Lots of teens will be at camp this summer, but not as campers. They'll go to restaurants, but not sit in the dining rooms. They'll be in retail establishments, but never open their wallets.
That's because they'll be working -- as counselors, waiters, cashiers. But landing that first job isn't easy because of the deflated economy and inflated competition, says Mary Pat Grafstein, work experience coordinator for the Smithtown high schools. "The last two to three years, it has been very, very hard," she says. "I still have more students looking for jobs than I have jobs to send them on interviews for."
Here's a 10-step plan for winning a paycheck:
1. Apply for working papers at school
Students need proof of a physical within the past year, Social Security number and the signature of a parent or guardian. Students 14 and 15 get a blue card with restrictions on the number of hours and times of day they can work; at 16, the student must reapply for a green card, which expands the hours until they hit 18. It's much harder for 14- and 15-year-olds to get a job because the more stringent restrictions are a hindrance for the businesses, Grafstein says.
2. Ask your guidance counselor for leads
See if your school has a work experience coordinator such as Grafstein who can help compose cover letters and resumés, conduct mock interviews and even network with local businesses. Some schools have job boards.
3. Prepare a cover letter and resumé
Businesses realize that most teens don't have a work history. "What they do expect is a well-rounded student," Grafstein says. List honors or AP classes and GPA, extracurricular leadership positions and memberships, sports teams and any captain positions, awards earned, community service, computer skills and any other strong interests. Include things such as participation in high-level music performances. "It shows a dedication to a particular focus. It takes a lot of extra work to do that," says Debbie Mansir, school-to-work community service coordinator at East Hampton High School.
4. Line up references
Have three people who will speak favorably about you to the potential employer, be they teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, family friends or people you baby-sit for.
5. Hit the street
Submit your information to local businesses. Retail stores can be challenging. "Most of them are chains, so it's hard to get into them," Grafstein says. "The managers at the local level don't have the control." Look in local newspapers and shoppers for any job listings. Be persistent. If there's an online application, try to find out who is in charge of hiring and bring that person a resumé in person.
6. Do mock interviews
Teachers or parents can pose as interviewers. Be prepared to talk about your strengths and weaknesses. Be aware of your posture and body language. Think before you speak. "It's OK to take a moment to think about the question and the answer you want to give," Mansir says. If you have a scheduled interview, know something about the company, advises Eileen Knauer, executive director of the Huntington YMCA, which hires about 50 high-school-age counselors each summer for its camp. If a teen came in knowing that the Y's mission is athletic inclusion rather than competition, that would impress her. "Then I would know they went to the website to find out what we're all about."
7. Ace the actual interview
Dress the part. Take earrings out of your nose or lips, says Pat Banhazl, work experience coordinator at Baldwin Senior High School. Boys, don a suit, white shirt and tie. No jeans, no hat, and don't let your underwear show. Girls, no cleavage. Brandon Leaphart, 17, a senior at Baldwin High, says he probably would have dressed casually for his interview for a toll collector position at Jones Beach if Banhazl hadn't prepared him. Now he's earning $8.95 an hour.
Be on time; even better, be early, says Colleen Capone, who hires about 300 students for the summer for J&B Restaurant Partners, which runs the food and gift concessions at Jones Beach and Robert Moses state parks. Show good manners, Capone says. Say "Good afternoon, Mrs. Capone." Shake hands and look the interviewer in the eyes. "Be bubbly and open and conversational," suggests Samantha Schindler, 17, a senior at West Islip High School who works two jobs, one at a foot doctor's office where she earns $8 an hour for cleaning and setting up exam rooms and one at Sonic, where she's a carhop who roller skates orders to cars and earns $5 an hour plus tips.
8. Follow up
Write or email a thank-you note right away.
9. Volunteer, network and target businesses that match your passions
Nick Taranovich, 18, a senior at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, volunteered in the kitchen at Huntington Hospital for months during his junior year and then was offered a paying position. "We have a line like a conveyor belt, where we run the tray down, put on soup, desert, main meal. When it gets to the end of the line, there is a fully assembled tray," he says. Schindler got her job at the foot doctor after being recommended by her cousin who worked there. Nick DeFalco, 16, a sophomore at Elwood-John H. Glenn High School in East Northport, has been on the varsity golf team since eighth grade. So he applied for a job at Golfsmith. He's a weekend cashier and pockets about $90 every two weeks.
10. Be your own boss
Put out a flier offering to mow lawns, Grafstein says. "Baby-sitting is a great way to build up your resumé. If parents are going to leave you with their most prized possession of their children, that shows you are responsible." These activities can give you experience and references that strengthen your future resumés.