How to land a great summer job

Apply for a summer job now

Kristin Quintano, assistant director of the girls summer camp, Camp Wicosuta, has seen some college students mess up the job application process entirely. From using immature, instant-message-like language in the application to having their moms follow up, she's seen it all.

"If you're going to be taking care of children, you need to take care of yourself," says Quintano, who is also the visa coordinator of GreatCampJobs.

Now more than ever, it's essential to not make similar mistakes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the youth labor market (those between ages 16 and 24) grew by 2.4 million people (11.8 percent) during summer 2011, whereas only 59.5 percent had jobs (a record low). This means you now have more competition than ever with less openings.

To land one of the few summer jobs out there, consider these three steps.

1.) Prepare

It's important to get all the potential application materials before applying. Commonly, this includes: social security card, ID (preferably a driver's license), dress clothes for the interview and a great resume.

If you don't have much or any past work experience, then it's okay to mention odd jobs, such as babysitting, or school accomplishments, such as being on the honor roll. Not all summer jobs require a resume (and most won't require formal cover letters), but if you're unsure how to write one, ask the internship/job coordinator at your school for help. It may vary by profession.

Next, decide the application route you're going to take. There are three ways of obtaining a summer job:

  • Job board
  • Networking
  • Cold contact

If you take the job board route, you're going to have far more competition. If you already have contacts for a job or with a company, your chances immediately go up, since, according to ResumeBear, over 60 percent of jobs are landed by referrals. Cold contact trumps job boards, personal reference trumps all.

Lauren Berger, who helps students get internships and summer jobs as the CEO of Intern Queen, Inc., says the best thing to do in the preparation stage is to make a list of companies you want to work for, visit their website and jot down required materials.

2.) Apply

Once you're prepared and have decided where to apply, it's now time to fight the good fight. Berger offers a less relaxed approach to doing this.

"Because the job and internship base is so competitive these days, you're going to want to apply for at least 10 jobs at a time just so you make sure you land something," says Berger, who is also the author of "All Work, No Pay."

When filling out the application, answer everything thoroughly, plainly and professionally. One thing Quintano sees a lot with summer applications is applicants not following directions, such as using a friend as a reference when the application clearly requests a professional.

"You want to make sure you're taking time with the application instead of sending it off into the sky like no-one's reading it," Quintano says.

Berger suggests picking a day and applying for several jobs at once. And, if possible, to apply to relevant companies. For example, if you want to be an accountant, apply for a receptionist position at an accounting office. Sometimes even a seemingly unrelated job may provide you career preparation and skills, such as crisis management and communication. Consider that, as well. Either way, Berger says, it will likely be a valuable experience.

"A summer job is a great time to give a student that first real sense of commitment and responsibility and what it means to follow through," Berger says.

3.) Follow up

Like with summer internship applications, follow up is crucial. Berger suggests following up for summer jobs two weeks after submitting your application. Email is preferable, since it's non-intrusive. You do this by simply reminding the employer you applied for the position, asking where they're at in their search, and reiterating your interest in the position.

If you don't hear anything back or they tell you the position has been filled, Berger says it's time to apply for another 10 positions.

"We all know the job market is tough right now, but there are jobs, and it's all about planning and focus," Berger says.