The hunt for a summer job is a tradition for teenagers in the United States. As many as three million youngsters, ages 15 to 19, look for temporary employment in the months of July and August. But many have no idea how to write a resume or what to say in a job interview or where to turn for help. In Montgomery County, Maryland, an innovative non-profit organization known as Montgomery Youth Works teaches those skills and then helps teens find jobs.
"So, one of the first things I'd like to do is…" explains Ashley Clark, the deputy director of Montgomery Youth Works, a non-profit organization that receives private, county, and state funding to help teenagers find jobs. The free service is provided year-round, but especially in the summer when youngsters are on three months' vacation.
Ms. Clark says the group has a computer database of about 5,000 young people looking for work. She tries to match them with hundreds of employers who are looking for temporary workers with some basic but important skills. "Employers want someone who is able to communicate, first of all, who is willing to learn the skills they need, who'll show up and show up on time - the 'soft skills,' the basics," she explains. " We have a lot of young people interested in office jobs, a lot of law and medical offices. The employers just want someone who can handle the phones and are willing to learn the skills."
BAROCH: "What do you teach them?"
"Your basic handshake. First impressions. Eye contact," answers Ms. Clark. " It's crucial when you're sitting in a job interview to present yourself in a way that makes the employer believes you're honest and confident, that you know how to carry yourself. Posture. These kids come into initial interview with us slouching like they're sitting at the school desk. Obviously, that's not the look an employer is hoping to see when they have someone greeting their guests at the front desk of their business. So just giving them that basic skill set makes a difference. Speaking slowly, not using 'like' every other word."
BAROCH: "Explain to our listeners what that means."
"We call it slang or verbal filler," Ms. Clark explains. " Verbal filler would be when you're trying to think of the next thing to say so you pause by saying, 'Umm'..'it's like'…or 'kind of like'..or 'you know, you know.' Or the slang they use. That runs the gamut. We just try to impress upon them that's really not the impression an employer wants to have in their first meeting of someone who would represent their business."
Laura Sildon is the director of Montgomery Youth Works. I asked her what kinds of jobs are available in the county.
"Everything [starting] from your stereotypical summer jobs: life-guarding, landscaping type of jobs, office work - we have a lot of information technology positions, receptionist work," she responds. " We work with some caterers. So really we've seen it all. I, in fact, founded Montgomery Youth Works. It's been almost six years."
BAROCH: "Why did you found it?"
"Part of it was dumb luck," she says. " My background was in social services. I was interacting with families typically in times of crisis. I wanted to get involved and be part of something that was more on the preventative side. And you know what? In this society, we're all expected to? work. But there really isn't a vehicle out there to help educate business and young people about those first jobs. That's what we've become. We've become that vehicle."
Ms. Sildon and Ms. Clark briskly and firmly give out instructions to the 64 teenagers attending the Montgomery Youth Works training session. The young people are asked: what are the most important elements of a job interview?
"Eye contact..honesty.. I thought we said honesty…firm handshake…" the students respond.
Karimah Ware, a staff member with Montgomery Youth Works, leads a wrap-up discussion on the subject.
"Anybody else?" she asks. "Respect." a student answers. "What about being prepared to ask questions? Why is that important? That shows me that during the interview you were..." she cues the teens. "Paying attention," a student responds. "That's it. Give yourselves a round of applause," she says.
BAROCH: I talked to some of the teenagers at the session. "What sort of job do you want or are you looking for?" STUDENT:"Anything."
BAROCH: "You looking for a summer job?"
STUDENT: "Yes I am."
BAROCH: "What do you think you want to do?"
STUDENT: "[I have an] interest in shoes, like selling tennis shoes because I'm not very fond of dress shoes. I prefer tennis shoes.
BAROCH:"Do you think using tips you learn here will help?"
STUDENT: Of course, probably like attire-wise, attitude, speaking."
BAROCH: "Are you looking for a summer job?"
BAROCH: "What happened?"
STUDENT: They're not hiring 15-year-olds.
BAROCH: "Where have you gone?"
STUDENT " Stores, fast food restaurants."
BAROCH: "What are you going to do?"
STUDENT: "Ask my parents for money."
Many of the teenagers look anxious. In group discussions, some speak with heavy foreign accents, are barely audible - or don't speak at all. Ashley Clark and Laura Sildon of Montgomery Youth Works say that the training session, provided twice a month, will teach many of them that self-confidence and assertiveness may be their most marketable skills - as teenagers looking for work in the summer, and for the rest of their lives.