If you’re looking to line your pockets with a paycheck this summer—and get your mom off your back—you’d better get ready now. It’s tough out there.
In 2015, 2.7 million people aged 16 to 24 were added to the workforce between April and July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And about 2.1 million of them found jobs—putting the youth labor force participation rate at 60%.
That rate has remained steady for the last few years but is far off the peak of 77.5% in 1989. And it means that 600,000 young people were left without summer jobs, and that youth unemployment was double that of older adults.
That’s too bad for a number of reasons, says Monique Rizer, executive director of Opportunity Nation, a national nonprofit that seeks to improve opportunities for youth. “A summer job is not just a paycheck,” she says, “it’s about learning how to work with other people, being a professional, problem solving, customer service, all of those really important power skills that come into play later in life. We see summer job opportunities as a bridge to careers.”
President Obama has proposed new spending to create more jobs for young people. And many cities are working to expand their summer jobs programs or partner with private enterprise, but it’s not as if 600,000 jobs are going to be created overnight.
Bottom line: Those looking for a job this summer will likely face stiff competition. If you’re one of them, use this strategy to make sure you’re not left sitting on the couch when all your friends are working.
For many summer jobs, the requirements often aren’t too tough. “We look for people who smile and are able to make eye contact and be engaged,” Burrows says. In Rizer’s experience, organizations that hire young people are looking for eagerness to learn, energy, and fresh ideas and perspectives.
Since there aren’t many tough qualifications required to hire, recruiters will move fast on these jobs, so you want to be out ahead of the needs. Start looking ASAP.
In recent years, the majority of summer jobs have been in leisure and hospitality (including food service), retail, and education and health services, the BLS reports. So think places for summer fun: amusement and water parks, pools, malls, restaurants, and resorts.
Hershey Resorts, for example, needs about 4,000 people to staff the Pennsylvania park in peak season and is already looking to fill about 1,000 of those positions, says public relations manager Kathy Burrows. Many of these positions don’t require previous experience and include on-the-job training as well as perks like free park admission and employee parties.
“Seasonal staff can be promoted to seasonal supervisors, which looks great on a resume,” Burrows adds.
Of course, look for the jobs online, and send in an application. But don’t just leave it there, Rizer says. Try to arrange to go in and meet the people you’d be working with.
“Make a connection so they know who you are in addition to what you look like on paper,” she says.
You’ll have a leg up on the competition if you have put together a resume, even for that first job. “We want young people to be thinking about their brand and image early on,” Rizer says.
She suggests using this document to talk about the experiences you’ve had inside professional settings and out, and things that you’ve done at school or in the community that can highlight your skills and characteristics that can be valuable to the employer.
While it’s certainly fun to spend a summer scooping ice cream or working at a camp, don’t overlook opportunities for summer internships in your field. These could lead to full-time opportunities at some point in your future. Most medium- to large-sized companies—UPS, Enterprise, MathWorks, and Springleaf Financial among them—offer internships. These can be in a variety of departments—like engineering, accounting, IT, marketing, and sales—many of which are paid.
Look for opportunities in your field of study—you can search “engineering internship” on Monster, for example—as that’s where you’ll have the best odds. And ask your college or high school counselor for suggestions, says Rizer.
The benefits go beyond June, July, and August. You’ll gain relevant work experience, make valuable contacts, and potentially open up job opportunities for after you graduate. “By hiring summer interns, companies build a ‘bench’ of future entry-level employees,” says Stephen Colón, who coordinates youth training at CONNECT2Careers in San Diego.
This article originally appeared on Monster and is reprinted with permission.