True story: I was fired from my very first after-school job. I worked for a large clothing retail chain, and, apparently, I was terrible at folding sweaters.
All joking aside, I was just 17 when I applied and was hired for that job, and I was completely unprepared. I had no idea what it would be like to work in that environment and what would be expected of me—and neither did my parents.
That doesn’t need to be the case in today’s world. Lisa Oelsner, a mom of three, is the co-founder and chief operating officer of StudentGigz, a website devoted to helping kids find (and keep) the right jobs.
Getting a first job is an excellent lesson in responsibility, and it helps kids gain skills that are the foundation for their future careers, like taking direction, dealing with different personalities and managing their finances. Better yet, summer jobs add experience to a student’s resumé, which can lead to internships, real jobs and so on.
As a parent, you can help by making sure your child is properly prepared for the working world and all that it entails. Oelsner has tips for figuring out when your kid is ready to get her first job, how to prepare her and what you can do to help her navigate her first employment experience.
Even if your kid is still a tot, read on for tasks good for teaching responsibility to younger children and when to start thinking about encouraging them to work outside the home. It’s never too early to start teaching the ethics of hard work!
1. Figuring Out When Your Kid Is Ready, Agewise
In general, laws vary by state regarding minimum age requirements for working teens and whether or not your child will need working papers. To find out your state’s requirements, visit the U.S. Department of Labor website for an easy-to-follow grid of what your teen needs to do in order to prepare to work.
Working papers, also referred to as a certificate of employment, are documents that prove your child is old enough to wor, and are meant to protect both your child and the employer from violating any statutes. Often, your child’s school will need to fill out this form. “For a big-picture view of what teens, parents, educators and employers need to be thinking about, I also recommend visiting the Occupational Safety & Health Administration website,” says Oelsner.
2. Deciding When Your Kid Ready Is Ready Emotionally
Just because your child is an appropriate age to receive working papers in your area doesn’t necessarily mean she’s emotionally ready to start working. Before you send her out into the real world, we suggest you ask yourself the questions below. If the answer is ‘yes’ to most of them, she’s probably ready:
- Is my child doing well in school?
- Does my child complete all of her school work and home responsibilities on time and without repeatedly being reminded to do so?
- Is my child relatively responsible/does she have a good head on her shoulders?
- Is my child good with other people (this will be especially important when it comes to figuring out what type of job will be best for your child)?
- Is my child trustworthy?
- Does my child have time to add something else to her schedule or is she already overworked/tired?
Even if your child isn’t old enough to get working papers in your area, there are still plenty of ways that you can prepare her for a “real” job by giving her tasks to do in the home that teach responsibility and dependability.
- Have your child take on tasks within the home that are outside of her normal chores. For example, even a 6-year-old can fold laundry, pull weeds with you or help you with certain elements of dinner prep.
- If you work in an office, opportunities for your kid to start learning how an office runs are abundant. Even if you can’t take your kid into work with you, you can have her help you prepare for the following day by doing things at home like transferring business card info into your contacts in your email account or helping you do research online for an upcoming presentation, which is also a great way to give your kid a more detailed look at what you do for a job.
3. Finding the Right Fit
Once the paperwork is in order, it’s time to start thinking about where your teen wants to work. Some age groups are better suited to particular jobs based on their level of maturity and their skills, and parents may want to gently help guide their child’s job search accordingly. After all, not every kid is cut out to be a babysitter or camp counselor, and that’s okay. Jobs should also be age-appropriate, says Oelsner. She offered this breakdown as a guide:
Ages 12-13: Tweens/early teens can build work experience as mother’s helpers, dog walkers, pet sitters, babysitters or yard workers
Ages 14-15: In addition to babysitting and yard work, mid-teens can begin to work in an office, grocery store or restaurant. There are great “support” roles available for kids this age, such as office filing, busing tables and bagging groceries.
Ages 16 and up: Once your child reaches age 16, he’s more experienced at managing his own time and is probably ready to take on more complex jobs with more responsibility. He will also be able to see the connection between what he learns in school and how it is applied in “the real world.” At this age, kids can expand their job search to include positions like bank teller, office worker and retail salesperson. Another plus at this age is that your kid is more likely to have his own car by now, or at least a driver’s license, so he can get himself to and from a job.
While Oelsner agrees that even older teens need some free time, seeking part-time or seasonal employment is important for future career development. “It helps them mature into financially and socially capable adults,” she says. “I met with the CEO of a staffing agency recently, and he said the biggest gaps in the youngest generation of (applicants) are interpersonal skills and the ability to filter feedback into growth.”
4. Scoping Out Opportunities
When it comes time for them to jump into the job search, start by offering up your own personal network, says Oelsner. You might be surprised how a simple email to a few friends, neighbors and family members could yield opportunities for your teen. If that doesn’t work out, encourage your kid to hit the mall or Main Street or to ask neighbors if they know of any available openings.
Oelsner suggests limiting your teen’s job search to your own community, because odds are you’re going to be familiar with their workplace if it’s a local business.
5. Nailing the Job Interview
Once your child has identified an opportunity, make sure she has all the certifications and training she needs (lifeguards need to be certified, for example, and most cities have some kind of babysitting class that may make your child more appealing when applying for sitting jobs), and help her practice any necessary skills, such as operating a lawnmower. Before sending her off on an interview, consider helping her put together a resumé, which will also help her focus on the kind of work she’s interested in based on her activities and interests.
You can also help her practice for what may be her first-ever interview experience. Prep her for the kinds of questions an interviewee may be asked (What are your goals for the future? What are your strengths and weaknesses?) to help her get comfortable with both the interaction and her own ability to articulate an answer. And don’t forget the “interview outfit.” Help your child pick out something that is appropriate for the job she’s applying for and remind her that appearances do help to make first impressions.
6. Offering Your Support
Once she’s found and landed a job, your child will still need your support. It can be tough for kids who’ve never worked before to get into the groove of their first gig—and even teens who have plenty of experience still sometimes need advice from Mom or Dad.
But don’t start getting out your propeller and preparing to helicopter in to save the day. Before your child starts her job, you can do some subtle reconnaissance by visiting her workplace as a patron to see how it runs and how the management treats workers. As long as you feel comfortable with the work environment, try to let your child fly free.
Oelsner emphasizes that entering the workforce is an important milestone for independence: “Working either as a volunteer, intern or employee helps build the hard and soft skills that will be taken into their future roles (in the workplace),” she says.