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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Getting That First Job

Dear Sue: I have a 16-year-old daughter who needs ideas on how to apply for a first job. She really wants to work in a clothing store that she enjoys shopping in, but she is shy and not sure what to say on her application that will give her an opportunity for an interview. Do you have any advice for teenagers looking for that first job?

- Mom

Sue Says: The fact that she enjoys shopping and is familiar with the clothing this store is carrying should be a real plus - especially if she can convey that enthusiasm in her application and in person. First, she needs to find out if the store is accepting applications and then she should request to see the manager. She should introduce herself and let the manager know about her enthusiasm for the clothing the store carries, and that she would love the opportunity to work there.

Although you say she is shy, help her to understand that this is not a permanent personality trait she has to live with forever. Once she decides she doesn't want to be shy, all she needs to do is learn some new behaviors to help her shed that perception. The fact that she wants to work in retail may be a sign that she is ready to come out of her shell. In retail, she will need to be able to initiate conversations with customers. The good news is that being shy is something that can be overcome.

Here are some tips for your daughter and all teens when it comes to applying for that first job:

When you meet the person you are interviewing with smile, offer your hand and shake hands firmly, look at the person directly in the eyes and maintain eye contact throughout the interview. Stand and sit tall and erect, hold your head high and speak clearly without mumbling. Above all, look presentable. Remember this is your chance to make a positive impression. Although you have the right to your own style, keep in mind that most business environments do not favor tattoos, nose, eye or lip rings, unusual hair color or baggy clothing. Pay attention to the appearance of those who already are employed where you want to work, and make sure you look your best when you have the interview. The one thing your daughter has in her favor is the wonderful job market - she shouldn't have any trouble finding a job!

Dear Sue: My daughter is a web graphics arts designer. She has been asked to do a freelance project for an ex-professor, but she doesn't know what kind of income or compensation to ask for. She just graduated and she has never worked freelance before. Is there any type of reference material to get a benchmark of what kind of income she should charge?

Sue Says: I do not have an answer as to what your daughter should charge, but think that if she were to call other people in the same field, she may be able to get some idea about fees.

If she is looking for opportunities to gain some experience, this may be an ideal opportunity. Since she just graduated she may want to focus less on the money and more on the opportunity this time around. This will provide her with some work for her portfolio and could be a wonderful experience.

She may want to approach this professor and let him know she is excited to do the work for him, but that she has no idea how or what to charge for the project. Perhaps they can come up with an agreeable price together.

Dear Sue: I am a debt collector. I have become used to people lying to me, cursing me out and refusing to pay their bills. That is not a problem for me. My problem is that I have a quota to make every month. Although my supervisor tells me I am doing fine, when I look at the board for monies brought in, my fees do not reflect my monthly quota - in fact, I am not even close to the numbers I should be bringing in.

Some of my coworkers will change their voice or use techniques that I am not comfortable using. I want to do a good job while being myself and being honest. I am not sure if I should move on to another career field or not. I am worried that sometime I will eventually be fired if I do not meet my quota. Can you help?

- Collector

Sue Says: Before you quit, you need to talk to your supervisor and express your concerns. Ask if he/she will observe you on the phone and offer tips that will help you be more effective. Some people are natural on the phone and others need to develop the style that works best for them. Changing some of the words you use or tone of voice doesn't mean you have to become someone you are not. We all have to "adapt" to the roles we have in business.

If after making an effort, you still feel uncomfortable making the calls, you may decide that this business isn't for you, but give it a little time before deciding to quit.

Perhaps you are focusing too much on the numbers right now, and in time they will come. You did say your supervisor is pleased with your work -- maybe you need to give this some time. Talk to some of your coworkers to find out what it was like for them when they first started collecting. And ask your supervisor for additional training. Training is an essential part of any job and it sounds to me as if you may need more training or coaching - so ask for it!

Dear Sue: I've worked at my company for 7 years. I have been promoted to the HR office. I thought it was a good thing but it turns out that I am very unhappy there. I really don't care for the girl I work with. She is the manager's daughter and I don't feel comfortable telling her that I don't like working with her. She always has a bad attitude toward everything and I think it is rubbing off on me.

I want to stay with this company but as time goes by I think I will need to find another job. I feel as though I am the fifth wheel because her lover also works under her so there is the daughter, lover and a really good friend from school. I feel as though I don't belong with this group of people. I am wondering if I should go back to production. What do you think? I have no prior skills in this field. My frame of mind is in production. The office is not really for me.

Sue Says: You have answered your question in your letter. You are more comfortable in production and that is where your frame of mind is, so go back to production. There is nothing wrong with admitting and discovering that you were happier someplace else. You never would have known if you hadn't tried this new position. You are better off taking action now rather than remain unhappy.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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