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Jobs For 16 Year Olds – A Practical Guide

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So you are 16 and ready to work. What’s next? The good news is that according to OSHA, 16 is generally the minimum age to be employed at a “real” job. The jobs for 16 year olds can vary widely depending on where you live and the type of work that is available. Generally, however, you can work in just about any non-hazardous line of work. As far as the hours you can work, this can vary from state to state. For example, North Carolina says that if you are in school, you can’t work between 11PM and 5AM on a school night. While the laws are good to know, don’t get too hung up on it and let that stop you from finding a job. Knowing all of the laws in the world doesn’t help much if you can’t find work!

Where are the jobs for 16 year olds?

You may be wondering, where should I start? and what kinds of places should I be looking to work for? At this early stage is where you need to ask yourself some questions. What is your main purpose behind finding a job? I think this can be broken down into two broad categories. One is that you just need money. If you were to say “I don’t care much about what I do, but I’d like to make as much money as I can to spend or save up for something in the future”, then that is one category. On the other hand, perhaps immediate financial reward isn’t as critical for you. Maybe at 16 your basic needs are paid for by your parents, and you don’t really “need” money. However, you have a specific interest or passion for a line of work and you want to gain experience. This “experience focused” mindset would be category number 2.

Help Wanted Sign - Jobs for 16 year oldsLet’s talk first to those in category number 1, who want to answer the question of what kinds of jobs for 16 year olds get pay decent money? One of the best is waiting tables. 16 is usually old enough, given that you won’t be serving alcohol. Knowing that, think about the restaurants nearby that always seem to be busy and aren’t really a bar and grill. One example from my own life is Cracker Barrel. This is a perfect place for a teenager to wait tables as it has a simple menu, is alcohol free, and is generally busy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

As a waiter, typically you are paid a very low hourly wage and the real money you make comes from tips. This is why it is critical to start your job search by only considering places that are fairly busy during the hours you’d like to work. If you go work a dinner shift after school for 5 hours and only have 3 or 4 tables, you are probably making less than minimum wage. However, that same 5 hour shift at a busy local restaurant might net you $80 – $100 in cash as you walk out the door.

While attitude and initiative are important in just about anything you do, it is particularly important if you are waiting tables. The other thing I like about this line of work for a teenager is that you can directly influence what you earn by your effort and your attitude. While being busy is important, a bad waiter might make $15 from 5 tables, while a good waiter would have made $40 from those same 5 tables. If you are friendly and willing to hustle, this is a job where you can do better than most people your age. A little side benefit is that while you are hustling around the restaurant, time seems to fly! If you have a place in mind, stop by in person and tell them you’d like to work there. This is much more effective than dropping an application online or a phone call.

Perhaps waiting tables just isn’t your thing. Obviously there are many other options available, but don’t get too caught up with who is advertising that they are hiring. Many estimate that 70 – 80% of jobs that are filled on the hidden job market. That means, all of these jobs are filled without making a post on a job site. This highlights the importance of asking friends and family if they know of any openings. You should also consider talking with the places you like to go, and see if they might have a job for you. This could be the gym where you work out, your coach if you play sports, your music instructor, your favorite book store, coffee shop, etc. The important thing is, if you limit your job search to only the jobs that get posted to the public, you are missing the majority of the opportunities.

In our Expert Series, recruiter Derron Juarez shared this story: “When I was in high school, I was very into athletics. There was a small gym about a block from my house, so I walked in one day and asked if I could help the owner around the gym: from sweeping to cleaning the equipment, I did it all. Walk through your neighborhood, look for something that interests you, and walk into that business. Offer your services for experience or pay, both are great down the road. Another thing is ask friends what their parents do: many people own their own business in some way, so you could make a few bucks helping out a friend’s parents with odd jobs.” So get out there, think creatively and be bold.

For those in category number 2, where you aren’t so much concerned about the money as you are about the experience, the search process won’t change much. Your best best is to do something like Derron, where you get out there and “pound the pavement” until you find a position in the field you’d like to enter. Thinking “experience first” is ideal when talking about jobs for 16 year olds. If you can gain the right kind of experience, and maybe more importantly get to know the right people in your industry of choice, when the time comes to enter that career you will have a leg up on the competition. Here is a great post about the importance of “skills” as opposed to a specific degree. One particular excerpt that I like about this post is his comments on networking:

Following the advice in the article, find three business owners per month you already know (either offline or online). Over the next two months, have conversations with them about what their challenges are, then do your damned best to start being of service to them. By the end of two months, you will have six new fans. And those are very good fans to have, because business owners know other business owners.

You’ve started to build what I call a “social economy”—a circle of successful business owners whom you support, and who support you. Keep building this social economy as much as possible during the time you go through these steps. It will be your secret key to success in the informal job market.” You are never too young to start doing this.

To put a final thought on jobs for 16 year olds focused on experience, ask yourself what kind of skills you will hone or perhaps learn for the first time in this job, and how that will benefit you in your dream job. There should be a clear connection, and it should be something that you can include on a resume and explain in a job interview.

Speaking of your interview…

Since 16 is when you can legally start working most jobs, it is likely that you have never completed a formal job interview. No matter how you go about finding your job, you’ll undoubtedly have to complete at least 1 interview before being given the job. It is important that you don’t take anything for  granted when walking in to this job interview. What I mean is, even if you did a great job networking and you are going to be interviewing with your uncle Bill who runs the place, you need to take this seriously.

Jennifer Byrd, a recruiting manager at York Companies in Louisville, KY offers this advice: “Be prepared. Interviewing is a lot like giving a speech. If you are prepared for it, it’s not quite as bad. If you know what you are going to say and have practiced it, you will do much better. Research the company you are interviewing with instead of walking in blindly and look up some sample interview questions before you go. Bring a copy of your resume if you have one. Dress appropriately- don’t overdress or undress. Look at how the employees dress who are already employed and this should help you decide on what to wear. When in doubt, khakis and a nice shirt will work.”

These are all great tips to get you started. Preparation is absolutely key. Here are some other job interview tips to follow.

  • Dress the part – I would go a step further than Jennifer and say when it doubt on what to wear that you should put on a nice shirt and tie (for guys) and a business like suit for ladies.
  • Use your manners – Use “yes ma’am”, “no sir”, etc. when you are interviewing with someone. If the person interviewing you doesn’t prefer that, they’ll say something like “you can just call me Phil.” Even if that is the case, you better believe they’ll still be impressed by this gesture.
  • Google the company – You don’t have to know the entire history, but at least have a firm grasp on what they do and what the position is that you are applying for. This will set you up well for the next tip.
  • Write down questions – There is no doubt that at some point you’ll be asked if you have any questions. You need to have 1 or 2 questions ready to go. Here are some ideas if you are drawing a blank. You should take paper, pen, and a copy of your resume in a folder – so have your questions written down in case you freeze up. This also shows them that you took time to prepare, and care about this job. That alone will set you apart from other interviewees.

Derron Juarez who we mentioned earlier also had some great advice regarding how to prepare for the interview: “If you do not have any experience, use examples of your school work or when you had to work in a group and you came together to accomplish a goal/project. Teamwork and leadership are great attributes which all companies are looking for. If you are an athlete or the leader of a club, give those examples to employers during an interview, it shows commitment, hard work, and effort.”

Although the questions may be worded differently, these general themes will work their way through. Have some stories about when you worked well as part of a team to complete a project. The employer understands you are 16, so something you may consider insignificant will work well. Even if this is some volunteer work you did with church or school, or maybe your participation on a sports team. If you have a couple stories like this at the ready, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Any advice on the topic of jobs for 16 year olds? Feel free to comment.


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