MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's the end of the school year - yay. And if you are a teen or if you have a teen at home, then you know that the scramble for a summer job is on. Now, it used to be that having a summer job as a teen was as common as having a summer crush. Three quarters of teens worked in the summer a generation ago, but now that number is down by 40 percent. And that's for all kind of reasons, including, as teens well know, competition from adults for jobs that teens used to get. Still, there are jobs out there, and experts say that teens who are lucky enough to get a paying job can learn all kinds of valuable lessons. So we called our money coach, Alvin Hall, a financial author and educator, to tell us more about those lessons. Welcome back, Alvin. Thanks so much for joining us.
ALVIN HALL: Glad to be here.
MARTIN: So talk about just that first piece about getting a job. As we mentioned, there are all kind of reasons why fewer teens are working. Competition from adults for those same kind of jobs, like, including fast-food jobs, is a key one. So what do you recommend, though, for a teen who really does have to work? And it is not about, well, I'd rather take, you know, summer intensive math, or whatever. It's, I really need a job, but you see yourself getting boxed out by people who are older, more experienced, so forth. What do you recommend?
HALL: You have to work on two fronts. First, you have to go around and drop off applications at some fast-food places. I tell everybody, a yogurt shop, some of the smaller fast-food places, will be looking for people. But at the same time, you need to network. What I see happening, is that more and more of the summer jobs are going to people who know someone in the company. So whether it's someone's son or the friend of someone, you need to network. Don't be shy about asking your friend, if your father works for this company, do think he can get me a summer internship there? Ask for it and you might get it.
MARTIN: Do you think that that works for the kinds of jobs that teens traditionally do? 'Cause I know that, an example, internship opportunities - I know that many companies, including this one, have a distinct preference for college students, for all kinds of reasons. But does that networking principle still work for, you know, retail jobs, or working in a yogurt shop and things like that? Does that still work?
HALL: Oh, yes. That still works because people want young people because they have energy, especially if you show curiosity about the business that you're getting the summer job in. People will find that fascinating. And they'll want to bring you in because that energy and that curiosity will add to their business. But I tell young people, all the ones that I talk to and friends of friends, go out and ask because in this day and age everything is about that networking. There was a period of time when you could actually go out and drop off resumes and people would call you back. Now with the Internet and all of that, a lot of people don't seem to understand that it's still that personal contact that you need to have in order to get that good summer job.
MARTIN: Now let's talk about an issue that I think might be sensitive for some people, but it's a fact. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, black and Latino teens have far higher rates of unemployment than white teenagers do. So the question then becomes, is it that their networks need some work? Is it that they might not have the same kind of relationships with people who have those kinds of opportunities? What should kids who are - it's not strictly, clearly a racial issue, obviously, because there's - kids live in all kinds of different circumstances. But knowing that statistic, do you have some specific recommendation of teens of color?
HALL: It's a comfort level issue. I think that many people who make job decisions live in worlds where they have little contact with black and Latino young people, and therefore they come with assumptions sometime. They don't have the comfort level with them. I tell everyone, go out, and if you have white friends or you have friends from different ethnic backgrounds, network with them. Get to know their parents. And maybe their parents can be the one who'll refer you to the job. In this type of economy, whether you're an adult or a young person, it's all about that network. It's all about that personal relationship. I teach in summer internship programs for several big financial institutions. And what I've seen is the number of black and Latino students actually go down over a period of time, and I wondered why. And to me, it's just that the people making the decisions don't know them - do not know them.
MARTIN: So be known. Make yourself known.
HALL: Make yourself known. Don't be shy about it. You may think it's pushy, but if you don't ask, you don't receive.
MARTIN: Let's talk about working conditions, though. You know, obviously there's this tension, often, between older people and younger people. People think that younger people are a little bit tender when it comes to hard work. That seems to be, like, a hardy perennial.
MARTIN: But what do you suggest if a work environment really does seem to be abusive? Either the hours are longer than had been expected, or the language is not what, I think, a lot of people consider appropriate, or even worse - I mean, if there's - it seems like there's some actual harassment going on? What do you recommend that a teen do - particularly given that the competition's so stiff out there?
HALL: Talk to your parents or talk to a trusted adult. You need somebody to give you guidance in this case. I admit...
MARTIN: Have you ever encountered something like that? Or have you ever advised somebody in that situation?
HALL: Yes. I actually know of a young man who was working in a job where the language they were using was just not right. And I said to him, he should go and talk to his parents, and take his mother in with him and have his mother talk about it. That set into - well, what it did, it set off a whole course of little events. And eventually he lost that job because the person was offended. But that's a risk that you take when you bring in another person. But it's better that he got fired from that job, or lost that job, rather than stay and endure the abuse.
MARTIN: Why do you say that? What's the line for you? What's the line? Is it when you think your mental or physical health is at stake or your values are being compromised in a way that you can't accept? Where's the line for you at which you say, you really need to speak up?
HALL: I think when it becomes something that you are obsessing about or that you feel diminishes you in any way, walk out the door or bring in somebody to help mitigate. Just because somebody tells you to wash a floor, that shouldn't be an issue. But it's - if it's a consistent pattern of demeaning behavior - the way the person talks to you, the way they betray agreements that you've reached with them - bring in somebody to help mitigate because I think as a young person, learning how to negotiate that situation is one of the life skills that summer jobs can provide.
MARTIN: On a happier note, for our happier final note, here, let's say that you've had a really great experience that summer, and you just love what you're doing and you'd like to come back. Is there something you can suggest as a way to kind of improve your chances of being asked back? It's interesting, we were talking yesterday with a colleague about, like, writing a thank you note, for example. Some people would think of that as kind of brown-nosing, right? They think, oh, you know...
HALL: No, no.
MARTIN: And some people think it's...
MARTIN: Some people would think that's entirely appropriate. What do you - what do you recommend?
HALL: I think all of those old-fashioned things like a handwritten thank you note instead of an e-mail, telling the person how much you enjoyed the job, saying that if there's other work available during holidays, during the Christmas season or whenever, you'd like to come back - all of that expresses your desire, enthusiasm for the work. Do it. I cannot tell you how important it is to write that thank you note by hand. And every parent should go out and get their kid nice, little stationary just so it comes in. And people will cherish that because it shows not only that they appreciate the job, but they understand good manners.
MARTIN: Alvin Hall is a financial author and educator. He was kind enough to join us from our studios in New York City. Alvin Hall, thank you.
HALL: You're most welcome.
MARTIN: And I'm going to write you a beautiful thank you note, too.
HALL: Thank you. I love receiving them. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.