Teen jobs: Are you ready to enter the workforce?

Jessica Young and Emilie Arkin

Are you thinking about moving from babysitting and mowing lawns to a real part-time job to save for college, buy more clothes or finance an iPod? You’re probably thinking it would be nice to have your own supply of money that doesn’t come from Mom and Dad.

The prospect of having a formal interview with an adult firing questions and critiquing responses can be overwhelming — especially for first-time job-seekers. But this quick true-false quiz can help young workers ace the application process and land a job.

1. It’s OK for my mom or dad to inquire about a job on my behalf.

FALSE. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for parental advice, but it needs to stop there. Mom and Dad should not be filling out and dropping off applications or placing follow-up calls for you.

“If a parent calls, it will be held against you, and it’s a sure sign that candidate won’t be moving on to the next level in the application process,” said Susan Rini, superintendent of human resources with the Carol Stream (Ill.) Park District. “You have to show us that you have the ability to represent yourself and are responsible for your own actions.”

2. Casual dress is acceptable because I’m only applying for a part-time gig — not looking to jump-start my long-term career with a power suit.

FALSE. First impressions are everything. So make sure you’re tasteful.

“You come in a step above the position you want to hold,” said Mike Huber, general manager for Fresh Meadow Golf Club in Hillside, Ill. “Our card attendants typically wear collared shirts and khaki pants, so the applicant should come in a button-up shirt with a tie. As a young person coming in with no work history, I don’t have much to go on besides how you present yourself.”

The rule of thumb is to dress conservatively. Tongue or nose rings, visible tattoos, cleavage and exposed backs, midriffs and thighs are taboo, according to Jane Harris, a high school career counselor. While it’s not necessary to arrive in your Sunday best, it’s crucial to appear clean and neat.

3. Being polite, engaged and articulate during the interview is the best way to score the job.

TRUE. Having a positive attitude and enthusiasm, as well as the ability to think on your feet will serve you well and set you apart from other applicants.

“Being able to express yourself and get across your personality is important, but you want to be careful coming off sarcastic or too cool,” said Rini, who fills lifeguard, youth sports official and summer camp counselor slots. “I’m looking for someone who is personable, courteous and outgoing. A person who comes in and is quiet and gives one-word answers or overuses ‘like’ and ‘um’ is not going to cut it in a public service capacity.”

According to Rini, asking questions shows her you’ve thought about the process.

4. I’ve never had an interview before, so I plan on winging it. The interviewer is aware of this and has low expectations for high school applicants.

FALSE. Prepare before you show up. This is the time where you need to sell yourself and draw connections between skills you’ve honed during extracurricular experience and the job you’d be doing.

“Do some mock interviews with family, friends, someone in the career center or a consumer ed teacher,” Harris said. “Google the top 10 interview questions and rehearse your answers so that you’re less anxious.”

If it’s a daycare job you’re seeking, stress your love for kids, CPR certification and babysitting background. If it’s a sales position at Home Depot, talk about the bridge, mousetrap car and catapult you built from scratch in science class. Develop your pitch. Do some brainstorming on why you’d be an asset and provide examples.

While you don’t need to know the corporate history or hierarchy of the place where you’re applying, it does help to know the organization’s mission statement and what services are accessible to the public. Most companies are easy to learn about from their Web sites.

“Peruse our Web site a little to get a sense for what we offer. It’s not a bad idea to flip through the park district catalog,” Rini said. “If you’re coming in saying, ‘My friend works here, and he told me that you’re hiring,’ we’re going to probe deeper. If we ask you what position you’re interested in and all you say is, ‘Uh, I don’t know — my friend works. Do you have a pool?’ it’s ‘Ehh! Buzzer. Next candidate please.’”

5. No one will hire me if I’m upfront about all of the summer commitments I have, so I should wait until the manager is doing the schedule to break it to him or her.

FALSE. Come clean about your obligations early. Your future boss will appreciate your honesty and see that you’re conscientious about their personnel needs. But do this at an appropriate time in the conversation, like when you’re asked about availability. Don’t lead with scheduling restrictions.

“You don’t need to list times and dates, but if they ask more about your commitments, you can expand,” Huber said. “The biggest frustration I have with new hires is that they don’t communicate when they need time off and end up standing us up. We try to be flexible, but at the same time, we are trying to run an operation here.”

6. A follow-up call is a good idea.

TRUE. “If I’m between a couple of girls, that check-in definitely puts one on top for me,” said Rose Zajac, manager at Daniel Stevens Salon in Downers Grove, Ill., which hires high schoolers for receptionist and shampoo positions. “It shows that she’s on top of things and really is interested in the job, so that scores points for me.”

Huber, who fills card and range attendant, banquet staff and bus-person openings, says to avoid being overly aggressive. So give it a little time.

INTERVIEW CHECKLIST

Prepare for these questions:

- Tell me about yourself.

- Why are you interested in this job?

- Why should I hire you over the other candidates I’m interviewing? What makes you qualified for the position?

- Tell me about a problem you had and how you solved it.

- What motivates you?

Interview dos:

- Be punctual.

- Have all of the information you’ll need to complete an application (i.e., references with contact information, school address and phone number, activity list and chronology, honors/recognition).

- Think about your availability and transportation logistics before you’re asked.

- Make the most of your first encounter. You rarely get a second chance if you blow it during the initial interview.

Interview don’ts:

- Don’t forget to turn off your cell phone or set it on vibrate.

- Don’t feel like you’re out of your league when talking to an adult. Confidence (not cockiness) will make you a more attractive candidate.

- Don’t start an interview by asking about pay rates or by making demands. Instead, focus on questions that show you understand the job or want to know how you can best make an impact.

- Don’t write illegibly on applications. If your handwriting is bad, bring printed labels with your name, phone number and address on them, and make sure to fill out every box.