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Job Interview Strategies for Teens:
Part I -- Interview Preparation
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
As much as you'd like to be earning some money, the idea of job-hunting can be pretty intimidating. If you're feeling shy and lacking confidence about getting out there and talking to employers, you are far from alone, according to many career counselors. "Many of the students I counsel are so nervous during an interview that they come across as a bit withdrawn, which may translate into lacking self-confidence or lacking interest and enthusiasm for the position," observes Lisette Ruiz, a career counselor.
Our two-part article offers tips to help you cruise through job interviews confidently and land the job with flying colors. In Part I of job-interview strategies for teens, we provide interview-preparation tips (see Part II for how to handle yourself at the interview):
- Know yourself. Before you even start the job-hunting process, take some time to put yourself under the microscope. The more self-aware you are, the more comfortable and confident you will be in job interviews. Ruiz suggests making a list of your strengths and abilities. Make another list of your achievements. Teen girls in particular may need to work on building confidence. "My experience with teenage girls, including a daughter, is that they tend to be very shy -- or painfully modest -- about their achievements," says Phil Hey, director of career services at Briar Cliff University. "Nobody expects a teenage girl to have started a million-dollar company or won a world championship, but even 'ordinary' achievements show good performance and other career values," Hey notes. Sarah Bigham, director of Career Services at Hood College, suggests practicing saying positive things about your skills and abilities.
- Know about the job you'll be interviewing for. Maureen Crawford Hentz, who formerly hired teens for specific jobs at the New England Aquarium, liked to test applicants' interview preparation. "If an applicant came in to interview for an Aquarium Guide position and told me that she thought she would be feeding the animals and 'stuff,' I knew that she has not read the job description," Hentz says.
- Think about yourself in relation to the job. "Read through the job description thoroughly so you know what they are looking for and the skills you possess that match," suggests Gail Fox, assistant director of career services, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. "Then think about your personality and ask family and friends what they particularly like about you. Bring this information into the interview as well. It shows that you prepared yourself, that you are thoughtful and cared enough about the employer to bring them your best." Laura Yu of the career-services office at Virginia Tech advises asking yourself, "What do I have that would make someone want to hire me for this job?"
- Understand what employers are looking for. "The primary concerns for most employers talking to teens are these: Will you be here as scheduled? If we are willing to teach you, are you willing to learn?" says Gale Montgomery, former career-services coordinator at Simpson College. "With this in mind, I encourage teens to respond to the questions with frequent reassurances of reliability and capabilities to learn quickly, but with a willingness to ask questions for clarity." Recent grad-school graduate Jeanie Collins notes that the interviewer is not out to get you. "The interviewer is looking for a person with ordinary qualifications who has the attitude to do an extraordinary job," Collins observes.
- Practice. Ask friends and family members to conduct practice interviews with you. You can find many lists of commonly asked interview questions on the Internet, including our site's list of questions, or in interviewing books. Also practice your body language and handshake.
- Plan to dress nicely and appear well groomed. Dress more conservatively than you normally would and even a bit more conservatively than the typical dress at the workplace at which you're interviewing. Emily Hamvay, who interviewed for many jobs as a teen, describes the preferred mode of interview attire as "like Sunday church gear." Among the "don'ts" mentioned by career counselors are heavy makeup, open-toed shoes, revealing clothing, short skirts, visible piercings, tattoos, clingy tops, platform shoes, huge earrings, wrinkled clothing, and hair in your face. Carol Yoannone, student performance director at the Community College of Allegheny County, PA, describes a particularly unfortunate fashion choice she once observed at a job fair: "A young woman walked in with a spaghetti-strap evening dress." Read our article, When Job-Hunting: Dress for Success.
- "Have an 'old' person approve your proposed interview outfit before you buy it or wear it to an interview," advises Hood College's Sarah Bigham, who notes that she sees "way too many short skirts, low-cut tops extravagant fingernails, etc." Bigham also cautions against jewelry that clangs and makeup that glitters. "Anybody who is old enough to be your mother should look you over before you leave the house," Bigham suggests. She also advises that teens wear their interview outfits and shoes before the interview -- for more than a few minutes. "You want to be comfortable on your big day!"
- Be prepared to be interviewed even when you're not expecting to. If you're cruising the mall filling out job applications, don't be surprised if some employers want to interview you on the spot. The nature of the jobs that teens typically seek makes impromptu interviews more likely than they are for other age groups, and they are especially likely if the store has a "help-wanted" sign in the window. Since you could be interviewed at any time, you should dress appropriately when you go out to fill out applications. Also be mentally prepared, and don't balk if an employer asks to interview you on the spot.
- Consider enlisting moral support. Hamvay describes her unusual approach to interviews as a teen. "To help with the butterflies, I would ask my mom to go to the interview with me and stay in the car while I was interviewing." The Mom-in-the-car plan works well, Hamvay says, because "if you don't do so well or you don't get the job, you have a easy escape plan. Or if you forget something, such as a pen, references, safety pins, moms are famous for being prepared with all of the essentials." Hamvay says mom is also crucial for providing the all-important "good-luck smooch," and she might just buy you ice cream after the interview.
- Set realistic expectations about salary. Let's face it; most teen jobs pay minimum wage. You should certainly be aware of what the current minimum wage is so you're not surprised and so you don't ask for less than minimum wage. If the situation seems right, you could even consider asking for more, as attorney Trinity Hundredmark Fitzpatrick did as a teen. "One thing I learned on my interview at a local retail store was to ask for more than I thought I was going to get," Fitzpatrick recalls. "Everyone had told me that I was going to get minimum wage because of my age no matter what I did. I threw caution to the wind and decided to ask for more, telling my interviewer that the store could hire someone at minimum wage, or they could take me for a little more money, but much better work. The manager chose me, even at the higher price. Don't underestimate your worth."
- Know what hours you can work, and prepare to be flexible. Consider school, homework, extracurricular activities, sports -- anything that takes up your time. Be able to clearly articulate to the employer the hours you are available to work. If the employer needs more availability, and you really want the job, consider giving up a nonessential activity.
And be sure to check out all the many other interviewing resources (tutorials, articles, tips, and more) available at Quintessential Careers in our Guide to Job Interviewing Resources.
Finally, find additional resources for teen job-seekers here: Job and Career Resources for Teenagers: Including Tools for Younger and Older Teens.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.
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