It Takes Work to Get Work
How does someone with little or no work experience go about finding a job?
Even though I've had two jobs, I didn't know how to answer that question.
I didn't find my first job; my aunt found it for me. Her company's New Jersey warehouse hired my cousin and me to work on holidays. We handed out flyers, wrapped up purchases in plastic bags, and cleaned up after closing time. I worked a total of 10 or 12 days over a period of a year and a half.
The summer after that, I was in the job market again. I didn't know what else to do so I turned to the classified ads in the Village Voice. It worked—I got a summer job as a bike messenger. I loved the fact that I was able to find a job, and get hired, completely on my own.
Still, I wasn't sure if I could do it again. Last spring, when I started a new round of job hunting, I didn't want to have to rely on the want ads. I decided I needed help, and fast. So I turned to several adult experts and some employed teens for advice.
Spread the Word
The first thing I wanted to find out was the best place for teens to go to find jobs. Before I spoke to anyone, I assumed I would get that same old boring response: look in the newspapers.
Thankfully, the answers I received were quite different. Karen Peltz, the program director of the New York City Job and Career Center, suggested talking to people, instead of just picking up the paper. "Ask as many people as you can," she said. "Go to everybody that you know-friends, parents, storekeepers in the neighborhood that you might know. Everybody."
Shelton Jones, the director of employment at Manhattan Valley, a youth program that provides job training, agreed. "The best sources are friends and family," said Jones. "Even walking through the neighborhood and asking stores if they have jobs available."
The majority of the teenagers I spoke to found their jobs through people they knew. Cynthia Rodriguez, 20, found two jobs that way. First, she found a job at her friend's father's bodega. When she needed another job, her friend's father helped her. "He told me to speak to the manager of the supermarket a few blocks away...and I did." Cynthia has been working there for two years now.
Everybody Has Connections
Nelson Colon, 18, of Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), also found his job through connections. "I got the job because my friend's mother owned a laundromat in Chinatown," he said. "I asked my friend to ask his mother if she could hook me up with something and that was that."
Once you have asked all your friends and family about jobs, there are several other options. Karen Peltz suggests talking to your high school counselor. Counselors are supposed to have job information for students and many schools also have job listings posted on bulletin boards.
Taking advantage of resources at her school helped Donna Hutchinson, 18, of Paul Robeson HS, get a summer job at a camp. "There was a bulletin in my school with different jobs so I decided to see what's new for the summer," Donna said. "I went to the coordinator of my school and told her I was interested in a job. Within a couple of weeks, they called me for an interview."
Let Your Fingers Do Some Walking
Once you have identified potential employers, the next step is convincing them to hire you. Several working teenagers told me that high school students do not usually need resumes for jobs at clothing stores or fast-food restaurants, although having a resume (a list of the educational, work, and volunteer experiences you've had) may improve your chances.
But, employers will almost always want to interview you before deciding whether to hire you. "The interview is very important for a teen," said Jones. "The interview is that chance for a teenager to prove how valuable they can be for that company."
Getting Ready For the Interview
You should always be well-prepared for your interview. "Don't think you can go into an interviewing situation and wing it," said Suzanne Dacey, the associate director at the New York City Job and Career Center. "A lot of people think it's a piece of cake. You really have to prepare."
Not only should you learn something about the company-like the type of business it conducts and what kind of work you would have to do-you should also think about what kinds of questions you'll be asked and how you would answer them.
During the interview, you will probably be asked a question like, "Tell me about yourself." Karen Peltz said that there are certain things that you should include when answering this question. You should start off by telling the interviewer your full name and where you go to school. You can talk about the subjects that you are best at and you should also mention any work experience you've had.
"If you don't have work experience, include things you do to help out at home," Peltz said. "Think of volunteer work. Babysitting is absolutely work experience. Any community service you do in school."
You should also be sure to talk about your strong qualities or what you do best. "You really have to have a plan to market and to sell yourself," explained Suzanne Dacey. Peltz suggested practicing at home by having a family member interview you.
If you apply for a job and don't get hired, don't be discouraged. Instead of giving up, think about what you can learn from the experience and how you can improve for the next time.
Deshawn Williams, 18, of BMCC, was turned down by the work-study program at his college. (Work-study means that the college finds a job for you on campus.) Deshawn was determined to find work at his school anyway. He wrote a letter to the school asking for a job and when he heard that there were openings at the school cafeteria, he quickly applied there. Deshawn now works in his school cafeteria.
Cynthia Rodriguez is someone else who found that it pays to be persistent. Before she got her job at the supermarket, the manager told her he'd call her back within a week. But Cynthia feared he would forget to call. So, she took it upon herself to keep calling him. "I called him almost every day to see, because I hate waiting around for things to just happen," Cynthia recalled. "He probably got annoyed, but I think that's what got me the job."
The bottom line is that if you are too shy or too scared to speak up, you probably will not even be considered for a lot of jobs."The person who gets the job," said Peltz, "is the person who is the go-getter-the one who does not get discouraged, that keeps going out there. Those are the kind of people who end up getting the jobs."