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How to Get a Job as a Teenager (Your Teen’s 3-Week Plan)

The exact steps to take for how to get a job as a teenager, broken down into an actionable, 3-week plan.

How to get a job as a teenager (especially if your teen has no experience)?

teen girl making photocopies at her job, smiling, text overlay "how to get a job as a teen - 3-week plan"

Great question.

Here’s what we’ll go over to answer it – built into a 3-week plan:

  • Week #1: Define their Job Search Domain
  • Week #2: Optimize their Chances
  • Week #3: Conduct an Organized Seek & Apply Strategy

First up, let’s address the elephant in the room.

Why is it so Hard to Find a Job as a Teen?

If your teen has looked for a job before and come up empty-handed, then you already know that not every teenager that looks for a job actually gets one.

There’s a teenager unemployment rate – made up of teens who are actively looking for work, but not able to find a job – and right now it’s about 18.5% for 16–19-year-olds.

That’s why your child needs to go into their teen job search thinking about ways they can stand out from others, and using smart strategies to get job opportunities others might not find.

Sometimes, a teen can’t find a job because of their own circumstances.

Things like:

  • Their sports and school activities schedule mean they have to have an ultra-flexible job, and haven’t been able to find one
  • Their expectations are too high
  • They live in a small area/community with limited opportunities
  • The economy has tanked and adults are soaking up jobs otherwise considered “teen jobs”
  • They wait too long to look for a summer job, and they’re all taken

Now, let’s focus on how to make sure your teen doesn’t end up part of that teen unemployment statistic.

pink, orange, bright box, text overlay "get the teen job lab - list of online/offline teen job search hotspots, teach your teen how to job search, etc."

Your Teen’s 3-Week Job Search Plan

Part of the trouble when doing your very first job search?

Is knowing how to best and most efficiently use your time.

Teens don’t really know what steps to take, and so a lot of time can be wasted.

This is a step-by-step approach that will tell your teen exactly what they should be working on, broken down into a three-week plan (so that they can squeeze things in around their school/sports/volunteer schedule).

Psst: still on the fence about your teen working? Here's the pros and cons of having a job in high school.

Week 1: Define their Job Search Domain

This week is going to be all about gathering lots of information, getting clear on what your teen wants and on what YOU want.

They’ll do things like:

  • Get a clearer picture of what type of job to search for, including how far away to look, pay ranges, etc.
  • Get on the same page with you, so that they can confidently start their job search

Week 2: Optimize their Chances

This week is all about them optimizing their chances of getting the job/job type that they want.

And if all else fails, getting ANY job, rather than no job.

They’ll:

  • Optimize their resume
  • Start their network machine

Week 3: Conduct an Organized Seek & Apply Strategy

This week is all about starting their job search, from an organized place. That means that they’ll first need to set up a job search gathering place where they can track everything and keep essentials straight. Then, they’ll want to start filling in the blanks with specific jobs they’re going to start applying to in the following week.

They should also work on creating – and sticking to – a job-applying schedule with the list of prospects and job resources they’ve created.

Now that we’re clear on the timeline, are you ready to dive into some more specifics? Let’s go.

Step #1: Define their Job Search Domain

The first thing your teen wants to do is to define what they need in a job, so that they know the domain or playing field they have when job searching.

They’ll need to work with you to answer questions like:

  • Transportation: Does the teen drive? Will their parents be picking them up and dropping them off? Will the job need to be close to public transportation?
  • Location: How far away can they look for work (how many miles)?
  • Hours: What hours do they have available to work, considering school, activities/sports, family activities, youth labor laws, and parental approval? What hours are they not allowed to work?
  • Job Pay: How much would they like to earn? How much would you like them to earn? What’s a range that will cover (at least) the costs of them working (such as gas to get to and from work, job uniforms, etc.)?

Narrowing this down and getting buy-in from both of you will help your teen to narrow down their job search.

Step #2: Optimize their Chances

How can your teen increase their chances of landing the job they’d like (or, one that they’re still excited about)?

They’ll want to optimize their job-landing chances by:

  • Translating their teen skills to job market skills – the ones job seekers are looking for
  • Formatting and keywording their resume to make it to the hiring manager
  • Building their network machine

Let’s discuss a bit about each of these.

pink, orange, bright box, text overlay "get the teen job lab - list of online/offline teen job search hotspots, teach your teen how to job search, etc."

1. Translating Teen Skills to Job Market Skills

Your teen can’t just slap together a list of skills if they don’t really have them. Not only would that be dishonest, but the interviewer will likely use the skills listed on a resume in part of their questions, so your teen wouldn’t be able to back up what’s in their resume with real-life specifics and stories.

Yet, most teens have no formal job experience before their first job, and few job skills if they’re on their second or third job.

So, how are they supposed to come up with skills to list on their resume?

Coach your teen through listing out all of their experiences as a teen – events, activities, education, leadership positions, jobs, etc. – and then list out skills used and learned from those.

THEN, you need to translate that list into job market skills, the kind they’re likely to see on job listings.

For example, perhaps your 16-year-old has had no formal job experience, and they’re seeking their first job this summer.

Let’s say, after brainstorming from above, they’ve written down that summer when they took part in a horse camp. What are some of the things they did during that horse camp?

“I got to ride a horse for one-hour each day. It was so cool! I also had to saddle the horse up and make sure I got back to the barn with enough time to take the equipment off and put my horse away for the next camper.”

Now, how can we translate this experience into job skills?   

  • Had a one-hour time slot = time-oriented (story is: I was able to manage my time so that I had my horse saddled, enjoyed a ride, and got back to the barn early enough to have time to take off the saddle and equipment, and put my horse away, within the one-hour time slot)
  • Put all of the equipment away afterwards = responsible

Hint: going through this exercise with your teen will also uncover specifics and stories they can use during their interviews.

2. Formatting and Keywording their Resume

Anyone who applies for a job needs to be up to date on the technologies being used with job applications and resumes.

Right now? You need to do two things to a resume in order to get it past these technologies, and handed to a hiring manager:

  • Make it ATS-Friendly: It’s estimated that 99% of hiring managers use something called ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to sift through the hundreds and thousands of resumes they receive. This software helps them to skim just the best and more relevant resumes to the top of the pile. If your teen’s resume is not formatted in a way that these systems can easily read? It will likely be rejected. 
  • Make it Keyworded: Again, these systems are skimming for the best applications to send to the hiring person. One of the ways they do this is to search for keywords that are important for a job. You need to make sure your teen keywords – or use specific keywords and phrasing found in the job description, if they pertain to their skillset – into their actual resume. Otherwise, your teen will not be seen as a good fit for the job. 

Hint: is your teen handing their resume in, in person? Then they can go with a cute resume template design. Otherwise, have them stick with one that computers can read and analyze. Here are 5 free teen resume templates to get them started, plus how to make a resume for first job high school students.

3. Building their Network Machine

Get ready to be shocked (I was): it’s estimated that between 70%-85% of all jobs are filled through networking.

Yikes!

This can be especially troubling for teens, who may think they have no network – or group of people and contacts to reach out to – at all.

But, I’m here to tell you that they do.

They need to build their network machine to find job opportunities and get help with interviews, and here’s how they can do that:

  • Tier #1 Contacts: Start by listing out the people a teen has close relationships to, such as parents, uncles and aunts, etc. Each of these people they’ll want to notify that they’re searching for a job.
  • Tier #2 Contacts: Next, have your teen list out contacts they’re not related to, but that they have close contact to, such as teachers, a guidance counselor, career counselor, pastor, someone they volunteered for, etc.
  • Tier #3 Contacts: This tier will be filled in by contacting Tier #1 people. Your teen should ask people they have a close relationship to for any leads (i.e., contacts within THEIR network) for getting a job.
  • Tier #4 Contacts: This tier will be filled in by contacting Tier #2 people. Your teen should ask people they have close contact to if they have contacts they can share with them for job leads.  

Networking – even for teens – works.

For example, I really, really wanted to go to Spain for the summer when I was in 10th grade. I had saved up a considerable amount for it, but still needed $1,000. I decided to reach out to my guidance counselor in high school, and she told me about a $1,000 scholarship for foreign travel the school was giving away.

I was one of three students to apply, and WON!  I wouldn’t have been able to travel to Spain that summer for six weeks without that scholarship money, and I never would’ve known about the opportunity without my guidance counselor’s help.

And how did I save up the other money I needed? Well, my father actually connected me to my first job as a teen at a local veterinarian’s home. I mucked horse stalls for them for a year or two, making up to $98/week (and also was chosen by them to house and animal-sit one summer during college for $300).

I cannot emphasize enough how valuable and helpful a network can be.

Step #3: Conduct an Organized Seek & Apply Strategy

If your teen follows the steps from above, then they’re already organized as far as knowing what type of job they’re searching for (location range, hours, pay range, etc.), and who they can begin contacting for help in their job search.

Before your teenager starts applying to jobs, you want to get them even a bit more organized. The best way to do this is to have one location where they can collect all of their job leads information.

I prefer excel for this – you can also use Google Sheets, or even pen and paper (I would put it in a binder).

You want them to track things like:

  • Company
  • Name of Job Position
  • Deadline to apply
  • Where/how to apply
  • Contact information for a hiring manager

In excel, they can then organize this sheet chronologically from the next deadline due date (and by priority).

They can also organize this by job priority, by inserting a “priority” column, and putting a number 1, 2, or 3 in that column (#1 being a high priority job they want, and #3 being not as much of a priority). Then, have them organize the sheet by priority, and then within Priority #1, by deadline. Then within Priority #2, by deadline, etc.

They can then seek jobs for an hour or so at a time, collect all the info, and then separate that from the process of actually applying to these jobs.

Batching similar work, works like a charm!

Speaking of seeking jobs to apply to…

pink, orange, bright box, text overlay "get the teen job lab - list of online/offline teen job search hotspots, teach your teen how to job search, etc."

Where to Find Teen Jobs to Apply to

Besides searching for jobs to apply to through your network, you'll want to try the following places:

Know When to Start Applying for Jobs

Finally, let’s go over a job-search schedule according to when they want to have a job by.  

Psst: this assumes that your teen is ready for a job. For a breakdown on figuring this out, head to my teen first job article.

When to start job searching for:

  • Summer jobs: February – April
  • Seasonal jobs: 2-3 months in advance
  • Post-high school job: 4-6 months before graduating
  • Post-college job: 4-6 months before graduating

I hope I've shown you not only how to get a job as a teenager, but a great plan for how to get everything done so that your teen can start their job around the time when they want one. Good luck to you – I'd love to hear what job your teen gets in the comments below!

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Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, a 2017 Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Money Prodigy. Her money work has been featured on Experian, GoBankingRates, PT Money, CA.gov, Rockstar Finance, the Houston Chronicle, and Colonial Life. Amanda is the founder and CEO of Frugal Confessions, LLC. Read more here.