Your First Job: Tips for Teens

Look around for advice on how to get a job, and you’ll find your share of resources, to be sure. Except they all mention wearing a suit and tie to the interview, discuss whether or not to list your college GPA, and quibble over the one best way to organize your previous work experience.

But summer is coming, and that means that hordes of one particular type of job applicant are crawling out of the woodwork: teenagers with three empty months ahead, looking to earn a few bucks by any means necessary. They’re not hoping to develop software solutions or chart marketing demographic vectors (or whatever the latest corporate gobbledygook might be), they’re just looking for their first work experience.

If you’re a teen looking for a job, you’re facing a far more straightforward job search process. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a few opportunities to be a little smarter than the competition. Position yourself for a good summer job and build experience for a lifetime of rewarding work with these simple tips.

– Your first step toward the summer job may be to walk into the store or restaurant and fill out an application. Simple, right? Certainly, but there’s a right way to do it. Don’t just come in at any old time and hand it over to a clerk; ask politely to see the manager and pass it in directly to him or her, along with a cover letter (even if no cover letter appears to be required). This gives you a chance to present yourself along with the application. Say hello and shake hands; wear something suitable. The manager may ask if you can fit in a quick interview on the spot; that’s a good thing! But be prepared for it.

– These days even your local burger chain may direct you to fill out an application online rather than in-person. If that’s the case, then that’s fine, but you can still introduce yourself to the manager and hand over a cover letter in person.

– Whether you’re a teen applying for a job at a small business, a camp or an office, your cover letter gives you a chance to express yourself in ways that checking off boxes on an application may not. Type it in business letter form with an attractive letterhead. Say a bit about yourself, what you do in your spare time (sports, school activities, volunteering, Boy Scouts and the like are good things to mention; video games, not so much) and why you think you and the job would be a good fit for each other. No one is expecting a high school kid to have much actual job experience, so this is your chance to replace that.

– A good rule of thumb on clothes when you apply for a job: Dress one step classier than you would if you were actually going to work there. A simple polo or button-down top and khaki pants will be fine; no one needs to wear a tie to apply for a job at the movie theater. The point is to look respectable and clean, neither of which are adjectives everyone immediately associates with teens.

– On that note, piercings and wild hair may be popular these days, but they’re not so hot if you’re trying to bag groceries for old ladies at your local supermarket.

– Have you had a job before, even as simple as another summer job? Great, point it out! Maybe you’ve babysat, tutored, flipped burgers. Extra points if it was relevant to the job you’re looking for now! At this stage in your life, the fact that you have worked is more significant than what you actually did there-your prospective employer will simply appreciate the fact that you have served as a reliable worker who shows up on time and gets the job done. So if you’ve got a positive reference, feel free to use it.

– Don’t be afraid to follow up if you don’t hear anything. A simple phone call (or a drop-in if it’s a local business) a week or so after you apply just to see if there’s news may help prove your dedication to the job.

– This may not strictly apply to teens, but it’s worth mentioning: if your prospective employer asks you to name something about yourself that needs improvement, do not say “sometimes I work too hard” or any variant thereof that attempts to turn it into a positive. They’ve heard it, it wasn’t creative the first time either. Even adults mess this up.

Is all this overkill to get a summer job slinging coffee? It may seem so, but don’t forget that your entire class is also out there looking for something to do this summer. Furthermore, building these job search skills now will help prepare you for more permanent employment searches down the road. So take pride in what you do; it just may lead to bigger things. And when you’re young, that’s all that matters.

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