Summer Jobs: Top Five Ways to Get Employed

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It's just about summertime, when the heat descends and the bugs surface, reminding you that you do actually live on a swamp. And if you're a teen, there's another thing a'coming to bite you in the butt -- the summer job search.

This season will be no picnic for Houston teens. Mike Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute in D.C., studies teen unemployment numbers, which he called "historically high." The stats track teens ages 16-19 who are actively seeking employment. "What we have seen in Texas is that right now, as of the end of 2010, the state teen employment rate is at a decade low," Saltsman said. In January 2011, about 22 precent of teens were unemployed. In 2001, the number was just 16 percent.

But with a little hard work, even you can wake up early, come home late covered in deep-fryer grease and get on the lather/rinse/repeat cycle of a real job-having adult. (Getting paid, you'll find, is not a bad trade.) Here are five expert tips how.

5. Start now. Cut class, steal Mom's car, do whatever it takes to get to that job interview within the next week. By the end of April, your dream job scooping ice cream and singing for tips may be gone.

According to a SnagAJob.com survey of hiring managers, 43 percent of seasonal hiring will be finished by the end of April, a timeline 3 percent faster than that of last year. "Waiting is the number-one mistake and can also cost you the whole summer," said Stefanie Fontanez, spokesperson for the job-search Web site SnagAJob.com. "Apply now and apply often."

Luckily, not all local employers hire early. The YMCA, a huge local hirer of teens, still has plenty of jobs, said Ann Herlocher, director of communications for the YMCA of Greater Houston. She said that positions are usually filled by the middle of May, once school gets out and the pools open up.

4. Be equal parts flexible and charming. Slap on that smile and make sure to stretch, because this year you've got to be flexible and have a good attitude. I know, right? This is worse than applying for college! But competition's fierce, and you've got to be fiercer. Last year, managers reported that they most highly valued a positive attitude in summer worker bees. "Tell the hiring manager you really want to be there," Fontanez said. "Don't be coy." This year, positive attitude still tops the charts, but it's tied with an employee's ability to work the daily schedule.

3. Follow up, the right way. How do you differentiate yourself from the stacks of identical résumés in your potential employer's office? Follow up. Herlocher of the YMCA said she always likes to see follow-up. "Especially for the youth working for their first job, we want to see people who are go-getters and people who care about what they apply for," she said. But be sensitive to the fact that employers are swamped, Fontanez suggested. "If you play your cards well and call during a time you know isn't busy to speak to the hiring manager -- and keep it brief -- I think you'll have a better chance," she said. 2. Get creative. "The frustrating thing about being a teen this summer is that a lot of the jobs that teens used to fill -- like bagging groceries, bussing tables, price checking at retail stores -- a lot of these jobs aren't there anymore," said Saltsman from the Employment Policies Institute. "Employees have been sort of replaced by computers."

Not to mention that teens are competing with adults vying for the same jobs, he added.

Recession-proof yourself by getting creative with your job search. Don't just try to be a lifeguard. "A lot of other places see increases in the summer, like theaters and Laser Quest," Fontanez said. "Daycares are going to be full...anything where you think there might be a need, there probably is one. Just because it's not a traditional seasonal job doesn't mean they won't have seasonal positions." After all, a computer can't mentor a child, but you can.

1. Take what you can get. Okay, it's not a strategy we readily prescribe. Texas teens should still hold out for wedlock and a good, God-fearing, Bible-thumping virgin before they have sex. But job-wise, it's a desperate time, according to one of the highlighted comments from hiring managers in the survey: "Take whatever job you're offered. You'll learn something even if you think you deserve a better job."

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