by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Expert Tips for Teens At the Job Interview
- Punctuality and reliability are a matter of show and tell. Obviously, you can show your punctuality by arriving 5 to 15 minutes early for the interview. But you can also tell about your punctuality and reliability based on your performance in previous jobs. “If someone’s gotten up at 6 a.m. since she was 10 to deliver newspapers, I know that she’s probably not going to be late in the mornings coming to work,” observes Maureen Hentz, who formerly hired teens for specific jobs at the New England Aquarium. Similarly, if you have a stellar attendance record in school, you can cite that.
- “Remember you are making an impression from the first moment you walk in the door,” cautions Amy Brenengen, youth program/GirlVenture manager for WomenVenture in St. Paul, MN. “Chances are the receptionist or the first person you see will tell the hiring manager if your behavior before the interview isn’t as respectful and optimistic as when you meet the manager for the interview.”
- Don’t chew gum. Gum chewing is a major turnoff for employers, as it was for photographer Jeanie Collins when she interviewed a young woman for a campus job while in grad school. “When she opened her mouth to respond to my first question,” Collins recalls, “a bright pink piece of bubble gum flew out of her mouth and hit my notepad.”
- Don’t downplay your previous experience, no matter how lowly it seems. “I’m amazed by the number of teens who say ‘well, I’ve never really worked before, other than babysitting or being a camp counselor or mowing lawns,'” notes Maureen Hentz. “These are jobs where promptness and responsibility are key. If she’s been babysitting for the same family every Saturday night for three years, this tells me that she does a good job, has built rapport with the kids, and is trusted by the family. If she’s gotten a babysitting certificate from the Red Cross, I know that she is interested in learning more about her job. All of these are transferable experiences. Transferable skills from any of these jobs could include being flexible, creative, a good communicator, promptness, handling money, responding to customer feedback, setting and keeping a schedule, as well as balancing schoolwork with other activities.”
- “Fill out every part of the application and use your best handwriting,” advises Brenengen. “Use complete sentences when you are asked an open-ended question on the application.” Brenengen adds that a resume is always impressive, especially for a teen. “However, it doesn’t replace the application; it is just a ‘special bonus,'” she notes. “Resumes can be very simple, and you can use templates in Word to help create yours.”
- Avoid peppering interviews with “um” and “like.” The best way to get past overusing these “pause words” is practice. As you conduct practice interviews with friends and family, have them flag you if you start inserting too many “um’s” and “like’s” into your interview responses.
- Make eye contact. It’s extremely important for connecting with your interviewer. When asked a question, don’t look up at walls and ceiling as if searching for answers. Don’t cast your eyes downward. One expert, recognizing that eye contact is hard to maintain in a one-on-one situation, says to look at interviewer’s nose.
- Be yourself. Emily Hamvay remembers how her trademark wackiness and humor paid off for her when she interviewed for a job as a hostess at a restaurant. “The interviewer asked me why I wanted to work at the restaurant,” Hamvay recalls. “Without even a blink of eye I retorted with, ‘Sir, I have a terrible addiction’… pause … a look of bewilderment came across his face … ‘I just can’t get enough of the chicken Marsala at this place. I figure, I better start working here or take out a loan.’ After a few more chuckles, he hired me on the spot.”
- Be memorable. Hamvay’s humor certainly made her memorable, but Jeanie Collins offers another trick for sticking in the interviewer’s consciousness. “Always have a visual trademark. I always used to wear a conservative suit with a lapel pin in the shape of a dragonfly. You could find a pin that represents a hobby you have, such as a sailboat or a tennis racket. Then, when the interviewer asks what kinds of pastimes you enjoy, you can link the pin into the conversation. Later, when the interviewer is narrowing down the herd, you are sure to stand out.”
- Show your enthusiasm. Employers list lack of enthusiasm as their No. 1 turnoff in interviewees. The best way to show enthusiasm? A big smile throughout the interview. But, as Hamvay puts it, “not one of those psycho smiles, but one that looks like you are singing Christmas carols at a home for the elderly.”
- Project confidence. The scary world of job interviewing is new to teens, but overcoming the fear and appearing confident is a great way to stand out. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to appearing timid in interviews because they sometimes lapse into youthful voices. One of the best ways to show confidence is with a strong, forceful voice. No matter how shaky you may feel inside, try your best to show a confident attitude.
- Ask questions. Interviewers almost always invite you at the end of the interview to ask questions. Asking questions shows your enthusiasm for the job, so have a couple prepared, but don’t ask about things like salary or vacation time. Recent college graduate Colleen Holuk suggests asking questions like: How long have you been working here? What’s the best part of your job?
- Close the sale. If you want the job, say so. Conclude the interview by thanking the interviewer and making a statement that conveys your enthusiasm for the position. You could also ask if the interviewer has any questions or concerns about your ability to do the job. If the interviewer expresses any reservations, you can address them and try to ease the employer’s qualms. Gail Fox, assistant director of career services, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, further suggests that you always find out when the employer will be making a hiring decision and how the hiring manager will communicate that to you — or if you need to follow up.
Expert Tips for Teens… After the Job Interview
- Write a thank-you note. It’s just common courtesy to thank people for their time, and since very few teens exercise this little gesture, you’ll stand out if you do it. If the interviewer has a business card, ask for one to ensure you spell his or her name correctly. One teen job-seeker we know interviewed for a job at Kmart. As soon as she got home, she wrote a thank-you note and turned right around and went back to Kmart to hand-deliver it. She got the job.
- If you haven’t heard a hiring decision by the time you expected to, call the interviewer to check on your status. Don’t make a pest of yourself, but do follow up.
Have you read our resume and cover letter tips?
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger. 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.