Home and Family     Just for Women     K-12    

The job hunt: teen edition

Advice for teens looking to land a summer job

summer job for kids

Lisa Berger's current job as the Director of Economic Development for Ulster County is a far cry from her first job picking strawberries on a farm.

Still, that first job was invaluable for the skills and lessons it taught her about work that she now passes on to young people.

"Those first jobs teach time management, how to be reliable, responsibility to others," she says. "All of those carry on throughout your life."

Between skill development and making some money, teens have much to gain when they get a part-time or seasonal job, Berger says. But sometimes teens are unsure where to begin as many of the jobs traditionally filled by teenage workers in the past are no longer an option.

READ MORE: Math and Science skills are a must in the workforce

According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2015, "the summer employment rate for 16- to 17-year-olds was 20 percent, less than half the level it was at as recently as the year 2000."

Opportunities exist

But for teens who do want to work, there are some options out there. "A great thing for 16 and 17-year-olds to do is get a certification so they can work as lifeguards," Berger says.

Tara Burke, the former recreation director for the town of Rosendale, says that the cost of certification, as well as the fact that there are very few places in the Hudson Valley that offer the certification course, means that lifeguards are in high demand.

Burke says that she must fill three shifts a day, seven days a week. The town hires lifeguards as young as 15 and 16 years old.

And although there are still open positions to be filled, Burke says applicants must put their best foot forward if they want to land a job.

"Come in with a sense of commitment, a willingness to learn and show us you are trainable," she says.

Berger also recommends dressing professionally when asking for and returning an application.

"You don't need to wear a suit, but make sure you are dressed neatly and appropriately," she says. "First impressions really matter."

Age can be an asset

Splashdown Beach Waterpark in Fishkill hires teens as young as 16 years old to fill operations and lifeguard positions. Their grounds and maintenance departments require job candidates to be 18.

READ MORE: Should parents pay kids for good grades?

"A majority of our employees are teenagers," says Splashdown's General Manager Taryn Eisenman. "At least 65 percent of our staff are under the age of 20. We have numerous departments with open positions currently."

The general manager of Burger King in Newburgh said that she loves hiring teenagers to work at the restaurant, who make up the majority of her staff.

"I get three or fours years out of them," she says, about avoiding turnover and having to train new staff members.

She advises potential applicants, who must be at least 16 years old, to dress well, make eye contact and engage enthusiastically when coming in to fill out an application.

And because it can be more difficult these days for high schoolers to land a summer job, every county in the Hudson Valley runs a Summer Youth Employment Program for teenagers from families with low or moderate incomes. 

"Teens who meet the requirements, like if their family receives SNAP benefits or their family's income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, can get a paid five-week summer job," she says. "They just need to apply with the county."

Counties also occasionally hold job fairs for teens, especially in the springtime when teens are looking for summer work.

READ MORE: Top tips for parenting teens

A teen’s perspective

That's how Hunter McVae, a New Paltz High School student, found his first job as a recreation attendant at the Ulster County pool last summer. He plans on working for the highway department this year.

"Working is a great experience. I enjoy it because I believe it builds character and teaches valuable life lessons and responsibilities," he says.

Eisenman from Splashdown said there are added benefits beyond making money.

"We offer a great atmosphere where many of them make friends for years to come. And there's always the benefit of working outdoors all summer," she says. McVae agrees.

"My favorite thing about having a job is meeting new people and making friends, along with being occupied with work," he says. 

But overall, working a job can give teens a significant head start in saving money and preparing for a career.

"I think it's very beneficial to try and get a job as soon as you can, so you can get used to working and start saving money," McVae says."

Elora Tocci is a freelance writer born and raised in Newburgh. She is a communications and public affairs associate at Citizens' Committee for Children of New York.