These days, it seems like help wanted signs are hanging on storefronts everywhere. But for teens with little to no work experience, actually landing a job can be tricky. Still, this past August, 37.7 percent of 16-19-year-old teenagers participated in the workforce, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And teen unemployment rates are relatively low—about 11 percent in the summer of 2022.
Even so, finding a first job can be daunting, and while it’s natural for your teen to be nervous, knowing where to look and how to prepare can make the process less scary. Maybe your teen is actively looking for a job, or maybe they’re not that into it—and you’d love to motivate them. Either way, read on for expert tips on making that job hunt a little less intimidating.
WORKING PAPERS AND LABOR LAWS
Children under the age of 18 are considered minors in New Jersey and must obtain working papers before seeking employment. Blank working papers are available from your child’s local school district or at nj.gov/labor. Teens as young as 14 are eligible to receive working papers.
Working papers may seem like a hassle, but they’re important. That’s because they protect teens from unsafe working conditions and from working too many hours, says Carole Bhalla, founder of the former TeenJobsNJ.com site. “The teen’s employer, physician and high school must complete and sign off on them [a physical examination is required as part of the process]. The state limits the amount of hours a teen can work, especially during the school year,” Bhalla says.
In hiring young teens, it’s important for both the employer and employee to be aware of the labor laws, says Jennifer Thompson, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. “Not only are there laws on the number of hours teens are permitted to work, but meal breaks, wages and what machinery is permitted are important to understand, as well,” Thompson says. Legal hours for minors are specified on the back of working papers.
WHERE TO FIND JOBS
The best place to find job openings are the mom and pop stores in your community, says Thompson. “The local ice cream shop or hardware store are easy to apply for; the owners typically have more grace in working with younger employees, and in most cases, it provides your child the opportunity to work alongside people in the community—including their friends.”
Other popular places for students to work include local restaurants, recreational leagues, gyms and camps, says Harold Abraham, EdD, educational leadership professor at Montclair State University.
Bhalla says her own 16-year-old walked into a local diner with a help wanted sign and got hired on the spot. “Pounding the pavement is a very effective way to find a job. Local Facebook community groups are a good resource,” she says.
School guidance counselors can also provide helpful insight and resources to teens who are job hunting, says Abraham. He advises teens to look online or in their local newspaper for jobs. “Also, they can introduce themselves to business owners as someone looking for work [even if they aren’t advertising open positions]. This is something that employers typically appreciate, as it shows initiative,” Abraham says.
ENCOURAGE YOUR TEEN
To motivate your teen to want to get a job, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude towards your own work, says Thompson. “Showing excitement and passion towards your career can have a huge impact on your children. Think about it: if you frequently complain about your job, why would your child want to get their own?” she says. It’s crucial to maintain a positive attitude towards working, and encourage your child to get their own job when the time comes.
Once your teen has locked down an interview, they should prepare by speaking with others in the same field, says Abraham. Help them create a list of questions that may be asked, and have them practice their responses. Doing so will help them to craft and refine their answers and allow them to speak knowledgeably, he says.
And when it’s time for the interview, first impressions count, so don’t dress down—it’s better to be overdressed, Bhalla says. And remember that even if they don’t get the job, teens will learn serious life lessons during the interview process. “Parents need to encourage perseverance in their children and teach them not to give up after the first rejection,” Bhalla says.
THE VALUE OF WORK EXPERIENCE
Every parent wants their child to grow up to be successful and what we teach our teens is important, says Thompson. Talk to your teens about a healthy work-life balance as well as how to be a great worker. “Encourage your child to show up early, to work to their full potential and to learn from higher-ups at their jobs,” Thompson says.
Working helps our children understand the value of money, Abraham says. “It also teaches them how to successfully manage their money and to make healthy financial decisions—skills that will benefit them for their entire lifetime,” he says.
Reassure your teen that a little anxiety is normal when they start a job, but that it’s often short-lived. Sha’Born Allen, a 14-year-old student at College Achieve Public School in Neptune, started his first job this summer as a camp counselor at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County.
“When I first started working, I was very nervous because I thought I would do something wrong or mess something up,” Sha’Born says. “But throughout the weeks of meeting the kids, I started to open up more, and feel more comfortable and confident.”
Parents should remind their kids that facing adversity is normal, Thompson says. What’s most important is their outlook and their ability to effectively problem-solve throughout the process.
If your teen wants to get some volunteer hours along with work experience, some of the best opportunities include giving their time to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, animal rescue centers, Boys & Girls Clubs and at various non-profits, Thompson suggests. You can also encourage them to volunteer in the circle they typically operate in, like working the snack booth at their high school’s football game or volunteering for a local youth team, she says.
Here are some volunteer resources in New Jersey:
• UNITED WAY provides a variety of volunteer opportunities to give back to the community.
• JERSEY CARES is an organization that provides a detailed list of volunteer opportunities across the state.
• FEMA is a nationwide organization that helps people before, during and after disasters.
• NEW JERSEY VOLUNTARY ORGANIZATIONS ACTIVE IN DISASTER (NJVOAD) is a coalition of organizations with volunteer opportunities.
• AMERICAN RED CROSS helps coordinate blood donations and disaster relief services.
• STUDENTS DEMAND ACTION is a coalition of students working to end gun violence across the nation.
—Heidi L. Borst is a mother, writer and fitness enthusiast based in Wilmington, NC.