evaluation easier and showcases the teen’s personality. It’s not boasting in the schoolyard; it’s providing useful facts in an appropriate venue, and the distinction needs to be made.
This disconnect between teen and parent occurs because neither one can see the situation through the other’s eyes. A teen may presume an interviewer has focused on the resumé and not overlooked anything important. She may be trying to be respectful, thinking repetition could be perceived as rude or critical of an interviewer, as if he hadn’t reviewed the resume carefully. In reality, the interviewer may not have even peeked at the resumé, if he’s swamped with work.
Also hard to believe, but teens can leave an interview not knowing what they will be doing or how much they’ll get paid. Particularly in a difficult job market, teens can feel so grateful to be considered that they hesitate to ask the meaty questions.
Teens need to clarify which tasks are included in the job and decide if there are tasks they’re unwilling to perform. Job descriptions might include the cryptic “other duties necessary,” which should prompt teens to ask for details, according to Berry.
Teens also somehow think it’s presumptuous to ask about money. Ironically, adults have more respect for applicants who speak up and know to ask the right questions.
Rachel Simmons, co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute in Oakland and author of The Curse of the Good Girl, sees several things going with girls. She tells me they grow up in a culture that punishes them for being outspoken, expecting them to speak softly and not to appear conceited. They worry about sounding stupid and failing.
“They come to professional experiences haunted by those pressures,” she says.
Girls may find it hard to be appropriately assertive when dealing with adults. Simmons writes that “young women are ill prepared,” for in-person professional self-promotion.
“(Parents) should recognize it is a new skill, and they should acknowledge the cultural challenges girls face,” she says. “The job of parents is to push them out of their comfort zone,” Simmons says, and help girls realize they need to overcome their anxiety and speak up to accomplish their goals and further their careers.
There is an art to interviewing, and it can be learned, but Simmons sees it as harder for girls. They need to be more thoughtful to select language that they are comfortable with, practice with an adult and write out a script.
Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, author of Brainstorm — The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, and a psychiatry professor at University of California, Los Angeles, explains that for teens “the natural push against adults is inherently problematic when going for a job interview.” He says their emotions are more intense than ours, and they feel vulnerable and powerless. Part of the problem is that they are being judged, and they feel like it is a test where the rules are not clear.
“A stressful life is good for you,” he adds, when it comes to building resilience.
He suggests teens should see interviews as learning opportunities. “It’s about how you frame it in your own mind,” he says.
Siegel recognizes it as a challenge for teen and parent alike. Parents need to temper their expectations and talk with their teens, providing them with the mental tools and vocabulary to walk in confident and self-possessed.
#7: Presuming that if there is no callback they just don’t want you
A teen may think following up after a reasonable time is “bothering” the employer. “They would’ve called if they wanted me!” you might hear.
Again, it is important for the teen to understand the employer’s situation. Suggest that the employer may have been too busy to deal with this now. He may hand the job to the teen who calls back, showing continued interest, unlike the other indistinguishable applicants.
#8: Taking a job that is inappropriate
Teens can be so happy to be employed that they accept a job that isn’t right for them. They make a commitment, but find the job miserable and leave after a short time because they didn’t do their research. These teens are burning bridges and wasting their time.
“The introduction to a new workplace and the exit from a workplace are equally important,” Berry says. Teens should think about several factors besides the duties and work environment, such as the commute and how the job will fit with their schedule.
A job search is often a teen’s first step transitioning into an adult world.
Berry says they must develop “a bundling of skills (necessary) for successfully navigating any profession or academic environment,” skills that include public speaking, maintaining a professional presence in person and online, and fully researching opportunities.
Teens will continue to hone these skills as adults since “job searching is something they will do the rest of their lives,” he says.
It’s well worth their time to start working on these skills now to build for the future.
Risa C. Doherty is a freelance writer, attorney and mother of a college student and recent graduate. Read more at www.risadoherty.com
Tips from the Teens
Three San Francisco teenagers offer suggestions on clinching a job in the Bay Area
Shaless Hogan worked at both a major fast food chain and a popular teen retailer. She recalls how she “got stuck” when an employer asked her to tell about herself. She now understands the value of preparing for an interview. “If you are more prepared, you can shoot back the answer you need. Even though you will get nervous, (knowing you can do that) relaxes you more,” she says. She also recommends talking to former or current employees before accepting a job. If she had, she wouldn’t have been as surprised to find the fast food customers she encountered so rude.
Grace Balapbat tells other teens to “find a job you are really passionate about that might benefit your future.” She has already worked at a hospital and plans to go into the health care field.
Alexis Gregory has been going on job interviews since she was 14. She knows to prepare by reviewing her resume and gets a friend or a knowledgeable adult to do a mock interview with her. She tells teens to be aware of peppering their conversation with “ums” and “like,” and not to slouch or fidget at interviews because poor body language can show a lack of interest. She encourages teens to “be yourself,” but acknowledges that means their “best professional self.”
Mistake #1: Giving up too soon