Getting A Head Start

JCS career coach Deborah Weksberg says that teens need to realize they are competing among a vast field of job applicants that includes overqualified adults. Photo by Justin Tsucalas
JCS career coach Deborah Weksberg says that teens need to realize they are competing among a vast field of job applicants that includes overqualified adults.
Photo by Justin Tsucalas

Nina Knoche can’t help but laugh at some of the things she’s witnessed from young adults during job interviews she has conducted.

Knoche, who owns and operates Sofi’s Crepes in Owings Mills, says she’s seen run-of-the-mill hiring turnoffs such as poor English, shoddy attire and slouching. However, she was even morebewildered when one teenage applicant actually started texting during the interview. It’s that kind of behavior, she says, that makes the job selection process a bit easier.

“Don’t even touch your cell phone during the interview. If you start texting, you’re done,” Knoche said. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Deborah Weksberg, a career coach for Jewish Community Services’ career services division, knows all too well that what business owners like Knoche are experiencing is more than just an aberration. Teens are, by and large, less prepared and more uninformed entering the job-search process than ever before.

“They have no idea it’s so complicated. They think they can pretty much show up, announce their interest in a job and get one,” Weksberg said. “They aren’t really reading newspapers or seeing
reports on CNN.”

JCS is endeavoring to tackle this issue firsthand. With a grant from the Grandchildren of Harvey M. and Lyn P. Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund, JCS has put into place programs geared to assist job seekers ages 14 to 19 with the training and resources they need to effectively market themselves to employers and then thrive once they gain an interview.

Beginning last fall, JCS began offering one-on-one career coaching, group workshops and monthly job fairs purposely tailored for teens who — due to a struggling economy — are now often competing for the same jobs as overqualified, out-of-work adults.

“Teens suffer from a credibility gap because they are inexperienced and because they are impulsive by reputation. They are sort of broadly brushed in employers’ minds,” said Weksberg, a former school psychologist in both Baltimore City and County. “Most teenagers would be out-competed by their bubbies for fast-food and barista-type jobs. The kind of things that were the staple of the teenage experience are really evaporating for them.”

With an increasing field of applicants, Weksberg expressed how essential it is for teens to take
advantage of every opportunity by providing employers with a well-constructed, relevant resume and exhibiting adept communication skills during an interview.

She said that far too many teens don’t realize the importance of handshakes, eye contact and head nodding. And, she explained, they treat their resume more like an autobiography when it should be a snapshot of what they’ve done that relates to the particular job.

Knoche, who said she employs about eight teens, understands that many kids won’t have a work history to include on a resume. Instead, she looks for indications that the applicant has held leadership roles such as president of a club or captain of a sports team, or performs tasks that demonstrate responsibility such as babysitting or picking up siblings from school.

JCS career coaches also work with teens to ensure that they have realistic expectations of the types of jobs they are capable of getting. Weksberg’s team is trained to identify strengths in teen applicants and come up with job options that are best suited for each.

So far, Weksberg said that one of the biggest challenges is convincing teens and their parents that taking advantage of this free service warrants adding one more item to a usually stacked daily to-do list. Currently, JCS has about 30 teen clients, a number they hope will reach well into triple figures following job fairs in February and March. Weksberg emphasized that the skills teens learn now will continue to be applied later in life.

“It’s something that you don’t think you need now,” Weksberg said, “but I can tell you from the kids who didn’t get jobs last summer who are calling up and wanting some help, there is some need to learn how to get a job, how to approach an employer, how to sell yourself. Whatever it is in life, you have to be able to make yourself relevant and wanted to get to the next level. We’re here. And we have a well-thought-out program to help kids get a leg up on their future.”

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