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Now's the time for teens to start search for a summer job

The first of the year is the perfect time for your college or high school student to begin the hunt for a summer job.

I know, forward thinking may be a foreign concept to your son or daughter. A little bit of motivation now could make the difference in landing a steady summer gig. It pays to be prepared in January, especially in a very competitive job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 42 percent of teens ages 16-19 who wanted jobs last summer were employed.

To avoid the 11th-hour summer job scramble, here are some strategies to jump-start your young worker now:

INTERNSHIPS, RESORT JOBS AND CAMPS: Do your kids want to spend the summer on Capitol Hill, cleaning cabins at a resort or counseling at a camp? Many of these positions are for the college crowd and have fast-approaching deadlines. (Some already have passed.)

Renee Ward, who runs a student job counseling Web site at, says many internships and resort and camp jobs are not widely advertised.

"The businesses and organizations simply do not want to be flooded with a lot of applicants that may not be qualified or are not perceived to be the cream of the crop," Ward said.

But don't be intimidated. A little research can yield positive results, whether it's in a highly selective program with a national reach or through the local bank or engineering company. The Princeton Review has just released an excellent source, the Internship Bible _ 2004 Edition, which includes a directory of companies and national organizations that offer internships along with application tips and contact information.

BURGER-FLIPPING, SACKING, CADDYING, LIFEGUARDING: Too young for an internship or camp job? Or looking for something closer to home? Consider employers that traditionally hire kids for the summer, such as grocery stores, restaurants, amusement parks, movie theaters, swimming pools, and golf and tennis pro shops.

For college kids still on holiday break, this is the time to line up an interview or touch base with a prospective employer. Making early contact also might be a way to find out about jobs before the "now hiring" signs go up.

Some employers already have checked on whether last summer's crew is interested in coming back next summer, so they may have a fair idea of how many openings there will be once school is out.

SELF-EMPLOYMENT: Sure, you could mow lawns or babysit. But think about other ways to earn money and gain experience running a business. Along those lines, consider tutoring, pet-sitting or organizing a sports camp to teach kids basketball or tennis. Kids even can turn car washing into a summer job, which was one of my favorites one year when I went door to door in the neighborhood with my new power-spray nozzle and wax kit.

For more ideas, check out a Small Business Administration Web site at, which is devoted to providing information to young adults who want to start a business.

JOB PREP: The first of the year is also a good time to work on writing a resume or filling out a sample job application.

College kids, for example, can take the resume they turned in with their admissions application and rework and refocus it to fit job aspirations.

Many teens don't think they have anything to put on an application or a resume if they have never held a job. But if they do some brainstorming, they might find they have quite a bit to offer. A good place to find resume and job application pointers, and a sample resume, is at the Teens4hire Web site.

Sit down with your teen and rehearse a job interview conversation. You also can discuss how to ask the employer about wages, the potential for raises, vacation days and other issues that can be touchy for a teen to bring up with an adult employer.

In addition, work on resume enhancers, such as community service projects, sports and other types of extracurricular activities that could highlight for an employer a wide range of interests.

Finally, students can get a taste of the workplace through job shadowing opportunities. The 2005 national Job Shadow Day for middle school and high school students is scheduled for Feb. 2.

Keep in mind that a stronger economy could translate into more and better summer employment opportunities. But don't let your kids be fooled into thinking they'll be handed a job just for showing up for an interview. In today's job market, they'll be going up against many other kids (and maybe some adults) for openings.