4 Essential First Job Tips for Teens

Advice for Working Students

Teenage boy and girl using credit card.
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Teens may be anxious as they enter the workplace. Some are worried about their ability to do their new job. That should be the least of their concerns. Most bosses will make sure you can perform the duties for which they are paying you.

Your boss, however, won't teach you how to be a good employee. That is something teenage workers must learn on their own. This foundation will benefit you in your current job and for years to come. Follow these four essential new job tips for teens:

Speak Clearly

Not all teenagers mumble or talk too quickly, but many do. Some also speak too softly, especially when they aren't comfortable in an unfamiliar situation. It is not uncommon for people to have to ask them to repeat themselves. Perhaps it is because they often speak to other teens who have super sharp hearing, which the customers you may encounter on your new job may not.

Good verbal communication skills are essential for most jobs. Even if you don't have to talk to customers, you will have to communicate with your boss and coworkers. Practice speaking slowly and clearly. Test your new skills with your parents or older relatives. Avoid shouting, but speak loudly enough to be heard. Make eye contact and learn how to pick up non-verbal cues that might suggest the listener doesn't understand you.

Listen Carefully

Regardless of what career you hope to have in the future, excellent listening skills will be essential. They allow you to follow your boss's instructions, respond to customers' questions, and interact with coworkers.

Listening is a skill while hearing is a physical ability, and it is certainly possible to have one without the other. It requires being able to pay attention to the information another person is conveying, regardless of the mode they use to get it across.

When your boss or a customer is speaking, make eye contact. It indicates that you are listening and actually forces you to pay attention. Ask appropriate questions after they are done to make sure you understand the directions or question.

Don't Interrupt, Unless It Is Urgent

When a coworker or boss is talking to a customer, don't interrupt them unless what you have to share absolutely can't wait. Of course, always use good judgment to determine the urgency of the situation. Something that is only important to you, for instance, asking to leave early or how to perform a task, can wait. When something needs their immediate attention—an emergency, for example—there may be no other choice but to interrupt. However, in most cases, patiently wait until there is a break in the conversation.

When it is necessary to interrupt a conversation, do so gingerly. Say "excuse me," and then wait to be acknowledged before you start speaking. Refrain from revealing something sensitive in front of a customer. Ask your boss or coworker, "May I speak to you privately?"

Dress Appropriately

Some employers have a pretty strict dress code, which takes the decision about what to wear to work out of your hands. This could be quite helpful. Other bosses tell their workers to "dress appropriately," as if everyone understands what that means.

Many people, including adults, are confused about what to wear to work, or what not to wear, and this directive is particularly perplexing to teens who are brand new to the workforce. Casual clothing is usually okay for most teens' jobs. That generally means jeans and t-shirts, or shorts and t-shirts. Make sure your clothes are clean and your jeans aren't ripped (even though this may be in style). Don't wear t-shirts imprinted with things that may offend others—even if they aren't offensive to you and your friends.

Reasons to Learn Good Workplace Skills

  • The job market for teens is pretty competitive. You may want to hold onto your position until you graduate from high school, and perhaps even get invited back to work during summer vacations from college. Your boss will appreciate your skills.
  • When applying for internships during college, your boss from after school, weekend, or summer job may serve as a reference.
  • You will use the skills picked up from the job or jobs you held as a teen in many aspects of your life, including in college and your future career.