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The Best Places for 15 Year Olds to Work
For kids who are eager to grow up, 15 is a big year. In the majority of states, 15-year-olds can drive with a learner's permit or, in a handful of states, with a restricted license. Fifteen is also the minimum age that many types of businesses set for their employees. But while a teen craving independence might fantasize about hopping in a car and driving off to work each day, in reality it can be tough to get a job at this age. Identifying places you can work at 15 isn't a huge challenge – it's beating out older candidates with work experience that might make this tough.
Can You Get a Job at Age 15?
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has a lot of laws in place specifically to protect 14- and 15-year-old workers. First, it only allows these young teens to work in certain types of jobs. Any type of job that isn't part of the DOL's allowed list can't be held by a worker under 16.
The other major restriction that affects you as a working 15-year-old involves the hours. The DOL has different rules for the periods when school is in session and out of session. You may work no more than three hours per school day, including Fridays, and no more than eight hours per nonschool day. On a school day, you may only work outside of school hours and not past 9 p.m. during summer or 7 p.m. the rest of the year. (If you're home-schooled, the hours set by your local school district apply.) Fifteen-year-olds are limited to 18 hours per week when school is in session and 40 hours per week the rest of the year.
If you're a 15-year-old looking for work and thinking that those restrictions sound too limiting, just hang on. These protections expire when you turn 16. From that point on, you'll be allowed to work unlimited hours in any job that the DOL doesn't deem hazardous. So can you get a job at age 15? Yes, legally speaking. But your options expand when you turn 16.
Working as a Lifeguard
Most jobs that are legally open to 15-year-olds are open to 14-year-olds too, with one major exception: lifeguarding. This is one role that the DOL says is off-limits for those under 15. But if you are 15, this could be a great fit. First, many pools and water parks in cold-weather places only need lifeguards during summer months and weekends, which makes this job compatible with a school schedule. Second, a nationwide lifeguard shortage means that these jobs are plentiful in many places.
Of course, you can't just walk up to a pool and land a job as a lifeguard. Plan on passing a lifeguard class and becoming certified by the American Red Cross (or a similar certifying organization) in water safety before applying for a lifeguard job.
The DOL also restricts the type of place where 15-year-olds can work as lifeguards. Once you're certified, you may work at a pool or at a water park, stationed by attractions like pools and lazy river rides. Fifteen-year-olds may not be stationed at the top of water slides or work as lifeguards in natural waterfront areas like ocean beaches, lakes and rivers.
Working at Grocery Stores
Several major national grocery store chains regularly hire 15-year-olds. Because grocery stores typically have such long hours, it's easy for teens this age to fit in shifts around their school days and still stay within the allowable work windows the DOL sets out.
Again, the DOL is very specific about what 15-year-olds can do in a grocery store. They aren't allowed to operate or even clean meat slicers, food processors and other machinery. They may work as cashiers or grocery baggers, stock shelves or do minor cleaning around the store. They may also deliver orders or help customers out of the store with their bags. Fifteen-year-olds can grab things from walk-in coolers but can't be made to stay in these coolers for any longer period of time. They also can't do any baking.
Depending on where you live, you might have luck finding job openings at chains including Wegmans and Publix. The departments that hire 15-year-olds depend on the store. For example, Publix will hire people as young as 14 to work in the floral department or at the front service desk.
Working as a Baby- or Pet-Sitter
By 15, many teens have had some experience caring for either a pet or younger relatives. Put those skills to good use by finding work as a babysitter or pet-sitter. Offer your services via word of mouth, either by telling relatives and neighbors that you're available or asking your parents to share that news with their friends. (Legally, there's no reason you can't babysit for total strangers at 15, but safety-wise, it's best to stick with working for people you know – at least until you have a little more life experience.)
Because 15 is still fairly young, some parents looking for babysitters will worry that you won't know how to handle medical crises or behavioral issues. To prepare yourself and to make yourself a more attractive candidate, take a babysitting class through the American Red Cross or a local organization and get certified in first aid and CPR. Think about how you might handle a crisis if it happens while you're on duty. That should prepare you to answer hypothetical questions that a parent could throw your way.
If you don't have much experience with animals or kids, it might pay off to volunteer your services as a supervised caretaker – that is, entertaining kids while their parents are in another part of the house, or walking and feeding pets while their owners are around. That way, you'll get some experience and have an adult who's willing to vouch for your ability to handle these tasks.
Working at Restaurants
It's legal for you to work as a restaurant server at 15, but it's pretty common for restaurants to require that servers be at least 16 or, in many cases, 18. But there are other restaurant roles that a 15-year-old can fill. The same safety restrictions that apply to grocery store work apply in restaurants too: At 15, you can't do baking, work in a walk-in cooler, load or unload deliveries from trucks, or handle potentially dangerous equipment like grinders and mixers.
You may be able to work as a cashier in a fast-service eatery or as a host or hostess in sit-down restaurants. Fifteen-year-olds may also help bag up orders, make food deliveries and do certain kinds of food prep. The DOL allows 15-year-olds to do limited cooking with electric or gas grills that don't have open flames. You may operate a deep fryer only if it automatically raises and lowers the basket.
Fast-food restaurants may hire workers as young as 15, but because many restaurants are privately owned franchises, policies and opportunities vary by location.
Working in Movie Theaters
Love the movies? Dream about free popcorn? A movie theater might make the perfect workplace for you – as long as the hours work out, that is. Movie theaters are typically open late ... and remember, at 15, you can't work past 9 p.m. during summer and 7 p.m. the rest of the year.
The AMC theater chain employs workers as young as 14, although specific hiring policies vary by location. Many other major chains will only hire people who are 16 or older. So if your town has an AMC location or an independent theater, it's worth stopping by to ask about openings for ticket takers, cashiers or theater cleaners.
Working on a Farm
If you live in a high-rise apartment building, it's unlikely that you'll find a farm job that works with your high-school schedule. But for those 15-year-olds who live near farmland, agricultural jobs are legal options that allow you to work outside in the fresh air. The DOL allows 15-year-olds to do any nonhazardous agricultural jobs outside of school hours. You might help with planting, watering, harvesting and other tasks, but can't operate machinery or work with chemicals.
Not only are these jobs great for teens who prefer to be outside, but you might end up being a lifesaver for older farmers who need young, energetic workers to keep things running.
Working as an Entrepreneur
Quick – what are you best at? It might be possible to turn it into a money-making venture. If you've spent years playing in the town soccer league, you might be able to get a job as a referee for youth games. Have you earned school awards for your writing skills or musical abilities? Spread the word throughout your school community that you're offering hourly coaching sessions for younger kids.
Thanks to the internet, it's now possible to market your skills to an international audience. Start making crafts and personalized drawings, and sell them via an online marketplace like Etsy. Make sure your parents know what you're doing and that you never share any personal information like your real name, picture, phone number or home address.
If you don't have any special or marketable skills, look around your own neighborhood for opportunities. Offer to wash cars for $5 or $10 apiece; run errands for elderly or disabled neighbors; haul junk out of basements; advertise your services for snow shoveling, leaf raking or weeding.
Getting Hired at 15
Before you start job hunting, stop by your school's head office. Most states require that 15-year-olds secure work permits before they can clock in for the first time. If your state requires that you complete this step, your parent/guardian or a school official will have to sign the permit. Your state's department of labor can also clarify the local requirements.
Then there's the question most teens looking for work are likely to ask – how much should a 15-year-old get paid? The bottom line is that the DOL governs a lot of things related to young teens working, but not pay rate. Because jobs open to 15-year-olds are almost always entry-level positions, expect to earn minimum wage (or a little above it), and don't expect to receive benefits like health insurance or paid time off.
At 15, it's very common to have never held a paying job before. Some jobs that are open to 15-year-olds only require candidates to fill out an application instead of submitting a resume. Preparing a resume might help set you apart from other young applicants, and it's good practice for the future. Highlight the things you've done that demonstrate your maturity and ability to work with others, like leadership positions in school clubs or volunteer experience. Line up a few adults who can act as references to speak about your great qualities. Ask older siblings or other family members with a lot of work experience to do mock job interviews and give you feedback – that way, when your dream employer calls to schedule your very first job interview, you'll be ready to nail it.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet #38: Child Labor Rules for Employing Youth in Grocery Stores under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- U.S. Department of Labor: Child Labor Provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for Nonagricultural Occupations
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet # 60: Application of the Federal Child Labor Provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to the Employment of Lifeguards
- First Quarter Finance: The 11 Major Retail Stores That Hire at 15 (And Which Ones Don’t)
- Publix: Non-Management
- AMC Theatres: Frequently Asked Questions
- U.S. Department of Labor: Work Permits/Age Certificates
Kathryn has been a lifestyle writer for more than a decade. Her work has appeared on USAToday.com and Indeed.com.
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