Last summer, my teenage nephew started his first job at a local fast-food chain, and I quickly realized that the job landscape has changed a lot for teenagers since I started my first job in my teens.
He lives in a rural area, so he has to commute into the city for work, and he had applied to every entry-level position in the closest small city but faced mounting competition due to the number of businesses that had shuttered during the pandemic and the number of people looking for work following the end of unemployment resources for out of work Americans.
If you are a teen looking for a job, let’s discuss how to find good jobs, prepare for the interview, your first day of work, and your first paycheck!
How to Find a Good Job as a Teenager
If you’re looking for a seasonal or part-time job, start looking for a job before April or after July each year because this is when the job market for entry-level jobs becomes competitive due to recent grads or those returning home for the summer from college. Most successful job search candidates start their search in February are successful in their search for a summer job.
Make a list of the available jobs in your area and apply to the jobs that are high priority to you first. High-priority jobs should include those that will allow you to get job experience in an industry that you’re interested in working in after you graduate from high school or jobs that would look great on your college admission paperwork. Apply to these first because they likely have limited availability and are competitive.
The next category of jobs to look into are those that have openings that extend past the summer or holiday season or are in a career field that you may have interest in following graduation, but you want to test it out first. The last category of summer jobs is those close to your home, you have some interest in them, and they pay at or slightly above minimum wage.
If you find a summer job that you like working at, let your manager know that you would like to work for them next season, and they may be willing to save you a spot when they start hiring. Check in with the manager around February to ensure you still have a secured job and confirm your interest in working for them again.
How to Prepare for and Nail the Interview
A good business practice is to confirm the time and location of the interview 24 hours in advance and then arrive 15 minutes before your interview time to ensure you’re in the right place and to get to the correct office for your interview.
Lay out your interview clothes the night before your interview, and make sure the outfit fits well with a professional look. Interview attire should be at least business casual, even if you’re applying to the local fast-food restaurant. Outfits should be clean with no holes, vulgar or suggestive phrases, and should be modest in appearance to appear professional.
When you get to the interview location, let them know that you’re there for an interview and who with at what time. Make sure you follow whatever health and safety protocols that company has at the time, including masking or temperature checks. Maintain eye contact with the interviewer, shake their hand, and speak in a clear voice when communicating.
Bring a copy of your resume or any certifications that would be relevant to the position with you. Be prepared to ask questions about the position or the company. Do research on the company, its values, and work environment, and have an answer if you’re asked why you want to work for that company.
Have your parents or friends do a mock interview with you at home a few days beforehand so you can get a feel for how the process works. Look up potential interview questions online to prep answers to common questions.
How to Prepare for Your First Day
During the interview, ask what uniform is required for the job and how you should go about getting one if you’re hired for the position. Before your first day, ensure you have the proper uniform, that it fits well, is clean, and looks professional on you.
Look up the requirement in your state for working and ensure you have the documents that Human Resources would need to finish the hiring process. Common required documents would be your birth certificate, social security card/number, and state work permit.
Arrive at the job site early and make sure you know where to check-in for your first day of work or orientation. Know ahead of time if you will be allowed a lunch break and plan to bring food with you or find an option close to your job site, so you’re not late coming back from your break. Communicate professionally with your coworkers and supervisors. Ask questions when needed and follow company guidelines for how to perform your job tasks. If instructions are unclear, ask your trainer or supervisor to provide clarification, so you understand what is expected of you.
How to Prepare for Your First Paycheck
Have a conversation with your parents about what bills you will have when you get your first job (if any) and their recommendations for how much money you should save from your job.
Many financial professionals recommend saving up to 50% of your paycheck to put towards savings for short-term goals, long-term goals, and investments/retirement. It’s important to spend some money as a teen, so you learn how much things cost, how to determine what is a good price for an item, to comparison shop, or if it’s better to buy an item used in good condition. Learning how to shop early on will help with money management later in life.
For savings goals, consider setting up two savings accounts- one for short-term savings and the other for long-term savings goals. Examples of short-term savings include paying for prom or class ring, and longer-term goals include buying a car or saving for college.
If you choose to start saving for retirement in your teens or starting an investment account, it’s advisable to sit down with a financial professional to discuss what your options are so you understand what your money is being invested in.
When looking for a financial professional, ask them what their account management fees are and research their reviews online. Ideally, you want to pay less than 1% in management fees as a general rule and work with a Certified Financial Planner that listens to your personal investment goals rather than tells you what your goals should be.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Should My First Job Be?
This depends on what your goal is for getting a job. Is the job just to make money so you can meet your goals, or are you trying to gain experience for your college admissions paperwork or career? If you are trying to get a job that will help you gain work experience towards your college or career goals, consider internships at companies that will provide that experience or small businesses that offer hands-on, real-world experience. If your goal is to make money, consider:
- Local colleges
- Retail locations
- Recreational centers (Movie theater, ice or roller rink, gym, etc.)
- Public pool or exercise facility
- Landscaping company
- Grocery stores
- Amusement parks
- Restaurants or delivery services
How Can I Get a Job With No Experience?
Network with people that you know or that your parents interact with. Often, someone in your network will know someone hiring, or they would be willing to put in a good word for you about your character to someone hiring.
Next, highlight the soft skill experience you have gained by volunteering or working for your school, church, parents, neighbors, friends, etc. Soft skills include: communication, problem-solving, organization, teamwork, leadership, time management, and problem-solving.
Consider finding ways to prove to an employer that you are ready and willing to work towards a career in that field by creating side projects of your own to start a portfolio. If you eventually want to work in graphic design, start to acquire skills on your own and create a portfolio of your work to show to prospective employers.
Be prepared to answer questions about why you want to work in that industry besides “to make money.” What skills are you motivated to learn? What are your long-term career goals?
What Is a Good Hourly Wage for a Teenager?
The average hourly wage for a teenager in the United States is $10-16 per hour, depending on experience, company, industry, location, and availability to work. Remember that this hourly wage does not account for income taxes, so your paycheck will reflect less than the hourly wage when you receive your paycheck.
When Should I Get My First Job?
Many Americans believe that kids should start getting an allowance by age 10 and their first job by age 15. Most states will give teens a work permit between 15 & 16 years old, but you can absolutely start working unofficially at a younger age or start your own business if you want to make money for yourself at a younger age.
More Resources to Help Find and Prepare for Your First Job
Check out these great resources to prepare for your job search and to find a job that suits your needs:
- Career Exploration Resources (K-12) from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is helpful to learn what jobs are available based on your interests, pay in that field, work environment, skills or certifications needed, and an occupational handbook with data about these spotlighted jobs.
- YouthRules! By the US Department of Labor. This initiative aims to provide a safe work environment for teens or those looking for their first job in the US. Use this tool to look up labor laws in your state and employee protections for young workers, parents, educators, and employers so you know what your rights are when you land that first job.
- Teens4Hire- Teens and Employment. This presents workers’ rights and resources in an easy-to-understand way with suggested wages for various jobs, hours that teens can work, work permit requirements, and information on industry-specific requirements to hire teens.
- Youth.gov- Youth Employment. Resources are offered to youth on jobs, internships, externships, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship programs via website resources, videos, podcasts, training, and guides. Youth with disabilities can learn about jobs available that are able to accommodate disabilities or what protections are available for disabled youth that are in the process of job searching.
Searching for a job as a teen can be competitive depending on what time of year you are conducting your job search. Knowing how to look for a job and what resources are available to you to aid in your search will help you evaluate jobs, work conditions, industries, and how to interview successfully so you land the job you want.
Most teens have 6 jobs between ages 18-25 years old as they transition from high school through college and into adulthood post-college so don’t stress about finding the perfect job in your youth. If you find a job that you enjoy, be sure to speak to the manager about working for them again the next season that you’re available to work so you have a job lined up for the next season.