How to Beat a Tough Teen Job Market

Chicago teens are finding the job door slam behind them.

"It's like you are lower on the food chain when you are younger," said Hannah Berman from Walter Payton High School.

She’s hit the local coffee shops, candy stores, the mall and the same response: "We have people lined up."

Statistics from the Bureau of Labor indicate the latest unemployment numbers for teens aged 16 to 19 have soared to 24.9 percent.  That number is slighter higher in Illinois, at 25.6 percent, according to the Employment Policies Institute.  Five years ago, just 14 percent of teens in Illinois who wanted work couldn't find it.

Experts say kids need to get creative.  Instead of working in a mall, teens can make money using skills they already have to teach others and make money.

Mario Zavalza, 16, said his mom always sent him to swim lessons.  He'll put that skill to use this summer as a lifeguard. Other teens find success tutoring or giving piano lessons.

Lack of preparation in the search itself is usually a teen’s biggest downfall, said author and job recruiter Beverly Slomka. 

She wrote the book Teens and the Job Game, which includes pointers on self-assessment, time management and acing an interview.

"The first thing an employer will look at, especially for a teen who has very little job experience, is their presence," explained Slomka. "When they walk into a room are they smiling? Are they enthusiastic?  Do they have good communication skills?"

Slomka suggests these strategies:

  • Research a potential employer enough to ask intelligent questions during a job interview.
  • Dress appropriately for a business meeting
  • Prepare to talk about your skills
  • Make a resume even if you lack any job experience; list any leadership roles, activities or interests.

Slomka said a resume "speaks of professionalism," adding that it's an important part of making a positive impression. "The effort shows something about the person even if they never worked before."

Need some ideas for teen jobs this summer? has several suggestions.

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