Teens and job interview success

Teens and Job Interview Success

Okay, folks, I’ve got some questions for you this fine morning!  This spring several of our teens will be job-hunting.  Along with basic job interview hints like making eye contact, being on time, speaking respectfully, and dressing appropriately, John and I would like our kids to be prepared to answer some of the most common interview questions that bosses ask.  Here are some of the questions I’ve come across while reading about this on the internet.

  • How has your background influenced what you are today?
  • How do you define success?
  • What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve overcome?
  • How do you deal with deadlines?
  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • Why are you leaving your old job?
  • Why would you be good for our company?
  • Where would you like to be five years from now?

But I’m sure there are lots more questions that could come up. What questions have you been asked in a job interview?  Or, if you’ve been in the position of interviewing others, what questions do you like to ask?  And if you’ve got any tips for increasing job interview success, would you share those hints as well?

I’m planning to gather together the kids and have them take turns answering these questions so that they will have more of an idea of what to say when the time comes.  I might even videotape them so they can see if they need to improve their tone or eye contact or facial expressions.  They’ll probably hate it, but I’m hoping it will help them be more prepared– and more competitive– in this difficult job market.  Thank you in advance for your help with this project!

Also of interest


  1. I always ask interviewees about their experience as it directly relates to the job for which they are applying. Much of what teens do at home can directly apply to a paid job, specifically supervising young children, negotiating with siblings and parents, problem solving, cooking, cleaning, dealing with the unexpected and tense situations, etc.

    I also ask prospective employees to tell me about an emotionally-charged situation and how they handled it. I am looking for how someone handles a stressful situation such as an unhappy (or angry) customer.

    Let them know that first impressions count–I often know within the first few minutes if I am with someone I am willing to spend my time with at in interview, let alone hire.

    It is okay to be nervous (I expect it, especially with teens).

  2. Jennie C. says:

    Many employers will ask if you have any questions. Maybe have them think of some questions that show they have done a bit of research into the company and show some initiative in preparing to work for the company?

    • I suggest having them research the company as well… When they ask if they have questions, they shouldn’t be asking about salary or benefits, but How the company would respond to a specific situation (especially if they can stage it showing how much honesty, integrity, etc matter)…

      Something like: Because integrity matters so much to me, how does (insert company name here) respond to blah blah blah…

      Anytime I’ve asked a question like that, I get the job… anytime I’m like, no, you’ve answered all my questions, I haven’t gotten the job.

      They NEED to have questions ready… and if they are answered, they can respond like: well, you answered my questions about Blah, blah, and Blah, but what about Blah…

      Don’t forget to SMILE, sit where they direct you, lean forward and be actively engaged in the conversation. Don’t cross your arms, or look bored. Turn your Darn Cell phone OFF (not just on silent) and NEVER look at the clock or a watch. ALSO, when dropping off resumes, be dressed for the interview. If you come into my place of work in jeans and a t-shirt, and the other person comes in wearing slacks and a dress shirt, tucked in (if a guy), with appropriate make-up, etc… Guess who’s more likely to get the job?
      Also-NO Perfume. To many people have allergies.

      Send a thank you card for taking the time to interview you… It really does make a HUGE difference.

  3. The most common interview question I have heard (and use) is “Why do you want to work for X,Y,Z?” or “Why do you want this job?” It can be surprisingly difficult to answer, and the way someone answers says a lot about whether they have done their homework on the company. Another one is “What do you know about our company?” The answer should make it clear that the candidate has done his/her homework and can say something intelligent about the place he/she is applying.

    Other than that, I try to ask questions that get at whether the person knows what they are getting into, and really want to do that. Finally, just acting like a friendly person is very important. You want to interviewer to be able to picture working with you for hours at a time and not be annoyed/bored.

    Also, definitely teach them to proactively work their relevant experience into the conversation. Many hiring people aren’t very good at interviewing, and they may not directly ask about some kind of very relevant experience. So teach the kids to take a question, answer it, and then add on (in a natural way) how their experience matches. So, “I see you haven’t worked in retail before” can be answered “No, but I’m very interested in retail because last summer I helped my aunt do x,y,z so I got a lot of experience with helping customers and managing inventory” etc.

  4. Cindie Usevich says:

    As a retail manager for many years, I would stress that there’s also a huge importance in the first impression when you go inquire about a job or an application. I will not hand out applications to people who come in dressed unprofessionally (no jeans), if they come in with friends or boyfriends tagging behind them, if they are chewing gum, or if they are shopping with bags in their hands (I work in a mall.) I think it’s so important to enter a business asking about a job as if you really want the job and already have the interview. Those are the people I most likely call for interviews.

  5. It’s been a while, but I remember being asked what I felt my strengths and weaknesses were. It’s usually easy to say a strength, but a weakness is more difficult to share in a positive light. I always thought it was good to know your weakness and also be able to share what you are doing to overcome that.

    • Second on this. Have a weakness in mind that they can share how they try to overcome that tendency. For example, when I was in high school I told employers that I could tend to be a perfectionist so I combatted that by setting time limits on projects and making lists to make sure I got to my other priorities as well.

  6. 1. Tell us about a problem you have had and the steps you took to resolve it successfully.
    2. If you had a difficulty with a coworker, what steps would you take to address it?
    3. What would see as your greatest strengths and weaknesses in the position you are applying for? What would you do to address your weaknesses?

  7. I’m so glad you made this post. My son is turning 16 next month and is also in the market for his first job. The tips posted will be very helpful.

  8. I think I’d encourage your kids to ask well-informed questions at each job they interview for. Also, show interest in the person who’s interviewing them while they ask the questions. Ask, for example, the why the interviewer is working at the company, what sorts of things they learned from working there, and how those things might have helped them in their careers forward.

    If a young interview candidate were to ask me questions like this they’d stand out very far from the pack.

    Dan @ Casual Kitchen

  9. I was sitting at Panera, and a manager was interviewing a teen. After talking to him a bit, he said that their main job was customer service, and was he the kind of guy who could be smiley. The guy said he didn’t usually smile a lot, but the manager was giving him the chance after setting his expectations. He still didn’t step up.

    The kid was nice looking/neat, talked and answered well, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t get the job.

    If it’s any type of service — SMILE BIG.

  10. Natasha says:

    It is the “tell me about a time when” style of questions which throw many people. particularly when they do not have a work related example to give. Remind your kids to dig into all areas of their life to find examples and practice answers. Keep the ‘story’ short and focus on what they did and what they learned from the situation. Also make sure they are not blaming or being negative about others when relaying the example.

    examples of questions (many of which I have encountered in interviews or asked when interviewing):

    Tell me about a time when you handled an angry or upset customer. (think broadly about the idea of ‘customer’ here – an example of anyone who wanted service from them can be used – so a sibling they were suppose to assist who got upset, or when teaching/leading Sunday school a child who was upset etc).

    Tell me about a challenge you have met and overcome. What did you do to overcome it?

    Tell me about a stressful situation and how you handled it.

    Tell me about a time when you needed to meet a tight deadline. (or: How do you handle deadlines)

    Tell me about a time you failed to accomplish a task you set out to do. (This one is tricky, but the point from the interviewers prospective is to figure out how the person handles failure and if they can learn from it).

    Tell me about a time when you lead a group.

    Tell me about your leadership style.

    other questions:

    If we are very busy and someone asks you to do something you have never done before, what would you do?

    What skill are you lacking and why is it important to you to gain this skill?

    What are you not very good at?

  11. I used to work as a manger in a large department store. The main office secretary handed out/took in the applications and was the first hurdle. Most kids never realized it, but she was the one who filtered applicants and would pass on anyone she thought would do well. Be polite and friendly to EVERYONE! You don’t know if they will have a say in your hiring.
    Also, cannot stress enough the importance of being friendly and engaged. I would ask a bunch of questions, but I was mostly watching their demeanor. If I pause for a minute and look at them, are they shifting and fidgety? Do they look interested in being there, and spending a significant amount of time in this environment? It is amazing how many kids show up and make it clear that they are looking for a job, any job, and don’t particularly care about THIS one.

  12. Consider what type of creative questions the interviewer might ask based on the type of work it is. It’s impossible to predict everything but it’s important to be able to think quickly.

    For example, I worked at a newspaper for 13 years and eventually was interviewing applicants for the first position I held there. My supervisor always asked what the applicant read for fun and what the most recent thing that applicant had read in our paper. Those became my favorite questions of the whole interview because it helped give an indication of how well the individual would fit into the team. If the answer was “nothing” or “I don’t remember”, that person never got hired.

    Also, make sure your teens know what questions are off limits for employers to ask. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve sat through an interview and heard questions that are illegal. A Google search will turn up all kinds of results. If they are asked these questions, they should have the knowledge to consider it before deciding to answer or decline to answer; and, if offered a job, they should strongly consider whether they want a job at a place that asks illegal interview questions.

  13. I would say for a teen they will probably ask about transportation. What options do they have available to get to work? Probably with a follow up question of if/then. “You said you have your own car to travel to work, if it broke down then how would you get to work?”

  14. As a receptionist who sees people that are coming in for interviews, the first thing that everyone should be aware of is body odor—-use deodorant and perfume (both lightly please), and be sure and brush your teeth. You would be surprised at how many people will come in and say they are there for an appointment with human resources and I have to politely tell them they have something in their teeth (they were obviously eating in the car).

  15. Colleen says:

    As the hiring manager for a retail organization I would have to say that Natasha hit most of the high points of the interview. A few of the other questions I like to ask are:
    How do you like to be rewarded for a job well done?
    In what manner do your prefer to receive feedback in regards to opportunity areas you might have?
    There are also the ice breaker questions about hobbies, interests and plans for the future. Most kids that are taking their first job don’t plan on being at it for the rest of their lives and the hiring manager knows that. I have heard some bizarre answers to all of these. No plans, no hobbies other than hanging with my friends, no job.

    So many companies are doing on line applications and nothing shuts me down faster than the following:
    An inappropriate email address (and this one applies to adults also, there are a lot of them out there). Get a second email account with your first initial and last name.
    Incomplete applications. If you can’t finish the application it puts doubt in my mind if you could complete the job.
    On written applications make sure you check your spelling. If you are applying for a stock position you probably won’t get an interview if you spell it stalker (true story).

    During the interview process I always ask the applicants if they have shopped in the store, if you say no chances are you are not going to join our team. At least make a trip into the establishment before the interview so that you can comfortably discuss the type of merchandise the store carries. You can often get a feeling for the culture and organization at the same time.

    If it is an on-line application make sure you follow up. Stop in the store and introduce yourself to the hiring manager and as so many people stated before make sure you are dressed appropriately and do not have you friends or your mom with you. I like to be able to put a face to an application especially since there are so many applicants usually If you dropped the application off call to follow up in a few days with the hiring manager. Do not be one of those people that calls everyday and do not get rude with the people answering the phone or the person doing the hiring, we ask the name for a reason!

    If you don’t have actual work experience but volunteer instead that brings extra points for me! Don’t be afraid to talk about things you do in the community.

    Watch out for those questions that cannot be asked and one of them is do you plan to get back and forth to work.

  16. I’m late to this party, but our 16yo son got his first job last August at McDonald’s here in small town VA. They did ask him about his weakness and his reply was that he expected others to perform at the level that the job demanded. If you’re job is to clean the toilet, then really clean the toilet. She (manager) laughed and asked him about school. He said he was homeschooled, the oldest of 6 kids, and we had a farm. She said ‘you’re hired”. It was funny but true. She later told me that he was the most dedicated and hardworking person on their staff. And none of his coworkers believed he had just turned 16.
    He just got promoted to crew trainer today…the youngest one at the 2 stores he’s worked at.
    For him, and this was something I told him to do, was to talk about his life, because it would answer questions they might ask and bring to light things they might not have asked. For him it was a big plus to be the oldest of 6 and on a farm. She knew the responsibility that came with both spots in life.


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