One of the best ways to save money for a new car, education (or even retirement!) is to start saving and budgeting as a teenager. You may have noticed that many job listings require you to have years of experience and open availability — two factors that don’t exactly mesh well with a full load of high school courses.
If you’re looking for your first job, make sure you check out our guide to landing your first gig before you start submitting applications.
Step 1: Understand Regulations and Requirements
If you’re a minor (under age 18), you’re entitled to certain working protections and regulations from your employer. Your employer must follow several rules, including:
You’ll need to be at least 14 years old to work in most non-agricultural jobs unless you’re employed by your parents. Children under the age of 18 are also excluded by the government from some specific occupations, including mining, demolition, manufacturing explosives and using certain types of power equipment.
If you’re between the ages of 14 and 15, you’re limited in the number of hours that you can work per day and per week. Employees who are younger than 16 may only work a maximum of three hours on days that they attend school, including Fridays, and you may not work more than 18 hours per week when school is in session.
During summer and break periods, employees between the ages of 14 and 15 may work up to 40 hours a week and eight hours per day. There are currently no federal working hour limits for employees age 16 and over.
Certain Task Restrictions
If you’re under the age of 16, you’re limited in the types of jobs that you’re legally allowed to do. You may work in a retail setting, wash dishes, do limited amounts of cooking, work on creative projects (like playing an instrument, acting, graphic design, teaching, or computer programming) and work as a lifeguard.
You can find a list of legal tasks for 14 and 15-year-old workers. If a job is not specifically listed, you may not do it until you turn 16. Employees age 16 and above may perform most tasks except those specifically listed as hazardous by federal or state laws until they turn 18.
Some states require that employees under the age of 18 maintain a valid work permit to remain legally employed. In most states, a work permit is issued by your school and tells your employer that you’re in good physical health to work and your age.
Some states also require your primary care physician or parents to sign off on your work permit, while some states don’t require any type of permit for a minor to be employed. View a complete list of state work permit requirements.
Keep in mind that federal rules for youth employment are considered to be bare minimum protections, meaning that states can set their own additional laws as long as they don’t dial back regulations from the federal level.
For example, though there are no federal limits that regulate when a 16-year-old employee can work, Pennsylvania state laws dictate that a 16-year-old may not work before 6 a.m. or after midnight on weekdays during the school year and they may not work more than eight hours a day, regardless of the month.
Research your state’s employment laws online or ask your guidance counselor for up-to-date youth employment regulations.
Step 2: Figure Out What You Can Offer
Even if you’ve never worked a job before, you probably have some relevant skills and qualifications that you’ve picked up at school by working with your parents, volunteering or through your church or youth group.
Think about what skills you’ve learned this year that might be helpful working a job and write them down. For example, experience babysitting your cousins or younger siblings during the summer shows that you’re responsible and trustworthy.
Create a short, one-page resume that lists your name, phone number, home address, school and any experience or skills that you think are relevant. If you need help formatting or creating a resume, ask your school’s guidance counselor for assistance.
Step 3: Job Hunting
Once you have your resume in hand, it’s time to start job hunting!
Local Job vs. Online
As a teenager, you have two choices where you can work: you may apply for a traditional role in a local business or a virtual position. Many companies now contract out data entry, copywriting and other creative positions to freelancers and telecommuters.
If you do decide to search for employment online, remember that there are a lot of scams out there. Scammers frequently post to sites like Craigslist and Facebook advertising bogus positions because they know it’s difficult to track them down. Some common signs that a job is a scam include:
Vague and Unprofessional Listings
If a job posting doesn’t give you a clear description of what you’ll be doing on the job or it’s riddled with spelling errors or typos, it’s a scam.
Asking for your Bank Account Information
Though it’s true that many employers will ask for your bank account information so they can show you how to set up direct deposit, they should actually ask you for this after you’ve been hired. You should never be asked to provide it over the phone or email. Block and report anyone who asks you for this information early in the hiring process.
Ridiculous Income Claims
Does a job listing tell you that you can make “thousands of dollars a day” from home with no experience? “Get rich quick” jobs are almost always the work of scammers.
Cashing Checks or Buying Gift Cards
A common scamming tactic is to send a new employee a check after a quick hiring process as a sign-on bonus. The scammer tells the employee that he or she issued the check for too much money and asks the recipient to cash the check and mail the excess back via Western Union or through gift cards.
You send the money back and everything seems okay — until a few days later when the check bounces and all of the money is deducted from your savings account. By this time, the scammer is long gone. Never work with job offerings that ask you to cash checks that you haven’t earned.
Paying Money Upfront
There is no such thing as an application review fee. If anyone asks you to pay for tools, training, or sales inventory to start a job, you’re a customer — not an employee.
The best way to find out who’s hiring in your area? Ask around!
If you have friends who are employed, ask them how they like their jobs. You may also want to check in with your parents, teachers or guidance counselor to ask about employers who are hiring teens for part-time or seasonal work.
If you can’t find an interesting lead, don’t be afraid to visit local businesses yourself to hand out copies of your resume. Dress professionally, be polite to everyone that you see and ask to speak with a manager about getting an application. Even if the business isn’t currently hiring, many managers like to hold resumes in case a current employee suddenly quits.
Fill Out Applications
When you visit an employer and ask for an application, one of two things will usually happen: the employer will offer you a paper application or a URL to visit to fill out an application online. If you’re offered a paper application, fill it out neatly using a blue or black pen and double-check for spelling errors before you give it to the employer.
If you’re redirected to an online application, make sure you set aside at least half an hour to fill out the necessary forms. Check for spelling errors and typos before you submit it.
After you’ve applied for a position, it’s a good idea to follow up with your potential employer to make sure that he or she received your application. After about a week, give the employer a call during non-peak hours. Thank him or her for taking the time to review your resume and reiterate what you like about the job.
If the employer tells you that they’re not hiring right now, stay positive! Thank him or her for speaking to you and ask that they hold your resume on file in case a position opens up. Then continue to submit applications until you receive a call for an interview.
Step 4: Interviewing
The employer may schedule an interview. The interview may be in-person or over the phone, and you may have to attend multiple interviews before you receive a final decision. Dress professionally pay attention to personal hygiene before your meeting. Bring along copies of your resume and references and answer the employer’s questions completely and directly.
If your interview is over the phone or through a video platform like Skype, still dress professionally and have a copy of your resume open during the interview.
Step 5: Secure Your First Job
A couple of days after your interview, send a thank-you note or email. It may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the employer to make a hiring decision, so try not to be discouraged if you don’t hear back right away. If your employer does call or email to offer you the job,
Ask any questions you have about your first day, like what you should wear and what type of paperwork you need to bring.
Step 6: Start Your First Day of Work
It’s normal to be nervous before your first day of work. However, try to stay positive and follow instructions as closely as possible. On your first day, your employer will probably ask you to bring some form of identification, your Social Security card and possibly a work permit to accurately record your taxes and pay.
Ask your employer beforehand what you should bring to speed up the process and get ready for your first day on the job!
Most teens don’t stay at their first job for long after high school. However, if you love what you do and you think you might be interested in a full-time position after you graduate, talk to your manager about advancement opportunities in the company. Your manager may direct you to a higher-level associate, or he or she may offer you training materials to help you move to the next step in your career.
Balancing Work and School as a Teen
Making money as a teenager is exciting — you’ll probably feel like you have a bit of financial freedom after you cash your first check. However, remember that as a teenager, your first “job” is to make sure that you’re getting good grades and keeping up with your classes. If your grades start to slip after starting your job, consider asking your supervisor to cut back your hours or switch you to a weekend or seasonal position.