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  • Writer's pictureMary Hickey

The Journey to a Summer Job: A Rite of Passage

Summer jobs have often been seen as a rite of passage. My friends and I have entertained our kids with stories about our first jobs—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yet, for many teens and young adults, getting a job is a major hurdle. Having worked with young adults for years, I have often seen this process: the stalling, the excuses, the avoidance. Needing to prod and poke to get them to not only apply but also follow up, call, and drop off resumes—anything other than just filling out an application on Indeed. Having witnessed these patterns and dynamics, I was somewhat prepared to go through it with my own teenager this summer. Watching a relatively typical teen work through this reminded me just how difficult and intimidating it can be.

"Watching a relatively typical teen work through this reminded me just how difficult and intimidating it can be."

While some kids are eager and jump right into the job search process, others may be more hesitant. My son wanted a job. He wanted the experience, responsibility, and of course, the money that came with it. Yet, despite this, it was difficult for him to tackle something so foreign. My husband and I offered suggestions and created structure. We worked with him to make lists of where to apply, searched job sites together, helped him with his resume, set daily quotas for how many applications needed to be filled out per day, and made it clear that until he got a job, his job was to look for a job. The challenge we observed was the same as I have seen with so many other young people: following up was hard.

"For young people who lack practice and experience, it can feel overwhelming and threatening." 

This challenge seems to be growing. Young people today often have a hard time doing things in person, as so much is done online. My son makes appointments, orders food, communicates with teachers and coaches, watches how-to videos on YouTube—you name it, there's a way to accomplish it online. However, when it comes to face-to-face communication that lacks the typical context or role (teacher, professor, parent, ordering food), young people can become paralyzed. "What do I say?" "How am I supposed to just walk in and ask for a job?" This is really uncomfortable for kids in the best of circumstances.  For young people who lack practice and experience, it can feel overwhelming and threatening. 

Fortunately, we had an ace up our sleeve. My sister owns an employment agency (in another state). She is sharp, and my son knows his aunt doesn’t mince words. The expert was able to come from an authoritative but neutral place. She told him that applying for a job on Indeed and not following up is basically communicating to the employer that you don’t really want a job; you’re just window shopping. Her words helped, as did her reassurance that everyone is a little awkward getting started. It gets easier. Just pick a low-stakes job or one you don’t have your heart set on and go practice.

Here are some other tips from the expert:

  • Use your network - Teens and young adults can let friends, family members, and neighbors know they are looking for work. A connection is a great way to get their foot in the door. This does not mean networking and searching for them. It’s okay to suggest who to connect with, but let them do the legwork.

  • Widen the search - At first, many young people have unrealistic ideas about the type of job they want or deserve. They may need encouragement (and a few rejections) to expand their search to other fields and options.

  • Be proactive - Get a food handler's card or other relevant certifications before applying or following up. This shows employers the applicant is serious and self-directed.

  • Bolster resumes with skills - While young people have little work experience, they may have other great skills and experiences. A high GPA, volunteering, sports, clubs, and travel bring skill development, including reliability, time management, communication, and organization.

  • Utilize job sites and company websites - Filling out applications on job sites is efficient and productive. It can also be very useful to go directly to the company website to fill out a job application and prepare for an interview or follow-up.

  • Follow-up - After applying, follow up by dropping off a resume in person, introducing oneself, asking questions, emailing, and showing interest.

With that advice and a list of places to follow up, we basically had to kick him out for a few hours each day. It was arduous and unpleasant at times. My son was a little grumpy that week. My husband and I needed not to take it personally, continue encouraging him, and get out of the house and go to dinner a little more often.

"Just pick a low-stakes job or one you don’t have your heart set on and go practice."

His diligence paid off. Within a week of being more engaged and proactive with following up, he got a job. We have a proud new member of the Dunkin' Donuts team.

Obtaining a summer job is often filled with challenges and discomfort, but it is also an essential learning experience for young people. It teaches responsibility, communication, and perseverance. While the process can be daunting, the support and guidance from family and friends, along with practical tips and encouragement, can make a significant difference. In the end, the sense of achievement and the skills gained are invaluable, paving the way for future success in the professional world. 

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