Lessons learned from teenage jobs

It’s common for teenagers to seek out a part-time job to supplement their income and increase their independence. Many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders held part-time roles through their education including billionaires Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett. But what are the pros and cons?


Should my teen get a part-time job?

Of course, some teenagers get a job out of necessity. Perhaps the family income doesn’t support the lifestyle they want. Rather than rely on the income of their parents or the state, they choose to earn their own living. This is admirable and generally low-skilled, low-paid jobs provide valuable life experiences.

But what if they don’t need to have a job? Is it worth it?


Reasons a teenager should get a job


To understand how a business works

This gives a young person a valuable insight into the world of business and provides some commercial awareness. Depending on the size of the business, a teenager might work closely with the founder or a senior figure within the business. This could be priceless experience


Interacting with customers

Experience with customers, but satisfied and otherwise, is incredibly valuable. In many careers, being able to present yourself well and empathise with those seeking to buy from you is advantageous. Role in hospitality and retail are especially good for this.


Working hard for a living

If a teenager has so far grown up without having to earn their money, a job can be a great way to find out how it feels to do it. Kids that grow up with pocket money paid each week for doing nothing, have a warped sense of how money works. Remember that there’s a wide range of work available to people in the 21st century; it’s not just temping in an office or stacking shelves.


It could be the start of something great

Not only is the range of job opportunities vast, but they could represent a gateway to an exciting career or business. The gig economy includes freelance work in graphic design and digital marketing, for example, types of work that could expand into a larger venture.


Heidi Zak, founder of ThirdLove, shared her experience working on a farm stand as a teenager.

“[My dad] grew up on a small farm outside of Pittsburgh. Through a lot of hard work and by focusing on education, he has been really successful in business. I think it’s true in life that when you work hard, things will work themselves out for you. That work ethic is also something that I look for when I’m hiring.

“My first job was when I was 14, I grew up in western New York, and I worked at a farm stand. There are two things that I still use today from the job. One is how to make things look really beautiful. It was very much learning how to merchandise – how do you make them look compelling for a customer that is going to walk in. The other thing was I learned how to think about the customer, what their needs were and how to sell to them effectively.”

But what about the downsides?


Why a teenager shouldn’t get a job


They’re a distraction from education

If poorly managed, a teenager can become distracted from their education. A job can increase time pressure and sap valuable energy during key times of the academic cycle. It’s important, therefore, to monitor how a job affects education and find opportunities to increase or decrease hours as necessary.


It can create a poor relationship with money

Depending on the job, someone could form money habits and beliefs that don’t serve them in the long run. Some jobs offer a set level of pay, regardless of output and attitude on the job. This means someone can become lazy and gets used to being paid for doing very little. If possible, find a job that develops life skills and has some form of performance-related benefit.


Jobs can be a trap

Whilst most teenagers progress well beyond their first jobs, it’s not true for everyone. In fact, more people than you might think either remain in those jobs or return to those jobs after education is finished. The familiarity and safe pay cheque of those jobs can be appealing for those less ambitious.


It keeps them small minded

Entrepreneurs don’t earn money by the hour. They aren’t concerned with how they make $10 or $20 or even $50 an hour. They’re thinking about how they can make $1000s every hour without having to be anywhere specific, or doing anything specific.


Jobs can teach a teenager valuable commercial awareness, especially when they can see a direct link between their actions and how well the business does. In a restaurant it’s reflected in their tips. On a farm stand it’s how many customers say yes. In a clothes store it’s how many browsers buy.

It might spark questions like… “What if this was my own store?” “What if I owned this restaurant?”

In fact, when we interviewed a number of entrepreneurs for the Clever Tykes podcast, having a job as a teenager was one of the common traits found in the successful individuals we interviewed.