Interview preparation for teens can be pretty intimidating and nerve-wracking, but it doesn’t have to be. Employers who hire teens aren’t expecting you to have a proven track record of success, years of work experience, or a long list of skills. All they usually care about can be summed up in two words: positive attitude.
They want you to be willing to listen, able to learn, to be trustworthy, reliable, and punctual. As long as you can clearly demonstrate these qualities in your interviews, you’ll be an easy hire.
Follow these 11 tips for interview preparation for teens, and you’ll do just that.
1. Know yourself
As early as possible in your job hunt, put yourself under the microscope. The more self-aware you are, the more comfortable and confident you’ll be in job interviews.
Make a few lists: Your top strengths; your best skills; your biggest achievements (school, extracurricular, volunteering, etc.); and your hobbies and pastimes.
Once you’re done, ask a few other people (family, friends, teachers, etc.) for their thoughts on those things too.
This confidence-building exercise will help direct you towards jobs you’re more likely to enjoy and succeed at, while also getting you used to talking about yourself with others.
2. Research the job
Maureen Crawford Hentz, who formerly hired teens for specific jobs at the New England Aquarium, liked to test teen applicants’ interview preparation.
“If an applicant came in to interview for an Aquarium Guide position and told me that she thought she would be feeding the animals and ‘stuff’ I knew that she had not read the job description,” Hentz says.
3. Think about yourself in relation to the job
Read through the job description carefully. For every requirement listed, is there a way you can highlight yourself as a better candidate than others?
Compare with the lists you made earlier for ideas, and ask other people who have had that job what they needed to be successful.
4. Understand what employers are looking for
“The primary concerns for most employers talking to teens are: Will you be here as scheduled? If we are willing to teach you, are you willing to learn?” says Gale Montgomery, former Career Services Coordinator at Simpson College. “With this in mind, I encourage teens to respond to the questions with frequent reassurances of reliability and capabilities to learn quickly but with a willingness to ask questions for clarity.”
Recent grad-school graduate Jeanie Collins notes that the interviewer is not out to get you. “The interviewer is looking for a person with ordinary qualifications who has the attitude to do an extraordinary job,” Collins observes.
5. Conduct some practice interviews
An often-overlooked part of interview preparation for teens is asking friends and family members to conduct practice interviews with you. You can find many lists of commonly asked questions online, including our site’s list of interview questions, or in job interviewing books. Also important: practice your body language and handshake.
6. Dress appropriately
A rule of thumb is to dress one level above what will be expected at the job for which you’re interviewing. For example, if the dress there is casual or uniformed, arrive in “business casual.”
There are some exceptions. For example, it would make sense to show up to an interview at Sephora wearing quite a bit of makeup since it’s related to the job at hand. However, unless they’re commonplace at the job you’re trying to get, the fashion “don’ts” mentioned by career counselors are as follows:
- open-toed shoes or sandals
- heavy makeup
- revealing clothing
- short skirts
- visible piercings
- large tattoos
- clingy tops
- platform shoes
- huge earrings
- wrinkled clothing
- hair in your face
The night before an interview, ask more experienced family members or friends how they think you’ll look in your planned outfit.
7. Put your smartphone on airplane or Do Not Disturb mode
The last thing you want is to have a good interview interrupted. When talking to a potential employer, the focus should be on them and them alone.
8. Be prepared to be interviewed even when you’re not expecting it
When it comes to what’s different about interview preparation for teens, this one stands out.
The nature of many of the jobs that teens typically seek makes impromptu interviews more likely than they are for other age groups. They are especially likely if the store has a “Help Wanted” sign in the window and you walk in to inquire.
One of the things I always liked about such interviews is that there’s no time to get nervous. You just react under pressure, and you’re done before you know it. Be mentally prepared and willing every time you visit a local mall to fill out job applications. Dress appropriately and take advantage when an employer asks for an interview on the spot.
Increase your chances of getting snap interviews by visiting employers during a slow part of their work day, and don’t be afraid to ask managers for such a “chat” if they’re available.
9. Know what hours you can work and prepare to be flexible
Consider school homework, extracurricular activities, sports — anything that takes up your time. Clearly articulate to the employer the hours you’re available to work. Which non-essential activity can you give up if the employer needs more availability and you really want the job?
10. Have realistic expectations about salary
Let’s face it; most teen jobs pay minimum wage. Part of the research involved in interview preparation for teens means confirming the current minimum wage so you’re not surprised and so you don’t ask for less than that.
11. Always write a thank you note after your interview
Doing so will put you ahead of your competition, especially among teens.
If the situation seems right and you’re confident of being a great fit, consider asking for a little more, as attorney Trinity Hundredmark Fitzpatrick did as a teen. “One thing I learned on my interview at a local retail store was to ask for more than I thought I was going to get,” Fitzpatrick recalls. “Everyone had told me that I was going to get minimum wage because of my age no matter what I did. I threw caution to the wind and decided to ask for more, telling my interviewer that the store could hire someone at minimum wage, or they could take me for a little more money but much better work. The manager chose me even at the higher price. Don’t underestimate your worth.”