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How to land your first summer job

These tips will show you how to get and keep a summer job.

(left) A cafe worker holds a tray. (right) Close up of a resume and pen. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Edwin Tan / NAN104

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Summer is great for a lot of things—sunny days, ice cream, days by the pool. But it is also a great time for high school and college students to land a job. With a paid seasonal gig, you can earn some extra cash and gain some valuable work experience. Not sure how to land one? These tips will show how. Teens are welcome to apply.

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Zero in on your goals

Before you start applying for summer jobs all over town, it’s a good idea to really think about what you can bring to a potential employer. “This means that you need to identify your strengths, skills, interests, and values,” says Kelsey Romney, an associate professor specializing in youth programs at Utah State University Extension. You may even want to write these items down or put them in your phone as a reminder of what you can bring to a job.

The next thing you will want to consider is what you most want out of a summer job. This one is easy. What’s motivating you to get a job this summer? “For example, you may be looking for experience, the highest paying job, or a job with a flexible schedule,” Romney says.

Once you know your strengths and what you want out of a job, you can better define your search and you’ll have a better chance of finding the gig you really want.

Build a résumé

A person searches for a job using a laptop computer.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / marchmeena29

Look across different job listing platforms for the gig that's best for you.

To apply for many jobs, you’ll need a résumé that you can hand to an employer or upload online. But what should you put on it if you’ve never had a job before? “Think about the skills and experience you’ve had because of your schoolwork, hobbies, and volunteering,” Romney says.

Consider any leadership roles you’ve had as “jobs” and list those first, even if you weren’t paid for your involvement. Include your school clubs, sports you play, any awards you’ve won, and any community service projects. Just because you didn’t get a paycheck for volunteering at the public library doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable experience that could transfer to, say, a job as a bookstore clerk. And don’t forget your contact information, your school, and school grade. If you’re not sure how to organize a résumé, Google Docs and Microsoft Word offer templates that can help you. Even if the jobs you apply for don’t request a résumé, going through this process can help prepare you to fill out applications that will ask you for similar information on their own form.

One last résumé tip for jobs that require you submit one: Adapt your résumé to suit the role you are applying for. “Look for keywords in the job description and use them to tailor your résumé for each different job for which you’re applying,” says Sean Morrin, senior program manager at Get Schooled, an all-digital college and first jobs advisor.

Choose good references

When applying for a summer job, you’ll need to provide references, or people who can speak on your behalf—particularly if you’re applying for your first-ever job and your résumé is a little light. Who knows you best? Is it a teacher, a coach, or a religious or community leader? Any of these people could speak up for you when you apply for that all-important first job. “You don’t have to have worked for someone for them to be able to talk about things like your work ethic, responsibility, and positive attitude,” Romney says.

So don’t be shy about reaching out to line up your references, even before you submit your first application. Have three or more people who are not family members that you can count on should an employer request references to call. Get the contact information for each reference, such as a phone number or email address, and bring it with you when you apply for a job or to the interview.

Search hard for a job that suits you best

In most cases, the perfect summer gig won’t just fall in your lap. You’ll have to hunt to find a good fit. Search online with job and career sites, stop in to businesses that interest you to inquire in person about job openings, and ask family and friends for their help. You never know where you might get a lead about a cool summer job. “Jobs will not come to you,” says Renee Ward, founder of Teens4Hire.org, an online member community of teens seeking jobs. “You must go out and look for one.” And be persistent. If your first batch of résumés doesn’t land you a job, the second or third batch that you send out may.

Also, remember that employers are busy doing their own jobs as well as hiring people, so it may take some time for them to come across your résumé and reach out. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to them. Simply call or email and ask about the status of your application. You’ll hopefully get an answer, and the employer will know you’re interested enough in the job to follow up.

Go where the jobs are

Some industries hire more summer help than others. Direct your summer job search to where the jobs are, especially if your first-choice efforts aren’t coming to fruition. “In particular the hospitality, leisure, and tourism industry is rebounding since most COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns are being lifted and companies in this industry have a strong need for workers,” Ward says.

If it interests you, consider applying for jobs at hotels and motels, restaurants, resorts, amusement parks, and recreation areas this summer. Bonus: Many of them offer lucrative tips.

Ace the interview

A person smiles as they search for a job using a laptop computer at home.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / fizkes

Be sure to practice some interview questions before meeting with a potential employer.

You may get a job interview right after you turn in an application, so be prepared for that possibility. “Some locations may require you to come in to pick up an application, complete it on-site, and then immediately interview you,” Ward says. ”From the moment you ask for that application, you are being considered. So don’t be caught off-guard if this happens to you.”

When you go in-person to apply, dress nicely and have your thoughts together about how you want to represent yourself as a good employee. Another interview tip: Make good eye contact. “This shows that you’re interested and self-confident,” Ward says.

Practice your answers before the interview. Get comfortable talking about yourself and what you are looking for in a job. “Be prepared to answer at least these two questions: ‘Why do you want to work here?’ and ‘why should we hire you?’” says Ward. You should also prepare some anecdotes about situations you’ve been in where you’ve faced adversity and/or had to use critical-thinking skills to handle a problem. “You’ll likely be asked to tell the interviewer about yourself, how teachers, co-workers/bosses describe you, your problem-solving skills, and how you deal with conflict,” Morrin says. “Be ready with solid answers.”

During the interview, it’s important to be comfortable talking about yourself and your strengths. But it’s also an opportunity to have a conversation with a potential boss and a potential workplace, so you should also think about what you look for in both of those.“Don’t be afraid to ask questions—you are also interviewing them!” says Jen Ben, the HR business partner at CareerBuilder.

Avoid superfluous mistakes

Completing a job application incorrectly or making spelling errors are common mistakes that teen job applicants make, Ward says. So take the time to look over a job application before you fill it out. If you are not sure how to spell a word, you can look it up on your smartphone on the fly. And if you have any confusion regarding the application, ask for clarification before you proceed.

Dressing inappropriately for the job is another error teens make. You can’t go wrong with dressing even more conservatively than you think you’ll need to, wearing a collared shirt and long khakis or a knee-length dress with cap sleeves (rather than spaghetti straps). Avoid jeans with ripped holes or anything that looks unkempt. “It’s always best to arrive in clean, wrinkle-free clothing,” Ward says.

Not giving an employer the heads-up about your personal schedule is another mistake, particularly if you have dates you already know when you won’t be available. “Be upfront with future employers about any family vacations, sports obligations, etc.,” Romney says. And of course let them know when your last day needs to be, so you will have at least a few days before you’ll be going back to school.

Learn on the job

Once hired, be prepared to absorb everything around you. You’re new. It will take you some time to learn the ropes. “The most important on-the-job advice we have for teens is to be willing to learn and follow directions,” Ward says.

To stand out on that first job, be a good employee. This includes being on time, and being proactive when it comes to pitching in, and asking questions when you don’t understand directions. “This is a job, yes, but it’s also a learning experience,” Morrin says. “Stay curious and engaged!”

Think about your future

By landing a summer job, you’re one step closer to your full-time career. Even if a job seems less than glamorous now, it’s teaching you important job skills and discipline. All things you need in your future career.

“[A good summer job] will teach you how to build transferable skills such as communication, time management, organization, and teamwork,” Ben says.

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