The large teenage population in Utah makes finding a summer job tough, even though more jobs may be available this summer than were last year.

"Utah has a larger percentage of teens in its population than most other states," said Skip Standiford, Provo Job Service counselor. "Business has grown, but the number of teenage job seekers has grown faster. There will be more competition for the available jobs."Standiford said there are too few teenage workers in other parts of the country.

"In the East and California there are so many openings teenagers can pick and choose. The legal minimum wage is $3.35 per hour, but in the East you can't get anyone for less than $5. But in Utah, we have a surplus of teenage workers who compete for the $3.35 jobs."

Utah has 257,280 people between 16 and 24 years old, nearly 1,000 more than last year, according to Job Service statistics. Officials said they do not know how many jobs there will be in Utah County this summer.

Standiford speculated that a greater percentage of Utah high school students want work than do students in other areas. "Utahns are raised with a strong work ethic. They know they must work to get ahead."

Area students use most of their wages for pocket money or on luxury items, said John Williams, counselor at Orem High School.

"They take a job for spending money, but along the way they learn a lot about the realities of life," he said. "It builds their self-esteem to help out with some of their own expenses, to not just be handed everything.

"They also learn that if they want to earn more than minimum wage, they will have to continue their education."

Williams said working does not necessarily hurt students' grades.

"We have some very good students who work and some poor students who work. With some, work makes them more organized."

He estimates that half his school's 1,600 students work during the year, and about 80 percent work during the summer.

Standiford thought those numbers are a little high. "I'd estimate more like 30 percent during the year and 70 percent in the summer," he said.

Standiford said students who want to win jobs in Utah's limited market have to "get their acts together."

"Students who want to work need to impress an employer and stand out from the crowd. Utah employers can pick and choose.

"Teens can help themselves by concentrating on those areas where they are most likely to be hired. There are laws to keep kids from working more than 10 feet off the ground, lifting more than 30 pounds or working around hazardous machinery. That lets out most low-skill jobs."

Fast food outlets, grocery stores and landscaping businesses hire the most untrained teen workers, he said.

"Adults or teenagers looking for jobs can also help themselves by asking friends and relatives to watch for job leads."

Standiford said many opportunities are lost because of bad interviews.

"Employers know teenagers won't have much experience. They are just looking for responsible, mature teenagers. Young people can help themselves by talking about any past work experience, such as mowing lawns or baby-sitting.

"Letters of reference from these past employers can really be useful."

Standiford said it also helps to express an interest in the company. "If teenagers are applying at McDonald's, it might help to say they like the food, pleasant atmosphere and friendly counter help.

"If kids act like they don't care, no one will hire them."

He also stressed the importance of grooming and dress.

"Young people need to make a good impression. To be hired, they need every advantage they can give themselves."