Guidance for your teen's first job search, plus help with money questions like how much should a teenager save from their paycheck.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve thrown myself into understanding the teen job marketplace.
And guess what?
Teen first jobs have changed. Dramatically.
For starters, less teens are looking for work. While 58% of teens used to get a job back in 1978, now, only about 34.6% of teens get a summer job.
Not only that, but teens who look for jobs don’t always find one. With a teen unemployment rate of 13.1% – meaning 13.1% of teens who are actively searching for a job but do not find one – your teen has got to use their brain when searching for their first job.
And then there is the rising trend of unpaid internships.
The fact is: the teen job marketplace looks quite different today than it did when I was in it.
While there are real reasons for why the summer teen job is on the decline – like a rise in summer classes and more competition for low-skill labor jobs – you’re here because you WANT (or your teen wants) to get a job.
So, I’m here to show you how to rise above the crop of teens looking for jobs, and get to that most delicious of things: your first paycheck.
I’ll show you the ins and outs of finding a teen first job, a good hourly wage for a teen, teen employment laws you need to know, a little thing called the Youth Minimum Wage, and much more.
When Should I Get My First Job?
First up for the Teen First Job Experience, let’s figure out when YOUR teen is ready for their first job.
Some teens feel ready to get their first job before they really ARE ready to get a job (they just don’t know it).
And some parents feel ready for their teen to get their first job, but their teen has other plans. I can’t even tell you how many conversations I’ve had with exasperated parents who tell me ‘my teenager refuses to get a job.’
Before we dive into how to figure out whether or not your teen is ready for a job, I’d like to point out that most teens get summer jobs. In fact, the jump in teen employment between April 2019 and July 2019 was a whopping 18.8 million (2.4 million teenagers were employed in April, and 21.2 million teenagers were employed in July).
I’d like to outline a few things that will help you + your teen to answer when you they should get their first job.
#1: You’re of legal age for a Job
First up, are you of legal age to get a job, and if you’re not, can you get parental permission to still get the job?
Fair wages, number of hours your teen is allowed to work (as a minor), and safety requirements are all regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
A few things you should know:
- Hours a teen 16 or under can work are capped
- *14 years old is the minimum age a teen can start working
*I just had to put an asterisk, because this is for non-agricultural labor. As a woman who grew up on a dairy farm, I can tell you I started working when I was 6 or 7!
Not only that, but if your state has a law that is stricter than the FLSA, then your state’s law wins.
Here’s a handy chart for the different youth labor laws in your state.
Specifically, you’ll want to pay attention to:
- Rest period requirements
- Meal period requirements
- Employment certificate/work papers requirements (plus where they’re issued in your state)
- Minimum hourly wages for tipped employees (like waiters/waitresses)
If you’re terribly interested in the exemptions, you can check those out here. Just know that doing things like delivering newspapers, performing/acting, working around your home, and babysitting IS allowed for a teen under the age of 14.
#2: You have a plan for transportation
Who is going to drop your teen off to work and pick them up? If they don’t drive yet, or if they don’t have a car, then this is a big thing to figure out before searching for a job.
- Fellow coworkers
- Uber (a very, very expensive option – trust me, I’ve talked to teens who used this for months and realized they were hardly making any money because of it)
If it’s a car-sharing situation with the family car, then I suggest you set up some sort of calendar schedule each of you fills in once a week so that everyone’s on board with who needs the car, when, and where it will be.
Psst: there are still ways for your teen to make money at home if they don’t have a way to get to work. Also, here are more strategies for how teens can earn money without a driver's license.
#3: Your grades are good, and stable
The last thing you want to do is have your teen put their future in jeopardy by getting a part-time job. If their grades are not up to par, then a job should wait. Not only that, but if you need work papers for your teen to work, then bad grades may actually get their employment certification application denied.
What’s a Good Hourly Wage for a Teenager?
Before you start that search, or if you’re in the search and you want something to compare the offer against, you should probably know what to expect in terms of a good hourly wage or salary for a teenager.
Let’s look at the numbers, so that you can get an idea of what to shoot for when job searching.
- Current federal minimum wage: $7.25/hour. Remember that if a state has a higher minimum wage than the federal one, that is the one that is in effect. 18 states currently have a higher minimum wage than the federally set one.
- Average Hourly Wage for Teens: $10.03/hour. Wow was this number difficult to track down. I eventually ended up calling the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who confirmed that they do not break this number down by demographics.
- Average Salary for Teens (16-19): $460/week. This is for full-time wage and salary earners.
So, what’s a good hourly wage for YOUR teenager? The easiest way to answer this question – backed up by actual numbers – is to say that if your teen can secure a job from their “good” category, that’s more than the minimum wage of $7.25/hour, then they’re doing well.
Other considerations you need to take when figuring out if a job is offering a teen a good hourly wage or not:
- Your teen’s age and experience level (14 is way different from 17)
- Area of the country in mind where you’re located – cities will tend to pay more than jobs that are in rural places (like where I grew up)
- Skills required by the jobs. Jobs that require skills will tend to pay more than jobs that someone can learn in the first week or two through on-the-job training.
Pssst: ever heard of the Youth Minimum Wage? Basically, by law, your employer is allowed to pay a teen (under 20) less than the federal minimum age – as low as $4.25/hour – for the first 90 calendar days of employment.
What Teenage Jobs Pay the Most?
To find which teenage jobs pay the most, you would simply look for jobs where some skill is necessary to qualify.
For example, a lifeguard position will likely pay more than someone flipping hamburgers on a fast food line because a lifeguard has to have certifications, training, and experience in order to get that position.
Another way to find teenage jobs that pay the most is to work in industries that have the highest pay. Now, don’t expect huge pay increases in these industries over other ones, but chances are good that if the rest of the people are earning more money than the average person, they’re willing and able to pay their entry positions a bit better as well. Here’s a list of the top-paying industries in the U.S.
For example, while a teen cannot secure a job as a psychiatrist, perhaps they can look for employment or an internship as an assistant to a psychiatrist. These types of positions will be harder to get, for sure, and may not be advertised or available at all. So, you it can help to have a contact and/or to call around asking.
How to Find a Job as a Teenager – Your First Job Search
Wondering how to find a job as a teenager, why is it so hard to find a job as a teenager? Let me start your teen job search on the right path with some pro tips that will give you an edge when trying to break into employment.
One piece of advice: not every teenager that looks for a job, gets one. It’s the same thing for adults. There is a teenager unemployment rate – meaning teens who are actively looking into the labor market, but not able to find a job – and right now it’s about 13.1% for 16-19 year-olds.
Just something to keep in mind as you read through and (hopefully) take some of the advice from below to snag that first job.
#1: Start Looking Earlier than the Rest of the Pack
First of all, you should know that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports,
“The youth labor force — 16- to 24-year-olds working or actively looking for work — grows sharply between April and July each year. During these months, large numbers of high school and college students search for or take summer jobs, and many graduates enter the labor market to look for or begin permanent employment.”
What should this tell you? You should be looking for a summer job before April. In fact, this was a strategy I used when I was a teenager – I started my summer job search in February.
Pro tip: If you love a summer or winter-break job that you found, then secure a post for next summer/winter break before you leave it. Ask your employer to secure a position for you, and then you can sit pretty while everyone else is scrambling in April to find a job! Word of wisdom here: Just check in with your employer around April to make sure the position is still yours. That way, if something changed, you’ll still have time to find another job.
#2: Choose Your Good, Better, Best Job Types
You’re a teen, and so you likely have little experience working. And that is perfectly fine – everyone starts from a place of no experience!
While you want to shoot for the moon in terms of the job you get, you also might not hit it. So, I encourage you to sit down and create a “Good, Better, Best Jobs” list.
This is a list of job types available in your area and to teenagers, and you’ll categorize them according to whether or not they’re good candidates, better candidates, or the best candidates.
Guidance on how to categorize job types/specific jobs as you go through the job-hunting process:
Good Category: Hint: Seeing how you want to earn money from a job, or you NEED to earn money from a job, most jobs will make it into your “good job” category. Because A job is better than NO job. At least in most cases.
For example, if a job is conveniently located to your home, is at least minimum wage, is located somewhere you wouldn’t be embarrassed to work, and is for work you’re at least a little bit interested in doing, then it’s a “Good Job”.
Better Category: What Makes a Job “Better”? For a job to be better than just “good”, it likely has a few of these qualities: you heard from your friends it’s a good place to work, it’s a job that is not just seasonal so there’s a chance to extend your employment beyond the summer, is flexible in terms of hours, offers more than the minimum wage, and is an entry-level position to a career category you’ve thought about pursuing.
Best Category: What is the Best first job? A job that makes this category might be a paid or unpaid internship that is hard to get, but looks amazing on a resume. The “best” first job also is one that you’re very interested in, and one that would give you a leg up in your college application or when you get that first out-of-school job. These types of jobs typically have limited spots.
After you create this list? You then start applying and looking for the Best jobs, followed by Better Jobs, and finally go after the Good Jobs.
Pro Tip: You’ll want to apply for jobs from two different categories at the same time. That’s because you may very well not get a job from the Best category, and you want to actually end up with SOME type of job.
#3: Start Your Search both Online AND Offline
It’s easy to stay in the comfort of your home and search for jobs only online – I’m going to give you some great sites to check out.
But you know what? Lots of teens score their first jobs by searching offline and even by networking.
For example, my first official job off of our dairy farm was for one of my father’s clients, who needed someone to muck horse stalls three times a week. It was easy for me to get there after school, and it paid well! So, it was a no-brainer. When I was ready to move up to something in the “better” job category, I cold-called an agency from the phone book (yes…people used to use phone books!) and asked for a position.
Amazingly, that led to a two-summer paid internship translating immigration documents, which was a pretty big step-up from cleaning up horse poop.
I say all this to let you know that it’s a great idea to inform your parents, your parent’s friends, your teachers (many schools offer summer jobs for students as well), your guidance counselor, and any other adults in your life that you’re looking for your first job. Someone may reach out with a great offer, saving you a lot of headache.
Online resources you definitely want to check out include:
- Internships.com: This site has a listing area specifically for high school internships.
- SnagAJob.com: This site has a listing area specifically for teens.
- Skratch.co: This is an app where “ambitious” teens can get in on the gig economy and complete service jobs for people.
- Zety.com: This site has a listing area specifically for teens.
- Hireteen.com: Well, the name says it all.
I’ll do you one better, since teens reading this article will be from all over the U.S.
Plug these search phrases into Google and see what teen jobs come up:
- paid internships for high school students near me
- part time jobs for 14-year-olds near me (enter your own age)
- first job application no experience + your city/area
Pro Tip: if you are not finding a job, and the time has come to scramble, then you’ll want to hit up the industries that hire the most during peak teen employment season (the summer) – that would be the food/accommodations industry.
How to Prepare for Your First Job as a Teenager
Now we’re in my favorite section – because I’m going to help you with how to prep your teenager for their first job by conversations you need to have with them.
Some of these conversations are before they get the job, and some come afterwards, such as when they get their first paycheck. And, seeing how you’re on a money site, many of them revolve around money.
Conversation #1: It is Your Job, to Find a Job
Chances are, your teen might have trouble getting their first job. Finding a job when you’re got zero experience can be difficult.
This can be even more difficult if one of these is true as well:
- Their expectations are too high
- You live in a small area/community with fewer 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
So, you want to set up expectations with your teenager. Let them know that until they find a job, FINDING a job is their number one job. Perhaps you should even come up with a number of hours each week – which mirrors what they would work at a part-time job – that they’re expected to be searching, preparing, interviewing, etc.
Conversation #2: Who is Responsible for Work Clothes?
As you prep for your first teen job, one thing you'll both need to consider is the cost of work clothes. You may need actual uniforms, or you may just need professional-looking clothes. You wouldn't necessarily wear these clothes to school or to go out, so, who is going to be responsible for paying for these work clothes?
Conversation #3: How Much Should a Teenager Save from Paycheck?
I’m about to say something that’s counter to much of the advice you’ll find about how much a teen should save form their paycheck.
Your teen should not aim to save 50% or more of their paycheck. Yes, doing so would put them in a good financial position.
But here’s the thing: money management is not solely about saving money. In order for your teen to learn how to manage their money, they’ve GOT to spend some of it.
When a teen spends money (and when anyone spends money) they get experience with things like:
- How to prioritize spending
- How much a dollar is worth in the real world
- Whether something they buy is worth the amount of work it took them to earn it
- Distinguishing between a good buy and a lousy buy
- How to shop around
- How to use cash, versus a check, versus a debit card
There are a ton of money lessons to be learned when spending money that you don’t want your teen to miss out on.
Now that I’ve outlined that…how much, then should your teen save from their paycheck?
A good guideline is for your teen to save up to 50% in both short-term savings and long-term savings accounts.
Psst: curious what the Amish do with their kid’s paychecks? Here’s an interview I did with an Amish parent to find out.
Short-term savings accounts will help them to set and achieve savings goals, something that’s uber important for them to learn how to do (here’s an example list of things real teens have saved up for in my teen money management guide).
Long-term savings accounts will help them to save up for things like buying a car, first/last month’s rent on their first apartment, and college.
Teen Job Search Resource Section
Here, I’d like to link to some great resources for you to get your teen job search underway.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Exploration (K-12)
- YouthRules.gov (a cool thing to check out are the teen videos about their jobs)
- Youth in Action! Participating in Work-Based Experiences
List of Places to Look for Possible Teen Jobs
Recreational Facilities (YMCA, roller rinks, movie theaters, arcades, etc.)
Retail stores (clothing, electronics, household products, books, etc.)
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