NEW YORK — Your teenager has some new competition for jobs this summer. Namely, the growing army of 12.5 million out-of-work Americans hungry for a paycheck. • To boost her odds, Jennifer Wagner is already searching Web sites for her son Justin, a 19-year-old sophomore at Northeastern University in Boston. She wants him to get a job related to his graphic arts major, but wonders if that's possible anymore. • "Jobs that normally would've gone to teenagers or college students are going to be filled by people who are out of work or just graduated. They're going to be taking jobs they normally wouldn't take," said Wagner, a 51-year-old resident of New York City. • While the search might prove frustrating, there are still ways to ensure the kids stay busy and off your couch this summer. Here are three ways your son or daughter can get an edge.
1. Make full use of the career center
For college students, the university career center is a great place to start the hunt. The centers can help spit-shine resumes and hone interview skills. They maintain databases of job openings, too, some of which are posted by alumni who might give students priority as candidates.
Students might even be able to interview for openings without leaving the center. At Cornell University, a Web cam lets students talk with faraway hiring managers. At UCLA, the career center offers targeted workshops on how to research companies to succeed in the job interview. There are also workshops for landing jobs in specific fields, such as health care and law.
Career centers can also be a way to make contacts in the business world. Rutgers University, for instance, maintains an "alumni career network" of graduates who have volunteered to be mentors to students. While students aren't supposed to use it to seek jobs, it can be a great way to learn about or pave the way for such opportunities.
Recruiters looking to fill summer openings typically start heading to campus around early March, but companies seem to be waiting a little longer this year, said Rebecca Sparrow, director of Career Services at Cornell.
"That might make it hard for students who like to have their plans sealed up," she said.
The upside is that it's not too late for college students who haven't yet found a job or internship.
2. Launch a business
One way teenagers can bypass the barren job market is to create their own work.
Sit down with your teen and list any bankable skills, whether it's Web design, mowing lawns or baking brownies. Even if it doesn't turn into a smash hit, the experience can help develop project management skills.
Of course, not every teen is suited to this option. Running a business, even on a basic level, takes discipline.
"You have to be a self-starter and know how to market yourself," said Jennifer Hartman, certified financial planner and principal of Greenleaf Financial Group in Los Angeles.
Hartman suggests having your son or daughter draw up a business plan to bring the goal into focus. It doesn't have to be elaborate — it could be one page stating the objective, target market and any costs that might be incurred. You also could set up a simple accounting sheet in Excel, with debits and credits to track income.
Spread the word among friends and family. Word-of-mouth advertising is often more successful than a formal advertising campaign.
3. Create an internship
If you can't land an internship at a major organization, ask around at smaller, independent operations. They might not have formalized programs, but that doesn't mean they won't be open to the idea.
After securing a spot, students should move beyond the typical gofer duties and volunteer for more substantial projects. Showing initiative might quickly land them paying positions, albeit at a clerical or entry-level position.
With so many companies slashing staff and budgets, anyone who works for little or no money will be welcome around the office.
"Internships used to be a benefit for student. Now it's a benefit for the company that is getting that kid for free," said Lisa Jacobson, founder and chief executive of Inspirica, a tutoring company based in New York.
Even if the internship isn't paid, it shows colleges the student has initiative and interests beyond school.
"What they do during the summers really factors in. That all adds up, even if you're not making money," Jacobson said.