How To Get Your First Job as a Teenager: Tips and Advice for High School Students

Danika McClure  | 

Looking for a job as a teenager can seem like a difficult task, especially if you haven’t had any previous job experience.

It’s not impossible, however. Plenty of teenagers are able to find gainful employment, and are able to bolster their resumes in significant ways. If you follow the necessary steps, and are deliberate in crafting your resume and gathering useful references, finding a job can be easy.

Ensure You Have Appropriate Paperwork

If you’re seeking employment, there are certain documents that you’ll be required to submit that prove to your employer that you have legal permission to work in the United States. In order to do this, you’ll need to provide the following to your employer:

  1. A Social Security Card
  2. A document that proves your age, which can include:
    1. Birth Certificate
    2. U.S. Passport
    3. Permanent Resident Card
    4. State Issued Identification Card
    5. State Issued Driver’s License
    6. Official School Identification Card with a Printed Birthdate
  3. A document with a photo to prove your identity, which can include:
    1. U.S. Passport
    2. Permanent Resident Card
    3. State Issued Identification Card
    4. State Issued Driver’s License Official School Identification Card
  4. A document that proves you are eligible to work in the United States (for non-citizens of the U.S.):
    1. Permanent Resident or Alien Registration Receipt Card (I-511)
    2. Employment Authorization Document (I-766)
    3. Foreign Passport with a Temporary I-511 Stamp

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has various protections for child laborers. States often have additional guidelines that must be followed, so it’s best to check with your individual state’s Department of Labor in order to determine what kind of information you need to gather, and see the kinds of jobs and working hours that are available to you.

If you are between the ages of 14-15, there are federal guidelines that limit the amount and type of job you can work. Per FLSA guidelines, individuals at this age may not be employed:

  1. During school hours
  2. Before 7 am or after 7 pm except from June 1 through Labor Day
  3. More than three hours a day on a school day
  4. More than 8 hours a day on a non-school day
  5. More than 18 hours a week during a school week
  6. More than 40 hours a week during non-school weeks

There are exceptions to each of these rules, however, depending on your individual circumstances. In essence, the Department of Labor aims to ensure that those in this age gap will be able to perform their work duties without it affecting their schooling, health or well-being.

There are also a number of industries that 14 and 15 year olds are specifically prohibited from participating in, such as manufacturing, mining, food processing, loading and unloading, and most jobs deemed to be hazardous or physically demanding.

In contrast, the Department of Labor has compiled a list of jobs suitable for 14-15 year olds to participate in, such as office and clerical work, creative fields, cashiering or customer service, and assembling orders. Any position that is not specifically permitted in the child labor guidelines is prohibited.

Once you turn 16, many more occupations become available, including more food service roles and other tipped positions. For a full list of prohibited positions, follow the link above or check with your state’s Department of Labor.

Ask for Help Finding a Job

Networking is a necessary skill in today’s job market, and it’s important to start as early as possible. In fact, many experts suggest that high school is the perfect time to begin the networking process. Statistically speaking, if you have connections, you’re far more likely to land a job.

In fact, according to a recent study by the career website Glassdoor, “your chances of getting an accepting [job] offer are a statistically significant 2.6 percent to 6.6 percent higher if you were referred by a current employee than if you weren’t.”

Clearly, that’s not to say that you can’t get a job without connections, but it certainly does help, especially in an oversaturated job market. For those with little work experience, presumably teenagers, connections can be a make or break when it comes to the job search.

What does networking look like? Who should you ask?

For high school students, it requires a lot of conversation and making connections with others, and using those connections to branch out into the workforce. If you’re starting to look for your first job, consider utilizing the connections of:

  • Friends and peers
  • Family members and friends of family members
  • School counselors
  • Coaches
  • Teachers
  • Local businesses that you frequent
  • Volunteer organizations

Should any of these connections have an in at a business or organization, you’re far more likely to not only find open positions, but also are more likely to successfully obtain work.

Stay Flexible

As mentioned previously, employers have to abide by federal and state restrictions to youth employment. Because of this, teenagers are frequently limited to the number of hours they can work and the industries they are able to gain experience in, so it’s important that you manage your expectations, and be flexible to the opportunities available to you. It is very typical for teenagers or those getting their first job to earn minimum wage until they gain more experience and transferable skills.

Above all else, when on the hunt for your first job, it’s best that you be willing and open to trying new things and search for jobs that will give you new skills in the workforce. Jobs are great opportunities for young people to learn good communication, teamwork, punctuality, and dedication.

It’s also important that you don’t get too discouraged if you don’t get an offer from the job you’re hoping to get. According to LinkedIn, those who fill out online applications have just a 1.2 percent chance of being hired for that position, due to the competitive nature of the job market. Be sure to fill out as many applications as you can, and continue to network until you’re able to interview and eventually be hired for a position.

Know Your Limits

Managing your school, personal, and extracurricular activities are a challenge for people of any age. Adding work into the mix has the potential to make things even more difficult.

When deciding to apply for jobs, or choosing to accept a position that you’re being offered, it’s important to be realistic about how much time you can commit to your position in addition to the other activities you have going on in your life — especially if you have collegiate or post-graduate goals after you receive your diploma.

If you’re planning on continuing your education after high school, it’s especially important to work to maintain an appropriate work-school-life balance. Be cautious about exerting so much of your energy that you let your grades slip, or that you burn out in the long run.

Be upfront with your employer about how much you are able to contribute to your workplace environment. If they prove to be inflexible with your school and extracurricular opportunities, it may be in your best interests to pursue a different position. Today, there are many positions you can perform remotely or fit within your own schedule, so don’t be afraid to look for alternative types of employment.

In addition, it’s also important to be upfront with the types of work you are able to do. If you don’t have a driver’s’ license or if your family lacks adequate transportation, for example, it may be best for you to pursue avenues for employment that will accommodate your particular circumstances.

Research the Jobs You Apply For

In a recent piece published on Business Insider, career advice expert Amanda Augustine noted that the fastest way to turn off a hiring manager is to “apply for a job you have no business applying to.” Augustine, who works for TopResume notes that when you apply for a position that you are unable to perform, you’re not only wasting your time, you’re also wasting the hiring manager’s time.

For those who have little on-the-job experience, this can be a scary thing to consider.

When applying for a job, it’s important that you know the primary functions of the job and what you can bring to the table in order to best fill that position. It’s also important that you leverage your resume and your former experiences to your advantage. Don’t turn in the same resume and cover letter for every position you apply for. Instead, tailor your references and your past experiences to show a potential employer that you’re paying attention to what the job entails and what you can contribute.

If you are given an interview, this background work will come in handy, as you’re better able to anticipate what kinds of questions they might ask and tailor your answers to the employer’s expectations.

Put Together a Resume

Putting together a resume is one of the most important aspects of getting a job as a teenager, but many first time job seekers struggle to put one together.

When crafting a resume, it’s important to understand that a lack of job experience doesn’t mean that you have a lack of relevant work experience. Many of your academic experiences will translate well into a workplace environment, from academic achievements, to volunteer work, to extracurriculars.

Include any activities and awards you’ve received from these activities, and tailor your resume to the particular position that you’re applying for. Be sure to include any relevant references from those particular activities to give you a leg up on any competition that you may have.

Get References

Having a great resume is only the first step in getting your foot in the door, but a recent survey conducted by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service, found that your references are just as important.

“Hiring managers interviewed for the survey said they remove about 21 percent of candidates from consideration after speaking to their professional references,” Monster contributor Jamie Thork writes, while covering OfficeTeam survey.

Hiring managers typically look for details of past job duties and experience, a view into your strengths and weaknesses, confirmation about employment or volunteer time,  and a description of the applicant’s accomplishments.

When including references, be sure to include any teachers, family friends, church leaders, scout leaders, and any other leaders in the community that might be able to vouch for your skills and abilities.

Prepare for Your Interview

When trying to obtain your first job, interviews are particularly important. Without a lot of on-the-job experience, being able to describe your strengths, talents, and work ethic is extremely vital and can make or break your chances of getting the position you’re applying for.

When preparing for your interview, be sure to prepare in advance for the questions you might be asked.

If asked why you’re applying or what you’re looking to gain from this position at a particular company, it’s best to share with the employer how you think you can contribute to the field, and communicate your interest in the position.

Aside from being prepared to explain why you’re qualified and excited for the position, it’s equally important to think of the logistics of the position. Do you have a driver’s license? Do you have reliable transportation or a person who can get you to and from work? What are your limitations with school and extracurriculars? How much effort will you be able to put into your position?

Once you have the research and the practical answers under your belt, practice with a trusted adult or mentor to perfect your interview answers.


Image Source: https://depositphotos.com/

This post was updated September 17, 2018. It was originally published August 21, 2018.