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This is a post for retailers who hire part-time employees yet avoid students. It’s also for students looking for part-time retail jobs, their parents, teachers, or counselors.
I begin with the students…
Understand those who have gone before have most likely poisoned the well for you to easily get a job.
That means many business owners may judge that you’re:
Entitled. They may agree with the popular notion that you're growing up in an everyone gets a trophy world which means you aren’t motivated.
Distracted. They see you as having no dedication or commitment.
Mediocre. They don’t see you showing a desire to do anything well, you just kind of show up and ghost around for a few hours.
This isn’t meant to scare you, but it is meant to make you aware of the job market you are trying to enter. Employers don’t want to be disappointed after they’ve made a good faith selection of an applicant.
And let’s face it, there are plenty of people, young and old, who simply don’t see any jobs out there that offer enough pay or opportunity to apply for, much less to hold on to.
I hate to break it to you, but the person who earns $50K a year has a track record of showing they go above and beyond, they looked at every job as a path forward in their lives, and they were grateful for any and all opportunities they had - from the rotten manager who gave them a raise to the outstanding customer who they made feel special.
When I was a teenager just starting out, the goal was to get a job so I had money. That meant I had independence. Knowing I and my generation would need a lot of training, many retailers back then would give us a chance.
There are several like them out there today but if you are young, you have to go overboard if you truly want to get a job. It's not like school...
Employers don't pass you on - they kick you out.
Here are my tips:
Show you want to earn money. You may not have any work experience but that doesn’t mean you haven’t walked dogs, watered plants, baby sat, or been paid to do odd jobs. Make sure you mention those jobs under Job Experience on your application.
While you can go online and see how to game a set of interview questions, don’t do it. If you want to get a job, be authentic and original.
Go solo. Just because you see a Help Wanted sign while you are out with your buds doesn’t mean you should walk in and ask for an application. Make note of the store - maybe even take a picture with your phone - and return alone once you look like you are serious. That dovetails with…
Dress to impress or like their employees do. For guys that means no baggy pants or caps. It means slacks and a plain, ironed dress shirt. For a girl that means not sexy with your top too exposed and no glitter makeup. It means a skirt or dress at an appropriate length that’s an appropriate outfit for daytime. The first thing your interviewer will notice is if you are dressed like you want to get this job. If you aren’t, don’t bother showing up.
Look ‘em in the eye. People hire people who are friendly. It starts with eye contact and body posture, so make sure you don’t look at your feet or the ceiling but do look at whoever you are talking to. Make sure you don’t cross your arms; that looks like you’re trying to hide something.
Understand that many retailers have been burned, so you have to go overboard to allay their fears.
Assert your independence. Tell the potential employer how you take responsibility for your own timeliness and actions. Tell the retailer they don’t have to worry about your mom calling in sick for you or trying to switch shifts with someone. You understand, it’s your own personal responsibility.
Tell them how you’ll get there. If you are going to bike, tell them. If you have your own car, tell them. If you take a bus – which I did for several years and jobs – tell them. If you’ll be depending on your parents to bring you, you’re probably screwed.
Have a printed schedule of your hours to give them. Retailers don’t have shifts 6-8 or 4-6 or 11-1. Typical shifts would be evening 4-close or 1-close. Don’t ask for favors; they owe nothing to you. You have to prove yourself. If you want to go to the football games every Friday night, then tell them you’re not available. Don’t wait until the day of the game.
Tell them your strengths. If you are punctual, tell them. If you like to clean, tell them. If you are interested in learning how to sell, tell them.
The point here is you have to proactively show the potential employer you are good enough to work there and make them want to hire you. That means no one word answers, but it does mean be open to sharing and sell why you are the best person for the job.
The more passive and withdrawn you appear, the less likely you will be hired. You don't get the guy or girl you want at the dance by hanging out leaning on the wall and you don't get hired being shy.
You don’t have to be a loudmouth – and shouldn’t be either – but you do have to put the effort into getting the job.
And once you get that job, you need to see it as an opportunity to learn so you can be promoted, and know that you’ll be able to take those job skills with you to any job you want in the future. And if you expect to own your own business someday, it is invaluable training on how to succeed.
In any case, no job is a dead-end.
So when you’re hired... in retail, fast food or anywhere else... don’t become a lazy, entitled, loser by showing up late or blowing off work for a day because you partied too hard. Buck up.
If you don't develop discipline, you set yourself up for a pattern of failure blaming others for your lack of success.
If you’re a business owner:
Imagine going to bed at night with a pillow that says You are not enough. That's how youth have always felt. In spite of how many likes and shares they now get in a virtual world, they are still not confident in their own abilities in the real world.
Add to that that some have been raised by helicopter parents and others who have removed the things needed to build self-confidence: they’ve fought their children’s battles, figured things out for them instead of letting them figure it out on their own, and removed obstacles.
In short they’ve removed trying and failing.
It's no wonder many younger people feel invincible.
It's up to retailers to foster their self-esteem and independence. Someone took a chance on you, you need to do it for them.
After you’ve hired your young applicant wisely, here’s how you should treat them:
Make sure you nip the parent trap in the bud. If a parent drops in to chat with you about how their child is doing or comes to a staff meeting, set your foot down and tell them that the relationship is between you and your worker - not the parent. Tell your employee to tell their parents to stay out of the business if they want to keep their job.
Set the right expectation in print and in word. Once the schedule is posted, there are no changes unless a verifiable emergency occurs. That means if mom needs a babysitter so she can grocery shop or dad needs a ride home from the airport, their child still comes to work. Warn them and have them tell their parents from the get-go that the job comes first.
Normalize them. Most of these staff members will not have been in an environment where self-discipline and motivation are key. You’ll have to teach them what a good job is, how to think on their own, and how to find things to do that are appropriate. Set all of those expectations and train them the first week, and you’ll minimize your grousing over how much work they take later on.
Have a stronger orientation period for new hires, especially if it is their first job. Wall Street brokers have to give classes on how to answer the phone, how to behave at a client dinner, and more – you’re no different. Just because they’re young and don’t know, doesn’t mean they can’t learn. Start with the basics of listening and go from there.
Train to hustle. Take a stopwatch or your smartphone, and time your sales staff with random items to ring up. Once they master that, throw them a curveball such as an item that won’t scan or one missing a tag. Don’t fix it for them; have them describe their options and thought process. This is key in making them independent thinkers. It keeps them from turning to you to fix the most minor problems.
Train to greet. Whether you use an advanced retail sales training program like my SalesRX.com or do it yourself, you must train employees the right way to greet a stranger in a store. If you don’t, they’ll imitate the crap they hear at other stores like Can I help you find something or wait behind the counter for the other person to speak first.
Remember their availability. A well-trained, positive salesperson can be a real boon at the holiday season when your college crew is gone, so take the long view of what the younger associate can bring to your business. Then stay in touch to bring them back during the short times you need extra help.
And finally to retailers scorning the idea of hiring younger workers, I remind you many of the things you may say about hiring them today could have been said about your generation.
Working jobs early in your life teaches you – no normalizes you - to the world. You learn to be on time, that your word is something you demonstrate, that your positive attitude about your work is important, and that a job well done is rewarded.
You learn that until you can follow, you can’t lead.
Employers, many younger workers can be a great asset. They are smart, focused, and eager to learn. They view the world with a positive, fresh perspective which can renew the energy level in your retail store.
Many young people are looking for real-world skills and want to learn. They may not have the social skills to put their best foot forward to get a job with you, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them all.
Hiring is always based on the one individual in front of you. Your crewmembers are an asset. No matter what their age, they are worth the time it takes to train them.
That is...as long as they take to your training.
And if you are a young person looking for work, don’t think you can go back to your parents, your teachers, or your buddies to say, “No one’s hiring young people.” You need to get leverage on yourself.
That means you see more pain with not getting a job than you gain by saying you can’t get one. That means you go on to the next one but not until you re-read this and practice with a friend to do better. But you don’t stop. Unless you want to be a loser.
Your first job is critical to understanding you have to put out the effort before you get back the reward. It is crucial you understand how to work with others and that expectations are put on you if you want to keep a job.
You might be reading this thinking someday I’m going to own my own business, have a crib worthy of MTV, or a place my Instagram pals will drool over just because I say so.
That can happen, but it won’t happen unless you get busy now.
And it won’t happen later when you’re out of school and hanging with your buddies playing video games all day.
And it certainly won’t happen when you are 30 and living at home with your parents without your own car, without your own place, without your own independence.
You think you have time. You don’t.
If you show up and follow instructions, you can do anything with your life.
Use these tips to get out there and get going. You only have yourself to blame if you don’t. I appreciate your shares of this post with your friends, children and students.