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You can secure a job-job and earn a steady paycheck, or you could be a bit entrepreneurial and see how that goes. You might earn even more money that way. You could babysit, walk dogs or mow lawns.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 5/23/2007 7:45:11 AM ET 2007-05-23T11:45:11

Ah, I still remember my first summer job. I was 15 years old, and I got paid $3 an hour — (yes, less than the minimum wage at the time … not good) — to work in an ice cream shop connected to a family restaurant in my home town in Florida.

It was a cake job, really, but I still found ways to make some relatively serious mistakes. For instance, I once made a banana split for a customer and forgot to include the banana. And I almost broke the milkshake machine this one time because I forgot to add milk.

Anyway.

You, too, may be a teenager who’s seeking gainful employment this summer, and while I’m sure you would never forget the banana in a banana split, there’s a possibility you might forget to do a few things to a) ensure that you land a job, and b) ensure it’s a job you want to do more than, say, other jobs. Consider these tips.

1. Know the rules of engagement. Starting at age 14, teens across the United States are allowed to work for a wide variety of employers. Despite that, some employers don’t feel comfortable hiring young workers. That means your entire job-seeking approach should center on convincing employers that they can place their confidence and trust in you.

2. Don’t be shy. Start actively telling people you know that you’re looking for a job. Think about all the adults in your life: your teachers and coaches, your family doctor and veterinarian, your parents’ friends, your friends’ parents, and so on. This approach could turn you on to job prospects that are actually quite interesting and enjoyable.

3. Go straight to the top. When approaching potential employers, ask to speak with the boss directly. This will give you the opportunity to assure him or her that you’re dependable and prompt and you have access to reliable transportation – (all concerns bosses consistently have about hiring teens).

4. Show some positive energy. Employers who bring teenagers on board say they appreciate their enthusiasm and eagerness to do whatever it takes to get a job done. Display those traits on your job interview – and on the job as well. Another detail: Many teens show a tendency to be hard on themselves and minimize their accomplishments. Remember that a job interview is never a place to beat yourself up. Instead, play up flattering details about yourself, such as being an honor-roll student, juggling extracurricular activities and volunteering in the community.

5. Maintain a good track record at school. Potential employers may ask you about your attendance patterns at school, as well as your conflict-resolution skills with teachers and other students. By developing good relationships with school counselors and teachers, you’ll be able to ask them to serve as references for you or provide written recommendations if needed.

6. Provide needed paperwork. Depending on where you live, employers who hire minors may be required to keep proof of their age on record. One way to meet this requirement if you don’t yet have a driver’s license or learner’s permit is to have your school district issue an age certificate for you. (Your school counselor should be able to help you with this.) You can show up at the interview armed with this document.

7. Mind your manners and your grooming. Dress nicely for your job interview, and remember to send a thank you note after your interview — a step many adults routinely forget to take.

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8. Play it safe. Teens get injured on the job more frequently than adult workers. In fact, thousands are hurt badly enough each year to warrant emergency room treatment. Don’t be reluctant to ask your boss for help before tackling a new task — and remember that the new task could be riskier than you anticipate.

9. Show real initiative. If you can tell the boss is hesitant about hiring you and you really want to work there, suggest that you can work for two weeks without pay as a trial run for the employer. (Note: Don’t agree to work any longer than that without pay, however — and don’t make the mistake I did and agree to work for less than minimum wage!)

10. Remember self-employment possibilities. Sure, you can secure a job-job this summer and earn a steady paycheck, or you could be a bit entrepreneurial and see how that goes. Depending on what you do and how disciplined you are with your time, you might earn even more money that way. You could babysit, walk dogs, mow lawns or tap into a special skill you have. For instance, are you a great dancer? Maybe you could line up a donated meeting space and organize a dance camp for younger kids. Or can you play a musical instrument? Maybe you could provide music lessons in people’s homes. Put your thinking cap on and figure out whether you might be able to use something like this to make money now and also beef up college and scholarship applications in the future.

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