College Essay First Job

The single most memorable line we read this year came from an essay by Carolina Sosa, who lives in Centreville, Va., and will attend Georgetown University. In writing about her father’s search for a job, she described the man named Dave who turned him away.

“Job searching is difficult for everyone, but in a world full of Daves, it’s almost impossible,” she wrote. “Daves are people who look at my family and immediately think less of us. They think illegal, poor and uneducated. Daves never allow my dad to pass the first round of job applications. Daves watch like hawks as my brother and I enter stores. Daves inconsiderately correct my mother’s grammar. Because there are Daves in the world, I have become a protector for my family.”

Vanessa J. Krebs, assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Georgetown, who reads about 1,400 essays year, told me that when she first received my interview request, the phrase “the Daves” immediately jumped out of her memory bank.

Though Ms. Sosa might easily have become embittered by her encounters with the Daves, Ms. Krebs said that she was moved by the fact that the essay concluded with the desire to pursue a career in public service, even if she wasn’t exactly sure where that desire would take her.

“This is a starting point, and she is still figuring that out,” Ms. Krebs said. “A lot of people think they need to have all the answers already. Or they feel like they do have it all figured out.”

Other memorable moments emerged in an essay by Martina Piñeiros, a Chicago resident who will be attending Northwestern University.

“Fatigue and two jobs had ruined who both my parents used to be, and I began to value the little time I had with my mother more than ever before,” she wrote. “This little time could not make up for the time I spent alone, however, nor could it assuage the envy I had of the little girl my mother looked after. She, though not my mother’s daughter, had the privilege of having my mother and her delicious cooking all to herself; I would always get the leftovers. She also had the privilege of having my mother pin her silky blonde hair into a pretty bun before ballet classes while my dad wrestled with the hairbrush to pull my thick brown hair into two lopsided ponytails before dropping me off at the bus stop. But I couldn’t blame the girl for depriving me of my mother; her parents had also been consumed by their jobs.”

It is rare that any teenagers write well about what it is like to have more money than average. Most don’t even try, for fear of being marked as privileged in a world where some people resent those who have it or are clueless about it. Yorana Wu, who lives in Great Neck, N.Y., and will attend the University of Chicago, wrote about her father, who spends much of the year in China, where he opened a canned fruit factory when Ms. Wu was 8 years old.

“That was the first year a seat at the dinner table remained empty and a car in the garage sat untouched,” she wrote. “Every dollar comes at the expense of his physical distance.”

While she has her tennis and music lessons (and expresses mixed feelings about the affluence that allows for them), she speaks to him in five-minute phone segments when he is away.

“He is living the American dream by working elsewhere,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims, my fellow reader, observed. “There is a cost to this choice.”

We published a pair of essays about what it means to navigate two worlds simultaneously. One, by Annabel La Riva, who is also the subject of a video feature, discusses the distance (in more ways than one) between her Brooklyn home and her Manhattan church choir, where her love for singing began.

In another, Jon Carlo Dominguez of North Bergen, N.J., discusses his choice to turn right out his front door, toward the prep school he attends, instead of left, toward his neighborhood school. When the two schools meet on the football field, he writes, some of his classmates shout, “That’s all right, that’s O.K., you’ll be working for us someday.” His response is to tutor his local friends with his used test-preparation books, share guides to lucid dreaming and pass on tips he learned from Dale Carnegie.

“Every single day he is making a choice, and he is conscious of the costs and the benefits on both sides,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims said. “The way that he addresses it is beautiful. He’s trying to bridge that world and be that bridge.”

One of the 10 or so essays that Mr. Lanser, the associate dean of admission for Wesleyan, read about work this year was set at a Domino’s Pizza store in Forestdale, Ala. Adriane Tharp, who will attend the university in the fall, is the author, and her rendering of the lineup of fellow misfits who were her colleagues there is something to behold.

There is the pizza maker from Pakistan who looks like Bob Dylan and sings folk songs from his homeland; the part-time preacher who also delivers pies; and Richard, the walking “Star Wars” encyclopedia. One woman has worked for pizzerias for over 25 years and is about to apply to college.

“The point of the essay is not to tell us that she needs work or doesn’t,” Mr. Lanser said. “What she wants us to learn from this is that she is able to embrace difference and learn quite a bit from those differences.”

I offered him the opportunity to disabuse overeager parents of the notion that admissions officers at competitive colleges devalue work experience, and he laughed. “We think there are valuable life skills and people skills to be gained in the workplace,” he said, adding that he personally believes that everyone should work in the service industry at some point in their lives.

Rob Henderson’s service was to his country, and his essay was ultimately about what the United States Air Force did for him.

Of his time as a foster child, he wrote, “I was compelled to develop social skills to receive care from distracted foster parents.” He was finally adopted, but his parents quickly divorced (the adoption came up in arguments before his father cut off ties) and eventually found stability with his mother and her partner, at least until her partner was shot. An insurance settlement led to a home purchase, which ended in foreclosure.

After high school, he enlisted. Eight years later, he’s still deciding where he’ll attend college in the fall. “I’ve accomplished much over the last seven years because the Air Force provides an organized setting that contrasts with the chaos of my upbringing,” he wrote.

Ms. Lythcott-Haims felt herself rooting for him, and she added that his essay was a good reminder that the United States military is a beacon for many young adults, even with the high risks that may come with their service. “This is one way you make a life in America,” she said. “It’s more common than we realize. And he is self-made.”

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How To Find That First Job

Article Type: Quick and Dirty

10 Tips For Landing Your First Part-Time Job

Let's face it—You need clothes. You need gas (for your car). You need a social life that doesn't involve watching Dancing With the Stars every night on your parents’ couch. You want a job like you want a hole in your head, but you need one to get the finer things in life. The problem is that you don't have experience...or references for that matter. Don't sweat it. These 10 tips will help you bag your very first part-time job.

1. Get the Facts and the Papers

Once upon a time, a Shmoop writer nailed a job application and two interviews only to be fired before the first day of the job because she didn't have the correct paperwork. Be ye not so stupid.

The US government only allows teens ages 14 or 15 to work up to 3 hours per day on school days, 8 hours per day on non-school days and no more than 18 hours per week when school is in session. The full list of federal regulations is available here. Wanna work more? See the kindly loving folks in Sao Paulo for more… job freedom.

Teens ages 16 and above can work unlimited hours. States also have their own set of labor requirements. If you're under 18, you can't legally work in certain states until you've got a work permit. DOH! The good news is that these are pretty easy to come by. To figure out whether you need a work permit and what's required, contact your state's Department of Labor to ask.

2. Brainstorm Your Skills

Remember that bake sale you helped put together for the drama club? And the horror movie you made with your friends last summer? And that science fair project you did in lieu of taking the biology final last year? All of those things can prove to a future employer just how awesome you really are.

School awards, long-term projects, volunteer work, babysitting gigs, extra classes you've taken, certificates you've earned, languages you've mastered (including computer languages)—any and all of those things can go on your resume or job application to prove that you can master skills and accomplish goals.

Employers aren't looking for someone who already knows how to make a double soy latte with caramel and whipped cream; they're looking for workers who have the ability to learn how to make anything on the menu and to problem solve when things go wrong.

Highlighting your skills—anything from martial arts aptitude to your soccer team MVP award—can show employers what you're capable of.

3. Start Early

It's cold. You're thinking about New Years or Valentine's Day plans and the last thing on your mind is where future you is going to spend your summer. Snap out of it.

Research from Snagajob shows that 43% of hiring managers looking for summer work will hire by April. That means that if you wait until the spring weather hits, you could be out of luck.

4. Cast a Wide Net

Before your ego gets to Charlie Sheen-size, get real for a moment. Yes, you have skills but at this point you also have no experience and no references. Walking in and expecting a high-powered job at the company of your choice is kind of like a 5th grader demanding an honorary Ph.D. from Harvard.

Some industries are more likely to hire teens than others. Food service, retail and customer service are almost always looking for teen workers while sites like Groovejob and's Teen Jobs site cater to the teen demographic.

Online job sites get all the attention, but local newspapers and flyers also advertise available positions and you won't be competing against teens from here to Timbuktu to get them. If all else fails, don't be afraid to go into a place you'd like to work and simply ask for an application. 70 to 80 percent of all jobs aren't advertised at all.

5. Create a Resume

To win the war against unemployment, you need the right weapons. That means arming yourself with a killer interview outfit, a list of people who can attest to your awesomeness and a resume. Now you're ready for the challenge.

Clerical work, temp jobs and internship positions will probably require a resume while food service gigs, retail work and customer service jobs may not. Either way, having a solid resume that outlines your academic work, extracurricular interests, volunteer positions and outside skills will only help your job prospects.

6. Prepare References

Who will stand besides you in battle? The teachers, coaches, volunteer coordinators, religious leaders and extracurricular heads who can vouch that you truly are a responsible kid. These guys will be more than happy to give future bosses a cleverly-worded monologue about your accomplishments, you just need to ask them ahead of time.

To get a list of references, contact at least three people outside of your family who can attest to your leadership skills and work ethic, explain that you're applying for your first job and ask if you can use them as a reference. Once you've received permission, type up a list of your crew's names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and how they know you. Trust us, having a list of Team You ready to hand over is like having resume gold.

7. Be Perky and Available

Whom would you hire—the guy with two nose piercings, a shirt that says "Legalize Hash" and a cell phone that won't stop ringing or the gal who is listening intently and wearing something that doesn't look like it just came from Thrifty McCheapo's Fashion House of Shame? Employers feel the same way.

A Snagajob survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers looking for summer, seasonal and paid-by-the-hour labor showed that a positive attitude and availability are the top factors employers are looking for in teen workers. Both qualities outranked previous work experience. Managers also advised teens to dress well if granted an interview, shut off phones and “adapt a mental attitude that reflects a positive work ethic," but hey, you're already a walking ray of sunshine right?

8. Prepare For the Interview

Job interviews are like first dates without the making out. You're going to get asked a lot of really cheesy, ice-breakery questions and you just have to weather through until the uncomfortable part is over.

You can't change the fact that an interviewer might lead with "So...tell me a little about yourself," but you can be ready for the punch. Thinking about your strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments and why you are the ideal candidate for this job can ensure that you're at least ready when the awkward train arrives.

According to US News and World Report, some of the most common interview questions are:

• Tell me a little bit about yourself.
• What interests you about this job?
• What experience do you have doing _____ (some of the responsibilities required for the job you're applying for)?
• What do you know about our company?

9. Follow Up

You're dying to find out if you got the job (and thinking about it every minute of the day), but to an employer you're just another minion.

If you haven't heard back a week after putting in your job application, call the employer and politely follow up. Saying something along the lines of "Hi, my name is ____. I put in an application for the position of _____ last week and I just wanted to follow up" will do.

Following up reminds the manager that you're still interested in the job and lets them know that you're organized enough to call back.

10. Diversify

You wouldn't test drive just one car before buying, apply to just one college or invest in just one stock. That's called putting all of your eggs in one basket. Do that and you better hope that your basket is tough as nails.

Instead of looking for the world's strongest basket, test out some others. (Ok, we'll drop the metaphor now). If the jobs in your area are snatched up, that's ok. There are plenty of other opportunities for teens including internships, freelance jobs and starting your own business. The bonus is that all of these other options look MUCH better on your resume than a traditional summer gig. Boo-yah.

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