Your First Part-Time Job: A Guide for Students

Starting part-time employment as a full-time student can be stressful, especially if it's your first job. Here's how to make a smooth transition.

One of your first steps into the world of adulthood is getting, keeping, and eventually leaving your first job. Entering the workforce can be intimidating to say the least, and it can be a hard thing to do as a full-time student. Here are some tips and tricks that helped me through every step of my first job.

Getting hired

Finding the right job

Most first-time employees start in the food, entertainment, or retail industries. Some of the most common places for teen employees are grocery stores, movie theaters, pizza parlors, and fast food restaurants. Ask around town to see who’s hiring and find out how to apply for open positions.

Related: Quiz: Which Campus Job Is Right for You?

Finding the right (restaurant) job

You may have heard that if you work in a restaurant as your first job, you’ll learn to hate it. That’s not always the case. For me, I actually like the fast-food restaurant I worked at for my first job more now than when I started.

If you’re going to work in food service, I recommend working at a place that has multiple menu options that you like. Most fast-food restaurants (and some traditional dine-in restaurants) have an employee meal plan of some sort and may offer a discount to employees when they aren’t working. If you eat the exact same hamburger two or three nights a week, you will learn to hate it. 

The interview

Once you’ve decided where you want to work and have been contacted about an interview, there are three major factors that will win over your potential employer.

  1. Be on time. Seriously. If you can’t show up on time to a job interview, why would you show up on time to your job?
  2. Be presentable. Please shower. For the love of humanity, please shower before your interview. Also, look good. A full suit likely won’t be required, but you should wear a dress shirt and good pants or a nice dress. If you show up in an unwashed T-shirt and torn jeans, I have failed you as an internet guide.
  3. Be professional. While it’s unlikely you’ll be entering a highly competitive job market, treat the interview like a big deal. Convince them you’re a solid choice no matter who else they may be considering. Be personable and show that you have excellent customer service skills.

Related: What to Do Before, During, and After Your First Job Interview

Keeping your job

Pay attention

It’s understandable if you don’t remember and perfect every aspect of a job on your first day, but put in some effort. You may not ring a sale at first, but don’t make your manager explain it 30 times. You’ll probably get a bunch of information thrown at you all at once. Try to soak in as much as you can instead of thinking that you can just ask again later. If you don’t remember or understand something, ask! But once you’ve asked, remember.

Related: Top 10 Tips for Your First Job

The task is not beneath you

Expect to do the stuff no one else wants to do. You’ll get the tedious jobs—you may have to scrub a few toilets among other “grunt work” tasks. My coworkers and I could always tell who wouldn’t last long by how entitled they acted about certain aspects of the job.

Continue to be on time

This never goes away. No one likes staying an extra 15 minutes past their six-hour shift, so be on time for yours.

Budget your time

Most jobs will have you working about 15 hours a week as a default for part-time employment. If this is a problem for you, let your employer know.

I had four AP classes, was searching for colleges and scholarships, and was the treasurer for the Latin Club when I had my first job in high school. I couldn’t work 15 hours a week. Unlike some other extracurricular activities, there’s no break period where you can get a page of homework done at your job. If you’re there and on the clock, you’re expected to focus your attention on work. 

Related: How to Get Organized and Manage Your Time in High School

Leaving your job

Don’t just leave

If you feel uncomfortable in your work environment, definitely leave. If you’re about to start a new chapter of your life and your current job doesn’t fit anymore, definitely leave. If you think the place down the street has better-looking uniforms, don’t leave.

Everyone knows the teen who only ever seems to work anywhere for a month. They hear they can make 25 cents more somewhere else and leave as soon as possible. This may seem harmless enough, but it may hurt you in the end. When you start looking at long-term jobs, they’ll look at your employment record. They would much rather see you did well at one job for a year as opposed to being okay at six jobs for two months each.

Give adequate warning

Give your employer at least two weeks’ notice before your final day. Be sure to give a written letter and express how grateful you are for the opportunity—remember, your current employers will be your future references for colleges, scholarships, internships, and maybe even your future career.

Find more advice for your first job in our Internships and Careers section.

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About Erica West

Erica West

Hello there! My name is Erica, and I am happy to make your acquaintance. Calculus, reading, viola, and traveling: these are a few of my favorite things (I also like musicals). I don't have a favorite book, but my favorite genre is definitely historical fiction. I am the viola section leader in my high school's highest orchestra and in a successful string quartet. I plan to major in Mathematics when I go to college then go on to study law and become a patent lawyer.


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