Teens entering work world gain new skills and income

Cheryl Hudson
YFS Perspectives

As the Mercer Island Youth and Family Service’s Youth Employment Coordinator, I often speak with both youth and parents about the pros and cons of a young person entering the world of work while still in high school or college. I am often asked whether teenagers should work. My answer is: “It depends.” I firmly believe that for some youth it is a valuable and life-changing opportunity to gain new skills and self-esteem, and for others it can prove to be a distraction from the priority of school.

Parents go through a process of assessing whether their child is ready for the new experiences that a job might offer (just like when they decide when a child is ready to learn to drive) and is capable of handling the additional responsibilities that come with it.

I have seen young people gain skills that have increased not only their marketability but also their sociability and self-esteem, improving other areas of their lives, including opportunities for college. Work can also give to young people the following abilities: 1) to operate as a peer in the world of adults, 2) to assess one’s skills and worth and confidently present them to the outside world, and 3) to appreciate the value of a dollar. Now the $125 pair of jeans they want represents a certain number of hours of work that might have previously represented a certain number of minutes convincing their parents they deserve them.

Looking for work is challenging for youth and adults alike. Many youth ask me, “How do I find a job?” My answer is:

First, start early and learn where the local jobs are being advertised. On Mercer Island teens have resources! JobLink is a year-round job board service and website that connects youth to employers with jobs on the Island and nearby. Youth living on Mercer Island can also contact me at no cost at (206) 236-3524 to assist in a job search, to practice for an interview or get help writing a resume.

Second, know the law. Federal and state laws limit the number of hours and types of jobs teens can work. A summary of these laws is in the “Teens at Work” brochure on the Joblink website.

Third, write a skills-based resume. Because many teens have a limited work history, a skills-based format for the resume allows you to focus on what you know how to do; it allows you to highlight skills learned in a variety of environments, not just paid employment.

Fourth, use your network. Networking means developing a broad list of people who might be able to help you find a job. The best place to start developing your network is with your family, friends, and neighbors. Also talk with former co-workers, bosses, and teachers. Let them know not only what kind of job you are looking for but whether you want a full-time or part-time job. Give them a resume and ask them to pass it on to anyone who might be interested in hiring you.

Finally, attend a local job fair. You can attend the Mercer Island Summer Youth Employment Fair co-sponsored by MIYFS and Emmanuel Episcopal Church on March 31 from 11a.m.-3 p.m. The fair will be located at 4400 S.E. 86th St. When attending a Job Fair remember to:

  • Dress and present yourself appropriately. Dress conservatively, look your potential employer in the eye, shake his or her hand, and remember to introduce yourself, use please and thank you and avoid using slang.

  • Appear confident. Remember, this is your opportunity to highlight a few reasons why you would be a great employee! Plan a 30-second summary of who you are, what kind of job you want and what skills you have. Example: “Hi, I’m Sara and I’m currently looking for a full-time summer position where I can use the childcare skills that I’ve developed from working in a preschool after school for the last year. I love kids!”

  • Answer (and ask!) questions. You will no doubt be asked typical interview questions, such as why you are interested in the position, what types of skills you offer, and the hours you are available to work. Prepare your answers beforehand. And do not be afraid to ask questions. Asking questions does not make you look stupid. In fact, it is the reverse. Questions show the interviewer that you are thoughtful and that you are not afraid to interact with other people.

  • Bring twenty copies of your resume and remember to smile!

    While I sympathize with youth in their struggle to approach a confusing and sometimes frustrating labor market, and while I admire the courage it takes for them to do so, I am reminded of all the young people who have come back to share with me their experiences of growing in ways they could not even imagine when they first started out in the world of work. I see the confidence in their eyes when they tell me that work is not just about the money. I remember what James Ellis, a well-known Seattle community organizer, said about work being the demonstration of our ability to change our environment. I believe as well, that sometimes the environment has the ability to change us.

    Cheryl Hudson is the Youth Employment Coordinator at Mercer Island Youth & Family Services 206-236-3524 For information about other services at MIYFS, contact Gayle Erickson, Clinical Supervisor, at 206-236-3525.

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