From pet stores to pharmacies, the job market for teens is warming up along with the weather.
And for teens thinking about a summer paycheck, now's the time to pounce. Hiring is expected to be better than during the pits of the recession, and there will be less competition from jobless adults looking for part-time, seasonal work, according to several hiring studies. "Companies are doing better and have more room to hire teens. It's not a breakout year, but there's steady improvement in the job market and teens will get their share of that," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. in Chicago.
Challenger's annual study of summer teen hiring, released in April, said there has been a rebound from 2010, when teen hiring hit an all-time low of 960,000 — the lowest level since 1949. Last year, it was up 13.2 percent, as 1.08 million teens landed employment in May, June and July.
This summer? Challenger estimates 1.2 million teens could land a summer job.
But don't procrastinate: 80 percent of managers in a recent survey say they expect to have all their summer hiring wrapped up by Memorial Day, according to SnagAJob.com, a Richmond, Va.-based website for hourly jobs. "Get looking now. Do not wait," said SnagAJob spokeswoman Courtney Moyer.
When it comes to finding a job, there are always the traditional teenage go-tos: fast-food outlets, mall department stores, the snack bar at your community swimming pool. And many communities are hiring lifeguards, concession stand cashiers, sports and recreation assistants or maintenance aides.
But the good news this summer is that teens will have far less competition from unemployed adults, who were desperate to take any job during the recession and often applied for seasonal jobs. Both Challenger and SnagAJob say teens' biggest competitors this summer will be their peers.
Consider your application to be your first impression with a potential employer. "It might be 30 seconds or a minute long, but it's essentially a first interview," said Moyer.
If you're stopping by an office with an application, show you're serious: Dress appropriately, be friendly and meet the deadline.
If it's an emailed application, be sure it's not riddled with spelling mistakes. Proofread it several times, Moyer suggests. And use a standard, noncutesy email address, she noted.
Dress for the job you're seeking. Forget the flip-flops and the business suit, unless you're applying for work at a surf shop or an internship in a law firm. The goal is to look "put together": a clean shirt, a pair of khakis or denim.
Once you've got a list of places, put together a basic resume, then hit the road. Applying for work in person can make a difference. Take an evening or afternoon after school and you could easily cover 10 to 15 mall stores. Wherever possible, ask to meet with the manager, rather than handing your application to a clerk behind the counter.
What do employers look for in teens? According to SnagAJob's survey of summer hiring managers, they're seeking a "trifecta" of traits: the ability to work a flexible schedule (32 percent), a positive attitude (29 percent) and previous experience (26 percent).
Many teens worry they'll be left out based on a lack of experience, but Moyer says to think "outside the box." Babysitting, volunteering and other activities all count as experience.
And don't overlook what Challenger calls the "odd-job entrepreneur" opportunities. As many families cut back on monthly services such as lawn care, home cleaning or day care, teens can provide lower-cost babysitting, lawn mowing, housecleaning, window washing, pet sitting or walking, even flower or garden weeding.