CHICAGO — Not all jobs are created equal when it comes to teen employment. Some are little more than ways to earn extra cash while others can be stepping stones to college or an interesting career. Here are tips teens can use to find jobs that will help them the most:
* Ask relatives, family friends, neighbors, teachers, counselors, and other adults if they have any leads on finding an interesting job. The best way to find a good job is through word of mouth.
* Look for a job in a field you're interested in. If you are interested in computers, look for work in a high-tech firm. If health care, look for work in a hospital or health clinic, even if it's not the job you eventually want. "If the student isn't interested in the job, they're not going to do well," says Libby Geaslin, coordinator of the pre-employment placement program at Evanston Township High School near Chicago.
* Make sure the job isn't dangerous or exposes you to environmental hazards. Many teens are hired for jobs that require them to work with heavy machinery or toxins, says Michael Resnick, a professor of public health and pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Make sure you are well trained on any equipment you need to use and work in a space that is well ventilated, he advises.
* Establish with your employer beforehand limits on how many hours you'll work. "More than 20 hours seems to make the difference," says Kathryn Borman, an anthropology professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa and a researcher on teen jobs.
* Schedule your hours so they don't leave you too tired for school. Being asked to close a store late at night can leave students exhausted the next day, says Terry Stevig, head of the guidance department at Wauconda High outside Chicago.
* Look for work that will help you develop your skills and allow you some autonomy. Try to avoid jobs where you learn everything you need to know after just one or two days, Resnick says.
* Search for a working environment where you interact with people of different ages. You can get valuable experience working with people of different generations. "When youths are being supervised by other youths, what are they really learning?" Borman asks.