Finding a Job

Your First Job

Whether it’s buying a car or thinking about paying for your college education or just having a little more pocket money, sooner or later you’re going to be looking for your first job.

Before you even start looking for that first job, there are some things you need to take into account:

Your age 
Minimum wage
Social security number
The kind of job you want



A lot of us have grandparents or great-grandparents who worked — and worked hard — when they were still children. The good news is, the days of child labor are long gone. The bad news is, if you’re looking for a job, the same laws that protect young people from being exploited by employers, can also affect what kind of job you can get. If you’re 18 or older, you’re considered an adult on the job market and you can work at any kind of job, for any number of hours a day or week you choose. In addition, employers have to pay you the minimum wage.

If you’re under 18, though, all sorts of restrictions apply. The laws are different, depending on your age, and change from time to time, so it pays to check out the current laws that apply to you, but here’s a brief outline of what you will find:

Certain kinds of jobs are not open to you. 
You can only work a certain number of days and/or hours per week. In addition, except during vacation periods, you may find that you cannot work during school hours or late at night.
The money you earn is controlled by your parents or guardians. In other words, you can’t spend it without their approval.
You may be need a work permit.


Minimum wage

The minimum wage is the lowest amount an employer can pay you. Most jobs available to high school and university students are minimum wage jobs, but occasionally you’ll luck out and find higher paying jobs. The law says that employers must pay at least the a minimum wage to anyone over 18, unless they’re a trainee. The minimum wage does not apply to every job, however. Commission sales jobs, where you are paid a certain amount for or a certain percentage of everything you sell, are exempt. Waiter and waitressing jobs in restaurants often pay less than minimum wage, because you are expected to make up the remainder in your tips. It’s very important to find out what the employer does pay.

If you’re under 18, you are also entitled to a minimum wage. Again, there are some exceptions.

Your state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) can give you more information.


Minimum wage isn’t much, but many employers offer their employees the chance to work overtime. Overtime means more than 40 hours a week. Naturally, if you’re a minor, with restrictions on the number of hours a week you can work, overtime doesn’t apply to you. But if you’re over 18 — and have the time to work, overtime is the place to earn a lot for the amount of time you put in. Standard overtime is 1.5 times your hourly rate. If you work on holidays, that usually goes up to double. Don’t forget though, your employer still has to take payroll taxes out of the money you earn. Earning more money may push you up in to a higher tax bracket, so you may find that in the end, it’s not worth the effort.

Some companies under employ and then expect their employees to work a lot of overtime. Make sure, when you apply for a job, that you have a clear idea of how much overtime will be expected. Remember, you always have the right to turn down overtime work, but if overtime is part of the corporate culture, you may find that not being willing to work overtime gets you labeled as a poor employee.


Social Security number

You’ll need a Social Security number to work. Probably you already have one — a lot of students do — but if not, you can apply for one at your Social Security Administration office. You’ll need a copy of your birth certificate, green card or naturalization papers.

Payroll taxes

You know that old saying, “Nothing’s inevitable except death and taxes.” The income tax was instituted during World War I as a temporary measure to help pay for the war. Guess what… It’s never been rescinded.

When you begin work, the first thing you’ll have to fill out is at W4 Form. This tells the employer how much money to take out of your paycheck each week in income taxes. Consult with your parents or an accountant about what number to put down. Most students put down “0” because they are dependents of their parents, or “1” , meaning they are responsible for their own living expenses.

When you get your pay check, you’ll discover that roughly 20 to 30 percent of it has been deducted for various purposes. Here are what those funny abbreviations on your payroll stub mean:

FIT: Federal Income Tax
FICA: This is the combined amounts you pay to Social Security, as retirement savings and Medicare
FUT.: Federal Unemployment Tax

There will also be state and, possibly, municipal taxes.

In addition, your employer may deduct amounts for health insurance, a pension plan, and other items you authorize him or her to deduct.


Looking for a job

Depending on your age, the time of year you apply, and the local economy, finding a job could be as easy as falling off a skateboard or a long search that has you pounding the streets for a few weeks. Here are some tips to make the search easier:

Capitalize on your interests. No matter whether it’s a part-time job, or the start of a career, you’ll enjoy the job more if it’s related to something you’re interested in. Furthermore, you’ll have an advantage over other applicants, because you’ll probably already know something about the area.

Take everything you need with you when you apply. Most jobs require your social security number. Some may want a transcript from school or university, letters of recommendation, the names, addresses and phone numbers of former employers or referrals, etc. Find out what you’ll need and bring it with you. And don’t forget a pen to fill in that application!

Before you use someone as a reference, ask permission. It’s just polite. Besides, you want to make sure that that person has the time to write your reference (you don’t want your application held up because they didn’t’ have the time). And you want to make sure they’re likely to give you a good reference. Not surprisingly, not everyone may think you’re the best person for a job. However, most people, if they do not feel they can give you a glowing reference will be honest and suggest you ask someone else.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Remember, if it’s summertime or the Holidays, there are lots of seasonal jobs available, but there are also lots of students looking for work, as well. Put your application in at a lot of places. It’s better to have to choose between several offers (and make your employer value you more) than find you haven’t got a job at all