Help Your Teen Get a Summer Job

Spring is the time for teens to get a jump on the competition for a summer job. Here’s how you can help. 

In 2008, only about half of Canada’s full-time students age 15 to 24 found summer jobs. Considering the current state of the economy, summer job-hunting could be even more challenging this year.

Here are some strategies put together by experts.

Get Started Now

The time to start looking is in April, when the post-secondary students are looking. "If they wait until June, many jobs are taken," says Shannon Thrussell, formerly a consultant for a Human Resources and Skills Development Canada student summer employment program.

Identify Strengths

Pick a job connected to something your teen likes to do. A job your teen enjoys will launch them into the working world with a positive attitude.  

Be Realistic

Encourage your teen to keep an open mind and be realistic: half of student summer jobs are in restaurants, hotels and stores. "Younger students often have idealized visions of work," says Pat Slatten, former career-information advisor at Gladstone Secondary School in East Vancouver.

Check the Paperwork

First things first—your teen needs to get his/her social insurance number.

Before hitting the streets, your teen should have a polished resumé and be ready for an interview. Be sure their resumé has an accurate history and highlights key strengths like punctuality, volunteer work and people skills.

"We look for sports, drama, yearbook, community service—anything that shows the applicant doesn’t just watch TV," says Jim Shaw, franchise owner of 11 Tim Horton’s restaurants in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

Get your teen to ask teachers or coaches for letters of reference. Other sources can include baby-sitting clients, minister or a family friend.

Look for resumé help at your teen’s high school, job centres or on the Internet.

Interview Practice

"The interview is undoubtedly the most challenging part of a job search, and for kids it can be terrifying," says Monica Foresta, formerly a counselor at the John Howard Society in Oshawa, which runs a student-employment service.

Pretend you’re an employer asking questions. Get your teen to write down and rehearse the answers to boost confidence. Some schools and job centres will arrange practice interviews.

Employers say the quality they most look for is enthusiasm followed by confidence and an outgoing personality. "Teens must show that they really want the job," says Foresta. "Saying, ‘My mother made me apply,’ isn’t the way to get hired!"

Get Creative

Cast the net wide and don’t overlook the hidden job market Use your network or family and friends to ask about possible summer jobs. Experts agree that most jobs aren’t advertised.  

Encourage your child to read Internet and newspaper want ads, but to avoid those ads that seem too good to be true.

And don’t underestimate pounding the pavement. Get your teen to look for help wanted signs and approach businesses even if there are no vacancies. Don’t let them just deliver the resumé and disappear. The student who keeps returning is the one who’ll spring to mind when there’s an opening—yet employers report that very few do return.

If you have a budding entrepreneur, then self-employment may also be an option.

Follow Instructions

Respect application deadlines. If the company doesn’t want calls, don’t phone. Encourage your teen not to be put off by a minimum-experience requirement since many employers will consider volunteer experience.

Be Supportive

Praise from mom and dad will salve your child’s feelings of rejection if he fails to get hired. But don’t go overboard—counsellors caution that writing your teen’s resumé or calling the employers won’t help your teen find a job.

Get your teen to ask rejecting employers for advice or job suggestions elsewhere. If your teen was interviewed, she should write a thank-you letter to keep the door open for future opportunities.

And if all else fails, consider volunteer work. It offers valuable experience that can lead to paid work.