I remember looking for my first job. I put in a few different applications but only had one interview. And that first job ended up being a bit of a nightmare. My oldest son, on the other hand, had a friend who put in a good word, had an interview that was more of a formality, and had his first job within about a week of our discussion about looking for one.
Everyone’s experience of looking for their first job is unique. Most teens and young adults find it rather exciting. The idea of making their own money, getting a paycheck that has their name on it, and having some time away from parents and school is a thrill.
But it can also be scary. Navigating the world of job applications, interviews, schedules, shifts, and learning the tasks required by the job can be overwhelming when you’ve never done it before. So as excited as your kid might be, they also may feel just a little bit afraid.
You can tell your kid they’ll be fine, they’ve got this, and push them toward a job. But that alone might not be enough to ease their mind and fears. But there’s plenty of other things you can also do that will help them feel more at ease.
Teach them how to fill out an application
Having filled out a few job applications ourselves, they seem self-explanatory to us. But to a kid who’s never filled one out, they might not be as clear. So take some time to teach your teen how to fill out a job application.
A quick Google search turns up tons of sample applications you can print out for your kid. Then take a few minutes to go over the different sections and explain what information needs to go into each one. While there may be some sections you can skim, such as their name or address, other areas you’ll want to give a little more detail.
For example, you’ll want to go over the section on previous jobs and explain how they’ll leave it blank or put N/A since they have no previous jobs right now, but in the future, they need to keep a list of past jobs and their contact information to put in this section.
You might also want to explain about references and explain that it’s polite to ask someone if you can use them as a reference first.
Then give them some time to fill out the application on their own. Look it over when they finish so you can address anything they might need to do differently when they’re filling out a real application.
Hold mock interviews
The job interview might be the most intimidating part of the process for anyone. Even as adults, we often feel nervous and worried about it — so imagine how your kid feels. One way to ease those nerves is to hold a few mock interviews at home.
With my kid, I found it most effective to give him one full interview from start to finish, as if it was the real deal, followed up with random interview questions here and there. Giving him one complete interview gave him a feel for what he could expect the process to be like. If we’d done more than one, however, I think it would have burned him out on interviews before he even started looking for work.
But continuing to ask him potential interview questions also ensured that he was prepared for almost any question they might ask him. I asked him more traditional questions, such as his strengths, weaknesses, and what qualified him for the job. But I also asked him some of the more unusual questions that sometimes get asked, such as what superpower you’d like to have or what color you would be if you were a color.
By holding a mock interview or two and asking them interview questions here and there, you prepare them for what to expect as well as get them thinking about their answers before they’re in the moment and scrambling to come up with an answer.
Just make sure to remind them that not every question you ask will be asked in an interview and that some questions you don’t ask might come up. Tell them to be prepared for anything.
Go over what’s not allowed and how to handle it
We all know that asking questions about race, gender, or religion are illegal. But there are other questions that can be asked that might seem perfectly innocent and legitimate to your teen that are in fact illegal.
There are also questions, such as age, that can be inappropriate under some circumstances and perfectly appropriate under others.
Take some time to sit down with your teen and this chart to go over what a potential employer can legally ask and what’s illegal for them to ask. Assuming that your teen won’t be asked some of the questions just because they’re a teen can set your kid up to answer a question they never should have been asked.
This is also a great opportunity to go over why these questions can be discriminatory and for those that might have an appropriate time, how to tell whether the question is being asked appropriately.
Making sure your kid can recognize one of these questions is useless if you don’t also teach them how to handle it if they are asked one of these questions. Take some time to help them craft a standard response to any of the illegal questions.
A simple, polite, go-to response could be “I’m sorry but you’re not allowed to ask me that question.”
Help them look at job listings
It’s a safe bet that your teen is smart enough to look at a job listing that calls for a college degree, years of experience they don’t have, or other qualifications they don’t have and know they shouldn’t apply. But there are other things they may need to watch for that they won’t think of because they’re new to job hunting.
Sit down with them to look at the job listings. Remind them to take a look at where the job is located to make sure it’s a reasonable drive from home and/or school. If you’ll need to drive them to and from work, let them know any criteria you require due to your own schedule or other issues.
Show them how to read the listing to find any other things that might make it a bad fit for them. You can also let them take the lead by asking them to explain why they think the job is a good fit and then asking questions that encourage them to recognize for themselves why it’s not a good fit.
Encourage them to make a list of those jobs they think would be a good fit. Remind them there are no guarantees so they should apply for multiple jobs even if there’s one they’d really like to get.
Help them come up with questions to ask
Most job interviews include an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions and your kid might feel a bit put on the spot if they aren’t prepared for that. Encourage them to do a little research into the companies they plan to apply with and come up with a few questions to ask.
If they balk at the idea of researching, remind them that being able to show off some knowledge of the company may give them an advantage over other candidates who don’t bother to do any research. And since chances are they’re up against other teens who also have little to no job experience, that leg up may be just what they need to clinch the job.
They may think of some questions on their own, such as about their pay or hours. Encourage them to come up with some other questions too. Suggest they ask a question about the history of the company, options for advancement, or even tuition reimbursement. Questions that show real interest in the company itself or in being with the company long-term can help them show it’s worth hiring and investing in them.
I know that, for me, my kid getting his first job was a bit of a bittersweet moment for me. Part of me was incredibly proud that he got a good job so quickly, that he was old enough to get a job, and that I’d raised him to want a job. Yet another part of me wasn’t quite ready for him to start working, to have that level of independence, and to be under someone else’s authority where I couldn’t step in and protect him.
But I didn’t tell him that. I knew he would have enough nerves and doubts of his own; he didn’t need mine added to the mix. So I showed him nothing but enthusiasm for his new adventure.
If you have mixed feelings, or are uncomfortable with the thought of your teen getting a job, those feelings are perfectly normal. But you shouldn’t share them with your child. It won’t help them feel better about getting a job and might even increase any misgivings they already have.
Be enthusiastic. Be encouraging. If you have doubts or other less-than-happy feelings, share them with a friend, partner, coach, or therapist.
Offer to drive even if they don’t need it
Interviews can be nerve-wracking. Even if your teen can drive themselves, offer to drive them for the first couple of interviews — and even to their first day on the job once they get hired. You don’t need to go inside.
The moral support of knowing that Mom or Dad is waiting in the car with love and support, no matter how the interview goes, can give them the little boost they need to feel a little less nervous. And if it doesn’t go well, you can feel better knowing they won’t be driving themselves home while possibly distracted by thoughts of how they could have done better.
Just remember that you don’t need to go inside with them. Take a book or your tablet or phone and just hang out in the car while you wait.
Don’t pressure them to talk either, whether on the way to the interview or after. Just offer your silent support by being there and let them talk when they’re ready.
Your teen getting their first job is an exciting experience for both them and you. And it can be intimidating at the same time. By offering your help and support, you can make the experience a little less intimidating for both of you.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she began using meditation and other tools, to heal herself, set boundaries, and only engage in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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