Here is where things start to get tricky. Most parts of the world are in financial crisis on some level, which means the first people to feel the pinch are the 16-24 year olds. The reason for this is because this age group is unskilled and inexperienced, and when there are fewer jobs to go around those with more skills and experience get the work.
It isn’t all bad though. The great thing about being a young person is that there are plenty of places that are willing to hire you, however they happen to be the jobs that you probably don’t want to do because you feel like you’re better than that. Supermarkets, fast food, retail, etc. are all places you should be looking at. Even if you are looking at graduate programs or entry level jobs in other fields, those jobs should always be on your list as a fallback. At this point in your life, in this economic climate, ANY job is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for you to learn, grow, and to gain experience and valuable skills. And here’s the big thing – employers are much more likely to hire someone that already has a job (even if it’s fast food) than someone who has been holding out and waiting for something better to come along.
So how to get your first job? Well, the first thing you should do is use your family and friends. If your parents know someone that owns a business, or your friend’s dad has a business etc, try your best to get in that way. Connections are one of the most powerful ways of getting work, so use them whenever you can. Realise, however, that whoever your link is that gets your foot in the door is vouching for you – don’t abuse their generosity in helping you by flaking out.
If you don’t have the luck of connections, then the most important part is attitude. Teenagers and early twentysomethings are generally looked at as having poor attitudes, because they think the world owes them something. Having an attitude that says “I am positive, I want to learn, I’m willing to do what I’m told and be reliable” will put you ahead of your peers at this stage of the game. The thing to realize is that you actually don’t have a lot to offer an employer at this stage of your life, so what you are asking the employer to do is take a gamble on you in the hope that it pays off in you being a good worker. If you show up to hand an application in and you have purple dreadlocks, piercings and dress in shabby clothing because “that’s who I am”, you’re announcing loud and clear to the employer that you are a big gamble for them. Show up well dressed, well groomed and with a polite and respectful demeanour, with good character references, and you are basically taking away reasons for the employer not to hire you.
Even assuming you do this, you’ll be competing against a lot of people. How are you going to stand out? Well, places that employ a large amount of young people are looking for certain attributes, here is how to show you have them:
Flexibility: Tell a fast food manager that you are available for 2 days a week and they’ll throw your resume on the trash heap like it’s a burning bag of poop. It’s understandable if you’re unavailable to work a couple of days a week if you’re at school or college, but if you’re looking at full time work not being available more than 1 day a week is a no no.
Reliability: Young people are flakey. They will regularly take sick days (with only an hours notice), turn up late and often not at all. Managers hate that. This is the first thing you need to stamp into a hiring manager’s mind when you meet them – that, aside from losing a limb, you will not only turn up for work but will do a good job (ie you won’t turn up to work hungover and just go through the motions).
Work ethic: A young person with a good work ethic is a beacon of light in a pitch black room for most managers. How to convince someone you have a good work ethic when they don’t know you? If you have good grades, that’s a good place to start. If you’re playing high level sports, that’s another one. Anything that shows you have dedication and persistence is good. Hell, having the old lady down the street write you a reference because you mow her lawn every week is better than nothing.
Good attitude: It’s common for teenagers/twentysomethings to have a know it all attitude. Showing an employer that you are willing to learn, willing to “get your hands dirty” and most of all, listen, is the first step. Answering yes (and enthusiastically) when they ask “are you willing to work at short notice, are you willing to do any job etc” is the second step.
Well presented: This ties in with attitude. Wearing a business shirt that is too big for you and baggy trousers does not equal well presented. It says you’re a kid that’s dressing up because you have to, and you don’t like it. Your shirt should fit close to the body, as should your pants. This has the double edge of highlighting your physique and making your appearance sharper. If you need to wear a jacket, the same rules apply. If you’re wearing a tie, either learn to do a proper knot or get someone to help you, a half assed knot draws attention and again says you’re a kid dressing up because you have to.
If you’re of the female gender, this means not dressing like you’re going to a nightclub. A conservative length skirt (or pants if you prefer) is appropriate, along with a blouse with the above guidelines for a shirt. Go light on the make up and jewelry. A job interview, even at McDonald’s, is not the time to show off your body or bare some skin.
That was a general guide to landing a first job as a teenager or recent school leaver. We are going to get far more in depth with the nuances of interviews, resumes, dress and so on later, but the above guidelines should serve you well in your first job hunt. These are the absolute basics, and unless you have them down pat you’ll have no chance. Remember also, it’s not about getting someone to give you a chance, but learning what your potential employer wants and showing them you can deliver.
What have your experiences been as a young job seeker? If you employ young people, is there anything you can add to the above advice?
Thanks as always for reading everyone.