My first summer job was sacking groceries at a supermarket that was an easy bike ride from my home.
Starting before my sophomore year of high school and for the next two summers, I learned the importance of providing good customer service, functioning as part of a team, showing up with a positive attitude and being reliable even if it meant doing some of the grunt jobs during my shift.
I especially enjoyed the good feelings that came with depositing pay into my bank account.
Landing that first summer job is an important milestone. It may even crack open the door to a future career. Whether you’re hoping to land a sacking job, line up lawn mowing services or launch the next great startup from the comfort of your second-floor bedroom, now is a particularly good time to start the summer job hunt before school projects and final exams get in the way.
And in a competitive job market, it never hurts to apply early. A report from the online job search site Snagajob shows that nearly three-fourths of hourly summer jobs last year were filled by May, so you know employers are already thinking about their hiring strategies for this year.
If this summer is like last, well over 1 million teens will join the ranks of the employed in May and work through early August, according to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas employment research and consulting firm. While that may seem like a lot of freshly employed 16- to-19-year-olds, last summer’s hiring was actually down 10.6 percent from 2014.
There is one bit of good news heading into this round of entry level hiring: Challenger expects wages to be higher, especially at retailers and restaurants, thanks to new minimum wage laws in some states and healthier consumer spending,
To encourage employers to step up teen hiring this summer, the Obama administration recently announced the Youth Jobs + program. Schools, nonprofits, all levels of government and businesses such as LinkedIn have pledged to create more summer job opportunities and develop training programs particularly for teens in low-income households.
The president, whose first job was scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins, said landing a job can be difficult under any circumstances. But it can be even harder for teens and young adults who are in and out of school, or who may not have many skills to offer an employer.
In that vein, here are some search tips from Challenger:
▪ Start networking. For a teen, that means talking to relatives and neighbors, who can be good sources for information on job leads.
▪ Look for odd jobs at odd hours. Offer to work evenings and night shifts, if age appropriate, and to fill in when full-time employees are on vacation.
▪ Search where others are not. Outdoor jobs involving heavy labor or behind-the-scenes jobs are not as frequently sought after by teen job hunters. For me, that meant working in an inventory position in the back room at a department store one summer after my first year of college.
▪ Dress for success. No matter the job, don’t show up for the interview in ripped jeans and a stained T-shirt. Wear nice clothes.
There’s another way to gain workplace experience this summer — volunteer. Businesses, nonprofit organizations and hospitals often are looking for teens to work weekly shifts alongside the office regulars. It may not be glamorous, or exactly what you’re looking for, but you’ll probably come away with a taste of what it takes to survive and thrive.
My first summer job certainly didn’t serve as a launching pad for a career in the grocery business. But as my wife and kids can attest, I still take pride in my sacking abilities.
Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879