How to Help Your Teen be Successful at His First Job

Important Life Lessons Can Begin the First Day of Work

Help your teen keep his first job.
Erik Dreyer / Taxi / Getty Images

Landing a job is a huge step in any teenager’s life. It’s not enough to get the job, however—your teen also has to be able to keep his job.

And while you don't want to micromanage your teen's job (don't call his boss and don't attend the interview with him), you can take steps to help your teen perform well.

Helping your teen be successful at his first job can have many benefits. The skills he learns can prepare him for a future career path and the money he earns can teach him about money.

Work can also be good for a teen’s self-esteem. The added responsibility of holding a job can build your teen’s confidence, which is good for his mental health—as long as he doesn’t get too stressed out.

Whether your teen is searching for a summer job or she’s on the hunt for after school employment, these strategies can increase the chances that her first job will be a success.

Pay Attention to Appearance on Application and Interview Days

Encourage your teen to dress appropriately when he's picking up applications. The hiring manager may be in the establishment and first impressions matter.

Talk about the importance of dressing up on the day of the interview as well. Even if the interview is at a fast-food chain or a place that provides a uniform for the job, appearance matters.

Clearly, your teen doesn't need to wear a business suit to an entry-level job interview. But a neatly dressed, well-groomed teen makes a better impression than one walking in wearing pajama bottoms, a dirty T-shirt and flip-flops.

In some cases, body jewelry can be an appearance (or safety) issue at work, too. Many workplaces do not allow nose rings, ear spools, tongue jewelry or anything beyond conservative body piercings (think: pierced ears).

If your teen has piercings that may seem unconventional to some adults, tell him to remove the body jewelry before applying for the job—this way, he won't be turned down because of a piercing when he may otherwise have been a perfect candidate for the job.

Dress for Success Every Work Day

If the new job provides a uniform, dressing for success means ensuring the uniform is clean and wrinkle-free.

If there isn’t a uniform, talk to your teen about appropriate attire. If an employee handbook came along with the new job, the dress code should be spelled out in the book.

If the job has no specific dress code, apparel still matters. Encourage your teen to wear well-fitting, clean clothes. Make sure her shoes are appropriate for the job too. No flip-flops, ridiculously high heels or sloppy boots.

Behave With Professionalism

An entry-level position means your teen may have to deal with lots of supervisors and, perhaps, difficult co-workers as well. Talk to your teen about how to deal with difficult people up front before it becomes an issue.

For instance, a coworker that has a nasty attitude should be dealt with respectfully, even if that coworker dishes out anything but respect. Harsh comments can be ignored, or if things get too far out of line, reported to a higher-up.

Likewise, other employees that are lazy or that use most of their work time to do anything but work should not be emulated. Encourage your teen to do the tasks he was hired to do, regardless of whether others follow suit. Work time is not Snapchat or texting time.

Talk to your teen about cellphone etiquette. Tell your teen to shut off her cellphone during an interview and make sure she knows it isn’t appropriate to send text messages or be distracted by her phone while she’s on the job.

Also, make it clear that it's not OK to complain about her job on social media. Tell her to keep her work-related business out of her social media posts, without exception.

Handle Cranky Customers Professionally

In a customer service job such as a fast-food restaurant, there's a saying your teen should know: the customer is always right. This doesn't mean that the customer's view is always correct or completely realistic, but that the customer should be heard and treated respectfully no matter how outlandish (or incorrect) their viewpoint seems.

In many cases, they just want to be heard or may want the business to right what they viewed as a wrong, such as an incorrect order or cold food. Much of the time this can be handled easily and quickly, but if an irate customer proves too difficult to rationalize with, your teen can ask a manager to help.

Maintain a Good Attitude

Sometimes, a first job can be a bit of a drag. Even so, a good attitude helps the day go by faster, plus it puts your teen on the fast track for potential promotions or higher pay. This doesn't mean he should patronize the boss and other higher ups, or overdo it on the smiles and perkiness to the point his attitude comes off as fake.

Showing up on time every day, being reliable and filling in for others when needed, also shows the boss that your teen has what it takes to succeed.

In a nutshell, meeting work expectations and keeping a positive attitude go a long way in the workplace, whether it's his first job or his fifth. A great attitude also helps diffuse potentially difficult situations and makes the workplace more enjoyable for everyone present. 

Establish a Budget

By the time your teen figures out how much he'll make each week at his new job, he's probably already figured out what to spend it on, too. Discuss finances in advance and teach your teen basic budgeting skills.

Most teens are surprised to discover how much of their checks go to taxes. So warn your teen in advance that a percentage of the money earned goes straight to the government.

Help your teen set financial goals, such as buying a car, purchasing new clothes, or saving for college. Work out a plan together to determine what percentage should be saved from each paycheck and how much can be used for "fun" money.

Teaching your teen about money now can help him learn valuable life lessons that will serve him well in the future. Saving, smart spending and perhaps even investing can help him become wiser with finances.

Address Safety Issues

There may be times when you need to become more involved in your teen's work. Talk to your teen about potential safety issues and how he can respond.

For example, if your teen is being asked to perform dangerous tasks without proper training, he may not know he needs to speak up.

Or, if he's being bullied by a supervisor or harassed by a co-worker, he might not know where to turn for help. In those cases, you may need to provide your teen with guidance and coaching about the steps he can take.

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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.