“My parents told me I have to get a job for the first time this summer. I just finished my junior year of high school — how am I supposed to get hired with no work experience?” — Todd from Burlington, VT
Hi Todd. This is a great time to get started and line something up that will keep you engaged throughout the summer months.
I know from personal experience that as a high school or college student it can feel daunting to apply for a summer job because chances are you haven’t had much work experience. Don’t let this initial fear hold you back because you have more experience to draw from than you give yourself credit for.
I would like to share three basic tips that helped me secure my summer jobs and internships. In fact, I continue to use these pieces of advice today.
First, it’s important to create a résumé that showcases your skills and experiences and to update it frequently. A basic résumé can be broken up into the following categories:
- Education: Educational experiences (even in high school) can be very relevant to potential employers who are often looking for young responsible individuals who work well in teams. Various activities such as membership in student organizations, clubs or organized sports demonstrate these important qualities. A strong academic record or record of improvement also demonstrate hard work and commitment.
- Work and volunteer experience: You may have limited work experience but remember that you can draw on many different experiences. The important thing is to show that you are reliable and that your skills are applicable to various work environments. For instance, there are many skills and experiences that one can cultivate by working as a babysitter, camp counselor, volunteer, server or tutor. No matter what you’ve done, it’s important to describe your responsibilities and the skills you cultivated.
- Skills and interests: Sometimes it’s difficult for employers to get a sense of who a person is by simply looking at their résumé. By adding a brief section about your interests (e.g. art, community service, languages, basketball) you will come across as a “real person” rather than a piece of paper. Don’t forget to also include applicable skills such as language and computer/social media skills (e.g. Microsoft Office and Facebook).
Second, it’s never too early to learn the art of networking. In most cases the key to securing an interview and ultimately a job is through networking. Start by creating a “relationship matrix” or a list of people who could be of help (e.g. your relatives, your parents’ friends and colleagues, your friends’ parents/siblings, etc.). Reach out to these people, let them know that you are looking for a job and what your goals and questions are. Ask them if they would be willing to serve as a reference and introduce you to a couple more contacts. At the same time, create a list of “target companies” (companies that you would like to work for) and a list of job resources where you can search for job openings such as Indeed and Simply Hired.
Third, prepare yourself to write a great cover letter and have a great interview by doing the following exercise: match up your skills to the tasks of the job for which you are applying and give concrete examples. For instance, in one of my early cover letters I wrote, “My skills and interests are a good fit for this position as reflected through my volunteer and work experience. During my summer job I cultivated excellent communication and customer service skills.”
Above all, don’t forget that you have important skills and experiences that are transferable to the workplace even if you’re just starting out.