Last Updated: May 19, 2008: 3:58 PM EDT
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Tips on getting a summer job

It's tough out there, but with some perseverance (and luck), your teen needn't spend the summer on the sofa.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

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(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: My 17-year-old son needs to get a job this summer to help save for college. He says he has been looking, and I believe him, but so far he's come up with nothing. I don't want to be a meddling mom, but I feel as if I should get involved at this point and try to help him, in no small part because the thought of his lounging on the sofa playing video games all summer makes me cringe. Do you and your readers have any suggestions? -Anxious in Attleboro

Dear Anxious: Teens who want jobs this summer will likely have to look harder than usual. (And they probably should have started earlier, say back in January, but that's water under the bridge now.)

About half (49%) of 1,100 hiring managers with responsibility for taking on summer help say they aren't planning to hire anyone at all this summer, according to a recent survey by SnagAJob, a job board for hourly workers. Of the managers that do plan to staff up, about 48% say they expect more applications than last year, including some from older displaced workers, so the competition will be stiffer. Not only that, but 64% of the available seasonal openings will go to people who have filled the positions in previous years, the hiring managers said; only 34% of summer jobs will be open to first-time employees.

That doesn't mean your son should just give up, but he -- and you -- will need to be persistent.

"Don't let your child apply for one or two jobs and then stop looking," advises Shawn Boyer, CEO of SnagAJob. "Most teens have to apply for at least 10 or 12 jobs to get an offer."

As for your role in the job-hunting process, "there's a fine line between helping and interfering," Boyer says. "One helpful thing you can do is to set up a written timeline of your child's availability. What hours is he or she willing and able to work? When will the family be on vacation? When does sports practice or band practice start, so that work will have to take a back seat?" Spelling this out clearly beforehand will keep your son from leaping at a job with an untenable schedule.

"You also need to take a look at proximity and transportation," notes Boyer. "If your child earns $8 an hour and the job is 35 miles away by car, what is he really making after gas money? He might consider concentrating his search in areas where he can take public transportation."

Another factor that may influence his job search: Why is he working? Is it solely to earn college money, or would certain kinds of experience look better on a college application than other kinds?

Once you have helped him think through these aspects of his job hunt, Boyer says, feel free to start asking around among your own friends, colleagues, and other contacts, as well as poring over want ads. Check in with your son's high school guidance counselor, who may know of opportunities that aren't advertised anywhere. Encourage your son to talk with his friends' parents and any other adults he knows (coaches, teachers, church youth leaders) to let them know he's looking. This is good practice for the kind of networking he'll have to do later on in life.

Go over your son's resume to correct spelling mistakes. (For a useful template of a first-time resume, see MyFirstPaycheck.com.) "With so much e-mailing and texting these days, spelling and grammar are often not a habit among kids," Boyer says. "But spelling errors are a sure way to get a job application or resume deep-sixed."

Also suggest that your son include any extracurricular activities he's participated in on his resume and job applications, especially if he has taken a leadership role. A couple of years as captain of the school hockey team, for instance, shows a familiarity with teamwork and discipline, which employers value.

"Role-play the job interview with him," adds Boyer. "You play the part of a job interviewer -- and make it a fairly tough interview. Ask challenging questions like, 'Why should I hire you? What are you going to contribute?' " To the often-asked question of what to wear for a summer job interview, Boyer replies: "Kids should go to the interviews well-dressed, in fact overdressed. That means a suit and tie for boys and a dressy pantsuit or a skirt for girls, even if the job itself requires they wear shorts and a T-shirt. The point is to project an image of professionalism and reliability." Handwritten thank-you notes after each interview are an absolute must.

"But by far the most important thing is the right attitude," Boyer says. "Your son needs to be enthusiastic" - even if he's offered a job with lousy hours. "Specifying 'no evenings or weekends' severely limits an applicant's chances, because the employees who have worked there before have the first pick of the best hours," he adds. "Getting a foot in the door may mean taking the shifts no one else wants."

Readers, what do you say? What was the best summer job you ever had? How about the worst? Any thoughts on how to find a summer job, even starting this late in the spring? Does your kid have a summer job yet? Did you help? Any tips? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog. To top of page

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