As teenagers near the end of their high school education, many are focused on beefing up their college applications by enrolling in every AP class and joining countless extracurricular activities.
But, according to Tenaz Purdy, a business and computer science teacher at Pennsbury and the varsity girls tennis coach, this academics-focused mindset, rather than a career-based one, is taking a toll in the long run.
“If they’ve never worked before, or just had a little job here and there, they really don’t know what the job expectations are of the workplace,” Purdy said. “They’re shocked. A lot of the research says it’s not what they expected. They were told they’d get these great educations and come out with $250,000 in debt, and now they’re going to step into their dream job. Well, it’s not like that.”
In order to help local teens not only land a part-time job while still in school, but prepare them for the “real” world ahead, Purdy released last month Stand Out or Sit Down – Stories and Lessons for Teens and Young Adults to Find a Job They Love. The book, available on Amazon, teaches young people, ages 16-24, the practical skills necessary to find and succeed in a job while still meeting their school and home commitments.
For a number of years, Purdy served as the coordinator of the high school’s Cooperative Education Program, which taught students career-readiness skills, such as how to find and keep a job, money management and interviewing. Several days a week, they’d work a paid, part-time job, and were graded by the employer on attendance, customer service and other areas.
When the program was cancelled in 2009 due to budget cuts, Purdy continued to mentor students on a volunteer basis, and launched an online job board. Though this eventually got to be too much for her schedule, Purdy still wanted to help. Thus, the idea for her first book was born.
“The kids really need some instruction. They really need focused instruction as to how to go about finding a job. It pretty much follows the curriculum that I did in COOP and also, it’s filled with stories of students, all through COOP and from my job posting board, what they did and didn’t do,” she said. “That makes it an interesting book to read. It’s not just a how-to and it’s not just a reference book. People are reading it cover-to-cover because they say it’s keeping their attention because of the stories that are in there.”
A key piece of advice featured in Stand Out or Sit Down is for teens to not be afraid to begin thinking about the future.
“There’s nothing wrong with bagging groceries. It’s a great first job. It teaches you all kinds of skills beyond how to bag groceries. But why not use a part-time job to kind of start to explore your career interests?,” she said. “You really want to love your job. You’re doing something at a job that you would enjoy doing if you weren’t at work. Maybe you love working on cars, maybe you love working with animals, maybe you love children. Maybe you should be a teacher’s aide or an auto mechanic’s assistant.”
In the book, Purdy then stresses the importance of networking, even at a young age, since statistics show 70 percent of hiring comes from internal references.
“These kids don’t understand the way they present themselves, the things they say, the language they use, the eye contact, all those kinds of things matter,” she said. “So, start building your network now of people that you know, and always make a good first impression.”
Another piece of advice? Clean up Facebook and Instagram.
“Most employers will look at some form of social media before they extend an offer to see what do you like out there?,” Purdy said. “But don’t make everything private. Allow somebody to see who you are, what kind of a person you are, what kind of interests you have.”
Additionally, Stand Out or Sit Down encompasses chapters on how to properly fill out an application; how involved parents should (or shouldn’t) be in their teen’s job hunt; and how to prepare for and answer quirky interview questions, as well as how to deal with inappropriate ones.
Employer stories from companies like SaladWorks and Sesame Place are also included, with a number detailing how teens “ghost” when they decide to quit. Basically, they leave for the day and never come back.
“They’re doing this more and more. What kids need to understand is that it will come back and bite them,” Purdy said, adding that parents often encourage this behavior. “That’s not what you teach them. You teach them responsibility. That employer now is down an employee, and they have no time to hire someone, train someone. You have to look at it from their point of view.”
Stand Out or Sit Down – Stories and Lessons for Teens and Young Adults to Find a Job They Love can be purchased at amazon.com.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org