CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Landing a great summer job

With the end of the school year in sight, students start thinking about how they'll spend their summer holidays -- and for many, that means finding work.

Although the hunt for employment can be intimidating, even first-timers can land a great summer job as long as they have a good attitude and are prepared to do some careful planning.

"There's lots of fun things to do for the summer -- and get paid," said Karen Schaffer, a career counsellor and author of the book Hire Power: the Ultimate Job Guide for Young Canadians.
  • Freebies count: It doesn't have to pay to rate as experience.
  • Include different experiences: Everybody's done something, whether it's organizing the uniforms for a school team, building props for a community theatre performance or collecting money for a church event.
  • List accomplishments, rather than duties: Employers like to see successes, such as "I showed up on time and I was praised for my work," or "I was the only babysitter who could stop the family's three-year-old from crying."
  • Tailor your resume: If you want that job at a record store because you're a huge fan of indie music, list a few of your favourite bands to demonstrate your music knowledge; likewise, the fact that you've tasted all 31 flavours could get you hired at the local ice-cream counter.
  • Show your personality: Your would-be employer might connect to your interests, so include them.

  • Although there are keeners who have had their summer jobs lined up at the local amusement park since February, there is still plenty of seasonal work available.

    Schaffer said many businesses need people to fill in for their regular workers when they take holidays, or extra hands to help out during the busy tourist season. Grocery stores in cottage country need baggers and cashiers to handle the annual influx of holidaying shoppers, landscapers ramp up their business during the warmer months, amusement parks are assembling staff to meet the summer rush and movie theatres hire extra help to keep customers happy during blockbuster season.

    But even if some of those businesses aren't hiring for the summer yet, it doesn't hurt to apply anyway. Perhaps they have an opening right now that needs to be filled and landing a part-time job after school and on weekends could translate into a full-time job once summer holidays begin.

    "Our staff that are in school now get more hours here in the summertime," said Dean De Abreu, general manager of Rainbow Cinema Market Square in Toronto, one in a small chain of theatres across Canada.

    Young people looking for a job often feel intimidated by the process, especially if it's their first time. But Schaffer says that shouldn't discourage them from trying. She points out that even experienced workers find the job hunt unnerving.
  • Be pro-active: Don't wait for the classified ad or "help wanted" sign in the window. Drop off a resume and you'll be first in line when there's an opening.
  • Talk: The best jobs are through contacts, so tell everybody you know that you're looking for a job.
  • Be specific: If you want to work in retail or at the summer theatre festival, let people know.
  • Accept help: If a friend of the family offers you a first job, take it. There's no shame in starting out working with a friend of your mom's, and the work experience may help you land your next job.

  • "Yes, it's scary. But it's scary for everybody," she said. "It's scary for adults, university students -- everybody who goes into the job search world is scared about it."

    But students often find themselves facing an added challenge: how do you find a job without any work experience? Schaffer said a blank resume isn't an insurmountable hurdle.

    "You might not have any work experience, but everybody's done something," she said. She suggests brainstorming lists of accomplishments such as babysitting, or organizing school clubs or teams and including those. "You don't have to get paid for it to be work experience," she said.

    On top of that, it turns out that not every employer wants to see a long list of past jobs. Many are looking for something else entirely.

    "We can train the skills, but really we look for the personality more than anything," said De Abreu. "We like to take people who don't have any work experience and train good work ethics and responsibility and enthusiasm."

    De Abreu and Schaffer both recommend turning up with a resume and meeting the manager in person to hand it over. But they caution against rushing in at any old time, and say it's best to do some advance reconnaissance.

    "If you're trying to apply for a job at their busiest time, not only will they not pay attention to you, but they'll figure you don't know their business," said Schaffer.
  • Swing past the business before actually applying for the job to get a feel for the place. And talk to some of the staff -- maybe they'll offer a tip about how they got their job.
  • Call ahead and confirm a time that would be convenient to drop off a resume.
  • Smile, make eye contact and shake the manager's hand.
  • Be talkative and appear outgoing, even if you're nervous.
  • Don't take friends or your mom. If you need support, leave them outside in the car.

  • De Abreu, whose theatre fills up on weekend evenings, agrees.

    "Someone who comes in and drops off a resume on a Saturday night at 7 o'clock? We say 'Thank you very much' and it goes right in a garbage can."

    De Abreu said he likes it when would-be workers call first to find out what time would be good to drop by and meet the manager or assistant manager. It's that meeting, he said, that typically gets a person a shot at the job. For De Abreu, first impressions count for more than anything else -- including what's on the resume. And that means job hunters should be prepared to demonstrate their winning charm the moment they walk in the door.

    "Mostly it's the gut feeling. Did they come in and make a first impression and say more than two words?" he said, adding the busy downtown cinema usually takes in a resume or two every day.

    "If someone's very quiet, very meek, they're probably not going to stand out from the crowd. We want people to be fun."

    -- CP

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