Teens are an incredibly important part of the American workforce. You’re often the ones keeping restaurants, theme parks, and grocery store checkout lines afloat. You’re willing to do jobs some older workers aren’t. And you’re driven to save up for college or even just some weekend spending money.
As of July 2021, 36.1% of young people ages 16 to 19 had a job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—which means that if you’re one of the many teens looking for summer, part-time, and college campus jobs, you’ll need to stand out against the competition to get hired. And an interview is your best chance to impress a hiring manager. From clothes to resumes, body language to etiquette, preparing well for an interview can make all the difference when you’re trying to land an enjoyable, well-paying job.
Here are nine tips that will help you nail your job interview—whether it’s your first one ever or just the next one on your calendar—and get hired.
Putting in some work ahead of time on a company’s history, values, and mission can make or break an interview. You can use this knowledge throughout the conversation to demonstrate that not only do you do your homework, but you are also a team player with the greater company purpose at heart.
This prep work also gives you the opportunity to fully consider the position, says Amy Marschall, a psychologist and the author of a mental health blog who works often with teens seeking jobs. “It looks good if you come in knowing things about the position as well as the company, and this helps you know if it’s a job you really want,” she says.
To do your research, Google the company and read multiple pages on their site (e.g., the “About” page or mission statement along with blog posts that demonstrate their values), use social media to see how current or past employees talk about the company, check out their Muse profile (if they have one) to get a behind-the-scenes look at company culture, and spend time at the actual business (such as a restaurant or grocery store) to see how it works.
You can also search for any news about the company to make sure you are up-to-date on any recent events, good or bad. For example, if the restaurant chain you’re hoping to work for just announced a brand new seasonal menu, you might want to read a bit about it and mention it in your interview.
You may have skimmed the job description initially and decided it was perfect for you. But taking time to reread it and truly understand what each component and responsibility might entail is important to check that the job is really a good fit for you—and that you can prove it in an interview.
“This ensures you are ready to speak to each and every job duty listed. For each requirement in the job posting, write out in detail how you meet the qualification. Then, for each job duty, [think of] an example of when you previously did the same or similar duty,” says Kyle Elliott, a career and interview coach who spent several years working with teens on college campuses.
For your first job, this might mean referring to a role or responsibility you had in a school club or sport. You can highlight these experiences, skills, and accomplishments on your resume and integrate them into your interview question responses. For instance, if the job description says you need “strong leadership skills,” you might list on your resume that you were the president of your high school’s debate club or captain of the volleyball team and be ready to talk about times you really excelled in those roles at your interview. Or if the description says you should have “excellent customer service skills,” you might plan to bring up the time you worked the ticket booth at the school play and had to deal with a mixup.
The interview questions you get will vary based on the field and other factors, but your future boss is looking to ensure you are responsible and respectful, and that you’re able to fulfill each of the job requirements. So as you answer each question, try to convey those abilities and values. Here are a few questions you may be asked—and some advice for how to answer them.
Tell Me About Yourself.
This seems like some informal small talk. But it’s actually your opportunity for a grand opening, where you can humbly brag about everything you want them to know. “This question will likely come up at the beginning of your interview and can be thought of like the trailer for a movie,” Elliott says. “Keep your response to 60 to 90 seconds in length. Focus on your relevant experience, transferable skills, and the reason you want to work for this specific company.”
Your answer could include:
- Any prior work history
- Your school interests, successes, and any awards or honors you may have received
- Leadership roles you have at school or on a sports team or club
- Personal interests and passions, where appropriate
- Your projected career path and longer-term goals (the next five years)
- Qualities you have that you consider important and that you think would help you in this job
- Your interest and enthusiasm in this job and organization
This question might take the most practice to ensure you integrate this info in a natural but confident way.
What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
It’s possible you’ve never considered your strengths, and you might not be sure what weaknesses to bring up and which to leave out. That’s OK. Preparing for this question will help you understand both.
First, consider what traits you value in yourself, and what types of compliments you’ve been given in the past, especially by trusted adults. For example, maybe someone has told you that you are good at organizing, or that you always seem excited. Those are strengths you can and should mention.
For weaknesses, Marschall says to be honest but not to choose something that “implies you would not be good in the position.” For example, it may not be the time to talk about how you are always late or can’t seem to stay calm in stressful situations. One trick you can use is to describe the problem rather than naming it— such as saying you get caught up in details rather than that you are a perfectionist.
What’s Your Availability?
Many companies that hire teenagers struggle to keep them around as some leave for college; get caught up in other club, school, or athletic commitments; or just change their minds. So proving you’re a reliable and available employee matters.
Come in with a proposed schedule of your available days and times, keeping in mind limitations in your state on how long someone your age is allowed to work during the school year. Bonus points if you type it up and have it available for your future employer to keep.
Don’t overcommit by promising you can work “whenever.” Instead, be specific with a number of hours per week and the days you’re unavailable. This will help you and your future boss ensure it’s a good fit and prevent misunderstandings.
What Questions Do You Have for Us?
You can bet few teens have prepared for this part of the interview, and the questions you ask just might ensure you land the position. This is your opportunity to show what you value and ask about things that matter to you. “The interviewer will 99% of the time ask if you have any questions, and not having any questions lined up is always a missed opportunity in my book,” says Akhila Satish, CEO of Meseekna and creator of Choice IQ, an app geared toward making better choices, including for teens about their career paths, who has given career advice to young people for many years.
You can show interest in a typical workday’s activities or the work environment. Or you can ask about what your boss would like to see in an excellent employee, indicating that you’re eager to contribute and learn. What you should not do is make this answer all about money. While it’s OK to ask about the pay rate, it shouldn’t be your only question back to the employer.
Read More: 51 Great Questions to Ask in an Interview
You’re also very likely to get “Tell me about a time when…” questions. Your interviewer might ask you to tell them about a time you:
- Had a disagreement with an adult
- Had to lead something
- Made a mistake
- Overcame a challenge
- Didn’t feel heard
- Witnessed something you knew was wrong
- Worked on a team
All of these prompts are meant to gauge how you react in various situations. To be fully prepared, you should compile a list of anecdotes to help you answer these questions, focusing on positive traits you exhibited in each situation. “Develop a handful of stories that highlight your leadership, teamwork, and communication skills,” Elliott says, and draw on this story bank during your interview. You can use the STAR method to structure your answers.
You can prepare for interviews by practicing with a friend, parent, counselor, or teacher. (Note: This is the only step where parents should be involved. Don’t have them make calls for you and though they can give you a ride, they definitely shouldn’t come into the interview with you.)
Ask a trusted adult, potentially one who has done similar interviews or who has hired others before, to sit down with you and ask a few questions in a role play. Try to take this opportunity seriously by dressing the part, bringing two copies of your resume (one for you to reference and one for them), shaking their hand, and even asking follow-up questions. This will ease your nerves for the real thing.
“The part” will mean different things for different positions. If you’re interviewing for a law firm internship, a suit and tie, or a blouse with dress pants or skirt would be completely appropriate. But the same outfit worn to a fast food restaurant interview could seem out of place. Consider the attire your future boss might wear, and look to match the formality of that. If you know your prospective employer requires polos and black work pants, you could wear a similar outfit to the interview. Creative fields, such as graphic design, often have looser policies that allow you to express yourself in color and style, so if you’re applying to work as a receptionist at a design firm, you can show off your creativity with a bright top or eye-catching accessory.
But in any case, observe the same rules you probably found in your high school dress code—avoid crop tops that show your stomach, don’t wear T-shirts (definitely not if they have curse words or other inappropriate language on them), avoid spaghetti strap–style tank tops or cut-off shirts (no “bro tanks”), leave your baseball caps and beanies for another occasion, and keep skirts to knee length or right above.
And don’t get too casual. Marschall jokes that she showed up at her first interview—for a customer service position at a dry cleaner—in jeans and a T-shirt, not knowing any better. Khaki or chino style pants with a tucked-in button-down, dressier top, or polo, and business casual shoes (like what you’d wear to a family event) not sneakers or sandals, are usually a safe bet for an informal first job.
You already know what happens when you, specifically, get nervous. Maybe your hands start sweating or shaking or your voice sounds less confident. Maybe you blank on your answers or start to stutter. Whatever your typical reactions to nerve-wracking situations, you can anticipate them ahead of time and recognize when they happen, so they aren’t surprising and don’t cause you to be more flustered.
Some people even mentally acknowledge their nervousness showing up just as they anticipate and then try to dismiss it. In your mind you can think to yourself, “My hands are getting a bit shaky. I knew this would happen and it’s OK that it happens. I am confident in my ability to succeed at this interview even if my body feels nervous.” Acknowledging your nervousness can help you release some of it. This process is the beginning of being an emotionally intelligent employee and person, for your interview and beyond.
The interview process doesn’t end with that final handshake (which should be strong and confident, by the way). Instead, follow up with a short and heartfelt thank you note. If you’re in a formal setting, or feel your future employer might err on the traditional side, consider dropping off a handwritten note on plain or neutral stationary. If you’ve only been interacting on email so far, and the position isn’t as formal, you can send a thank you email. Another option is to make a follow-up phone call a few days later thanking the person for their time and reminding them you’d be happy to provide any additional information needed. Try to be polite and limit your follow-up to one sincere gesture or check-in.
If you find out you didn’t get the position, you can ask a question that can have a big impact on your future: “Is there any feedback you can provide so I can improve for my next interview?” If there’s an opening, you can even try a casual, “How did I do?” at the end of the interview (a move that may not work for an adult who is years into their career but just might for a teen—people sometimes have a soft spot for first-time candidates).
While some employers aren’t allowed to answer these questions, others are, and might let you know that another candidate was a better fit or tell you they weren’t sure you had enough experience and urge you to try again next year.
Don’t be discouraged. As Satish says, “If you don’t get this position, I can promise you there will be another one coming!”