Tips for Teens Who Toil

Entering the World of Work

Teenage boy and girl using credit card.
Teen employees at a retail store. John Giustina/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Congratulations—you're about to start your first job (or your second or third). Nervous? Afraid you won't know what to do? Calm down. Your boss will make sure you know how to do your job. That's really not your biggest problem anyway. You should be more worried about knowing how to be a good employee. Your boss is unlikely to teach you about that. If you're a teenager about to start your first job, this article can help you succeed at it and at your future jobs.

Tip #1: Speak Clearly. Last week my husband and I went to a grocery store. The cashier who rang up our order was a high school student, probably somewhere between the ages of 16 and 18. We couldn't understand a word he said because he was mumbling. Our response to everything he said was "what?" Keep in mind, my husband and I have pretty good hearing. It's possible the same can't be said for some other customers, since the grocery store is located near two large retirement communities. Many of the customers in the store were senior citizens. Not all senior citizens have hearing problems, but many do. And, not all teenagers mumble when they speak, but many do! If you want, you can mumble to your friends and mumble to your parents, but please speak clearly to your customers.

Tip #2: Don't interrupt someone at work, unless you need to tell him or her something extremely urgent. Years ago I worked in a public library where one of my job duties was supervising the teenage employees.

This was the first work experience for many of them and therefore I took my job of supervising them very seriously. I needed to make sure they understood appropriate workplace behavior, not only because it affected how they did their jobs at the library, but because I hoped they would learn something that would help them in the future.

One boy, Joe, constantly interrupted me while I was helping patrons. Each time this happened I patiently explained to him that he would have to wait to speak to me until I was finished. This happened over and over until I couldn't take it anymore. I finally had to tell Joe, "Please don't interrupt me unless my hair is on fire!" It worked.

Tip #3: Dress appropriately. Many people, including adults, are confused about what to wear to work, or what not to wear. That's why I sometimes think it's easier if you have to wear a uniform. However, that's the case for only a few jobs. Others will have a pretty stringent dress code, which also takes the decision out of your hands. Many employers merely tell you to "dress appropriately." What does that mean anyway? Casual clothing is usually okay for most jobs teens hold. Generally, jeans and t-shirts, or shorts and t-shirts, are okay. 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 you, personally, aren't offended. Girls shouldn't wear revealing clothing, for example short shorts, or micro mini-skirts.

Tips #4 and #5: Listen carefully and pay attention. I've saved what I feel are the most important tips, for last.

When my daughter started kindergarten, I thought I'd get her off to a good start by teaching her these two basic rules. One day, I said to her, "there are two important things you should always remember—listen carefully and pay attention." Then I asked her to tell me what those two important things were, to which she replied, "I don't know." I guess she wasn't listening or paying attention. Her excuse—she was only five. I'm sure you'll have an easier time remembering these rules, and the other tips presented here.