How to Get that Summer Job

Did your parents finally cut the umbilical cord? Are you trying to figure out how on earth to satisfy your expensive shoe habit? I get it. I mean, for me, it’s lipstick and chicken nuggets, but it’s still similar. Anyways, you’ve finally realized that you need some type of income, which means you need a summer job. That’s cool, I’ve got you.

How to Get that Summer Job:

1. Decide the type of job you want

You might not think that you have any options as a high schooler, but you might have more choice than you think. I honestly never thought that being a band geek would get me a leg up out there in the “real world” but then I got a full time job at a music shop repairing violins. It’s not necessarily as easy as that, you still have to find the opportunities, but they’re out there. Ask your sports coach, your marching band director, or your SGA faculty sponsor if they know of any summer job opportunities. If they don’t, move on. If they do, you might even ask them for a reference, which goes a long way if they have a personal relationship with your would be employer.

At the same time, if you’re in your school’s fashion class, but you’re not a people person, retail isn’t for you. A job is not simply a job anymore. If you know you can’t be standing still for hours at a time, don’t be a cashier. If you can’t handle rude people, don’t work fast food. If you think you can handle these things as long as you’re getting paid, that’s completely fine. I’m the first person to publicly address rudeness, but I know I can’t do that when I’m on the clock. It’s okay to compromise, just know yourself.

Finally, consider what it is you want to do. If you want to own a restaurant one day, you might not think that working the drive through can help, but you’d be wrong. You could climb the ladder and end up a manager. It’s a lot easier to open a restaurant when you have that on your resume. Or maybe hospitality is your thing. Go work at a hotel restaurant. Move from the restaurant and become a bellhop or a concierge when you’re old enough. Boom. Hospitality experience.

2. Ask for references

The next thing you want to do is get three good references. Note that I said good references. My mother always told me to use the words “could you give me a good reference” but that has never felt right to me. If you’re comfortable doing that, you’re better than me, but please, at the very least, know who you’re asking. If a potential employer calls one of your references and hears that you’ve got a knack for being tardy and have no work ethic, say hello to unemployment and good bye to the iPhone 8 you’re saving up for. Don’t worry, it’s probably not that much better anyways.

Another thing you should remember: family members are not references. Not your mother, your uncle, or your third cousin twice removed. If you’re hard pressed for a reference, consider your school counselor, your soccer coach, or your pastor even. Your mother’s friend who’s known you all your life is still more appropriate than anyone related to you, especially if you’ve ever babysat for her or helped her around the house. It sounds difficult, but you just need to find someone who can vouch for your efficiency. If you’re wondering, my first references were my music teacher, my mother’s coworker who I’d played music with in the lobby of her job, and my grandfather’s college friend who owned a summer camp that I helped at and went on to work for. All of these were personal relationships, but still people who could speak of my character.

One thing that I always did after someone agreed to give a good reference is write a thank you note. To me, it demonstrates that I am truly appreciative of their contribution and not just using them as a business transaction. It doesn’t seem like it’s an important thing, but if they are to speak of your character, you want them to speak well, but also be honest. If they say you’re kind, you want to be kind. It’s not a vital step in the grand scheme of things, and might not do anything to further your summer job search, but it’ll do you good in life to remember to say “thank you” every once in awhile. Hint: You should do this for your college references as well.

3. Build your resume

I know, I know. Nai, I’m sixteen and spoiled, I don’t have anything to put on a resume! Don’t worry, I’ve been there. The great thing about getting a summer job is that the deli isn’t going to turn you down because you didn’t intern at NASA last summer. Odds are, most jobs are picking out of availability, and a bonus if you speak spanish. Trust me, I know. As the seasonal employees returned to school at my retail job, almost all of the new hires were bilingual. It’s not at all uncommon for spanish speakers to come into our store without knowing a drop of english, and started to get really inconvenient when the only people working that shift didn’t speak spanish. If you’re bilingual, put it down. I’m serious. Do it.

Don’t forget, at this point in time, your full time job is school, and they want to know how you do at work. If you’ve got a 3.6 or higher, I’d put that down. I didn’t, but I did take a rack of honors and AP coursework. AP Calc? Honors English 11? Go ahead. Honors Spanish 6? Well, did you even read what I said? Put it down. If you do school full time and gymnastics as well, go ahead. If you’re in SGA, or Black Student Union, or even a Book Club at lunch, put it down. Employers like to see that you can handle time commitments that aren’t parentally enforced.

This tip is one that you should really use for anything at this age. Ask your counselor! They are there primarily to help you, even outside of school. I was a band geek, and my counselor was a basketball person, so she didn’t always have the best insight seeing as music wasn’t her niche, but I always knew I could ask my music teacher if there were any summer job opportunities open to students. How do you think I wound up working in a music shop? Your teachers and counselors do more than you know. Bring them a draft of your resume and ask if they have any tips. I’ll bet you a ten piece McNugget that they’ll be happy to help.

4. Apply!

My favorite (and least favorite) hack to standing out amongst the countless applicants is to make an impression. I, personally, am not that impressive on paper, but when people see me, they get a better taste of what they’re buying into. You’ll always be more memorable if a manager can put a face to the name, so hit up your local mall or shopping center. Ask if the manager is available, and put on your best smiling face. Ask for an application and fill it out on the spot, and hand in your resume with it. If the manager isn’t available, you can still do this, or even ask when they might be able to talk for five minutes or so. You’ll make a much better impression in person than you will in an online application. Do not do this on the businesses busy times! This is best to during the week, like a Wednesday after school. Weekends and evenings are the worst possible times to do this, and you will make the wrong impression. Make sure you’re as dressed as you would be for an interview. After all, this is the first time this business is meeting you. Your “Vote for Pedro” shirt will definitely get you a few laughs, but it won’t get you a job.

If you’re filling out online applications, 9 times out of 10, you will get an email confirmation saying that your application was submitted. If you don’t, find a contact email, and confirm this yourself. Before you do this, however, check your spam folder to make sure the email didn’t end up there. As for in-person applications, you should definitely call back in 5-10 business days to follow up. I can not tell you how many times I’ve left my application and resume with an employee only for it never to reach the hiring staff. It’s not uncommon in the slightest. Simply call during non busy times and say, “Hi, my name is Sally Whoever and I was just calling to follow up on an application I submitted last Wednesday afternoon.” Don’t badger them, because some businesses have a routine for application reviews. They might not have gotten to yours yet, or they might need you to come down and fill another one out. If you have a busy week, you can always ask if there’s an online application, or somewhere you can email your resume. Still, it’s always best to do as much as you can face to face.

It never hurts to write a cover letter. For a summer job, it’s not that vital, but it doesn’t hurt. A cover letter is a 2-3 paragraph “why you should hire me”. You can throw in things like, “my time spent babysitting my siblings while still in school has taught me how to efficiently multitask” or  “my time ushering for school concerts has taught me personability and professionalism.” Honestly, this is where you get to say “sure, I’ve never had a real job, but I did all of this stuff that’s vaguely similar.” Maybe your family splits up chores and you’re the one who handles laundry, that’s something you can put down for retail. It’s really where you can get a bit more specific towards the business you’re applying to, considering it’s meant to be a personal letter for that manager. I’ll tell you a secret, you don’t need to write a new letter for every application. If you have a generic enough outline, you can get away with playing mad libs with it, so that each cover letter is specific, but doesn’t take up too much time. Sign it with “I look forward to discussing how my qualifications and your needs might be mutually beneficial,” and you’re golden. Once again, this probably isn’t a really important thing for you to worry about, but it will definitely set you apart from other applicants.

5. Nail the interview

I know going into an interview is stressful, but it’s a lot easier when you know what to expect. The questions they’ll ask you are all pretty common, and they are ones you’ll hear again. At the end of the day, everything you do, everything you have done, and everything you will do is rehearsed. Don’t be afraid to rehearse this as well. Know what they’re going to ask you, and know how to respond. Just make sure you don’t sound rehearsed. No matter what you do, you want to sound genuine and relatable. Judge if the person you’re talking to is casual, or professional. I’ve definitely had interviews where I’ve sat with my hands folded over my crossed knees, but I’ve also had interviews where I leaned back in my chair and laughed. It’s all about knowing how to carry yourself with different audiences. This will also come in handy when you’re actually working.

Asking questions is always good. Are there opportunities for employment after summer ends? How much potential for advancement is there in this position? How many hours per week would I be facing? How flexible are they about time off? If you manage to get multiple job offers, you don’t want to choose the wrong one because you didn’t ask the right questions. If Job 1 pays higher, but you get half as many hours as Job 2, what’s the use? If you know your family takes a weekend trip to the beach every summer, and your job won’t let you take off weekends, don’t do it. If there’s potential for advancement, take it. You could come back the next summer as an assistant manager, which is great to put on your resume. And always always always ask when you should expect to hear back. If they say 3 days and it’s been 7, it’s safe to assume you didn’t get the job, and it saves you the anxiety of should I call or should I wait?

Be pleasant when you leave them. Shake their hand, thank them for their time. If you’ve managed to build a personal connection with them during the interview, there’s nothing wrong with bringing that up. Somehow (and I really couldn’t say how) during one of my interviews, my interviewer told me an anecdote about troubles between her and her ex girlfriend. When leaving, I told her that I hope she and her new boyfriend have better luck. You never want to seem too stiff. Even if it’s a more professional encounter. If they told you about a former employee who stole hangers, you could say “thank you for meeting with me, and make sure you count the hangers before you go home tonight.” As professional as your interviewer is, they are still a person, and they want to know you were listening to more than the parts that mattered to you.
Now, the college kids will be home sooner than you know, and believe it or not, many start looking during spring break, and many already have secured work. You don’t want to apply to early, but it’s better than applying too late. May is the latest I’ll ever look for a summer job, but I typically start around April. Apply to as many positions as you can handle. The wider you cast your net, the more fish you’ll catch. Good luck with your applications, and be sure to tell me how it goes, or share your own tips and tricks to getting that summer job!

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