Looking to gain a little more independence and real-world experience? Hoping to develop some useful professional skills? Getting a job as a teenager is a great way to work towards these goals. In this post, I'll talk a little bit about why you should (or shouldn't) get a job, before telling you what you should be looking for in your first part-time position. Read to the end for tips & strategies on finding the best job for you!
Why Should You Get a Job as a Teen?
Maybe you're still deciding whether you want to jump into the world of employment; maybe you've made up your mind that getting a job is definitely right for you. No matter where you stand, I hope you read this section carefully - if you get a job for the wrong reasons, you might end up being counter-productive in the long run.
Many students think it's important to get a job for the sake of their college applications. It's great to demonstrate that you can juggle different responsibilities and that you participate in activities outside of school. Keep in mind that admissions officers would rather see strong academic performances than mediocre performance + a part-time job.
For this reason, I think jobs can be really great during the summer when you have a lot of free time - you can gain employment experience while also bringing in your own personal income.
Working part-time while school is in session is a different story. Many students do really well in school with a part-time job, but there are more variables to consider. Namely, you have to think about prioritizing your other day-to-day responsibilities: school and homework, extracurricular activities, family, and friends. If you can balance these priorities in addition to a part-time job, go for it! If you're struggling to keep up your grades and other activities, however, you'll benefit much more in the long run by focusing on academics than you would by working part-time.
It's important to find that balance between school, work, and fun.
One important exception to this reasoning is if you need to get a job for financial or familial reasons. If circumstances necessitate that you work part-time while you're in school, and this negatively impacts your grades, it's important that you explain these circumstances on any college or scholarship applications.
Now that we've got that out of the way - on to the fun stuff!
What Should You Be Looking For in a Teen Job?
Chances are you won't be making a ton of money as a teen in an entry-level position. Everyone has to start somewhere, though, and if you're thoughtful about what sort of job you want, you'll be able to get a lot out of your first employment experience.
I've come up with a list of skill development areas that should generalize to many jobs (and other aspects of your life as well). You don't have to look for a job with all of the qualities I'm about to list, but here are some possible job skills & benefits to consider. Think about which job qualities are most important to you:
Will people be depending on you? Is it important that you adhere to a regimented schedule, or that you complete a series of tasks or projects in order for things to function smoothly? If yes, you can expect that a particular job will help you develop a strong sense of responsibility, which is a great quality to develop as a teen.
Now, most jobs will require you to demonstrate some degree of responsibility. What will ultimately vary among jobs is what you're supposed to be responsible for. Here's a general guide to the responsibility hierarchy that you'll find applies to most jobs:
- Responsible for listening to directions & completing tasks
- Responsible for yourself - that is, doing your job without being told
- Responsible for taking initiative - anticipate what needs to be done, complete tasks effectively without explicit direction
- Responsible for other people - direct, teach, and train others.
In most entry level positions, you'll start off at the lower end of this hierarchy. Some people prioritize opportunities to gain more responsibility and autonomy - do you?
People skills development is a great advantage of customer service jobs (think working in a restaurant or retail store). Anyone who’s worked in customer service can tell you that you’ll encounter less-than-pleasant people, but you'll also have awesome one-on-one experiences with great customers. Any future jobs or career options will appreciate that you can work well with people, even (especially) difficult individuals.
Teamwork & Collaboration
Some jobs are pretty solitary - you might be interacting with others in a service capacity (for example, as a checkout clerk), but you won't be collaborating with your coworkers much. Jobs where it is important to develop a sense of community, or where you work with coworkers on projects, help build your teamwork skills. Jobs that emphasize collaboration and community can be especially valuable for your resume and college applications.
You'll be hard pressed to find a future employer who doesn't highly value a team player.
Leadership & Growth Potential
You’ll find leadership & growth potential in positions where you get more responsibility and/or autonomy once you’ve proven yourself. For example, in a restaurant, there might be opportunities to work your way up from busboy to waiter. In a retail environment, you could move from sales associate to shift manager.
This upward trajectory comes from hard work and a demonstration of initiative, and usually accompanies pay raises and a fancier job title. This will help you both in future job searches and in your college applications. Additionally, you'll sure get a healthy dose of self-satisfaction that comes with being rewarded for your hard work.
This one might be a bit more difficult to find in an entry-level job for teens, but it’s definitely possible. By professional development, I mean developing interests, passions, and network connections based on your future career interests in a particular field.
For example, if you’re interested in going to veterinary school, you might seek out work or volunteer positions at local animal shelters. If you’re interested in the hospitality industry, you could look for hostess jobs at local restaurants or front desk positions at hotels or inns. If you’re interested in research, check out labs at local universities for part-time research assistant positions. The possibilities are endless and really depend on your own unique interests and skills.
8 Great Jobs for Teens and Where to Find Them
Now that we've gone through important job characteristics, I'll list some ideas for the best jobs for teens, along with corresponding job skills & strategies. This list is by no means exhaustive, however, so if you have your own ideas about part-time jobs you'd like, I encourage you to do your own research and check them out!
Don't worry if you have to send out many applications before getting a call for an interview; that's pretty typical for a job search.
- Job skills: Responsibility, people skills
- How to find positions: It's best to start with families you already know. Your business will grow through word of mouth if people are happy with your services. You can also post fliers at schools, churches, and community centers.
Animal Shelter Worker
- Job skills: Responsibility, teamwork & collaboration, possible leadership & growth potential, possible professional development
- How to find positions: Visit your local animal shelters or rescues and ask for part-time employment or volunteer applications. Some shelters may require you to be 18 or older, so you may have to ask for parental permission if you're underage.
Great summer job option, and it tends to pay pretty well (although it's very hard physical work).
- Job skills: Responsibility, teamwork & collaboration, possible leadership & growth potential
- How to find positions: Visit local landscape companies ahead of the busy season (spring/summer) to ask if they're looking for seasonal help.
Grocery Store Clerk
The great thing about clerk positions is that you can find them almost anywhere. Some larger companies even offer college scholarships (Wegmans, for example).
- Job skills: Responsibility, people skills, leadership & growth potential
- How to find positions: Check online on stores' websites, or visit their customer service desks to ask for applications.
Depending on your past restaurant industry experience, you might start off as a busser, waiter, or host. Bussers, in particular, don't have to be experienced, but once you're in you can work your way up the ladder. Hourly wages are really low (below minimum wage), but you can make quite a bit of money in tips depending on where you work.
- Job skills: Responsibility, people skills, teamwork & collaboration, possible professional development
- How to find positions: Check online for local job postings, or ask for applications directly from restaurants.
There are so many different types of sales associate positions; if you're in the right geographical area, it's possible to find something tailored to your interests. Are you passionate about fashion? Check out department stores or local boutiques. Are you active or outdoorsy? Look into sporting goods stores. More interested in tech? Check out computer or cell phone sales.
- Job skills: Responsibility, people skills, leadership & growth development, possible professional development
- How to find positions: Check online for local job postings, or ask for applications directly from stores.
This is a great way to hone your own skills while helping someone else with your talents.
- Job skills: Responsibility, people skills, leadership & growth potential
- How to find positions: Check if there are any tutoring programs offered through your school. Look into local tutoring agencies or volunteer groups. Ask your parents if they have friends with younger kids who could use tutoring help. List yourself on online tutoring platforms like Wyzant.
With newer online platforms, it's easy for budding entrepreneurs to advertise their wares and services both locally and globally. If you have a particular skill that you're passionate about, you don't have to abandon it to pursue a more typical part-time job. If you can provide a service (for example, maybe you're a graphic designer or programmer), you could likely find independent part-time work. If you're an artist or craftsman, you might be surprised to find that there's high demand for high-quality, customized goods.
- Job skills: Varies
- How to find work: Offer services through word of mouth to local businesses, friends, and family. You can also check out online platforms like Elance. If you produce goods, consider attending crafts or art fairs, or making an Etsy or Ebay account.
Looking to save your hard-earned earnings from your part-time job? Check out our guides to saving money on the SAT and ACT.
If you hope to get a job so that you can save up for college, you might want to look into some of our guides to financial aid, including information on the Pell Grant, Direct Subsidized, and Direct Unsubsidized loans.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.