When I was a teen, growing up in northern New Hampshire, there weren’t really any good places to hang out. We didn’t have a mall. We didn’t have any coffee shops or teen-friendly restaurants. If you had asked me or my peers where we hung out after school, the vast majority of us would have said we hung out at home or at a friend’s house.
I really didn’t have a good place to hang out until I learned how to whitewater kayak. From that point on, all I wanted to do was hang out on the river, near the river, and near people who wanted to be on the river.
Right around the same time, a local entrepreneur named Fran opened a store called Wilderness Sports. It was right on the river’s edge, and it was full of boats and people who loved them. Even though it wasn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find a teenager just hanging out, it was a place I loved to visit, even when I didn’t have money to spend. I loved sitting in each of the kayaks and imagining I was on the water. I loved chatting with Fran about the new gear I thought I needed, and I loved talking to the other customers about where they had been paddling and what kind of boats they had. For a teen who had just discovered their love of kayaking, Wilderness Sports was the perfect place to hang out.
The more time I spent in the store, the more I got to know Fran, and she got to know me. Sure, I was 13, and she was almost my parents’ age, but I felt like she was a friend. Since I enjoyed spending time with her and in her store, I told her regularly that as soon as I was old enough to get a job, I wanted to work for her at Wilderness Sports.
When I turned 14, Fran wasn’t hiring. But that didn’t stop me from swinging by the store, saying hello, and checking out the new inventory on a regular basis.
Toward the end of my freshman year of high school, I got a phone call. It was Fran. She was looking for someone to watch the store for a couple hours a week in the evenings so she could teach a class at the community college. After almost two years of hanging out, building a relationship, and asking for a job, I was the first person she offered the job to, and I readily accepted.
Ithaca has a lot more going on than my small town in New Hampshire. This week, YES asked 400 teens where they like to hang out outside of school. One teen said, “This is Ithaca. Everywhere is a good place to hang out.” Even still, just like my town, many teens prefer to hang out at home or at a friend’s house (about 50%). Of those who hang out outside of their home, the top two places teens like to spend their time are on the Commons and at the Mall. Check out this map to see where Ithaca teens are spending their time:
Teens who are spending a lot of time on the commons or at the mall are surrounded by job opportunities. Based on my experience, here are 3 tips I’d offer a teen who wants to work where they hang out:
Getting a job when you’re 14 can be very difficult. Many of the larger businesses, like Target or Best Buy, have very strict age restrictions for their employees, and 14 is almost always too young. The key to getting a job, especially if you’re younger than 16, is networking.
Networking simply means that you build relationships with people, and you use those relationships to open doors to job opportunities. Hanging out at Wilderness Sports I built a relationship with the store owner, Fran, and she gave me my first job. I also built relationships with the other customers. One of those customers ended up opening a whitewater rafting company. When he was hiring raft guides, he remembered how much I loved being on the water, and that’s how I got my second job.
If you’re thinking about trying to get a job, begin networking in places you already enjoy hanging out. Spend time talking to the people who work there. Get to know the managers and the owners. Let them get to know you so they can see you would make a reliable worker.
Learn About the Business
When I first started hanging out at Wilderness Sports, I had a very basic understanding of what gear was necessary to make it safely down the river. After spending more time there and asking a lot of questions, I learned about how a life jacket should fit, what each style of boat was meant for, and what each piece of equipment was specifically designed to do.
Learning about Fran’s business and the products she was selling showed her that I was serious about my desire to work there. Additionally, the more I knew about kayaking, the more I knew I wanted to work at Wilderness Sports. By the time I actually got my job there, I had learned enough about the business that I barely needed any training on my first day of work.
If you’re looking for a job, one of the best ways to show initiative is to learn about the place you want to work. In some cases, simply spending time there might be enough to give you a sense of what the business is all about. Often times, you’ll need to ask questions or do some research. What products do they sell, and what are they used for? Why are they in business? What is their mission statement? What kind of image are they trying to portray to the public? The more you can learn, the more prepared you’ll be if and when you’re able to get a job there.
When I first asked Fran for a job, she wasn’t hiring. When I asked the second time, she wasn’t hiring. It took almost two years of my telling her that I wanted to work for her before she had a position available for me. But when that position was available, she knew I was serious, and she knew I’d want the job.
Persistence, along with a little patience, is an important step to getting the kind of job you’re looking for. Sometimes that means applying for many jobs, or asking many places if they are hiring before you find even one place to apply, and sometimes that means asking the same person if they are hiring every month. Maybe your favorite store on the commons isn’t hiring right now, and maybe they won’t be hiring the next ten times you ask. But when they are finally looking for some part time help, if you've been persistent, they will remember you, and they will remember you really want to work there.
If and when you'd like some help landing a job where you like to hang out, call the YES office at (607)273-8364. We are here to help you make connections and land the job.