When our kids attend awards ceremonies or other events where they have to be on their best behavior, we run through the basics: a reminder on how to shake hands (firm grip and good eye contact), courteous greetings and politeness. • They're teens now, and I hope they have learned by now that following those social rules not only may get them invited to next year's birthday party but also will help when it's time to find a job. • So, parents, since kids are starting to look for summer gigs, it's not a bad idea to role-play with your teens about how to ask for a job application, how to handle themselves in an interview and how to follow up. Here are a few places to start the conversation:
Dress neatly. You don't have to wear a suit, but make sure your shoes are shined and your clothes are clean and pressed. Consider your audience: If you're applying at a construction site, jeans are okay. But torn jeans? Never. Wherever you apply, leave at home the flip-flops, T-shirts with provocative slogans and low-cut camisoles.
Don't chew gum or show up at the interview wearing iPod headphones around your neck. Think that's obvious? Pam Laughlin, director of career services for Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, has heard stories that some job seekers leave the buds in their ears and insist to the interviewer that they can still hear.
Leave Mom and Dad in the car, Laughlin said. They don't belong at job interviews. Laughlin said some parents insist on sitting in during interviews and career counseling sessions.
Do your homework and find out as much as you can about the organization, recommended Kathy Rapp, vice president and managing director for hrQ, a human resources search, staffing and consulting firm in Houston.
You'll appear more knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and when it comes time to ask questions, you'll have some good ones, said Rapp, whose first interview at the age of 15 got her a job as a swim instructor and lifeguard at her local YMCA.
"I really wanted the job, and I think that came through," said Rapp, who eventually got a college scholarship from the nonprofit.
Rapp recommended using LinkedIn.com to search for people you or your parents know who work at a company and might give you a leg up. It's always better to have a referral than send in a blind application.
Make sure you ask questions during the interview. But make sure they're not about the basics that you easily could have found on the company's website, said Jackie Verity, a career coach and owner of Kaleidoscope Careers in Houston. Asking for simple information about products, services or locations shows you might not have researched the company in advance.
That happens a lot, Verity said. And employers find it annoying.
Prepare what's known as an "elevator speech" — a brief introduction that tells the basics of who you are and why you're interested in the job. Think of it as a presentation you can make in the time it takes you to ride in an elevator.
Practice it and remember to include the things you do in school or home that relate to the job, Laughlin said, something like: "I'm a senior in high school, and I have experience programming and developing websites."
Don't forget to follow up on your application or interview. You can call a few days later and remind the interviewer how much you appreciated the meeting and how much you'd like the job. And send a note.
"No one sends a written thank-you note anymore," Rapp said. "It will set you apart."
Many times the job goes to the applicant who follows up because the effort shows interest and initiative. What employer doesn't like that?