Often considered a rite of passage, a teen's first summer job is not only a way to earn money, but to gain skills that will position him or her for future success. "A summer job exposes teens to an employee-employer relationship that is different from any relationship they may have with their parents, teachers or friends," says Patrick Herrity, a Fairfax County supervisor who coordinates an annual summer job fair in Northern Virginia. "Summer employment gives teens the opportunity to learn the skills that will make them successful and valued in the workplace."

Summer jobs are invaluable, according to Nadia Conyers, a workforce development specialist with Arlington County, Virginia. "They instill discipline and a sense of responsibility - students learn what it means to be on time and ready to go," she says.

"The fact is - whether a high school student moves directly into the work force or on to college - a resume with work experience is critical," says Herrity. "On-the-job experience is indispensable when it comes to a student's future success."

Colleges, many of which ask for resumes as part of the application process, tend to look favorably at summer employment. And, a summer job may provide fodder for the application essay.

  • Hiring Outlook

    While reports on the prospects for summer youth employment come out in the spring, when hiring is underway, the trend over the last several years has been positive. In 2017, between April and July, the number of employed youth, ages 16 to 24, increased by 1.9 million to 20.9 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

    Over the long term, teen labor force participation has been on a downward trend. Last July, 43.2 percent of teens between the ages of 16 and 19 had jobs, down almost 30 points from the high of 71.8 percent in July 1978, the BLS reported. A number of factors - including an increased focus on summer studies for those who are college bound and, as a result of the 2008 recession, competition from older workers, young college graduates and foreign-born workers - led to the decline, noted the BLS.

  • Job Prospects

    The majority of summer jobs that are open to teens require students be at least 16 years old, according to Arlington's Conyers. That's because state labor agencies place additional restrictions on workers who are 14 and 15. With few exceptions, those under 14 may not be employed. Virginia mandates that 14- and 15-year-olds apply for a work permit; Maryland and the District of Columbia require those age 17 and under to obtain a work permit. "This ensures that the employer follows certain rules and regulations and that parents also know what those rules are," says Conyers.

    Because summer brings an increase in leisure spending - people tend to shop, eat out and take vacations - jobs in the restaurant, retail-sales and travel industries are top prospects for seasonal employment, according to the BLS. With school out, opportunities in childcare abound. Traditional summer jobs - such as lifeguard, camp counselor, golf caddie and gardener - remain popular options.

    The majority of summer jobs are part time, according to snagajob.com, a website that matches businesses and hourly employees. In 2016, teens worked an average of 28 hours a week. Only one third of teens worked full time. The average hourly wage was $12.75, up from $11.32 and $10.39 in 2015 and 2014, respectively.

  • Prepare for the Job Hunt

    Begin now, as 70 percent of hourly employers fill their jobs in April or May, according to Snagajob. In talking about summer employment, Conyers suggests touching on expectations - yours, your student's and prospective employers' - as well as your teen's interests and strengths.

    "Talk to your teens and let them know that finding a summer job is a process. You generally don't just walk in and get hired," says Conyers. "In this generation of immediate gratification, expectations can be unrealistic. Discuss what will be expected in the workplace - what it means to be timely, disciplined and follow through on a task."

    Explore transportation, especially if a parent cannot drive a child to and from work. Walking, bicycling, carpooling and public transportation may be options. Taxis or ride-sharing can eat up a teen's take-home pay, diminishing enthusiasm for a job.

    Avoid securing a job for your teen. "You're not going to be the one working the job, so let your child be involved from start to finish," says Conyers. It's not unusual for a parent's view of their child's interests and strengths to differ from that of the teen. "If the job involves speaking skills and your teen isn't comfortable with that kind of interaction, the job may not work out in the end," she says. Parents can, however, ask friends, colleagues and neighbors for leads.

    Develop a resume, which can be difficult for those without formal work experience. "Teens should think about experiences that are work related but may not be labeled as work, whether it's from a family business, church, volunteer group or after-school activity," says Conyers. "Talk about how those skills transfer to the workplace and make the teen marketable. Then add them to the resume along with classes from school, such as foreign language or technology, that can highlight specific skills," she says. Teens also can stress that they are tech-savvy, eager to learn, moldable and reliable.

    If parents lack the skills to help their teen create a resume, there are options. Conyers notes that the Arlington Employment Center offers resume-writing workshops. "Every locality has an employment center. It's a federal mandate," she says. "Young people often are interested in hearing from subject matter experts, as opposed to parents. Let us guide your young person to work readiness and remove some of the stress."

    Fairfax Supervisor Herrity's teen job fairs include a resume-building workshop. "It is done two different ways - as a seminar or one where you share what you've done with your resume and we'll talk you through improving it," he says.

  • Find a Job

    Attend a free job fair. Often held in March and April, fairs make it easy for a teen to connect with businesses. Arlington County's Teen Summer Expo includes upwards of 60 employers, as do those held in Fairfax County. More than 400 teens attended each of the four Fairfax job fairs last year, according to Herrity. "Some got jobs on the spot, while others had to wait," he says. "Those who didn't leave with jobs left with experience from interviewing and talking to employers."

    Build on past relationships. Camps, pools and tennis clubs often hire from within their ranks. For example, campers can become counselors in training and then full-fledged counselors.

    Go online. A search for "summer job" followed by your city or town often yields results; snagajob.com, groovejob.com, indeed.com and monster.com are among sites listing seasonal jobs.

    Visit the mall - not to shop but to knock on doors. Teens, dressed appropriately, should ask store and restaurant managers if they are hiring for summer, now or in the future. If so, they should get an application, which ideally they can complete at home and have someone proofread.

    Connect with parks and recreation programs. City and county governments hire teens to staff parks, playgrounds and community centers and to lead summer programs. State parks employ teens as rangers, maintenance staff, lifeguards, naturalists, historic reenactors and office staff. The U.S. Conservation Corp hires teens to build trails, maintain fences, clean up campgrounds, improve wildlife habitat and restore streams and historic structures.

    Should your teen be fortunate enough to nab a job interview, a mock interview and discussion of appropriate attire may make them feel more secure. Encourage your student to ask questions that demonstrate an interest in the job and learn what to expect in terms of work schedule and compensation.

  • Have a Plan B

    Rejection, while disappointing, does not leave a teen without summer work options.

    "Become an entrepreneur. This is a particularly good way for 14- and 15-year-olds to gain experience," says Conyers. "Become the provider of a service. If Andy's lawn care charges $80 and you can do it for less than that, you'll find yourself with a job." Teens can advertise their service by hanging flyers or having a parent post to a neighborhood listserv. Dog walking, babysitting, after-camp child care, plant or pet sitting, sports training, tutoring, photo or document scanning and computer troubleshooting are other possibilities for the budding entrepreneur.

    Serve as a volunteer. This is often a way for students to earn the community service hours required for high school graduation. Many local governments have websites that serve as a clearinghouse for volunteer positions. For example, a teen can search the Montgomery County Volunteer Center website for positions that are preapproved for student service learning hours, close to home, outdoors, wheelchair accessible or by age restrictions. A keyword search brings up jobs requiring specific skills or in certain fields or industries. Experience gained through volunteer work often can be parlayed into a paying job the following summer.

    Finding a summer job requires planning and patience. And while a paycheck is nice, the focus for teens should be on gaining experience and developing skills that will strengthen their resume, whether they plan to use it in applying for college or a job, and help them navigate the world of work in the future.


Karen Finucan Clarkson, whose first summer job was as a lifeguard, is a Bethesda mother of three adult sons, whose seasonal jobs ranged from after-camp child care provider to camp counselor to colonial farm historic interpreter to theater backstage aide.