That First Summer Job: How to Help Your Teen Get It and Make the Most of It

By C.E. Pelc

Each year, hundreds of teens look into and apply for their first summer job. Between the new responsibilities, the sense of increased maturity and the thrill of a paycheck, getting that first job can be an exhilarating experience.

But before your teen-ager plans how he or she is going to spend the first two months worth of paychecks, there are some things both of you should consider:

• What kind of job does he or she want?

• Does he want it to be a seasonal job or something he can continue through school?

• Where should she look for the job? Will transportation be an issue?

• How does she apply for the job and what can you both expect?

• How much will he be making and what plans should he make for that money?

The questions can go on and on. However, probably the first question that both parents and kids should answer when looking for a first job is: Are they old enough to even start applying? Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws regarding age and employment.

How do teens decide where they want to work?

One way to get started is to have your teen think about his or her favorite subjects in school and consider jobs related to them, advises Susan Ireland, author of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cool Jobs for Teens. "If you really like math, then maybe being a cashier is a good idea; or if computers are really your thing, then maybe you could get an internship or some kind of position working with computers," she says.

Another option for young job seekers is a career fair. Many cities, community centers or neighborhood associations hold summer job fairs for youth in late spring or early summer.

The Internet is another resource for finding a summer job. More and more companies are utilizing the Internet as their exclusive means of posting jobs, getting applications and screening candidates.

Some specific enterprises that often employ teens include:

• Fast food restaurants

More tips for job-seeking teens:

  • How to Do Well in Job Interviews

  • Producing a Winning Job Application

  • Resources for First-Time Job-Seekers

  • • Movie theaters

    • Theme parks

    • Landscaping companies

    • Warehouses

    • Some retail stores

    The Right Approach

    Once your teen decides what type of job is the right one for him, when should he start approaching possible employers? And just how should they go about doing that?

    The earlier your teen can get started on the summer job search, the better. Encourage your teen to start looking for summer work in midspring if possible. Most employers do not want to start the hiring process in June, since they want their employees to come right out of school and go right to work.

    When approaching a potential employer about a job, timing is everything. Try to avoid visiting an establishment during busy hours when asking about employment opportunities. You want your son or daughter to make an impression on a potential employer as an active job seeker, not as the annoying person that bothered him or her during the lunch rush.

    When possible, have your teen should stop by to pick up an application, take it home, fill it out and then approach the employer with the completed application. This way, he can hand the employer the application and ask if he or she has a few minutes to discuss it. And since it’s very rare for an employer to hire someone during initial contact, follow-up can be crucial. An employer is much more likely to hire a teen who calls back in a few days to check in, versus a teen who just waits around for a phone call.

    Before approaching an employer about a job, Ireland says, teens should make sure they’re presentable: "Just take a quick look at yourself and think ‘What if the manager’s there and he wants to talk to me right now - do I look OK? Am I presentable?’"

    Be Prepared

    Appearance is also just as important when it comes to the job interview. An employer might call a potential employee in for an interview after reviewing his or her application. Whatever the employer says, it’s always a good idea to go in dressed for an interview - khaki or dark pants/skirt, golf or button-up shirt, nice shoes, etc. It’s crucial to make a good first impression.

    Being prepared for the types of questions a possible employer may ask is just as important as looking presentable. Being prepared with key points to make will help to lessen the stress of the interview. Parents can assist their teens by helping them anticipate possible questions and urging them to write out their answers. Young job applicants should expect such questions as:

    • What can you tell me about yourself?

    • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

    • Have you ever been employed before? If so, what was your last job?

    • Why should I hire you instead of someone else?

    While teens should have answers prepared for these questions, they should also be ready to ask some questions of their interviewer as well. It’s a good idea to have one to three questions prepared in advance. Asking how the interviewer became involved in the company or what kind of skills are necessary to advance in the company shows the interviewer that the youth is interested and proactive.

    Pay Day

    Once your teen has found the job he wants and has aced the interview, what should he expect in terms of pay and benefits?

    Youths looking for their first job should be prepared to earn minimum wage, according to youth employment counselors. Yet, many employers pay more than that. When it comes to answering questions about pay, employment counselors recommend that teens state that their wage requirements are "negotiable."

    As far as benefits are concerned, teens are typically not offered benefits because they will be part-time and/or temporary employees. However, some employers do offer perks (especially retail stores), such as employee discounts on merchandise.

    Once your teen begins bringing home a paycheck, you can help him or her understand what it means to earn money and how to manage it.

    "Parents have a lot of influence," Ireland says. She suggests helping teens understand the impact of taxes and other withholdings and how to prioritize how the money will be spent, so expectations on earnings won’t be disappointing.

    She advises teens to make two lists: one of items they have to spend their money on, such as car payments and school books, and a second list of things they would like to spend leftover money on, such as going to the movies with friends.

    Working During the School Year

    What if your teen wants to continue his or her summer job through the school year? How can you make sure that’s the right decision?

    Obviously, the most important thing is to avoid taking on too much, Ireland says. "Take a part-time job for fewer hours than you think you can handle, then expand it if you’re doing OK with it. This way you won’t find yourself falling asleep in class and then saying, ‘Well, I’d better cut back on work’ because by that time your grades will have already dropped."

    Remember, while the skills youths learn at jobs are certainly important, education is vital to their future success. It’s up to parents to help their teens keep their grades on track and not let work become an obstacle to education.

    Safety on the Job

    Job safety regulations is another area that parents should be familiar with as far as what ages are allowed to do certain things in a work environment. Familiarize yourself with the laws and be aware of the safety measures that are required so you and your teen can hold the employer accountable for those laws.

    For example, youths under the age of 16 are not allowed to clean, wash or polish cars, work on ladders or load and unload trucks. And there are other laws for youths under 18 restricting them from working in roofing or mining, handling or applying pesticides, or being exposed to alcoholic beverages.

    Because some of today’s parents may have done these things when they were 14 or 15 years old, it may seem strange for them to take those things into consideration.

    Parents can look up information on wages and hours regulations through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site,

    Getting Involved

    In addition to knowing the laws, there are other things parents can do to help their teens starting their first job. Setting an example when it comes to attitude about work is key, says Ireland. "Be careful to give a balance in conversation with the family about what work means in your life - that there’s a balance between their work and personal life - and that work can really be enjoyable," she says.

    Parents should be sure to know their teen’s schedule and where he or she is working. Ask how the job is going. If your teen seems stressed out at work, recommend a different job or fewer hours. If your teen’s school work goes from A’s and B’s to C’s and D’s, he could probably use some assistance in time management. If that doesn’t work, a recommendation to just work during school vacations might be in order.

    And on the other hand, parents may also find it easier to talk to their teens now that they have a job and they share a common link. "Tell me about your day at work" can be an effective statement to get teens to talk.

    More tips for job-seeking teens:

  • How to Do Well in Job Interviews

  • Producing a Winning Application for Employment

  • Resources for First-Time Job-Seekers

    Corrie Pelc is Special Sections editor of Bay Area Parent.

    From United Parenting Publications, 2003.

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