By Deborah Weksberg, Career Counselor
Think your gum chewing, i-pod tethered teen texter is “job ready?” Chances are, if you have a “typical teen,” not so much. Think it’s too soon to worry about it? You would be wrong. There is no tougher employment challenge than matching a young person age 14-19 to a paying job. They suffer a 23.7% unemployment rate and are regularly outcompeted by their Bubbies for barista, fast food and babysitting jobs. They take a much longer time to find a job than their older job seeking siblings, since besides experience, they lack certain “soft skills” of small talk, eye contact, smiling and paying close attention to directions and customer needs.
Many of our teens need to work and not just to support their social lives. Teens these days may be helping to finance their education, afford a car to get them to school and activities, and in these troubled economic times, helping out with expenses at home. A considerable number of teens will want to work year round while in high school, and many young adults are looking to take on full time jobs while they go to college part time.
Unfortunately, we parents are not as alert to the challenges as we should be because we might be tempted to generalize from our own experience. Gone are the days when our children could just stick their head in the door of the pizza place and land a job. We might think we can barter jobs with friends and families in the spirit of “I’ll hire your kid, if you hire mine.” But workplaces are less and less hospitable to such arrangements, and many adults are nervous enough about their own place in the company that they don’t want to take on the risk of vouching for someone else’s offspring. Summer jobs are also in short supply and are frequently filled well in advance of balmy weather.
Acquiring the job search skills of writing a resume, mastering online applications and learning to interview competently also takes time and these are not a natural part of many youngsters’ repertoire. Bottom line: getting a job of any kind is not at all like it used to be.
Overscheduled, carpooling, homework helping, lunch packing parents are overwhelmed and may not feel the urgency (or not want to feel it!). Many parents assume their kids will job search for themselves and all the guidance they will need is the inspirational commandment, “You have to look for a job!” never realizing what a big process it has morphed into. Their happy go lucky teens, living as they do in the here and now, don’t see any urgency either and may be complacent, not knowing the competition they face from elders and peers who applied earlier. Of course, our teens are overscheduled too with their heavy academic loads, SAT prep, college applications, athletic pursuits and extracurriculars like lessons and clubs. If that weren’t enough, even savvy teens who have heard that getting a job is not like picking an apple from a tree can be overwhelmed by the ins and outs of a job search.
What can parents and teens do besides hiring an agent?
- They can plan, starting a minimum of 6 months to a year ahead, to help their kids acquire job seeking skills. Just like piano lessons, job seeking skills must be identified, practiced, put on the calendar and worked at.
- Parents can begin by setting up “face time” at home where no technology is allowed at the family dinner table, children must share an anecdote about their day, eye contact with speakers and listeners encouraged, manners practiced and small talk mastered.
- Working adults might “work” their own contacts (colleagues and friends) to uncover opportunities and then encourage their children to follow up by rehearsing and role playing what to say.
- Computer savvy teens might be given an assignment to look for jobs on sites such as Indeed.com or Snagajob.com and discuss their suitability with their folks. Then they might schedule a session at the computer to actually fill out an online application and note what obstacles there are… did the application time out and drop your child while you scrambled for reference contact information? Was your child unable to navigate the pages and pages of uploads, cuts and pastes and worst of all survey questions that are purposely confusing and designed to delve into your character and behavior preferences?
- Should the self- tutorial prove too challenging, aspiring job applicants might seek some help from school guidance counselors (after and only after college application season is over!), or do some reading on job seeking or hunt for internships at the local library.
- An online resource such as the Riley Guide, might answer some questions and some websites give advice on constructing resumes and cover letters for teens seeking higher level jobs than scooping ice cream.
- One great resource available in our community is JCS Career Services, which from now through June 2013 is offering a program called “Keys to a Successful Job Search.” Teens ages 14-19 can have one on one consultations with professional Career Coaches, attend Job Fairs where they can connect to potential employers, and participate in workshops that teach vital skills like how to write a resume, network for leads, cope with online applications and handle themselves successfully in an interview. Best of all, these programs are free of charge, thanks to a grant from the Grandchildren of Harvey M. and Lyn P. Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund, and they are open to all teens regardless of religion or ethnic identity. Click here for more information about “Keys to a Successful Job Search”.
It’s never too early to prepare. The lessons learned will be permanent and will translate to college interviews, finding internships and landing a job. Let’s be sure our “screenagers,” who are so technology proficient, have a well- rounded exposure to the full range of skills needed for successful job seeking.
By Deborah Weksberg, Career Counselor, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
JCS offers a full range of career services. For more information about JCS Career services click here or call 410-466-9200.