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Landing your first job.

Illustration by Dylan

Your first job can be an exciting and nerve-racking endeavor. Responsibility! Life skills! Character building! All those other buzzwords that you pretend to care about when earning a paycheck! Whether you’re saving for something big like college, or just looking for spending money to go out with your friends, chances are many of you are beginning to look for income beyond babysitting for your neighbors. While it might seem overwhelming to figure out where to start, as with everything else, the process is less intimidating when you break it down into steps.

Step One: The Résumé

Your résumé is essentially a list of your qualifications that you use to sell yourself to potential employers. It’s part of the first impression you’ll offer when applying for a job.

The top of your résumé should have your name in significantly larger letters, followed by your contact info, education, skills, and relevant experience. If you’re not sure how to format a résumé, you can base it on a template online and then personalize it. Don’t succumb to the urge to “jazz it up” with Comic Sans and “fun” clip art. It’s important to keep your résumé professional looking. Proofread everything carefully! Then get a friend to proofread it again (you never catch all your own errors). You may also want to look into making a new email address just for job-seeking purposes: marcjacobsluver22@yahoo.com will not make the impact you are looking for.

When you’ve never had a job before, it can also be hard to figure out what to put down for your prior experience. Pretty much everybody has been in the same boat that you’re in now. You can be honest about your experiences while still filling out your résumé, though: did you ever babysit or mow lawns? Were you part of any school clubs or teams? Do you have any hobbies that you are passionate about? Do you write daily on a blog related to the job you’re going for? Anything that shows you can handle responsibility, be creative, take initiative, and/or work well with others is worth including. You can also make multiple résumés that play up different skills if you plan on applying to a wide variety of jobs.

Step Two: Applying

It’s generally a good idea to submit résumés to as many places as you can, even if you don’t think they’re currently hiring. Keep an open mind. When I was 15, I had dreams of working in a cool record shop or café like Josie in the opening credits montage of Josie and the Pussycats. In reality, the only place that called me back was a fast-food hamburger chain, for a position that required a hairnet. Glamorous, right? Anyway, the experience ended up being great; I was the same age as most of my co-workers and they became some of my best friends. Plus, I learned to love our regular customers (including one little old man who would lend me his favorite poetry books after learning I that loved reading). My point is: you don’t know how much you’re going to like a job until you actually work there, and pretty much every job will involve doing a fair share of stuff you just don’t want to do. That’s why they’re paying you.

That being said, it still isn’t bad to be somewhat discerning. Working at a movie theater might seem fun, but they can stay open until one or two in the morning. Is that cool vintage store a 90-minute bus ride away? Consider things like safe transportation, location, whether your hours will interfere with school, and the general atmosphere of the place. Google a place if you are unsure about working there, or talk to current and former employees and ask them how they like(d) their jobs. (These are also good things to ask in an interview.)

In Store: For a lot of part-time jobs (especially retail and fast food), one of the best things to do is just go into the store and drop off a résumé. Ask whoever is working if you can speak to the manager or supervisor; when this person appears, smile, politely introduce yourself, shake their hand, and tell them that you are looking for a part-time or summer job. If the manager isn’t in, you can ask when they’ll be around and come back later (bonus: ask for their name, so when you come back you’ll look like you’ve done your research). Some places are used to getting a ton of résumés every day, so if the employee offers to take your résumé, give it to them, but ask their name so you can follow up later. If there’s a separate application to fill out, I’ve learned from experience it’s better to bring it home, take your time filling it out, and come back later.

There are probably more things to keep in mind to not do. Some of these tips might seem obvious, but I’ve worked in multiple stores and accepted résumés from people who have done all of the following.

Don’t drop off résumés in a group with your friends. Don’t have your mom drop off your résumé for you. Don’t stay and shop/eat when applying for a job. Don’t come by during peak business hours. Don’t chew gum. Don’t wear super-casual clothes. Don’t interrupt a customer transaction. Don’t try to engage the (probably very busy) employee with a 20-minute conversation about how bad you want to work there. Don’t badmouth the job you are applying for to the employee. Seriously. Don’t do that.

Online: The internet can be a good tool, but it can also feel like throwing your résumé out into the wild. Stay safe and stick to reputable and legitimate websites. Here are some sites to keep in mind:

  • Government websites: Many city and state government websites have special job searches for students.
  • Community centers: These are good if you’re looking for a camp-counselor position.
  • Company websites: If you know exactly what store or business you want to work for, consider contacting them directly through their website.

Step Three: The Interview

If, within a week of dropping off your résumé, you haven’t heard anything, you can follow up with a phone call. The same rules apply: be polite, ask to speak to the manager, and say: “Hello, my name is X. I dropped off a résumé with [employee name] last Monday, and I was wondering if you’d had a chance to look at it yet.”

If they call you up to schedule an interview, ask if you’ll need to bring any references. Either way, bring in an extra copy of your résumé. Before you go in for the interview, make sure you know a few things about the company and the job you’re applying for, even if this means skimming their website. Usually, there are a set of questions that are asked during every interview, so you can start to think of some answers beforehand. Here are the questions that tend to come up a lot:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What are your biggest weaknesses? (Yes, this is a dumb question. The trick here is to think of something unrelated to the job at hand, and then talk about how you’re working to improve that. This shouldn’t be something super personal, like “I date really codependent girls.” Try something like “I don’t pay as close attention as I should in classes I’m not interested in, but I’m working on it,” or “I am bad at talking on the phone, but I’m practicing.” Don’t try to disguise an asset as a flaw, e.g., “I’m just SUCH a perfectionist,” because employers can see right through that.)
  • Can you give us an example of a problem that arose at another job, and how you fixed it?
  • What can you bring to our team?

Be at least a couple of minutes early to your interview. If an emergency comes up, call them as soon as you can to reschedule. Make eye contact, dress professionally, don’t interrupt the interviewer, sit up straight, take a moment after every question to think about your answer, and RELAX. Seriously, it might sound like I’m throwing a lot at you right now, but all this boils down to:

1. Be professional.
2. Be prepared.
3. Don’t stress yourself out too much. Part of what your potential employer is trying to discern is whether you would be a pleasant person to work with. If you are so nervous during your interview that your real personality is obscured by jittery sweating and panting, they’ll never get to see how awesome you really are.

Usually, you get a chance to ask the interviewer questions at the end. This is a good time to ask any technical or practical concerns you might have: What is the starting pay? How many hours will you require to work a week? Is there a dress code or uniform? Will you have to pay for it yourself? When will you hear back about the job? Will they notify you if you don’t get it? At the end of the interview, thank them for their time. When you get home, write them a thank-you email and reiterate your interest in the job.

The Alternatives

You don’t have to limit yourself to looking for conventional jobs that tend to be recommended for teenagers. By my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and started submitting pitches to every alternative publication I could think of. I lucked out with a paying job. It wasn’t much (I was also working a retail job and interning at a newspaper), but I did make a bit extra money and was building my writing portfolio.

Most of us don’t get our dream job right away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work toward that in your spare time. Think about your favorite hobbies—is there any way to make money doing one or more of them? If you love to draw or craft, consider opening an Etsy [http://www.etsy.com/] store. Start a portfolio on Tumblr for your writing or photography, and constantly keep an eye out for publications you can pitch to. Be creative, and use whatever resources you can access to help you.

There’s no foolproof method to landing a job, at least not that I’ve discovered. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get hired after your first interview, or if you need to drop off a million résumés before even getting one. The more places you apply to, the better your chances will be at getting hired. Keep at it, and if you have any specific questions, let us know. Good luck! ♦

34 Comments

  • Abby May 25th, 2012 3:27 PM

    I’m going to be a nanny over the summer :). If you already babysit, try asking the people you do it for if they’re working over the summer and if they want you to sit for them. They often will, because teenagers are MUCH cheaper than daycare centers, even if they pay you well!

  • Vienna355 May 25th, 2012 3:32 PM

    i just started my first job last sunday, at a busy coffee shop, ON THE COFFEE MACHINE! so it was something really important, i was sooooo nervous that i would mess up all the time, my next shift is tomorrow and i’m still so worried, not as much as last week, but what if i do something wrong??!

    • Anna F. May 25th, 2012 8:44 PM

      If you do something wrong, you learn from your mistake and remember it for next time – everybody screws up now and then, so don’t stress! When I started my first job, I was very slow and awkward, but I would joke with the customers about it being my first day and most of them were pretty chill. Although I did use the “it’s my first day!” excuse about six months in a few times (shhh…..)

  • kikkirimo May 25th, 2012 3:40 PM

    What should one say on the follow-up phone call after giving a resume? I find this part awkward.

    • Anaheed May 25th, 2012 3:45 PM

      Just say, “I wanted to make sure you got the résumé I submitted last week, and to tell you again that I’m really interested in the position.” CALL ONLY ONCE! You can also email instead (again, only ONCE).

  • heyguys May 25th, 2012 3:42 PM

    This is really helpful, and eerily well-timed!

  • lari May 25th, 2012 3:42 PM

    Have I ever mentioned how much I love you guys? I mean, the greatest and comforting article I’ve ever read about getting a job, thank you!

    -

    English is not my first language, so sorry for any horrendous mistake (:

  • Cassidy A. May 25th, 2012 3:46 PM

    All of my friends got jobs at fast food joints and as cashiers but I took matters into my own hands because I KNEW that wasn’t for me. This summer I am selling my crafts at a market for 3 months and writing a column for my local paper, I am also starting up an Etsy store!

    • Jean May 29th, 2012 3:13 PM

      I’m so jealous of you right now!! That sounds epic! I hope you sell EVERYTHING :) I would love to start a store but I wouldn’t know what to sell, heh…

  • Flower May 25th, 2012 3:52 PM

    IT IS ACTUALLY UNTRUE HOW MUCH I NEEDED THIS TODAY
    i am permamently skint becase, y’know, magazines and car boots exist and i have wanted to get a job for ages but um, i’m lazy. do you have any recommendations on where to find one?

    http://www.bobblyrainbowsocks.blogspot.com

    • Anaheed May 25th, 2012 4:06 PM

      What kind of job are you looking for, and where do you live?

  • Cerise May 25th, 2012 4:05 PM

    These are all really helpful–wish I’d had this list a few years ago!

    Just two more things: Definitely get someone else to proofread your resume, and it also helps to read it “backwards,” meaning check the *very last* sentence, then the sentence before that, then the sentence before that, and so on. It’s easier to catch mistakes that way, because you’re taking it in smaller chunks.

    I’ve also found that it’s great to balance out your weaknesses. Like, if you’re super shy, say, “I can be really shy, but…” and then add something about how you’ve been trying to overcome it, like by joining theatre or taking a speech class or something. It shows that you know what your weaknesses are, and you want to do something about it.

  • Bug May 25th, 2012 4:14 PM

    Another thing- ask people at school where they work, if they’re hiring, and if they’re likely to hire younger people. A lot of stores in my area only hire 18 years old and up, so I had really bad luck applying at regular restaurants and stores.

    I ended up at a retirement home (that I heard about through friends,) waiting tables. It made me kind of hate old people for a while, but being able to put ‘working with the elderly’ is a nice perk.

    h-y-p-h-e-n.blogspot.com

  • frosting May 25th, 2012 5:39 PM

    Is there a proper way to dress when dropping off resumes? Also, what should you do with your hair when you have an interview?

  • Lindsay May 25th, 2012 5:51 PM

    I’ve had a reasonable amount of luck with getting normal retail/restaurant type jobs and the biggest thing I’ve definitely learned is (and it seems so obvious) but apply at tons of places, and don’t waste too much time on stores that don’t seem open to your age group, or experience level. I think getting a minimum wage job is simply a numbers game, you apply to 30 places that seem logical, ten call you back for supplementary info, 5 give you an interview, chances are hopefully you’ll be offered one of the jobs.

    also, if you’re too young or having a tough time due to lack of experience, volunteer somewhere, because that looks just as good on a resume. :)

  • HollieLillian May 25th, 2012 6:24 PM

    This is SO relevant, we’ve had to get work experience at school and I’ve found the whole experience unbelievably cringey and awkward, plus I live in a place called bournemouth where like no one is even offering it, getting jobs seems like such a scary obligation, hence why I try to make my own money through Ebay and selling sweets at school but when I turn 16, incidentally a year away today, I really want a proper job, thank you rookie and please never stop being AMAZING.

  • suki May 25th, 2012 8:03 PM

    When you say pitch to publications what do you mean exactly. I have a lot of writing ready but don’t know what would be appropriate to send?

    And the part abut how to give your resume to a store is really useful i would have done so many of those things! especially shop

    • Anna F. May 25th, 2012 8:54 PM

      The first thing to do is find places to pitch your work. If you’re looking for print publications, head to the library or newsstands. Look for smaller independent magazines – they’re usually more willing to accept pitches from first timers (although it never hurts to aim high!). Likewise, every time you come across a website you connect with, bookmark it or start a list of URLs somewhere.

      Before you pitch anywhere – THIS IS IMPORTANT – make sure you read as much of their content as you can. I edit the website for a small fashion magazine, and the reason why I reject most of the pitches I do is because 1. people submit stuff that we’ve already covered extensively (search the website to make sure the article you want to write isn’t already written) or 2. people submit stuff that has nothing to do with fashion, which is the only thing we cover.

      Basically – ask yourself if your stuff will fit in with the other content that the publication features, in both subject and voice. Sometimes you might have to rewrite a pitch to make it fit with the publication (ie, some places will want a more serious tone, other places will want you to be jokey or casual).

      The next thing to do is find out how to send in your submissions. Most publications’ websites will have a section that says “submit” or “contact us” with details on what they’re looking for. Read this thoroughly!

      It can seem intimidating, but all writers start somewhere. It’s mostly important to keep trying. Best of luck! I hoped this helped :)

  • connie May 26th, 2012 12:49 AM

    i have been applying for jobs since january to no avail! i’ve had only 2 interviews for over 50 applications made. i’ve been to 2 job fairs and i’m signed up with the local youth employment agency. its the toughest its ever been right now for youth to get a job and i’m really feeling the burn! ):

    also, i’m moving at the end of the summer, and no one wants someone who can only work for 3 months!

    • oriGINAlity95 May 26th, 2012 8:58 AM

      Three months is perfect for places looking for summer help though! At my job – a gift shop – they just hired their summer help all college girls who will all leave mid August, they don’t want to be strapped with extra employees come the off season so maybe you could play that fact up for a summer job?? Good luck!

  • Caden May 26th, 2012 3:15 AM

    I applied for dozens of jobs before I actually landed my first one. Take courage and keep applying! You’ll get there eventually :)

    Caden x
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/pinkpoppies1991

  • AndieP May 26th, 2012 3:50 AM

    I cannot agree ENOUGH about following your interview with a call. I waited about a week after my interview since I hadn’t heard anything from them at all. When I called, they informed me that they tried to contact me previously because I had gotten the job! If I hadn’t called, I never would have known I got it! It was my first job too, so yay! Don’t be scared to call them, it shows you’re interested and that you WANT to work there! :)

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini May 26th, 2012 8:50 AM

    Do you people live in my head? I’m applying to a job today. You always post about things at the excact moment it is going on in my life. This is getting borderline creepy.

  • oriGINAlity95 May 26th, 2012 9:06 AM

    I have never had to apply for a job, and I’ve had three. First working at my parents gift store from age 11, then when they closed and I was 15 I had three offers from down the street, took one up and I was working there for almost 2 years, and then this past March I was asked to leave that job and come work at my mom’s new job by her boss. So I’ve had to quit a job before even applying for one. It’s been really great knowing people value my skills and having connections, but it almost makes it scarier to think about actually applying somewhere and interviewing in the future.

    But I don’t plan on working for other people all my life, I want to own my own business, or do something entrepreneurial… I’d love to read an article on Rookie with that perspective in mind too!

  • Annie May 26th, 2012 12:06 PM

    This is so perfect! I’ve got my first interview ever in a few weeks. It’s just at the library, so I doubt it’ll be too rigorous but I’m still kind of nervous. This helps!

  • Adrienne May 26th, 2012 1:52 PM

    I work part-time at a local golf course at a retirement home. Here are some of my own tips on landing your first job!

    -You usually hear that you can only get a wage-earning job (not baby-sitting/pet-sitting/tutoring) if you’re 16. BUT if you’re 15 and a half, you can get a work permit from your college and career center at your school. Bring the work permit with you to the interview

    -When I first told the manager at the golf course I was interested, he told me there weren’t any spots open. Don’t despair. Fill out the resume, and call 2 weeks after you talked to him. This will show that you really have interest in the job!

    -In the interview, remember to make EYE CONTACT. And try not to say “um” or “uh” a lot. And please wear appropriate clothes. I just wore a golf polo and some nice pants. A good question to ask your interviewer at the end, for brownie points, is what’s your favorite part of your job? This will show that you are very excited and enthusiastic.

    -A thank you email is good, but a hand-written delivered note is even better. I wrote on my card something like “Thanks for the interview and I hope you’ll consider me for the job” and left my phone number. I put the card on an envelope, addressed it to my future boss, and gave it to him!

    Weeks later, I got a call early in the morning (for me) on a Sunday and my mom woke me up from my slumber and quickly handed the phone to me. I found out that I got the job!

    My post on my work experience:
    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com/2012/02/hardships-of-teenage-girl-work.html

  • lelelikeukulele May 27th, 2012 2:55 AM

    I’m a college student (just finished my first year) and I’m trying to get my first REAL job this summer, and so far I’m having no luck.

    I think the hardest part is that I’m out of town for school, so I can’t actually go in to the stores where I want to work and talk to them, I have to apply online. I’ve applied to over thirty entry-level food service, customer service, and retail jobs, and only gotten like three calls back. The hardest part is just getting an interview!

    I guess my advice would be not to procrastinate on finding a summer job. I’ve been doing this for the past month or so, and I wish I had started earlier. Also, try care.com to get some babysitting gigs! Maybe have a parent with you if you’re meeting a family for the first time, just for safety, but you can find some good gigs there, especially if you’re like me and live in the ‘burbs.

  • MinaM8 May 27th, 2012 4:48 AM

    Ah, man. I’d need a job in at least 2 years from now (I’m 14) and OBVIOUSLY there’s no such thing in South Korea because, well, OBVIOUSLY teens should only STUDY because that’s way more important than having experience in life. Obviously.

  • sabrina May 27th, 2012 6:23 AM

    I live in the UK and just got my national insurance number about a week ago which means I can start applying for jobs so this article has actually come at the perfect time :) I’m really want to find a job its just I’m always so nervous to walk into a shop and just ask if they have anything available, I never know what to say!

  • FossilisedUnicorn May 27th, 2012 10:15 AM

    I really want to dye my hair pink this summer but I should also be looking for a job when I move to London, but I have no idea what kind of places accept girls with crazy coloured hair?

  • Sophii May 27th, 2012 3:37 PM

    I really want to get a job but I am only 14 so it seems that my options don’t really go much further than babysitting. My friend has a job helping out at roller discos every weekend and I am so jealous because I want a job so bad. I want to be a writer/journalist and I keep a blog to practice that. I am going to the local newspaper for work experience in July and I hope to make a good impression then ask them whether they ever publish articles sent by teenagers.

    Does anyone else have any tips for writing jobs? I think I’m going to have to wait until I’m 16 to get a job at a cafe or in a shop.

    This article is great though and has really made me feel more confident about getting a job.

    Thanks Rookie x

    http://thechicmuse000.blogspot.co.uk

  • Stacey May 27th, 2012 9:35 PM

    I started applying a year ago (I’m 16 now), and I’ve had no luck. I’m horribly shy and nervous about calling or talking to the manager. Eh. Thanks for this! It’s really inspiring and powering! I’m gonna get out there and find a job. I’m determined!

  • Jodie May 28th, 2012 6:28 PM

    So I live in England & I’ve been working at McDonalds a month today woo! I had to apply 10 times before even getting an acknowledgement email.. Crazy I know.. I’ve got all my grades and what not, but its not about that its about determination.. showing that you wont give up.. You gotta keep on trying!!
    I didn’t wanna work there at first I was like to my mum “OMG People I know will see me!!” but I’m over that now & seriously love it! You do get some bad days with fussy customers but most of the time its a blast! Everyone I work with are seriously lovely. The qualification’s you can get out of working there as well is unreal… Some qualification’s are as high as a University degree… I’m not sure I truly want a career out of this as I’m at college studying to be a physiotherapist but its a great way to earn cash whilst having serious fun!

    :D

  • eliselbv June 14th, 2012 7:59 AM

    This article was really helpful! I’m french and i love English and I wanted to go in London this summer but it’s really expensive so I applied in an American bookshop in Paris. I sent everything and now the human ressources woman wants to meet me! I’m really excited and stressed out at the same time!

    http://www.iloveyourjokes.blogspot.com