Jonathan Rosati was shopping at Marc’s when he heard a voice call to him from behind. Rosati, the director of operations for Honey Hut Ice Cream stores, quickly turned around.
“I’m sure you don’t remember me,” a woman said, walking up to him. “I worked at your Honey Hut location in Brecksville about 20 years ago. It was my first job and I learned so much there.”
The woman went on to tell Rosati how she remembered her first day and how flexible Honey Hut was regarding her busy high school schedule. She also mentioned the skills she learned and how she still calls on them today. The pair said their goodbyes and returned to their shopping, but the exchange made Rosati reflect on how formative a first job can be for a young person.
“First jobs teach a lot of life skills you might not expect to come across and in reality, they teach teens a lot of skills they can use in future employment,” Rosati says.
Don’t underestimate the impact a first job will have on your teen, experts say. No matter the industry, first jobs are invaluable life experiences that not only teach teens the hard skills required to do the job, but also important soft skills that build character and foster maturity, like interacting with an irate customer or working together as a team in a fast-paced environment.
If you’ve got a teen or college student returning home for the summer, you can help them prepare for their first job by encouraging them in their search and helping them prep for their interview, which will typically include a mix of preliminary questions (“Tell me a little bit more about yourself” and “When are you available to work?”) and more behavior-based, analytical questions (“Tell me about a time you had to successfully multitask” and “What might you do in a situation where a customer is angry and yelling at you? How would you react?”). These days, most job applications are submitted through online portals and because of COVID-19, many businesses conduct first interviews virtually.
Darrell Mosley II, of All Seasons Lawn Care in Akron, employs many teens each summer season and said landscaping is a great first job choice for young people.
“It humbles them and allows them to see the work that goes into creating something,” Mosley II says. “There’s also a real standard of quality that we teach all the young guys. They also get something out of knowing that they worked to make something that someone is really grateful for.”
He looks for new hires who are willing to learn, pay attention to detail and enjoy being outdoors. He also covers the basics like ensuring the teen has means of transportation to work and will be a reliable employee who shows up on time.
Teens start out earning $11.50 an hour and can bump their pay to $12.50 an hour after 30 successful days on the job, Mosley II says.
“The biggest thing with me is responsibility,” adds Mosley II, who also serves as a youth coach and Councilman-at-Large for the City of Orrville. “I’m teaching you how to be a good person, how to survive in the real world, and the responsibility of having a job.”
Adrianne Shadd, who works for University Hospitals as program manager for workforce development and outreach, says teens should never underestimate what they have done and be self-reflective when answering interview questions. She notes that if a teen doesn’t have previous work experience because this is their first job, they can use other situations and apply them to interview questions, such as the time management skills they learned by doing virtual schooling, the lessons they learned babysitting their siblings or caring for an elderly relative, or the principles they adopted by participating in things like school clubs, sports, dance, scouts, church activities and volunteer work.
Even your teen’s management of a YouTube channel can show an employer what he or she is capable of, Shadd notes.
Teens often can land jobs that connect them with valuable industry insiders and expose them to fields they would like to one day pursue.
“I remember a teen who worked in nutrition services, which is our cafeterias, and her desire was to be a pediatric surgeon,” Shadd says. “All summer, she was introducing herself to physicians in the cafeteria and was able to secure our chief pediatric surgeon as her mentor. He would come to get his food every day and she continued to build that relationship with him. Even after high school graduation, she still continues to work for us in patient access while she completes her undergraduate studies.”
She encourages high schoolers to check in with their schools regarding employment opportunities because districts partner with many different organizations.
Denise Ali is the chief human resources officer for the YMCA of Greater Cleveland, where 20 percent of collective branch staff are under the age of 22 and 80 percent of the workforce is part-time.
“The YMCA is a cause-driven organization,” she says. “You’re not just working for a gym. You’re working for a movement to strengthen the community that we live in. That stands out to a teen when they’re working at a cause-driven organization because that mission is going to come through and it’s a real game changer. Our theme for working with the young is that we want our youth to be change-makers.”
Alexandria Halmbacher, manager of education and museum outreach for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, says her team is committed to serving the community by connecting individuals with educational resources to support them in reaching their economic potential and to build an understanding of the Federal Reserve’s role in the nation’s economy.
“We offer a variety of free resources and student programs that are aimed at helping students transition successfully from high school into college or a career by providing opportunities for mentorship, career exploration and skill development,” she says. “Our programs are made accessible through both virtual and in-person offerings.”
Offerings include the Personal Finance Foundational Program for middle-schoolers, Girls Make I.T. Better for female high school students interested in careers in the STEM field, and Student Board, a program designed to help high school students transition successfully from high school to college or a career. Students can earn internship hours and credit toward the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal, Halmbacher notes. More information can be found at clevelandfed.org/learningcenter/student-programming.
Rosati, whose grandfather, Frank Page, opened the first Honey Hut Ice Cream in 1974 in Old Brooklyn, said the sooner a young person begins honing their employability skills, the better. Honey Hut Ice Cream, which operates five locations throughout the Cleveland area, employs around 100 people each year for its stores. Most hires, if not nearly all of them, are teenagers working their first jobs. The majority stay on through college, Rosati said.
“Our job is to make people happy, and it’s a busy job to do that, you’ll hustle to do that, but I love that I get to see kids grow up and mature,” he says of his hires. “I remember this one interview I did with a 16-year-old who told me that she’s wanted to work at Honey Hut Ice Cream since she was 6 years old because when she was 6, she came to Honey Hut with her family and was wearing a purple necklace and the person who took her family’s order said, ‘Oh, I love your purple necklace!’ It was that one teeny-tiny minor interaction, but that girl always remembered that moment when someone acknowledged her and treated her nicely. That’s how important this job is, how rewarding this job can be, it changed her life and put her on a track. That’s really powerful stuff.”
Chuck Caldwell, who works for the Parma City School District as the administrative specialist for workforce development, says that when beginning their first jobs, teens should start out slow, working between five and 15 hours a week.
“Time management is a huge part of starting your first job and being successful at it,” Caldwell says.
Today’s teens are busier than generations who came before them and most are balancing many pressures including heavy course loads, a collection of extracurriculars, family commitments and other activities that take up their time.
Caldwell encourages young people to seek out jobs that recognize and understand a teen’s time constraints.
“A part-time job should be enjoyable,” Ali notes. “A lot is learned by the teen. They really build confidence and working instills some independence and separation from their parents. They’re also meeting other youth who they otherwise might not know and are engaging and socializing. First jobs are also a great opportunity to teach teens the value of money. Working is a learning experience and teaches so many valuable life skills, like going through the interview process, searching for a job, completing an application, making a resume, asking for a reference — there are a lot of life lessons there.”
You can help your teen prepare for their first job interview with these tips from the pros:
Dress the part
Remember the adage, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”? It still rings true in today’s virtual and fast-paced world. Remind your teen that what they wear conveys maturity and readiness to work. Teens have plenty of dress options for their first interview, including a button-down or polo shirt with khakis or slacks, a tasteful dress with a cardigan, or a sweater paired with a modest skirt. It is never okay to wear revealing clothes, athletic gear, hoodies, hats or flip-flops to a job interview.
Activate your voicemail account and update your email address
Many teens don’t think to activate their phone’s voicemail box or record a mature greeting, experts say. Remind your teen to take a few moments to do this (and remember to actually check their voicemails). If an employer can’t reach your teen or gets a goofy, immature voicemail greeting, it could cost them the job. Teens also should have a professional email address that they maintain and check daily.
Time is of the essence
The early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the best job opportunities. Most employers will be finishing up their summer hiring by Memorial Day Weekend or shortly after, so encourage your teen to make their moves now.
Practice makes perfect
An interview is a nerve-wracking experience for everyone, not just teens. Conduct a mock interview with your teen in preparation for the real thing. Browse the internet for some potential interview questions and make sure and let your teen know what they can expect at an interview. Encourage them to be confident and take the time to reflect on interview questions.