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Teen Job Prep When They Have No Experience

My teen had his first job interview a couple of weeks ago. To help him out, I looked for practice interview questions, but even the ones that were supposedly for teens were structured as “tell me about your experience at a previous job”. Not exactly helpful when it is his first job interview. Therefore, there are no previous jobs to comment on. But professional development and teaching is what I do, so I coached him through the questions. Here are some of them and how I guided him to answer.

Tell me about yourself. — Be honest, but remember that you are selling yourself. Think of it as talking to a teacher, not your friends group. What are your interests? Favorite subjects at school?

What do you know about our organization? — It is a good idea to find out what you can about the organization before you interview. Check out their website, visit to look around and observe, talk to others who worked in similar roles.

Why did you apply for a job with our organization? — How does the job appeal to your interests? Use what you know about the organization to structure your answer.

Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult coworker or customer? —- For a first timer, this can be a difficult question. I told my son to think about a group project or a time he didn’t get along with a classmate. How did he handle it?

What would you do if a customer made a complaint to you?— My son’s response to this one is that it is common sense, but I told him you would be surprised by some answers. Seriously, don’t be glib with your answers. His response was perfect, remember that it is not always about you. Don’t take the comment to heart. Be a duck and let it roll off your back.

What would you consider to be your strengths or weaknesses?— Again this is one where I told him to think in terms of school. Be had a good conversation about how some strengths can also be weaknesses if they are taken to extremes. For example, being a perfectionist can mean ignoring other work because of being too focused on a specific task.

Tell me about a project you are particularly proud of? — Again, this is one where I told him to think of school or volunteer work. He had a great answer about helping out a classmate who was struggling to work on a project.

Tell me about a time you worked as a team or collaborated on a project.— Again, talking about school is perfectly okay. A volunteer project is even better. We talked about an example where he volunteered at a school fair greeting people. We connected this to how the experience is helpful for customer service.

Why should we hire you?— This is always one of those awkward questions. It is best to be prepared with an answer that is sincere. If you don’t think of it ahead of time, there can be that awkward pause when asked during the actual interview. My teen recognized that the interview team would probably think highly of people who were able to answer quickly rather than being stumped.

Is there anything else we should know about you?— This is a chance to highlight your skills and point out anything that wasn’t asked.

Do you have any questions for us?— Always have a least one question. This shows interest and investment in the position.

The interview might cover all these questions or there might be additional ones tailored to the specific job. Finding out a little about the organization can be helpful for answering those specific questions. The job description can be helpful for crafting what those questions might be. For example, if the job is for a fast food restaurant as a cashier, you could ask what they would do if a customer had a complaint. *hint* The best answer is usually to say get a supervisor. Since his interview was for a library shelving job, his question was what to do if someone messed up a display he just finished shelving. His answer was to just go clean it back up and reshelve everything. He told me he felt this was another common sense question and felt odd answering. After over twenty years of working in libraries, I wish I could say common sense exists. His was the right answer as it is a service based position, but surprisingly there are people who would respond that they would tell the customer to clean the mess up. Well, unless you are their parent or teacher, it is your job to clean it up not teach them manners.

No matter what the position is, arrive at the interview in clean and pressed clothing, like the type worn to church or a school presentation. A suit is not necessary for a teen’s interview, but a nice polo or button up would not be out of place. My son says this goes without saying, but I once had an interviewee show up to a job interview in flannel pajama bottoms and an oversized t-shirt. So sometimes common sense isn’t that common.

Remember, as a teen interviewing, the interviewer is not out to get you. They recognize that you might be nervous. As long as you are courteous in your responses, it is okay to be a little nervous. A good tip is also to arrive early. Be kind to everyone you meet while you are waiting. When finished, thank the interviewers for their time and tell them you look forward to hearing from them.

Once he had the interview, we debriefed the experience because even if he didn’t get this job, it was good practice for the next one. As the parent, remember this is not your job interview. Your teen needs to show that they are responsible and independent. Don’t go to the interview with them, stay in the car if you need to, but let them handle this on their own. Congratulations and deep breaths, you got this, both of you!

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