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How to Get Your First Job: Tips for Teens

When I was in high school and living in small-town Iowa, the job prospects for 16-year-olds were limited. I opted for babysitting while some of my friends worked for local farmers or became certified nursing aides so they could work at the local nursing home. Now that my family lives in an urban environment, my sons have an overwhelming number of job prospects, and navigating them can be tricky. Chatting with my wise mom friends, I learned some tips on how we can help our teens navigate their first jobs.

Job Search Tips for Teens

Finding a job

When my older son was looking for his first “real” job in the summer after his freshman year, he relied on a word-of-mouth referral from a friend. After an online application and a quick interview, he was hired to work at a local family-owned pizza place. Because it is a smaller business, he isn’t just a cog in the wheel. His managers know him and his strengths, and they’ve taught him and mentored him over the last two years. It’s a great fit!

Rena W. said her teen had good luck working at a small local grocery store because “they were really flexible with schedules.” With teens trying to juggle school, work, extracurriculars, and sleep, flexibility is key. It’s also important that when a manager tries to over-schedule them, our teens feel comfortable and confident enough to say no.

Applying for a job

Websites and apps like Indeed and LinkedIn can make job searching easier, but sometimes the personal touch makes a difference.

Megan M, a local business owner, said, “If somebody came into my store with a resumé already written up and asked about a job, they would certainly have a better chance of getting a job than someone who just Facebook messaged me,” and “if you’re too nervous to come in person and ask for a job, you might not be cut out for customer service.”

Teens may also need help navigating applications and prepping for interviews. Another local mom, Jenifer P., said her teen struggled with recognizing strengths and weaknesses at this stage of the job search. Jenifer helped her teen identify these through a conversation about “life skills/lessons, things from sports, school, summer camps, etc.” Our teens might not have lots of job experience, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have other experiences to draw from and put on a resumé or application. Maybe they’re on Student Council or hold a leadership position with their school choir. Maybe they have volunteer hours with a local nonprofit or serve as a mentor to younger students. These are all valuable experiences to list on an application.

Before both of my sons went for their first interviews, my husband and I coached them through pre-COVID handshakes, eye contact, and confident answers. We practiced potential interview questions and helped them pick out appropriate interview attire. And when they received job offers via text, we helped them respond professionally.

Mary H. had a practical step for this stage of the job search: “Turn off the call blockers! My 15-year-old son lost a job opportunity because he had all unknown numbers blocked from his phone. He found a voicemail from a hiring manager two weeks after it was left.”

Applying for a job is a step toward independence. Accordingly, I don’t advise doing these steps for our teens. But it can be helpful to walk alongside them during this process, as they learn the dos and don’ts of job applications.

Prepping for the first day

Jennifer N. supervises many teens at a youth nonprofit. She mentioned several practical tasks our teens might need to perform: answering a phone, taking down a message, and writing a professional email. While we might take these skills for granted because we grew up in a pre-digital age, our teens did not. If your teen’s job might entail these tasks, you can help prepare them by spending a few minutes practicing at home before their first day.

Jennifer added that “manners and some confidence go a long way, as does the ability to ask and answer questions.” Brushing up on their soft skills can help build their confidence before heading in for their first day.

Teens also need to know that their duties at their job might go beyond what they expect. Megan M. points out, “If your kids are going to work in food service, are they going to be comfortable cleaning, doing dishes, cleaning a bathroom, mopping, sweeping, wiping down tables?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to teach them, because as Megan says, “That way they won’t be caught off guard when they’re asked to do something new.”

Jennifer N. also advises that we teach our teens to work from a list of tasks, including “prioritizing the most important task to complete and doing it first.” That’s a skill we can coach our teens through at home when they work on chores or homework.

Learning lessons along the way

There will be plenty of growth opportunities for our teens as they navigate their way through their first jobs. They’ll experience conflicts with bosses and coworkers, learn difficult lessons about customer service, and hopefully gain some lifelong skills and memories along the way.

And as always, I’m thankful for my crew of Mom friends for helping ME help my teens through this important stage of growing up!

Kimberly Witt

Kimberly Witt is an Iowa transplant placing roots in St. Paul, Minnesota. With her husband of 17 years, she is raising two amazing teenage sons who were born in Ethiopia. She enjoys writing, running, and (surprisingly) helping her sons with math homework. Find her at https://www.wittwrites.com/

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