I was hired and fired before I was legally able to work.
When I was a teenager I was so eager to join the workforce (after years of babysitting) that I lied about my age so I could work at the mall. They found out, and I was dismissed a few weeks later, but I learned something important: if you have the determination to work, you will, and it can start at any age.
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The unemployment rate for adults ages 25 to 34 was 8.7% in February. For teens, the picture is far worse: one in four Americans age 16 to 19 were unemployed, and that number only accounts for the group that is active in looking for work. A recent job fair at Wild Water Adventure in California, where teen unemployment is at 35%, attracted a crowd of hundreds for just a few positions. I've also highlighted Jamba Juice, a company that has opened up 80 stores across the country to applicants looking for part-time work. They were overwhelmed for jobs that pay $8 per hour!
That’s the bad news, but the good news is that if you are young and willing to be flexible, you can find work for the summer:
1) A teenager's best friend is the Internet, but instead of looking at Monster.com I recommend going to local sites like Craigslist that have jobs that may or may not be full-time, and may pay in cash. Yes, you may have to babysit, mow the lawn, or help homeowners clean out their garages, but it pays in cash, and you can work when you want. You want to have a little bit of fun in the summer, and jobs that pay in cash are quick and easy.
2) Take a walk through the mall. I don’t recommend lying about your age like I did, but sometimes just going from store to store, and walking in and saying hello, can lead to a summer position. I remember one summer when I knew I wanted to work full-time (legally) and wasn’t sure if I would continue through the Fall or not. I ended up working at a national retail chain selling jeweler. I had no training -- they taught me what I needed to know, and I worked there through the end of college and the first few months after graduation while I searched for a job in my chosen field.
3) That leads to me to the point of internships. Some of them pay, and if you don’t need money to support yourself but just want a bit of fun money, more companies are willing to pay their interns. If you are in high school or college, if it is a skill set in something you might be interested in for a future career, be honest, and let them know you want to learn. A thirst for knowledge can be an impressive quality in a job applicant.
4) Use your social networks to put the word out. Just like your parents, you need to network, and Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can help you. I usually recommend LinkedIn for the older generation but it is free to join, and you need to be open to different networking sites to help you find that dream summer job.
5) Check with your school’s front office to see if they have had any local businesses that have reached out to them looking for teenagers who can work a summer position or part-time position during the school year. What better reference both for the employer and for you?
I believe if you really want to work, and you ask yourself what type of work you would enjoy (outside, inside, retail, technology, children’s camps) your instincts will lead you to the right position to get you by, give you some extra money, and also begin to fill out that resume. In today’s job market, it’s better to start now rather than later.