Work It: How to Get Your First Job

With summer nearly upon us, many high school students (and especially their parents!) have jobs on the mind.  Working in high school is a fantastic, formative experience, but figuring out where to start is daunting for everyone. You’ll probably have to write a résumé, fill out applications, and get through the interview process before you find out what working is all about! We’ve interviewed Lindsay G., Cram Crew’s resident Recruiter, to get the inside scoop on how to make your first job work for you!

Thanks for talking with us, Lindsay! Let’s start at the top: How should a student start writing their résumé?

Here are some general rules:

Make sure it looks professional and is properly formatted. A poorly formatted résumé won’t impress recruiters. When an applicant puts time and effort into their résumé, it stands out.

Generally, a résumé shouldn’t be longer than a page.

List prior job experiences and any skills that are relevant to the position you’re applying for. Make sure to include your educational background.

You can include your GPA if it’s average or above average, as it’s definitely a plus! If your GPA is below average, it’s fine not to include it – your résumé should present you in the best light possible, so it’s fine to control the information you include!

What should students who have never had a job before do with their résumé? It shouldn’t be blank, right?

It’s all about how you present yourself. If you don’t have work experience, you can show that you have relevant life experience. Volunteering with organizations or being a member of the football team or your school’s book club shows dedication, responsibility, and commitment. Not everyone has work experience, but everyone has life experience. Your résumé can show that!

Is it okay to apply even if you’re not sure you’ve got every qualification on the job notice?

Yes, you can apply for a job if you don’t have every single qualification listed, but you should have most of them. What’s more important is your ability to explain everything you put on your résumé when you are interviewed. For example, if a job requires a year of customer service experience, you might be able to say, “As an employee at a grocery store, I helped customers locate items in the store and assisted customers with their groceries; my job was to provide the best customer experience. In addition, I coordinated a blood drive at my school, and I answered questions from prospective donors.”

What sorts of things make a good impression on you during an interview?

It’s important to put your most professional foot forward, because it shows respect and that you’re trying to win the company over.

My professional must haves: the applicant is on time, is dressed in professional attire, and has a firm hand shake.

If two people are equally qualified and I only have one spot to fill, then I’m going to hire the person who meets my must haves, because I know they’re going to be professional with our clients.

I also take notice if people take or look at our brochures and business cards while they are waiting in the lobby, or if know a lot about the company from our website. It makes a difference and lets me know that the applicant is very interested in the position and that they’ve done their homework.

What’s the deal with cover letters?

A cover letter is not a cover page. It should be formatted like a business letter. It needs to include the date and should address the hiring manager. It’s important to explain why you think you would be a good candidate. If they address me by name, that’s a gold star. They’ve taken their time to find out who does the hiring. Don’t worry about writing a cover letter if it’s not required.

What do you think of people who are really nervous during an interview?

I’m a little lenient about nervousness because you can’t help being nervous. It’s perfectly natural. I respect people more when they tell me they’re nervous.  Recruiters are not in the business of intimidating people! If you’re honest about how you’re feeling, your interviewer will appreciate that. Be yourself in an interview, because that’s the person you will be every day on the job.

What are your red flags?

Discrepancies between what an applicant’s résumé says and what they tell me in the interview is a big red flag. Unprofessional appearance and tardiness are also red flags. One thing I’ve run into is poor e-mail communication. I communicate through e-mail to set up phone interviews. If applicants are particularly terse or rude over e-mail, it’s a red flag. Communication needs to be polite and professional.

It’s also important to be professional and honest in the in-person interview. A bad or arrogant attitude won’t help you get the job. Also, saying thank you goes a long way. Remember, honesty is key. You should be honest when asked “why this company or why this job?” Tell the interviewer why you want to work for them, specifically. Everybody needs a job, and it doesn’t matter if your reasons for needing one in general are the more compelling than someone else’s. Just be honest.

How did you decide what job was right for you when you were in High School?

Here are some questions to ask yourself: How much stress is the job going to add to my life? Are they going to train me? If I think back to high school, I needed a job that was low stress and provided training. Flexibility was really important to me. I was also looking for a transferrable job, so I could keep my job when I went to college. Franchises allow you to do that. I worked at a Starbucks inside of a grocery store through high school, and I was able to transfer and keep my job when I went to college. I learned about customer service and what it means to be accountable, which are both skills I use today.

High school jobs are a great place to explore your interests in a way that you can’t in school. Do you like animals? Try it out! Maybe, after hours of picking up poop, you’ll find that it’s not for you. Do you like customer service? If you really don’t like it, you know that you might not enjoy marketing or business. Better to find out now than later!  You shouldn’t necessarily know what you want do when you’re 17, but you can explore what you think you might like, and you’ll learn a lot.

Interview conducted by Emma L. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.