Advice for a teenager at job interviews.
July 19, 2007 10:17 AM   Subscribe

JobFilter: What is your best advice to a teenager who is jobhunting, in regards to the actual interview?

For the past few months, I've been searching for my second ever job anywhere to supplement the college tuition I'll soon be paying- small shops, drugstores, grocers, etc, to supplement the freelance design work I do (which pays well, but isn't steady enough).

I apply, follow up, and try and arrange an interview- but now I've gone through half a dozen interviews, and no one has seemed interested in hiring me, even if they have positions they need filled. (I'm a 17 year old female, for the record.)

My answer for why I left my last job is "Now-resolved health issues," so I'm not sure if they're alarmed by that. I had a car accident in October, and my previous employer (at a grocery store) was not willing to work on me, schedule wise or shift wise, while I was in physical therapy (10 hour Saturday rush shifts with no bagger, telling me I'm to work x hours when I come in, but changed to more hours after I get back from break).

When I go to an interview, I dress nicely (khakis and a blouse, or a dress skirt and a blouse), am polite, answer questions as honestly as I can in a way that doesn't put me in a bad light, and am (I hope) engaging and amiable. My hours are very flexible (willing to work nights, mornings, weekends, whichever), and I'm willing to accept almost any position.

Still... no job. Tell me, Hive Mind- What am I doing wrong? How can I seem like a better prospective employee to my interviewers?
posted by Glitter Ninja to Work & Money (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it sounds like you're doing all the right stuff. I'd hire you.

Take it a step further, though.

I got jobs when I was your age the same way I've gotten jobs ever since: networking. I got a job when I was fifteen as a bread baker because I'd hung out at my mom's office Xmas party with the caterer, who knew the bakery owner. I got the next job after that because the baker knew the business owner. I found out about the job I'm in now because a friend works at this company and let me know about the opening (and dropped a good word to the person hiring, and HR). Etc.

Where are your friends working? Where are your parents, and your friends' parents, working? Put the word out that you're looking; having an in at a company is never a bad thing when you're job hunting.
posted by rtha at 10:24 AM on July 19, 2007

How much are you bugging them for the job?

In my experience, if you follow up the interview with a phone call the day after, then continue to do so daily until they give you a definite yes or no, then that tends to help. In these kind of jobs, it seems like employers will give in to someone who nags them enough for the job. It shows that you want the job.
posted by fallenposters at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2007

The "health issue" might be raising a red flag. At 17 years old, jobs come and go, I don't think it would be a bad thing to gloss over what happened. I would just say that you left the job to focus on your schoolwork or something.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:27 AM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Two suggestions:

1) Try your local megabookstore - the atmosphere is likely to be less physically intense and just more mellow overall, and your previous retail experience will be a bonus, I imagine.

2) Get out of retail and look for office work, either something secretarial that has flexible hours, or something that you've got some skills in already based on your previous/expected education, hobbies, or experience.

Also - universities are *full* of jobs just like what you're describing, and there's almost always a career center advertising campus positions that only students have access to.
posted by mdonley at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2007

Don't mention health issues. It's more prudent to say, "schedule conflicts" or "prior outside commitments didn't work with their scheduling," which is exactly correct, but doesn't reveal the actual why, and no red flag.
posted by plinth at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2007

I would change the 'why you left your last job' answer to something more ambiguous, like 'not enough hours' or 'conflicted with school schedule' or something of that nature. Your answer may be scaring them off.

What am I doing wrong?

It really seems as if you're doing everything right, but I can't see you. Is there something about your appearance which might be off-putting to a small town employer? I'm thinking blue hair, etc here...

I have a 17 year old son who gets every job he applies for, and he dresses in a polo shirt and khakis to interview, and like you he's pleasant and polite and accommodating as far as hours go. He usually applies at big box type stores where there's a high turnover, stores like Best Buy or Circuit City. Anything like that around you? Also, do you have transportation? That's usually a dealbreaker to prospective employers.
posted by iconomy at 10:33 AM on July 19, 2007

Heh. I suppose I should note- my hair is dyed, but a natural auburnish colour, and I have facial piercings, but no longer wear them, and the holes aren't visible unless you're hunting for them (one in my septum, one under my lower lip).

I do have transportation- I have a full license, and my own car. I'll keep in mind to change my answer about why I left my previous job.
posted by Glitter Ninja at 10:38 AM on July 19, 2007

khakis and a blouse, or a dress skirt and a blouse

I hope I'm not out of date here or anything, but it couldn't hurt to add a plain, classic blazer. It really takes the edge off of "teen-ager."

Sometimes, though, job-hunting just sucks through no fault of your own. I wish you the best of luck. I went through a real hell with it at your age -- then got multiple offers in the same week. Chin up!
posted by kmennie at 10:38 AM on July 19, 2007

I own a couple of fast food restaurants, so I'm a bit used to this (although it's in another country).

The only issue I could imagine you would have is if people think you're over-qualified and therefore won't stay on the job for very long. Sometimes we get resumes for entry-level jobs, which go on and on about how this person speaks 4 different languages, and has extensive computer skills. That makes me think they sent the same resume out to everyone from fast-food to office work, and that they are more interested in the office job.

So, (and I'm just guessing) it may be an idea to "dumb-it-down" a little bit. Focus on the things that will actually be helpful for the job you're applying for and talk about that. If you're applying at the grocery stores they want to know about your communication skills, not how good you are with Photoshop.
posted by einarorn at 10:40 AM on July 19, 2007

I would never ever mention health in an interview unless I absolutely had to. These people are probably worried you'll need lots of time off or are working there just to get full time status thus benefits so you can get health insurance. They might also be concerned that you sounds like the type who would take the job just long enough for unemployment. Or who knows. Just say your last job didnt give you many hours.

man its depressing that in america people are scared if you sound like you are just trying to get health insurance youre willing to pay for.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:42 AM on July 19, 2007

One concern employers might have is if you'll still stick around when school starts, or if your hours will drastically be lower. I usually had the best luck at temp agencies, restaurants, & seasonal jobs.
posted by ejaned8 at 10:52 AM on July 19, 2007

"Now-resolved health issues" sounds exactly like code for "rehab" to me. You'd be better off noting that you were recovering from physical injuries.
posted by desuetude at 11:04 AM on July 19, 2007

Sometimes what we think is a red flag really isn't. As far as the "health issues" go, I would just say that you were in a car accident and you had to take time off to rehab from your injuries and leave it at that. Any employer who's going to be a pain in the butt about that isn't going to be worth working for.

I'd concentrate more on finding out what the employer wants. If you know other people who had similar jobs, you could find out the positive traits a manager would look for in that job. I think for many entry-level/part-time jobs, it's not so much the experience, but the personality. So ask questions about what traits the manager likes to see in people. Maybe it's attention to detail or maybe it's an outgoing personality. Basically think of how you can fit in with the team.
posted by rsol44 at 11:23 AM on July 19, 2007

nth-ing the "don't mention health". Any mention of a health concern by a 17 year old is going to spook an employer.

But... I'd probably tell them about the accident. If I asked, "Why'd you leave your last job?" I'd rather hear, "I was in a car wreck last fall and wasn't able to work while I was in physical therapy. When you're a low-wage grocery employee, they won't hold your job for you." because not only is it the truth, it's specific and you're not really to blame. It might even get you a little sympathy, if you don't lay it on too thick.

"Conflicts with schedule/school" concerns me because you're 17, and will be going back to school in a couple months (and last year, you left your job in the fall). Am I going to lose you over schedule conflicts right before Thanksgiving this year?
posted by toxic at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you are planning to work during the school year, i'd definitely recommend a position on-campus versus offcampus for several reasons. You will be more likely to make new friends, and it will be a lot easier to network. Networking is in my experience the best way to a good job, and you can eventually move into better part time jobs on campus as you have experience and know more people.

Oh, and usually on-campus employers are a lot more forgiving of school schedule, strange hours, random stuff, etc. The pay may be lower or higher than general retail jobs, depending on your technical level or experience.

For the actual interview, I'd just come across as assertive but not terribly unique. There are probably plenty of other people interviewing for the same position, and I'm sure that many of them use less suspicious words for possible red flags. Don't feel like you are dishonest if you follow suggestions above, nobody expects you to disqualify yourself.
posted by mezamashii at 11:29 AM on July 19, 2007

Seconding toxic, and Nth-ing the poor wording of "health issues". If I'm a business owner, which I'm not: I don't (as in DO NOT) want to hire someone with "health issues". I might get a hypochondriac who calls in sick once a week or needs three hour lunches for appointments. Or, worst case, develops a health issue that's marginally job-related and gets me in a bunch of legal mess. You should just bluntly say you were in a car crash and couldn't work for a while.
posted by ctmf at 11:36 AM on July 19, 2007

Say you got in a car crash. It's the truth, and explains why you had to leave.

School just let out, so tons of kids are looking for jobs, and just as many of them will be quitting in 2 months to go to college or back to high school--a lot of employers just don't want to deal with that, and would prefer to hire someone who will stick around. If you WILL stick around, tell them so in the interview.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:37 AM on July 19, 2007

Also, "health issues" is something that someone would say after getting fired for taking too many "sick" days, when they really just didn't feel like working.
posted by ctmf at 11:39 AM on July 19, 2007

I have to agree and disagree about the health issues. The way you phrase it here, definitely does sound spooky. But a simpler explanation of it "I got in a car accident and couldn't work for a while, so I left my last job" seems to me like it would be a perfectly adequate answer for any employer.
posted by antifuse at 11:44 AM on July 19, 2007

You could just say that you were in a car accident and that you're fine now. Most employers would understand that. Although you could say something about "not enough hours", the employer would wonder why you quit rather than get another job -- or whether the employer was trying to push you out. You could say that the schedule didn't fit with school, but do keep in mind that some employers will wonder if you're demanding. By being honest, you're probably in a better position. But don't say "medical issues". That raises a red flag.
posted by acoutu at 11:51 AM on July 19, 2007

Take a shower and use deodorant. Do NOT put on fragrance, as it bothers lots of people. A young man just interviewed here at my workplace. He reeked of body spray. He's not getting the job.
posted by Carol Anne at 12:11 PM on July 19, 2007

'I really want this job, and I'd like to start immediately.'

Those words will go a long way in putting you ahead of the competition.
posted by happyturtle at 12:31 PM on July 19, 2007

For a job interview, khakis are too casual, methinks. A nice pair of dress slacks paired with a blouse is more professional. And never underestimate the power of a sincere smile and outgoing attitude during the interview. Whether you get a clerical position or customer service or retail job, the employer will be looking for someone pleasant, confident and upbeat.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2007

Glitter Ninja, are you good at making eye contact? If (like a lot of teens) you're not, it would pay to practice. When a kid looks an adult in the eye, it makes a good impression. We tend to think they're smarter, more honest, more mature, more sesponsible, etc.

The written application isn't the important part. How you act and what you say directly to the manager have more of an effect. Dress and act the way you would if you were actually working at the place and putting your best foot forward. I completely agree that if you tell them you really want the job, it helps a great deal. Also, be ready when they ask why you want to work there: why the job is right for you, and why you're right for the job.

If you have questions, ask them. It's a good way to show what you're like, and also to find out what the job involves.

Some people are very bad at hiring and at interviewing applicants. They think they have to act a certain way and ask a certain set of questions -- It's very hard to win with them. Some are very afraid they're going to hire the wrong person, and you have to put them at ease. Some they already have someone in mind and do the rest of the interviews as if "going through the motions." Try to put yourself in the interviewer's place if you can, and keep trying.
posted by wryly at 1:29 PM on July 19, 2007

Agreed with everyone else that "health issues" is one of those euphemisms that leave a lot to the imagination, and the employer is likely to imagine a worst-case scenario (otherwise, why would you be using a euphemism?): drugs, psych problems, something that will recur, who knows.

You could even sidestep explaining about the car crash and just say, I broke my leg and couldn't work while I was recovering - or something similarly plain.

You could also say "I was ready for something a little more challenging - like your job" (assuming the job is in fact more interesting).

Also, yes: job hunting sucks, and it's not a reflection on you that you haven't heard back. Just keep on trying. Offhand, you could also try local hotels to see if they need desk staff; they often have night hours which might be easier to reconcile with your school schedule.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:35 PM on July 19, 2007

Everyone: thanks for all the tips, and keep them coming.

I actually had a job interview today, and used all the tips I read before I left the house- I am conditionally hired, depending on my drug test tomorrow (which there is no doubt I will pass.)

I made it clear I'd be working with them for more than the summer (as I'm starting college in the spring semester, not the upcoming one), and, if all goes well, I will within the next few weeks be working as an in-store beauty and cosmetics advisor for a national chain of drug stores.

Thanks for all your advice, and please, keep it coming, just in case I ever need it again. :)
posted by Glitter Ninja at 2:26 PM on July 19, 2007

Congrats! :)

I nth the "health issues" thing. If you leave it vague they might think you have a recurring health problem that will interfere with work. If you do find it necessary to bring up what happened with your last, definitely mention you needed physical therapy due to a car accident and that conflicted with your last job. You also might want to mention how the accident didn't involve drinking (on your part) or anything like that, just to be safe. :)

However, I would like to put out their that at your age, presumably still living off your parents without rent, etc, you should definitely be taking INTERNSHIPS, not jobs. I know it seems like you need the money now, but trust me, you ain't seen bills until you're out of college with hardly any work experience in the field you're interested in and trying to get an entry-level job. It's practically IMPOSSIBLE without an internship. I really regret not doing more internships in high school and college while most of my bills were still being paid. Don't make the same mistake- get as many internships as possible under your belt before college is over, because you won't be able to afford them after college! (And the paid internship is practically a myth- don't count on that!)

Of course I'm assuming you're going to a liberal arts college where they don't really give you work experience. If you're going to a trade school by all means ignore my internship advice because that's a different ballgame. :)
posted by thejrae at 3:53 PM on July 19, 2007

I used the wrong "there" in "I would like to put out their...). I hate that, lol! :) Wish we could edit comments (or am I dumb and haven't figured out how to yet?). :P
posted by thejrae at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2007

Just another suggestion, I once hired the guy who had written a note thanking us for the interview. It was polite, and it made the guy stand out.
I asked him later about it and he said he'd learn to do that in a job finding it's worth a try, and it might help someday.
posted by what-i-found at 7:10 PM on July 19, 2007

Here's what I know about job hunting.

Bring a pen. Bring a resume. Dress nice but you already know that. Find out about the place before you go and ask at least two questions about the place. Show them that you read up on them. Smile. Be honest and try to be comfortable. Tell them you want the job and can stay around (if you actually can and want to.) Call the next day. If you don't hear anything, call back again in a day or two. Keep doing this until they say yes or no. Hope this helps.
posted by smeater44 at 9:45 PM on July 19, 2007

nthing health issues. i was in a car crash and needed time off sounds far less suspicious than health issues.

Dress as well as you can (nice skirt, blouse, shoes etc or whatever? im a boy so i get away with the shirt and tie) even if the job does not require that level of dress.

How have the interviews been going? Are you answering all the questions as well as you can? If not think about the questions you are unhappy with (or any other questions) and come up with answers. Preparation has made my last few interviews a breeze.

Also at this level of employment/interview i think experience, presentation/general vibe and luck play a huge role in who gets the job. Workplaces probably get multiple applications from people who could do the job so those with experience will do well, followed by people who the interviewer liked, and then sometimes it will just be luck of the draw. So keep trying and eventually it will happen (as it appears it has, good luck.
posted by lrobertjones at 1:43 AM on July 20, 2007

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