Get a Job if You Are Under 16 (USA)

Although it is difficult to get a job before 16, it is not impossible. Working can be a good way to get experience and make some money. However, there are complex regulations about working under the age of 16 and many employers will be hesitant to hire you without experience.


Getting the Job

  1. Find a job. Look for basic service sector jobs. Look online for jobs in fast food, restaurants, stores, cafes, and movie theaters. With all the limitations on your hours and your lack of experience, it will be difficult to find jobs in more competitive sectors.
    • Alternatively, call or stop by places that you are interested in. These jobs cycle often, so they are often looking for new employees. There is a decent chance that they are hiring.
    • Find something that you are interested in, like a restaurant whose food you like. If you like coffee, a café could be a good option. If you like movies, find a movie theater. Though these jobs don’t pay well, they often allow you to get free products.
  2. Meet people. You are more likely to get a job if you already know people who are employed with a company. Talk to friends and elders. Ask if they know anyone who is looking to hire and if they can testify to the fact that you are a reliable person.
  3. Drop by the place you want to work. Applying for a service sector job is often very different than applying for a professional job. Instead of asking you to write a formal resume and cover letter, employers will typically have a paper application for you to fill out. The only way to know for sure is stop by and ask how to apply.
  4. Emphasize volunteer experience. Without work experience or a degree it will be hard to prove that you are a qualified employee. If you have any experience with volunteer organizations, clubs, or other groups—especially as a leader—talk about this when you apply for your job. If you don’t have any such experience, reach out to some groups and get involved.[1]
  5. Find references. Think of some adults to whom you have demonstrated that you are responsible. You could consider teachers and school counselor. Anyone who you have worked with in an organization like the boy scouts or local clubs can testify to your ability to work with others.
  6. Dress for success. When you apply for a job, be sure that you are dressed in a way that suggests you are serious. A suit and tie might be a bit much for a summer job. But you should be sure that you are wearing nice clothes, with no holes, stains, or messages that could be read as offensive.
  7. Make some money around the neighborhood. You won't have to worry about a work permit if you're working for yourself. Ask neighbors if they need someone to mow their lawn or watch their kids. Although it might be a bit old-fashioned, a lemonade stand on a busy street in the summer could also bring in a bit of money.
    • Small household chores are not covered by federal regulations. Doing these will save you the trouble of getting a work permit and dealing with other child labor regulations.[2]
    • These sorts of jobs can be a good chance to show that you are a self starter, able to organize a business and get jobs done on your own.
  8. Work for your parents. There also aren't as many regulations when working for your parents. Hopefully, they've also learned by now to like you well enough to give you a job. Ask if you can get paid for doing some chores around the house or if they are have any business that they can help you with.
    • There are no regulations for doing household chores. There are some for working with parents in a business, but it should be alright as long as the conditions are not hazardous.[3][4]
  9. Have fun. You'll have the rest of your life to work. One day, you might look back and regret that you didn't spend enough time being a kid or working on your education. While working isn't always a bad idea when you are young, consider whether it is really worth the cost.
    • Often it is best to work over the summer and Christmas holidays. Without school, you'll have time on your hand. Working won't get in the way of your education. That is why federal regulations are much more lenient when it comes working over the holidays than they are when it comes to working during the school year.

Getting a Work Permit

  1. Find proof of age. To get a work permit you will need to be able to show a qualified professional proof that you are at least 14. Different states will accept different documents, but a birth certificate should always be the best document to present.[5]
  2. Stay in good standing with your school. It makes little sense to get a job if you are already having trouble at school. Furthermore, many states require that you have a record of good attendance and passing grades to get a work permit.[6]
    • There is no federal standard on this subject, but expect your state to require some level of good performance in school in order for you to obtain employment.
  3. Talk to a school counselor. There is no federal law requiring work certificates, which means that each state has its own unique procedure for requesting a work certificate. A school counselor is a good person to ask about the process, because she should at least be able to explain the process in your state and because you often go through your school to get the work certificate. [7]
    • The most likely places to get a work permit are a courthouse in your county, the state employment commission, or your school district.
    • You should ask about a work permit before applying for jobs. In some states you need to be offered a job before applying for a work permit.[8] However, this isn't necessary true in all states. If you can get a work permit first, it will increase the likelihood that you will receive an employment offer. Either way, you should inquire about the process before starting your search.
    • Although it is rare, some states don’t offer proof of age. You might be required to talk to the federal Department of Labor.[9]
    • If your counselor is not able to help you, look online for the website of your state's Department of Labor. It should include the relevant information. Remember, that information from the federal Department of Labor and other states will not be relevant because every state has a different process.
  4. Get your parent or guardian to sign the form in front of a notary. This step might be required to make the work permit a legal document. You should be informed as to whether this is necessary when you pick up the work permit.
  5. Present the work permit to your employer. Your employer should take and keep the work permit or proof of age. This will be necessary for them to prove that you are of age. If they do not have this evidence, they could be fined for hiring underage employees.[10]
  6. Expect to get another work permit if you change jobs. Once again, while there is no federal standard, some states require you to get a separate work permit for every new job you take. Even if this not legally mandated, it might be necessary for practical purposes. You have given your original work permit to your employer and might find it difficult to get the permit back.

Accepting the Limitations

  1. Don’t bother if you are under 14. Federal law sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. This means it is impossible to work under 14, except for in a few specific industries.[11]
    • It is possible, for example, to work under 14, if you are employed in the entertainment industry.
    • Newspaper delivery is also exempt from federal law, but might be covered by state law.[12]
  2. Don’t expect to work too long. Federal regulations only allow those under 16 to work three hours on a school day and 18 hours total during a school week. Federal laws do allow you to work longer on holidays, but state laws often impose stricter regulations.
    • Outside of school weeks, students can work 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day. Thus, holidays are an optimal time to get a job.
    • You are only permitted to work 7 AM to 7 PM, excluding summer time, which is defined as the period from June 1st to Labor Day. Over summer, youths can work as late as 9 PM.
    • When state and federal laws differ, the most restrictive law applies. In general, state laws impose stiffer limitations on working hours than the federal standard. You will need to abide by these.[13]
    • If you are working for a business solely owned by your parents, the hour restrictions do not apply. You are still, however, forbidden from working in hazardous occupations.[14]
    • When working for your parents, you can work for as many hours as you want at whatever times of day you wish. However, you are still forbidden from working in hazardous conditions and the business must be solely owned by your parents.[15]
  3. Avoid hazardous jobs. Minors are generally prohibited from working in occupations that involve explosives or heavy machinery.[16] State law generally provides additional detail as to what type of industries minors can be employed in. Sometimes, your own real options are service sector, retail, and restaurant jobs.[17]


  • This permit does not 'force' anyone to hire you, it just makes it legal for them to do so. You still have to show that you are the right person for the job.


  • Some places will not hire anyone under 18. This permit does NOT make you eligible for those jobs.
  • States have different laws on when & where you can and can't work, on how many hours you can work, and how much you will be paid.

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