Summer's in the air, there's no doubt about it. I'm seeing more folks outside wearing shorts, taking walks, and sitting on their front porches. Oh, and the grills have been fired up for a few weeks now, as well. All signs that summer is not far behind.

Unless you're a teacher or have some kind of seasonal employment, chances are that summer doesn't have quite the same appeal as it did when we were kids. Summers meant freedom, riding bikes, spending hours at the lake or pool, and generally looking for whatever trouble we happened to find. But once we hit the teenage years, summer meant work, and it has ever since high school for me.

It's tough to find a summer job, as many teenagers can tell you. Particularly with the tough competition on the job market, it's harder than ever. Many teenagers are finding themselves competing with adults who have many more years' experience for a temporary summer job. There are still thousands of experienced employees out there simply looking for steady income, even if it's only for a few months. So for a teen, it's even more important than ever to stand out from the other applicants and be as reliable, competent, and ready to work as possible.

I'm seeing a few more "Help Wanted" ads around the area than I have in the past few months, which I'm taking as a good sign. This means that our businesses are recovering enough to take on some extra hands over the summer. Word of mouth is often the best way to hear about summer job opportunities, though it's good to keep a sharp eye out for those Help Wanted signs, too.

Usually, most teens' summer jobs are in the retail or food service sectors. I never had much luck in either industry, but I admire anyone who can handle these types of jobs. Talk about a crash course in dealing with difficult customers. Well, that's not entirely true. Before I graduated from college and my "adulthood" began, my summer jobs consisted of working at a miniature golf course and then as a toll collector for two summers. If you think you need to develop a thicker skin, try working as a toll collector. I was on the receiving end of a few customers' bad days and got yelled at simply because I was the first person they saw after leaving work. I got yelled at because the person in front of the car wasn't moving fast enough. And of course every construction project was my fault. Luckily I didn't have to speak with these customers for much longer than a few minutes, but if you have enough of those experiences, they tend to stick with you. I would return to college each year feeling as though my character had definitely been tested over the summer.

First jobs, especially summer jobs, are an important milestone in a young person's life. Whether it's mowing lawns, washing cars, serving up burgers and fries, or something completely unique, a summer job is a way to earn some cash and build some character during those few months of no school.