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Work Ethic for Teens

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Tips to help your teen navigate the hiring process and to work as a stellar employee.

A teen walks into a job interview. We’ll call him Brandon. He answers questions well. His prospects look good. Then his phone chimes with a new text message. Oops. No harm done — yet.

Brandon reaches for his cell, and his thumbs start flying. His eyes glance up and down from phone to interviewer as he tries to multitask.

Rob Taylor has seen that happen. As the owner-operator of three Chick-fil-A franchises in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he has witnessed plenty of how-not-to-get-a-job moments. He’s had job-seeking teens tell him, “I’ve never eaten here” and “I don’t like chicken.”

But Rob has also hired and worked with countless respectful, enthusiastic teens. As a business owner and a parent, he has watched teenagers grow and develop important life skills through working.

“Work teaches a lot about responsibility,” Rob says. “It teaches kids about accountability, the value of money and the value of contributing.” The job search and commitment to employment also helps teens build valuable time-management skills as they learn to balance multiple tasks.

“Our girls excelled more in school when they were busier and had more going on,” Rob’s wife, Maureen, says, “because they knew, This is my block of time to get my homework done, instead of, I’ll put it off until I feel like it.”

Even the most mature teenager, however, usually needs some help with the new experience of getting and keeping a job. But with some preparation, encouragement and support from parents, your teen can experience success that will carry into adulthood.

Application and interview

The first step toward employment, of course, is learning how to apply and interview for a job. Follow Rob Taylor’s tips to help your teen navigate the hiring process:

  • Prescreen the boss. Visit the business. Watch and listen. How does management treat the employees? How do employees speak to each other? What values are represented?
  • Teach the application basics. Let your teen know that neatness on an application is critical: It tells an employer that the applicant cares about his work. Your teen should also use teachers, coaches or youth leaders for references, not family and friends.
  • Teach interview skills. Help your teen make a good impression with the five S’s: stand, see (eye contact), smile, shake hands and say the name of the interviewer. Your teen also needs to know the rules of the interview: Be on time. Don’t bring friends or family. Have an adult approve your outfit. Turn off your phone. Speak clearly.
  • Role-play. Prepare your teen with a practice interview. Ask: “Why do you want to work here? What are your strengths? What have you learned from other jobs, chores or volunteering you’ve done?”

On the job

Many of the traits necessary for workplace success should begin in early childhood and be consistently reinforced during the teen years, including respect for authority, willingness to serve and work with others, and diligence in meeting responsibilities. Household chores are a great preparation tool.

“I often joke with the teens we’re hiring and say, ‘You get to wash dishes; you get to mop the floor and take out the trash — all of those things you do at home. Now you just get paid for them,’ ” Rob says.

After your teen has secured a job, share a few tips to help him work as a stellar employee:

  • Dress appropriately. Be clean and modest in your attire.
  • Review the employee handbook. Take personal responsibility for your quality of work and personal interactions.
  • Be punctual and dependable. Tardiness and truancy are unacceptable.
  • Be teachable. Pay attention and listen carefully. Think before you speak.
  • Be honest and ethical. Never cheat your boss out of time or money.
  • Follow instructions. Do as you’re trained to do.
  • Take initiative. Always look to see what needs to be done.
  • Be courteous and respectful. Demonstrate good manners with customers, co-workers and management.
  • Leave a good impression. The contacts you make on this job may be the very people you need to write a reference for college or a recommendation for the next job.

Workplace attitude

Your attitudes about work may have rubbed off on your teens. Do your kids hear you complain about your job or boss? Do your actions show them that work is only a means to an end — or an opportunity to serve God and represent Him with the gifts He’s given? Parents can model a great example by following Colossians 3:23 — “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

That’s the type of attitude Rob, and other bosses, are looking for. “I tell teenagers, ‘It’s not the job that’s going to make you feel important. It’s what you do with that job, with that responsibility. Whatever you do, do that to the very best of your ability.’ “

Should Your Teen Work?

The number of teens working has declined steadily since the early 1990s, when about half of all teens held a summer job. By 2009, only one-third of teens worked, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. One of the leading reasons seems to be scheduling. Today’s teens are busy. Academics, sports, music, youth group, volunteering and a host of other extra-curricular activities often squeeze out work.

Parents can help their teens decide whether part-time employment is right for them by having an honest discussion about their priorities. “[Teens] think they can spin all the plates,” Chick-fil-A franchise owner-operator Rob Taylor says. “So a child needs to find out, Do I really understand what my priorities are, and how am I going to balance that?”

It’s a good idea to agree ahead of time on clear guidelines to measure whether the number of work hours is appropriate in your child’s life. Falling grades or missed commitments might be the indicator that something has to go from a teen’s schedule.  

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