What Any Business Owner Can Learn by Hiring Teens

While young workers will come to you looking for professional experience and training, you will find you can learn a lot from your youngest employees.

June 2015

Every summer, the talent pool gets a surge of available part-time and flexible workers—teenagers. Hiring a young employee has many benefits for your business. Because most of these employees have little to no professional experience, you won’t need to retrain or break poor work habits. The lack of experience also means they will accept a more affordable pay rate than older employees. What could be more valuable is the fresh perspective that these “digital natives”—a phrase coined to describe those familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age—can bring to your business. They can open your eyes to more productive and creative ways of accomplishing certain tasks.

In 2000, 55 percent of teens had paid employment sometime during the year. In 2014, the employment-to-population ratio for teens was less than 26 percent. While the recession of 2008 had a big impact on teen unemployment, the rate persists during the economic recovery. This decline continues in part because of perceptions among employers of teens’ behavioral qualities. While teens may have good communication, math, and technology skills, employers believe they have poor work habits such as not showing up on time and quitting suddenly. But, with teen employment rates at their lowest point in decades, there are more qualified—and responsible—young candidates to choose from than ever.

Human resources expert Nancy Zucker, owner of HR Search Partners, offers here practical advice for hiring and working with teenagers.

Q: How can you get the most value from a teenage employee?

A: Teens have to enjoy coming to work each day. If they enjoy what they are doing they will do it and do it well. If they don't feel invested, they will not produce quality work or do more than what is required. I think teens are more inclined toward immediate gratification—so telling them they’re doing a great job and there may be a raise or promotion for them in the near future is better than saying, “One day when you graduate college . . .” That could be too far into the scary future and not an efficient means of motivation.

Q: What can you learn about the new technology from working with teenagers?

A: Digital is here and it’s the future—but technology moves quickly, and keeping on top of the trends can be difficult. Teenagers are often early adopters of new technology, so business owners can learn a lot from their younger employees. Engage younger employees and ask them questions about their digital lives. How do they shop online? Where do they get their news? What social media sites are they using? Many teenagers have moved on from Twitter and Facebook to Snapchat, Periscope, and Instagram, for example. Are these new platforms something your business could be utilizing, and what’s the best way to integrate them into your business plan? Are there new media sites you could be using to engage with prospective customers? By learning about new technology, employers can engage their customer base and create a work environment that’s attractive and relevant to younger employees.

Q: Are there any key things to look for when hiring a new employee who may have no previous experience in your line of business, in order to ensure a good hire?

A: When hiring a teenager with little or no job experience, look for key traits: eagerness, attention to detail, organization, and creativity. These key traits likely signify a good potential employee who is willing to learn and will do tasks well. This can take an inexperienced person much further than a person with years of experience. Asking questions that don’t require a simple yes or no response, for example, will open teenagers up to talking about their experiences, which can then show a prospective employer their true nature. Asking them to relate a time they overcame an obstacle in their personal life is an example of a query that can demonstrate a prospective hire’s problem-solving ability, creativity, or willingness to work hard. Remember, teens are shy and insecure for the most part—especially when speaking with adults they don't know. Additionally, make sure you—the employer—understand the personality that fits the role you are looking for. A job answering phones requires someone with an outgoing and polite personality, while a filing job may be more suited to someone methodical and organized who may be more of an introvert.

Q: What are the rules for hiring part time? Where can you find the local minimum wage and regulations?

A: Before you decide to hire younger employees, keep in mind that there are many federal and state regulations for hiring people under the age of 18. For example, in New York, minors of any age are prohibited from working during school hours and may work up to 8 hours a day, 6 days a week when school is not in session. Check your own state government website and the United States Department of Labor website to ensure you’re up-to-date with federal and state labor regulations.



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