Should Your High School Student Have a Part-Time Job?

At The Core Founder and CEO, Beth Probst, recently had the honor of teaching an online lesson to the nationwide network of Connections Academy students. She shared tips and resources to help students look forward into their futures. To get things rolling, the students were asked “What are you most looking forward to when school ends and work begins?” And the vast majority responded with variations on “making money.” Getting students from high school Algebra to a full-time paid career involves many steps. A great first step? Having a part-time job in high school or college!

When is the right time to get a part-time job — high school or college?

The right time? Of course, it will be different for every kiddo. One good clue is when they have shown (or are ready to show) that they can balance their time. Set some guidelines like five hours per week to start. They can seek an employer who has a track record of being flexible with students. Maybe choose a season where there is no sport or activity to make it less complicated. Another clue is their interest level. Try to support their interest in work, even if it “feels” too early.

If possible, find an employer that is related to an ultimate career goal (a fairly tall order in high school). In college, I like the wisdom of finding a job ASAP in the career area of interest (very low level, working near professionals, 5-10 hours per week). The student will be exposed to the career’s work environment, they can develop impactful connections, and the work experience will shine on a resume at the end of college.

In our EXTENDED Tips for the College-Bound program, one of the many topics we talk about is what skills employers are looking for in their employees.

What about stress and failure?

With school, college, activities, work, etc., the pressure some students feel is tangible and evident. We know you have been hearing about/experiencing the increases in stress and anxiety in the teen community. Some of that is due to pressure (often self-imposed) of not knowing how to recover from “failing.” If we can see the flip-side — that getting a “bad grade,” not getting that job, getting fired, or a speeding ticket or two while in your home can be a GOOD THING — then it changes the whole event, for us and hopefully for them too.

Our kids need to build resilience, and it won’t happen without stubbing a toe or two or three. If you want to dig deeper into this topic, you may enjoy The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey and How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims.

Some benefits/acquired skills you may not have thought of…

Self-advocacy

As parents, it is our nature to help our kids…to make things easier for them. But when we do, children won’t grow the muscles to speak up, seek the help they need, or even ask the questions that will help them solve a problem. Searching for and holding a job is an instance where we can create situations where they must self-advocate.

During high school, identify some specific tasks you can shift to them to do. Examples include calling a store to see if they have something your kiddo needs before you drive there, emailing a teacher with a question (that they may tell you they can ask tomorrow), or researching summer camp options. Discuss what worked and what didn’t work with them after they try it. Support them by brainstorming or even practicing a conversation if applicable. This practice will build the confidence they need to successfully advocate for themselves!

This practice will serve them well as they step into the working world.

Self-discipline/procrastination

Holding a part-time job is a great way to practice self-discipline and avoid procrastination. When working, students need to learn how to budget all their time including work, school, extracurricular, and free time. Like with many of the life skills we need them to learn, letting them practice (and stumble) while in high school is helpful.

We’ll share a personal note on this one! Beth’s own daughter was offered some cool and unusual opportunities in the fall of her junior year. She was flattered and excited…and said yes to everything. Then reality set in. How would she be able actually do everything she committed to plus her job, homework, extracurricular activities (and sleep!)? This uncomfortable experience was a fantastic lesson in time management and learning to say “no.”

That phone thing

We see this all the time. Students know how to text, but not how to have a phone conversation. Role playing is a great way to tackle this fear. Students worry that someone will ask them something they do not know the answer to. Modeling how the whole call will go and practicing what to say when someone DOES ask something you do not know are both important! If they have this practice under their belts, they can approach the call with more confidence.

Starting the call with a pen/paper (and even the wording of what to say when they do not know an answer) can help. Look for more ways for them to practice – making a haircut appointment, calling the doctor to make an appointment, and all those times when Google does not give you all the info you need and you need to call to ask about it. Last thought – give your teen some privacy to make the call. If you are nearby and the call is on speakerphone, your teen can lure you into helping, but that’s really not helping.

How about a couple of job/career tips?

We have worked with many students who have no idea of what career might fit them (this is super normal!). They’ll also readily admit they don’t have much knowledge of real-world careers. This knowledge gap will not magically disappear.

Take a few minutes to discuss your career with them. Tell them what it’s really like. Discuss how you get to use your strengths during your work. It will help them know what to observe when they encounter other professionals with jobs of interest.

When we talk about researching careers with our Guided Self Assessment students, we often refer students to the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This searchable database provides comprehensive information about tons of careers.

A little side suggestion…work with your student to track their activities during high school. When the time comes to apply to college or make that first resume, your student will value having all work and volunteer experience information in one spot. We often suggest using a form to keep track of important dates, names, addresses, and details because when August of your senior year gets here, we guarantee you won’t remember all of the details without digging through past paperwork.

What can you take away from a part-time job?

During Guided Self Assessment, our facilitators have noticed a trend. Students who have had a part-time job (with a boss, scheduled hours, a timecard, etc.) are impacted positively by these early work experiences. They are proud of taking this “grown up” step in life!

They can articulate what they like and don’t like about the job, they have money to manage, they have to manage their time differently, etc. We’ve noticed these kids have confidence and experiences that set them apart in a positive way.

Sometimes, though, this self-knowledge is hard for students to articulate and put to use.

Guided Self Assessment can be a real game changer and a special tool to help your student take all they know about themselves and pull it together into a real plan for a future career and college major. We bring a new way of thinking about the future to students and their families. For students on the cusp of transitioning to life after high school (and even for those who have already transitioned), there can be a great difficulty in knowing what path to choose. The process used by At The Core can reveal many answers.

Want to hear more about Guided Self Assessment and how it can help your child? Book your no-obligation, 30-minute free family meeting to learn more.

Keeping the end in mind

We want all those students in the Connections Academy lesson to reach their goals—earning money and having the freedom and independence that go with it. To get there, they will need to follow a path through their own exploration and growth. Having a part-time job can help them with those skills and experiences they won’t learn sitting at a desk.

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