Getting a job can require more than walking up to a business and getting hired. Employers are looking for young workers, but often high...

Share story

Getting a job can require more than walking up to a business and getting hired.

Employers are looking for young workers, but often high school- and college-age youths aren’t prepared or don’t understand what employers expect in applicants.

“You have to show why you want the job and why you’re the best for the job,” says President Gary Williams of Southwest Truck Driver Training in Tucson, Ariz.

If you’ve just graduated high school, chances are good that you’re qualified for a job with less of a skill level than a recent college graduate. Jobs in retail, hospitality and tourism — cashier at a clothing store at the mall, concessions worker at a movie theater, ride operator at an amusement park — are often within reach of those with little work experience.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

“You can always get a job if you really want. It may not be the job you really like,” says Raul Marquez, who worked two years in a Salinas, Calif., coffee shop while hoping for an internship more in line with his college coursework. “Some people are just too picky.”

But whether you’re looking for a job serving up lattes at Starbucks or conducting audits at Ernst & Young, some of the same rules apply.

In a study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 44 percent of employers say the first thing that gets their attention is a job candidate’s general demeanor and confidence.

Business attire and a one-page, typo-free résumé, even for an entry-level job where employees work in casual clothes, can tell an interviewer that you’re competent, responsible and well-mannered.

“If you have two people with the same GPA (school grade-point average), the one that comes across more professional will get the job,” says Bob Piwowar, manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement Center in Marana, Ariz. “When you apply for a job, you have to show me that you’re different than other applicants.”

Young people need to be like chameleons in the pursuit and acquisition of employment, says Lee Swanson, co-owner of Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in Fort Collins, Colo.

“It’s OK to wear pierced jewelry and big tattoos, but when you go into a place, you need to adapt to your environment,” he says. Cover up to blend in.

Creating a résumé is an important exercise even if you’ve never received a paycheck with taxes taken out. You should list your contact information, three references who aren’t relatives, and the jobs you’ve had, starting with the most recent and including baby-sitting and yard work.

You also can point out any volunteer work that you’ve done, projects you’ve accomplished in your school, church or community, and subjects in school in which you excelled. You’re selling yourself and helping organize your thoughts for any interview.

Piwowar says résumés are essential because they include a career summary and list of managers who know you and your work.

“I was interviewing 20 college kids who didn’t think it’s important to bring a résumé,” he says.

You shouldn’t pop in to pick up an application as a side trip just because you’re in the neighborhood, says Colleen Wisnicky, who used to work as an employment and training specialist with the Manitowoc County Job Center in Wisconsin.

Instead, the trip should be intentional, and you should be prepared to fill out an application and even have an interview on the spot.

That means coming with a pen — Wisnicky suggests an erasable pen — and with all of the information needed to fill out an application completely, including the dates of previous jobs, your supervisors’ names, business addresses and phone numbers.

Also have with you names and contact information for references, easy to do if you have a résumé in hand. Turn it in with the completed application.

Job seekers should realize the person with authority to hire them might be working when they stop by. It’s always wise to ask for the manager and meet that person face to face when you submit your application.

“You better be ready to be interviewed. You better look like you’re ready to be interviewed,” Wisnicky says.

And don’t forget to follow up, including sending a thank-you note after an interview, something few people do that will help you stand out.

“When you look for a job, you have to keep going,” says Director David Mathis of Oneida County Workforce Development in New York. “Get your name out now. Get your applications out. Get your résumé out. Follow up in a few weeks. And follow up again.

“If you sit back and do nothing, you can pretty much be guaranteed you won’t get a job,” he says.