With the teen unemployment rate reaching a record 26 percent, high schoolers searching for summer jobs face daunting tasks. Compared to the prerecession unemployment average of 15 percent for 16-to-19-year-olds in 2007, these recent numbers are the highest for this age group since 1948, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The recession has had a disproportionate impact on teens," says Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute. Now that more people are out of work, employers are hiring highly qualified adults for minimum wage jobs that normally would be taken by high schoolers, he says.
[Read more: Why the Unemployment Rate Refuses to Budge]
"Young people are the first fired, last hired," adds Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. "It's not something that teens are doing wrong that created this situation. The rug of the labor market has been pulled out from under them."
So, in these tough economic times, how does a teen find a job? Two career coaches who work with teenagers listed these 10 tips to finding hot summer jobs in a down economy.
1. Know Your Skill Sets and Establish Goals
"Your job as a job hunter is knowing what you can and want to do," says Carol Christen, a career strategist and coauthor of What Color is Your Parachute? For Teens. She advises students to ask themselves, "What kinds of businesses need someone who knows what I know, or does what I do well?" Many teens say they are willing to do "anything" this summer, but in reality, they have specific interests and goals and should focus on pursuing them, she adds. Parents should also help their teens students look for a job in something that interests them. "It has to somehow overlap with an interest of theirs, or they won't stay in the job," she says.
Russell Conine, a senior at Woodward Academy in Atlanta, says his job goals are to earn money and amp up his résumé before heading to college this fall. But he got rejected from the jobs he applied for at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at a local golf course. Because more overqualified applicants are competing with teens like Conine for jobs, he'll will be returning to the summer day camp he's worked at for the past several years. Also, in addition to competing with more adults, Conine says he thinks more teens are applying for jobs this summer because their parents may be giving them less spending money.
2. Create a Résumé
Even high schoolers without formal job experience can impress employers with professional-looking résumés. They can list unpaid internships, extracurricular activities, volunteer stints, and classwork related to the prospective job, says Lindsey Pollak, a career advisor and author of Getting From College to Career. Teens who are stumped can check out LinkedIn.com to see what other high school students list on their résumés, she suggests. Christen recommends beefing up teen résumés with a list of references.
3. Start Early
Christen strongly recommends high school students start looking for summer jobs in early spring, and if they haven't already started, they should now. She recommends students spend at least 20 minutes after school and on weekends researching the types of jobs they want to pursue. Just by walking around their communities, teens might find retail or restaurant jobs, because those businesses often just put "Help Wanted" signs in their windows. "So many summer jobs are local," Pollak says. Especially in tough economic times, cash-strapped small businesses are less likely to spend thousands of dollars listing openings on Web sites.
4. Look for Work in Growing Industries
Teens should search for jobs in sectors that have been less hurt by the recession, such as work in the healthcare industry. Christen says that there will be more seasonal hiring this summer in certain industries, including the service industry, which includes restaurant jobs, and the retail industry.
5. Use Your Networks
Ask family and friends, particularly those with a lot of work experience, for help brainstorming job possibilities, Christen suggests. She also recommends students ask former employers if they are hiring. If they aren't, ask them for business contacts to find out about more job openings. Sending a professional-looking email out to others in your network, listing your best skills—and specific areas you'd like to work in—can help with finding a job. Additionally, when applying for a job, always ask to talk to the manager or another employee, to create a connection within the business. "The more you can get to know the people working at the business the better," Christen says.
Networking landed Felix Schapiro, a junior at St. Christopher's School in Richmond, Va., a part-time summer job. He applied for positions at a local grocery store and at a local park, both of which didn't call him back. Then, he contacted a friend's dad who works in an architecture firm in Richmond. As a result, Schapiro will be working part-time at the firm and part-time in an upaid internship with the American Civil Liberties Union.
6. Use Online Job Sites
But networking may not be enough. "The biggest mistake people make when applying for jobs is that they only look in one place," Pollak says. "You've got to cast a wide net." Teens should scour Internet sites such as Craigslist, community bulletin boards, Monster.com, and LinkedIn.com. She advises teens to create LinkedIn accounts, join the student groups on the site, and search for entry-level job openings. She also recommends using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to let your network of friends and family know you are looking for a job.
7. Be Creative and Flexible
Teens don't have to rely on someone else to hire them. They can create their own jobs by becoming entrepreneurs, Pollak notes. Teens can create own their baby-sitting, lawn-mowing, or house-cleaning businesses, and hand out flyers to their friends and neighbors.
Teens insistent upon working at an organization that doesn't have any openings can offer to volunteer there several days a week. That way they could get an early warning about upcoming job openings, Christen says.
[Read more: How to Turn Volunteering Into a Job]
8. Look for Virtual Work
With more jobs moving online in this digital age, students should look for virtual work. Pollak says that students should look particularly on Craigslist, where they can find jobs working from home on a computer doing telemarketing or social media tasks. "A job doesn't necessarily mean going to a place of work," Pollak says. "You have to show your flexibility in the way you look for jobs so people can think creatively about how they could employ you."
9. Prepare to Ace the Job Interview
Mock job interviews are a great way for teens to prepare, counselors say. Both Pollak and Christen recommend practicing with family, friends, and other adults, such as teachers, to get feedback. Also, beause nothing is more important than making a good first impression, stop by the business before an interview to see what people are wearing. Christen recommends applicants show up at an interview dressed at least as well as—and, preferably, better—than the employees. "Overdressed is better than underdressed."
Be sure to be arrive early, bring your résumé, turn off your cellphone, have a strong handshake, and make direct eye contact when meeting the employer. Also, be confident and enthusiastic about the position. "Interviewers make up their mind about hiring in the first 30 seconds, and then spend the rest of the time justifying their decision," Christen says. After the interview, be sure to send a thank-you note in the mail or by E-mail, Pollak says.
10. Be Honest About Your Time Commitments
Finally, once you have been offered a position, be honest about your time commitments in the summer and during the school year if the job lasts beyond the summer. "Phrase it in a positive way by saying here's the amount I could give this summer and I could continue this fall in a mutually beneficial way."
Pollak says students shouldn't worry too much about finding the "perfect" job that looks good on a college application this summer. "Nobody's going to judge you by how you got by this summer; it's a hard time," Pollak says. "It's still perfectly respectable and fine to get a job mowing lawns or baby-sitting or waiting tables. Absolutely go for your dreams and goals, but this may be the year where showing some hard work, diligence, and perseverance is OK in the end."