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How to Help Your Teen Land Their First Summer Job

Many teenagers are highly motivated to begin working and earning their own money. According to experts, getting a summer job is a rite of passage and an important developmental milestone. “It allows teens to take instruction from someone other than a parent, and be responsible to people other than their immediate family,” says Michelle Cook, an advisor with Calgary Career Counseling, “real world experience is a huge thing to gain.” But it can be hard for your teen to land that first summer job when they have no experience or references and they don’t know where to start.

Here’s the good news: Calgary has an employment centre dedicated to young people between the ages of 15 and 24. “We work with over 600 local employers,” says Jennifer MacSween, the community liaison with Calgary’s Youth Employment Centre. “A lot of companies want to hire those young people and they’re actively looking for that student demographic to come into their company.”

So the jobs are out there for your teen, but how do they find them?

Companies will often advertise jobs on their company website and social media channels, or post on online job boards such as Indeed or Monster. But, according to MacSween, the best way to find that summer job is through networking. For teens that means joining clubs, activities, and associations where they can meet or rub shoulders with potential employers.

“For young people to tap into that hidden job market, they need to make sure they’re networking with the appropriate people so they can get their name out there,” advises MacSween. “Employers want to meet them face-to-face or get a referral from an employee who knows them.”

Resume writing and interview skills are all free services that students can access at the Youth Employment Centre. Staff will teach them how to use their volunteer experience, community work, and academic achievements to build an impressive resume.

“Where our job market is at the moment, there are a lot of people competing for jobs. For a young person to stand out, it’s essential that their resume gets through and gets noticed,” says MacSween.

They will also do mock job interviews so teens can get comfortable conversing with potential employers.

For summer 2017, there are jobs available in the restaurant and hospitality industry, as well as retail, recreation, aviation, fitness, and financial services to name a few. The Calgary Zoo is hiring, as is The City, the Calgary Stampede, and Calaway Park.

Many of these jobs will start at minimum wage ($12.20 per hour). But if extra skills are required for a job, such as lifeguarding, the starting salary may be significantly more. It’s best for teens to research the average salary for the position, and then they can use their education and experience level as leverage for wage negotiation.

It’s never too early for teens to be thinking about the ‘big picture.’ If possible, they should consider targeting jobs in their planned field of study. If there is a company that they can see themselves working for, they need to go ahead and dream big!

“Companies want to focus on employee retention, especially if it’s a young person that is showcasing a great skill set. Companies want to be able to keep a young person with the company, and they like to start them off quite young so they can build them into their company culture and then promote them within,” says MacSween. And she is a perfect example. MacSween started working as a City swimming instructor at 16, and she’s been working with The City for the last 13 years.

And here’s one last piece of advice, mom and dad: step aside and let your teen do this on their own. “It can be really damaging for a young person if a parent is too involved. Employers don’t want to see parents coming to interviews or going to job fairs with their child.”

Summer jobs of some notable Calgarians:

Global TVs Gord Gillies delivered a paper called The Southside Mirror and bagged groceries at Fairleys Food Market.

Global TVs Leslie Horton taught gymnastics. “I learned about work ethic, time management, and the power of a paycheque,” she says.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was a coffee boy at Bingo Palace.

Entrepreneur Arlene Dickinson worked at a flower shop dusting leaves and wiping counters.

Michelle is a freelance writer based in Calgary, and a mom of three. She writes for numerous publications, and explores the challenges of parenting tweens and teens on her personal blog,


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