Let's face it—You need clothes. You need gas (for your car). You need a social life that doesn't involve watching Dancing With the Stars every night on your parents’ couch. You want a job like you want a hole in your head, but you need one to get the finer things in life. The problem is that you don't have experience...or references for that matter. Don't sweat it. These 10 tips will help you bag your very first part-time job.
1. Get the Facts and the Papers
Once upon a time, a Shmoop writer nailed a job application and two interviews only to be fired before the first day of the job because she didn't have the correct paperwork. Be ye not so stupid.
The US government only allows teens ages 14 or 15 to work up to 3 hours per day on school days, 8 hours per day on non-school days and no more than 18 hours per week when school is in session. The full list of federal regulations is available here. Wanna work more? See the kindly loving folks in Sao Paulo for more… job freedom.
Teens ages 16 and above can work unlimited hours. States also have their own set of labor requirements. If you're under 18, you can't legally work in certain states until you've got a work permit. DOH! The good news is that these are pretty easy to come by. To figure out whether you need a work permit and what's required, contact your state's Department of Labor to ask.
2. Brainstorm Your Skills
Remember that bake sale you helped put together for the drama club? And the horror movie you made with your friends last summer? And that science fair project you did in lieu of taking the biology final last year? All of those things can prove to a future employer just how awesome you really are.
School awards, long-term projects, volunteer work, babysitting gigs, extra classes you've taken, certificates you've earned, languages you've mastered (including computer languages)—any and all of those things can go on your resume or job application to prove that you can master skills and accomplish goals.
Employers aren't looking for someone who already knows how to make a double soy latte with caramel and whipped cream; they're looking for workers who have the ability to learn how to make anything on the menu and to problem solve when things go wrong.
Highlighting your skills—anything from martial arts aptitude to your soccer team MVP award—can show employers what you're capable of.
3. Start Early
It's cold. You're thinking about New Years or Valentine's Day plans and the last thing on your mind is where future you is going to spend your summer. Snap out of it.
Research from Snagajob shows that 43% of hiring managers looking for summer work will hire by April. That means that if you wait until the spring weather hits, you could be out of luck.
4. Cast a Wide Net
Before your ego gets to Charlie Sheen-size, get real for a moment. Yes, you have skills but at this point you also have no experience and no references. Walking in and expecting a high-powered job at the company of your choice is kind of like a 5th grader demanding an honorary Ph.D. from Harvard.
Some industries are more likely to hire teens than others. Food service, retail and customer service are almost always looking for teen workers while sites like Groovejob and Snagajob.com's Teen Jobs site cater to the teen demographic.
Online job sites get all the attention, but local newspapers and flyers also advertise available positions and you won't be competing against teens from here to Timbuktu to get them. If all else fails, don't be afraid to go into a place you'd like to work and simply ask for an application. 70 to 80 percent of all jobs aren't advertised at all.
5. Create a Resume
To win the war against unemployment, you need the right weapons. That means arming yourself with a killer interview outfit, a list of people who can attest to your awesomeness and a resume. Now you're ready for the challenge.
Clerical work, temp jobs and internship positions will probably require a resume while food service gigs, retail work and customer service jobs may not. Either way, having a solid resume that outlines your academic work, extracurricular interests, volunteer positions and outside skills will only help your job prospects.
6. Prepare References
Who will stand besides you in battle? The teachers, coaches, volunteer coordinators, religious leaders and extracurricular heads who can vouch that you truly are a responsible kid. These guys will be more than happy to give future bosses a cleverly-worded monologue about your accomplishments, you just need to ask them ahead of time.
To get a list of references, contact at least three people outside of your family who can attest to your leadership skills and work ethic, explain that you're applying for your first job and ask if you can use them as a reference. Once you've received permission, type up a list of your crew's names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and how they know you. Trust us, having a list of Team You ready to hand over is like having resume gold.
7. Be Perky and Available
Whom would you hire—the guy with two nose piercings, a shirt that says "Legalize Hash" and a cell phone that won't stop ringing or the gal who is listening intently and wearing something that doesn't look like it just came from Thrifty McCheapo's Fashion House of Shame? Employers feel the same way.
A Snagajob survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers looking for summer, seasonal and paid-by-the-hour labor showed that a positive attitude and availability are the top factors employers are looking for in teen workers. Both qualities outranked previous work experience. Managers also advised teens to dress well if granted an interview, shut off phones and “adapt a mental attitude that reflects a positive work ethic," but hey, you're already a walking ray of sunshine right?
8. Prepare For the Interview
Job interviews are like first dates without the making out. You're going to get asked a lot of really cheesy, ice-breakery questions and you just have to weather through until the uncomfortable part is over.
You can't change the fact that an interviewer might lead with "So...tell me a little about yourself," but you can be ready for the punch. Thinking about your strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments and why you are the ideal candidate for this job can ensure that you're at least ready when the awkward train arrives.
According to US News and World Report, some of the most common interview questions are:
- Tell me a little bit about yourself.
- What interests you about this job?
- What experience do you have doing _____ (some of the responsibilities required for the job you're applying for)?
- What do you know about our company?
9. Follow Up
You're dying to find out if you got the job (and thinking about it every minute of the day), but to an employer you're just another minion.
If you haven't heard back a week after putting in your job application, call the employer and politely follow up. Saying something along the lines of "Hi, my name is ____. I put in an application for the position of _____ last week and I just wanted to follow up" will do.
Following up reminds the manager that you're still interested in the job and lets them know that you're organized enough to call back.
You wouldn't test drive just one car before buying, apply to just one college or invest in just one stock. That's called putting all of your eggs in one basket. Do that and you better hope that your basket is tough as nails.
Instead of looking for the world's strongest basket, test out some others. (Ok, we'll drop the metaphor now). If the jobs in your area are snatched up, that's ok. There are plenty of other opportunities for teens including internships, freelance jobs and starting your own business. The bonus is that all of these other options look MUCH better on your resume than a traditional summer gig. Boo-yah.