This past summer wasn't an especially productive one for working teenagers. After a strong start in May, teen employment faltered. Granted, some teens probably earned money doing odds jobs, such as mowing lawns and babysitting. Still, it seems to me that a lack of work experience can't help but hurt young people when they enter the labor force.

I raised that point with Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half International, a specialized staffing firm with offices worldwide. In addition to his professional experience, McDonald has young adult kids, and he often fields questions from their friends. His advice about what young people can do to improve their chances of getting a job:

-- Start your job hunt while you're still in college. As soon as you settle on a major, join student groups or societies associated with your field. Block out some time each week for your job search by listing employers to target and making contacts with professors and the campus placement office.

-- Choose your major strategically. In his business, McDonald sees great demand for accountants, software developers and IT troubleshooters, but also for "creative types," such as public relations specialists and marketing managers.

-- Network, network, network. And we're not just talking social media. It's important even as a student to have a LinkedIn profile, says McDonald. But Gen Yers need to go beyond email and make personal contact whenever possible. If you have a city in mind, spend a week there and set up interviews in advance.

-- Get an internship -- or two. Academic success definitely matters, but, says McDonald, "gaining real-world experience will likely play the most pivotal role in your career prospects after graduation." Start planning when you're a sophomore.

-- Don't neglect "soft skills." When he was an accounting major in college, McDonald says one of the best things he did was take courses in public speaking. Today, he says, a lack of communication skills can stall your career. IT specialists, for example, need to establish a good working relationship with non-technical co-workers.

-- Be versatile. "If you're a business major, take a writing course," says McDonald. "If you're an arts major, take a business course." That's a lesson his own son has learned. By day, he has a paying job making training videos, and at night he pursues his passion taking freelance photos of rock bands. "I have to put on a business hat to make it in a creative world," he told his father.

(Janet Bodnar is editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan, $17.95) and Money Smart Women (Kaplan, $15.95). Follow her on Twitter at Send your questions and comments to And for more on this and similar money topics, visit