Want a Summer Job? Put Down the Cell Phone!

A few tips for teens looking for work.

Mayor Nutter’s initiative to get 10,000 Philadelphia teenagers hired for summer jobs—beating last summer’s number of 6,000 working teens—is admirable and ambitious. Teen employment means much more than pocket money; summer work has a direct correlation to future employment. Not only do learned skill sets transfer to future jobs, more nebulous traits like work ethic are developed.

I just hope the Mayor and his team have seen this study out of Drexel that looked at why employers are reticent to hire teens and discovered that while employers perceive teens’ math, reading and writing skills on par with adults’, and their tech-savviness far superior to that of adults, there’s a problem. A teen attitude problem.

Specifically, teen staff have issues with attendance, punctuality and quit rates. I personally had more than 25 jobs before I began teaching, and yes, I sometimes quit jobs because I couldn’t get a Friday night off for a big party. Teens will be teens, but here’s one important change: Teens do not understand the social cues they send to employers during interviews, and even when simply asking for an application. They’re not generally prepared for the hiring process and the work environment.

I’d like to help. Teenagers who want jobs must learn:

1. To breathe without their cell phones in their hands. In general, if teens are not palming their phones, more than their thumbs begin to twitch. This is a learned trait, and can be unlearned. This cell phone dependence is why they are unable to pick up on social cues. (I wonder how much better they’d do in interviews conducted via text.)

2. “I don’t know” is not a catchall exonerator. Sure, when you start any job you don’t know—how to write a press release; roll a burrito; where the bathroom is—but the inclination to shrug shoulders and stay in the dark is disconcerting. Teens need to learn to replace, “I don’t know” with “I’ll find out.”

3. “I don’t know” is acceptable when random thoughts cross their still-developing brains, causing them to instinctually reach for their smartphones (see 1). If pressing concerns like “How much does Beyonce weigh?” and “Why are some cheeses orange?” pop up, they need to know that just because they can quickly and easily find the answer, it does not mean they have to.