It's not too soon to consider summer work

Spring is under way, magnolias are blooming and tulips are swaying in the breeze. This can mean only one thing: It’s time for summer job search. Maybe past time, depending on your perspective.

If you’re a college or high school student, you may know others who have had a lock on their summer job for months already. There’s always some early bird who knows just whom to ask and what to say. Next year, that could be you; for now, it’s best to pick up the timetable where you’re at and not let any more weeks slide by.

Students aren’t the only summer workers, by the way. By tradition, this also has been the transition work season for “winter” employees, such as school teachers, snow plow operators and others whose regular jobs provide a break in the warm months. Laid-off workers, un-retiring seniors and even stay-at-home parents round out the list of candidates for these positions.

That’s a lot of competition for somewhat fleeting opportunities. If you’d like to join the ranks of the seasonally employed, you’ll need to get moving. We’ll start with an overview of the summer job world.

Seasonal jobs: These positions are conducted only in the summer. In the Northern states, lifeguards are a prime example. Other summer-only jobs might be found at parks, camps, resorts, golf courses, landscape centers, house-painting companies and other places that earn the bulk of their revenue in the summer.

Tourism jobs: These are usually available year-round, but spike in the summer. A lot of summer vacationers pour into historic sites and amusement parks, and that leads to increased staffing needs.

Retail jobs: Like tourism jobs, these are available year-round but may increase in the summer. If you toss in food service jobs, you've got a lot of potential employers in this category.

Office jobs: While there's nothing summer-y about these roles, they can be a standby for those whose skills lend well to temporary positions. If you can answer phones, type a decent report or organize files, you might find a fill-in spot at a desk somewhere.

Now for the process. If you’ve perused the above categories and thought about your own tastes and skills, it’s time to identify the actual companies you will contact. Then you’ll want to drop off a resume with a short letter that says you’re interested in working for them this summer and will call back shortly.

Why the in-person delivery instead of an email? It gives the employer a chance to see you, and it gets you past the pileup of emails on the manager’s computer.

Of course, you also can scan the ads and online postings to see who is requesting workers. This pathway is “safe” in that you know with certainty where openings exist. But it’s also a crowded route, filled with applicants. You’ll likely find that completing applications takes a lot of time to complete but returns very little employer response.

And, although online applications can seem like timesavers because you don’t have to leave the house, in fact 10 applications will take as much time as or more time than a well-coordinated delivery of resumes to 10 workplaces.

This advice, by the way, applies for the adults as well as teens and students. Remember that employers conduct their summer hiring quickly once they jump in; if they’ve seen you in person, or gotten your name from a common contact, you will move to the top of the list as a “known quantity.”

What if none of these steps works and you can’t score an interview or job offer? Rather than spend the summer hammering away at the problem, consider switching to a new plan. If money is your main goal, explore self-employment options including baby-sitting, lawn care and running errands for seniors. If you make a good plan, you could earn as much or more on your own as you would have with an employer.

And, if you were trying for a “resume builder” with your summer job, look for a good volunteer gig or a challenging class instead. Just don’t spend the summer halfheartedly completing applications -- that’s not productive after a certain point, and it’s certainly no fun.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.