Tough times for teens hunting for summer jobs


Teens are hitting the malls again, and not just to hang out and shop.

Job-hunting season for the summer is underway as teens scramble for coveted positions at their favorite apparel retailers, frozen yogurt shops and department stores. The best jobs are often filled by spring break.

This year, with the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.7% in March, expect the job market to be especially crowded, analysts say. Not only do teens have to compete with college students and recent graduates, they’ll also be up against a wave of out-of-work adults ready to snap up even temporary positions. Even theme parks are hiring grown-ups for jobs once filled primarily by teens.

After striking out last year, Bronte Cox, 18, got an early start on her job hunt, heading to Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks in February to fill out applications at Wetzel’s Pretzels, Cinnabon and Swirls Desserts.

“Over the summer, I applied for six different jobs but I didn’t get any calls back,” said Cox, a Van Nuys High School student, who planned to use some of her earnings to help with expenses around the house. As of Friday, she still hadn’t found a job.

Her friend, 17-year-old Bernice Rivera from Panorama City, said she needed a job after her parents cut her allowance.

“My mom used to give me money every day,” Rivera said. “Now I have to ask her when I need it.”

Retailers, recovering from a brutal recession that hammered consumer spending, aren’t in any rush to hire in huge numbers either.

That scarcity has worsened the teen unemployment rate -- which was at 26.1% in March among 16- to 19-year-olds, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday -- and could put a damper on spending because so many teen consumers rely on their jobs for extra cash.

“Teens really, among all age groups, are far and away the hardest hit in terms of people who want jobs and can’t find them,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Experts say teen job seekers are often at a disadvantage because they’re less experienced, less confident and usually looking to work for a limited time frame.

Here are some tips from retailers and job experts for teens who want to set themselves apart from the pack:

* Start early. “If you can get a jump on it now, you’ll really give yourself a far better chance of beating the crowd,” Challenger said. Roam the mall and keep an eye out for “we’re hiring” signs; many companies, such as Gap Inc. and Starbucks Corp., also post job listings and accept applications online.

* Take advantage of your network of family, friends and teachers to find out about job opportunities.

* Be professional. Arrive at your interview on time, turn off and put away your cellphone and don’t chew gum.

* Dress appropriately -- and that doesn’t necessarily mean showing up in a business suit. “If it’s a retail job and it’s a funky place, then they can dress funky,” said Kathy Dawson, president of Dawson & Dawson, a staffing firm in Mission Viejo. “But make sure they have all body parts covered.”

* Don’t have much work experience? Come prepared with a clean, simple, one-page resume that lists your extracurricular activities, such as after-school sports, volunteering or baby-sitting. This will show potential employers that you’re responsible and capable.

* “Know the brand,” said Kirstin Nagle, marketing manager at Los Angeles-based Forever 21. “Make sure you’ve done your homework by visiting the stores and seeing the website. Forever 21 is known to have an exciting, fun, trendy environment in our stores, and we want everything from the merchandise to our employees to represent that.”

* If you can manage the time commitment, offer to continue working part time once school starts in the fall.

And finally, don’t get discouraged, Dawson said. “As a teen, you really have to apply to literally 20 jobs to get one person to be interested in you. Rejection is just part of the game and you keep on going.”