PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 165 | Dear Teenager, Get A Summer Job

In today's ever-changing world, understanding how the real world works has become increasingly important. Summer jobs help teenagers to get a grip on reality.

Show Notes:

Now that COVID is behind us, it's time for every teenager to get back to work this summer.

  • Why are "paying jobs" so critical for teenagers these days?
  • What lessons do summer jobs teach?
  • How do colleges view summer work experience?
  • Are there any exceptions to this rule?

Show Transcript:

[00:00:25] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell podcast.. In today's episode, I want to talk about the benefit of teenagers getting jobs, paying jobs, not internships or community service or shadow sessions. Not that there's anything wrong with those things, but real traditional jobs that pay actual money. And I bring this up because I've seen this issue of should I get a job or not? Play out with many of my prep students, both online and my private prep others, but also in my own family, with my own sons and even my extended family. And there are a wide range of choices that students can make with an equal number of outcomes and having the benefit of comparing student work experience in pre and post-COVID worlds and in considering the state of the world today in general. I've developed some pretty strong opinions on the pros and cons of teenagers securing paying jobs before college. Let's start with two case studies. One with work experience and the other without work experience. My two oldest sons did not really have any significant, quote unquote, work experience prior to going to college. For one, where we live in San Diego, California, the COVID lockdowns shut down the world during the time when it would have been the most appropriate for my sons to get jobs between the ages of 17 and 18. But even beyond the timing of the COVID lockdown fiasco.

[00:02:02] I honestly wasn't exactly encouraging them to get jobs at the time, and that was because they had very specific goals that required very specific pathways to get them there. And paid work. Experience, in my opinion, wasn't at the top of the list. COVID lockdowns notwithstanding, they wanted to attend a highly selective college. They wanted to earn Navy ROTC scholarships, and these unique goals require them, again, in my opinion, to pursue other, more relevant activities. Those included international travel. Outdoor activities like camping, trekking, canoeing, rock climbing, survival, school firearms training, first aid. Many of these things were done through Boy Scouts, foreign language training, completing their Eagle Scout projects, summer sports camps, S.A.T. preparation, physical fitness service hours, and a host of other things that would position them for success in their particular track. So they never really had legitimate paying jobs, if you will, until after their freshman year in college, when they worked as surf instructors during the summer and tutors during the academic year. And that's worked out well for them. Would it have been nice for them to have gotten more actual, quote unquote work experience during high school? In a perfect world, yes. But it's also hard to argue with their success. They both, in the end, reached their goal. They both decided to go to Yale on Navy ROTC scholarships. So maybe traditional work experience wasn't as important or relevant for them for example. Now my third oldest son, who is now a senior in high school, has had a different experience given his potential to be a highly recruited athlete from a young age, he decided to go all in on sports in high school, in his case, water polo. And as I've said many times before, this is a high risk, high reward proposition.

[00:04:13] It can be very scary, mostly because if you go all in on sports, there isn't a lot of time for almost anything else, let alone working a traditional job, because you're almost always training or sleeping or eating or playing in a tournament or trying out for this team or that team or traveling overseas. And it's difficult to commit to any kind of regular work schedule. And yes, there certainly were opportunities to get odd jobs here and then. But again, in my opinion, it was more important for him to be available to train and stay healthy and stay focused on his goal. His plan was not to do much in the way of traditional work until he locked down where he was going to college. So in the beginning of his senior year, just a few months ago, he committed to play water polo at the Naval Academy and thus opened up more time in his schedule to look for job opportunities. And shortly after his high school water polo season ended, he reached out to a local entrepreneur in our area who had just opened up a custom meat shop, and he asked for a job and he got a job. And now that his athletic schedule is not so all consuming and schoolwork is under control and he knows where he's going to college, he started to get into a work routine with all of the benefits that go along with it. So it took him a little bit longer to get on the work train, but for I think, a good reason. He wasn't just being lazy or apathetic. He had a plan and he executed the plan. Now I bring these two case studies up as examples because they're different and obviously I'm very familiar with them.

[00:05:57] This is not to say that your son or daughter should follow either of those two trajectories. Maybe they should. Maybe they shouldn't. Your child may be different. They may have different ambitions. They may have different talents. Your family may have a different financial profile. My point is that you want to assess where your child is going and help them to get there. Maybe that means working at home. Maybe that means not working at all. Or maybe somewhere in between. My guess is that for most parents listening out there right now, early work experience will likely be extremely beneficial for your son or daughter on so many different levels. In today's world, more than ever. And so what I'd like to do now is to really make this case, because I think most of us conceptually think it's probably a good idea for our teenager to get a job. But I'm not sure most people know just how valuable it could be. Because unless your teenager is a real edge case, like my two oldest sons who had to deal with COVID lockdowns and my third son, who is an elite athlete getting a job, will pay huge dividends. So let's get started with the pros and the cons of teenagers getting real jobs. First off. In most cases, your teen is off the hook until they turn 16. That's when most states allow teenagers to get real jobs. Yes, there are exceptions, and I would lean into those exceptions if you're able to. But for our purposes, let's assume that the target age is 16, 17. Of course, is even better because they can likely drive themselves to and fro. But let's go with 16 as a starting point. So what good can come out of your teen ager securing a paying job? And these are in no particular order.

[00:07:49] Number one, overall life experience. We know as parents that the more and different types of life experiences you can accumulate over time, the better. It opens your mind to possibilities, to things that you like and don't like. And it gives you a more nuanced perspective on the world. Number two, presentation skills. In most cases, you have to apply for a job, which means you have to present yourself to a potential employer. This often requires research, searching for and responding to job postings. Building a resume. Updating a LinkedIn profile. Sending and replying to emails. Talking on the phone. Going to an in-person interview or holding a Zoom interview. These are all incredibly valuable life skills. Number three, it builds confidence. There's something special about your first paying job. No matter what the job is, I'm sure you probably remember your first job with a unique fondness. The work and your compensation infuses you with confidence because someone is valuing your time enough to pay you. And that feels good. This is quite different from the attention you might get from your parents by dint of you being their flesh and blood. A job shows outside validation that you're a valuable member of society. Number four, you learn a new skill. In most jobs, you will actually learn many skills, some more valuable than others, but skills nonetheless. Whether that's how to save a drowning victim or how to work the cash register, how to operate a snowblower, how to lay tile, how to sweat a pipe, how to fix a lawn sprinkler head, how to fold a T-shirt, how to operate an 800 megahertz radio. It's all good. Number five, improve public speaking skills. Many teen jobs are in the service industry, which often puts you in direct contact with the general public, answering questions, directing traffic, helping in some way.

[00:10:02] This helps teens think on their feet and become better and more articulate communicators. Number six Problem solving. When it comes to running a business, especially one that employs teenagers. You can be sure that there will be problems as an employee. It will be your job to solve these problems, whether that's a mislabeled item of clothing or the wrong food order, or an unclean bathroom, an irate customer. And the list goes on and on. Teens will be pushed to develop a problem solving mindset. What about increased responsibility? A teenager who works at a fast food restaurant at a retail store at a day camp will eventually begin to take on greater and greater responsibilities. Maybe it has to do with handling food or dispensing money or parking expensive cars, or delivering confidential paperwork or inputting important data into a spreadsheet. The increase in responsibility will challenge a teenager to stay on top of their game. Number eight Accountability. This could take the form of time management being where you need to be when you need to be there or wearing the right uniform that isn't wrinkled and stained. Abiding by your workplaces' Code of Conduct. And instead of being accountable to your parents or teachers, you're accountable to your boss or your supervisor. And that's a new and different power dynamic that must be managed. How about leadership? Over time, your teen may get the opportunity to lead others, and you should hope that they do. Whether that's a cadre of hockey referees or the closing crew at the yogurt shop or a group of cold callers, whatever the case may be. Flexing that leadership muscle can be challenging and invigorating at the same time. How about perspective holding down a job no matter what type of job it is? Gives you an idea of what life is like for some people.

[00:12:14] That's not to say that you'll graduate from college and return to that same job you had as a 19 year old. But you're getting a sense of certain workplace environments, different people's roles and responsibilities and duties and competencies and how an actual business runs in real time. Number 11 at building teamwork skills. Most jobs require contributions from multiple people, teams or groups of people all working together. Not always, but most of the time. And when you're part of one of these teams, you learn about teamwork. What worked? What didn't work? Why did this team excel? And another one failed. Did you like working on teams or not? Big teams, small teams, or would you prefer to work alone? There are no right or wrong answers here. You're just figuring out where you might fit in best. Number 12, increase your level of expertise. If a teen works four consecutive summers at a particular job, for example, as a soccer referee, by the time they're on their third or fourth summer, they have accumulated a deep level of expertise in that particular job that may open up opportunities to teach that skill to others or to take on more leadership responsibilities or to move up the refereeing hierarchy with higher paying jobs and more benefits. Number 13 provides inspiration. Maybe a summer job or a part time job during the school year is so special that it ignites an interest in a particular career or a field or an industry that would be fantastic on so many different levels. This is what we are begging for as parents. Some spark of life. Maybe you love the job and the culture and the opportunity so much that it encourages you to focus on a particular major in college.

[00:14:06] Not only would that help you brand yourself in the college application process, but it may provide you with some direction once you get to college, or at least it gives you a starting point. Number 14. You actually make money. This is a big deal. These days teens need to understand what it's like to make their own money and how that whole process works, because college will not teach them this. Once they enter that college bubble, many times, not all times students become oblivious to reality and it's not good. They get to hide out in the comfortable confines of their college with the rock climbing walls and the lazy river running through the student union in the middle of campus. And they have no idea how the real world works. Which leads us to number 15 money management. Because once a teenager makes some money, they then need to learn how to manage that money. What am I supposed to do with the money? Save it, invest it, spend it, give it away, Open up a Roth IRA, buy Bitcoin, buy a lottery ticket, buy my fifth surfboard. Is this money for me or am I expected to put this money toward college? If so, how much for how long? These are all relevant questions that come up. Number 16 Introduction to Paperwork. In order to make money, teens must fill out paperwork. They need to find their Social Security number. They have to elect the correct number of exemptions. They need to pay attention to details on a 1099 or a W-2 or some other tax document. Number 17. Speaking of taxes, introduction to taxes, a lot of parents get a chuckle when their teenager comes home complaining that they got gypped from their first paycheck.

[00:15:52] Why? Because they worked for 20 hours at $15 an hour. So in their mind, they're looking for a $300 paycheck and they get $210 and they're livid. And then you direct their attention to the pay stub which itemize is all the taxes paid or withheld, whether it's federal, state, local and more. And it rocks their world. Number 18. It gives parents some financial relief. Aside from whether or not you expect your child to contribute money toward their education, the fact that they now have a few bucks in their pocket comes as a welcome relief. Otherwise, every single thing they want or need has to come from you handing them money. And that gets old and could put a lot of stress on the parent teen relationship. Now when they want to go buy a carton of airheads from 7-Eleven or get another pair of sneakers, you can put that on them. Number 19 new friendships and social groups. Starting a job often unlocks an entirely new set of relationships for your teen, whether that's with fellow workers, supervisors, customers, outside contractors, you name it. This can be especially helpful if they have not yet found their people in high school. Pure work relations can become very strong and enduring relationships. Number 20 independence. It's amazing to see how much pride teens take in their first job, particularly if they were the ones who found that job on their own. They feel empowered, they feel independent. They're making their own money away from the house. They're away from the watchful eye of their parents. And to some degree, they're in their own little world that you know nothing about. This really helps teens convince themselves that they're capable of making it on their own without their parents.

[00:17:49] Which is a stretch. But it's a big part of a teenager's mission in life at that point, whether they realize it or not. Number 21. Let's circle back to college admissions. Practically speaking, a paid job. Looks great on a college application. Looks great in a LinkedIn profile on a resume. College admissions officers give a lot of credit to applicants who have a history of work experience. For all the reasons we've just been talking about. Number 22 job continuity. When a teenager gets a job during high school, many times their employer will be inclined to bring them back to work during summers during the school year if they attend a local college and even during school breaks, both in high school and in college, the employer knows that you understand the system. You've already been vetted and you can hit the ground running. Number 23. It gets your teenager out of the house. If a teenager isn't heavily involved in sports or other after school, extracurricular activities, getting a job will get them out of the house and presumably off their phones and away from their video games. Which will be very helpful for everyone involved if that's an issue. Imagine replacing 20 hours of video gaming with 20 hours at a part time job. Now that's a killer app. That would be a game changer. And finally, just a reality check with the direction that the world is heading and the emergence of AI and the outlandish cost of a college education and the push for students to major in subjects with no commercial viability like gender and ethnic studies. Today's students better know what it's like to work. They better learn how to adapt and how to operate and compete in the real world.

[00:19:47] Because in case you haven't gotten the message, college ain't the real world anymore. Knowing how to work and how to get paid. That's the real world. And the sooner they can get into that working world and figure out what makes them tick and what excites them and what they like and dislike and what role they may aspire to, the better. Okay, that's a lot of pros. But I did say that I would be the devil's advocate and suggest some cons or reasons why getting a traditional job may not be the best use of time. The only reason I can think of for a teenager not to get some kind of traditional paid work experience as early as possible is because it will take away time from other, more important priorities. And you as a parent will have to think long and hard about what those priorities might be. For example, in my three sons cases, they had other priorities that we believed trumped early work experience. Those other priorities were sports, international travel, adventure activities, SAT preparations, foreign language acquisition and so forth. And that worked out for them. I have another son coming up the ranks who's in eighth grade. The jury is still out with respect to his future. I may put him on the job train much earlier than his brother's. I just don't know yet. It depends on how he develops, what opportunities he has in front of him. What he's aspiring to do. And in light of this, there are a few things that I want you to look out for as a parent. Be wary of a child who doesn't want to get on the job train because they play a sport. Just because you play a sport doesn't necessarily take you off the job market.

[00:21:35] Now, if you have demonstrated over time that you are super serious about your sport and you're willing to go all in and use your sport to get you into your dream college, maybe even for free, then maybe you hear them out and assess how realistic they're being. Otherwise, they should probably work around their sport and get a job. Also, be wary of a child who doesn't want to get onto the job train because they need to study for the SAT or the ACT. This is a classic one. And it's it's devious because how can you blame them for that? Well, believe me, it is impossible to study 40 hours a week over the summer for the SAT or ACT, and it wouldn't even be recommended. They will have plenty of time to prepare exceedingly well for the SAT or the ACT during the summer and also hold down a job. So nice try on that one. Most of the time, the things that foul up summer job opportunities are one absurdly all consuming athletic commitments. Number two, family vacations in the middle of the summer for weeks at a time. That's a tough one to pitch to a prospective employer, letting them know that you can work, but you need to have the last two weeks in July and the first two weeks in August off because you're going on vacation. And one last one is just number three laziness. So be careful of those three items and think long and hard about pushing that summer job, pushing that part time job. One last con that may apply to some families out there. This isn't a major consideration, but something to be aware of. Keep in mind that the amount of money your child earns over the summer, for example, will count against them in figuring out their eligibility for financial aid need based financial aid.

[00:23:25] So if your child is eligible for need based financial aid and they have a lot of money in the bank, it will essentially be taken by the college. So if their choice is to work all summer, day and night to earn $4500, only to turn around and hand that $4500 to college, whereas otherwise they would have given an outright grant for that amount of money that did not have to be paid back. Or the other option is to pursue non moneymaking activities over the summer. Maybe it makes sense to pursue the non moneymaking opportunities. Although the caveat there is it depends on what their alternative is, the value that they gain by working all summer, even if they had to turn all the money over right away to college would certainly be better than sitting at home all day playing video games or swiping on their phones. So if their plan is there is to keep their income down so they don't have to immediately surrender that money to the college. Make sure they have a good alternative plan. The bottom line here is that the pros for your teen to get a paying job outweigh the cons by an order of magnitude. And the job opportunities out there, especially these days at almost all skill levels, are unlimited. So unless your teenager is an edge case, start them down the path of getting some real work experience before they head out to college. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports PrepWell Academy's online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships.

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