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Top 10 Job Seeking Skills to Teach High School Students

October 27th, 2021 | 19 min. read

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Whether they’re a freshman looking for their first part-time job or a senior getting ready to join the workforce, job seeking skills are some of the most important concepts you can teach to high school students.

Students who have this valuable skillset are confident in their worth, and stand ready to find, apply to, and land that job they need. However, students that lack it may find themselves scrambling and unprepared to face the modern job market, which can lead to all sorts of stress, anxiety, and financial worry as they struggle to catch up. 

Nobody wants to face that, which is why it's critical you instill these values and skills in your students early, so they can get some experience under their belt before transitioning more fully into adulthood. 

In this article, you'll discover the 10 job seeking skills that every high school student needs to know:

  1. Finding job opportunities
  2. Researching job openings
  3. Writing a resume
  4. Writing a cover letter
  5. Applying to a job
  6. Accepting an interview
  7. Succeeding in an interview
  8. Working as a minor
  9. Working as an adult
  10. Leaving a job

By the end of this article, you'll have a stronger grasp on the modern job search, and will be able to more easily foster these skills in your students. 

Infographic: Top 10 Job Seeking Skills for High School Students

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1. Finding Job Openings

First things first — your students have to know how to find a job before they can earn one.

In days past, you used to have to know someone who wanted to hire or comb through a newspaper to hopefully find something that fit your expertise. Fortunately, today’s students can find job opportunities with a quick Google search.

Showing students how to use search engines like Google and Indeed can give them a big leg-up over other job seekers, both now and years in the future. After all, the internet isn't going anywhere, and it's likely these resources will only become more important to the job search as time goes by. 

The biggest job-related search engines students should know include:

  1. Google
  2. Indeed
  3. LinkedIn
  4. Monster
  5. Glassdoor
  6. ZipRecruiter
  7. Simply Hired
  8. Snagajob

You can also discuss networking as a way for students to make and leverage professional connections. That can apply to in-person interactions, professional organizations, online networking (like LinkedIn), and more.

All in all, students have dozens of job seeking resources available to them--they just need to know what they are!

Once they find the search engines or methods that they like, the next step is to research job openings themselves.

2. Researching Job Openings

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Now that your students know how to find jobs, they need to know how to find jobs that they want. But researching different job openings takes time, patience, and a little bit of online finesse. So what's the best starting point?

Well, one way you can get started is by teaching students about different job titles and their responsibilities. After all, jargon and specialized vocabulary can create major hurdles to understanding a job description. By knowing what kind of job title they're looking for, students have a clear direction and can focus their efforts. 

With that in mind, you can define a few of the common words found in today’s job titles to ensure students know what an opportunity actually entails.  

Manager

A manager is someone who makes decisions for a group of people with a similar skill set, like salespeople, web designers, financial, and more. 

Depending on the size of the company, a manager may or may not perform any of the duties associated with the people they manage. Sometimes, it is their focus to instead bring out the best in their department or team.

In general, a manager’s responsibilities often require a mix of interpreting ideas from company executives, figuring out how to make them work, and creating corresponding goals for their team.

Assistant 

An assistant is often someone who performs the non-specialized duties of someone’s specific role.

For example, an architect who is the only licensed individual at her firm may need an assistant to handle scheduling meetings, screening phone calls, or performing a variety of tasks for the office.

Contrary to how assistants are portrayed in film and television, their responsibilities form the bedrock of an organization. They do the little things that keep a company running every day, whether that’s picking up coffee on the way to the office or ordering lunch for a big client meeting.

Intern

An intern is a student or trainee who performs duties within a company in order to gain work experience and progress in a career field. 

Internships can be paid or unpaid, though paid internships are becoming more and more common when it comes to highly skilled positions. 

An internship can provide an excellent learning experience, as interns get to make networking connections, ask individuals about their jobs, and learn about what they want from a career. In that regard, internships are similar to apprenticeships in that they encourage your students to get their hands dirty and learn something by doing it.

In fact, both interns and apprentices belong to the growing number of American students who express interests in learn-by-doing style education.

Interns often wind up working under a variety of people at a company, essentially “proving their worth” in the hopes of earning a salaried job at the company upon completion of their internship.

Analyst

Analysts are individuals who know a lot about a certain topic, gather data about it, and make predictions based on that data.

For example, a financial analyst at a company may look at the total amount of expenses a company paid in a year compared to the gross revenue that the company earned.

If the final number of that comparison is positive, then the analyst can report that the company is moving in the right direction.

If the final number is negative, then the analyst can recommend changes for the coming year.

Analysts often have years of experience in a certain field to the point where they probably have a reputation for their work. They may even be considered local experts.

Analysts typically work under a manager in larger companies. They may work directly for an executive in smaller businesses on a local level.

Remote

Remote employees are those who perform their job duties from a location separate from the company’s main office.

Sometimes, this could mean individuals work for a company that’s one or two towns away. Other times, it could mean someone in New York is working for a company in California. Regardless, these types of jobs require workers to have an Internet connection and a decent understanding of modern technology.

With that said, remote positions can give students an excellent chance to get their foot in the door with a company, or to gain job experience in general. And its possible remote work will continue to be on the rise for the near future. 

Remote workers may be considered employees of the company, but they may also work as independent contractors. Understanding the differences between those types of employment is key to fulfilling the duties of a remote employee.

These are just five terms that you’ll find in modern job descriptions. But if a student actually wants one of these jobs, they’re going to need a resume.

That means they have to write one first!

3. Writing a Resume

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It’s hard to overstate the importance of a resume. Simply put, this is an essential part of every classroom that focuses on career exploration to any degree. 

A resume is a showcase of everything your students have done, ranging from extracurriculars, to relevant classes, to volunteer positions they've filled, and more. While these may not even have much to do with a job they want, they’re outstanding indications of work ethic, drive, and attitude – three qualities in high demand in today’s workforce.

Some students also choose to write an objective statement, or a brief sentence about what they hope their resume accomplishes. It’s up to you whether you encourage this in the classroom. Some business owners have stated they prefer objective statements, and others don’t place any emphasis on them.

Regardless, students can use this general template to create their first resume:

  • Name at the top
  • Address, phone number, and email address underneath
  • An objective statement
  • Most recent work experience with title and employing organization
  • Least recent work experience with title and employing organization
  • Extracurricular organizations
  • Awards / accolades

For these first jobs, students may not need a resume. They may only need to fill out an application. But even if that’s the case, everyone should know how to write a good resume. By teaching this to your students, you help them take a solid step forward in their professional development.

But if a student is going to learn to write a resume, they may as well learn to write another key part of job hunting: the cover letter.

4. Writing a Cover Letter

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It’s standard practice to write a cover letter when applying to almost any position. Many professions won't even consider a candidate for a position unless a cover letter is included in their application. So what is a cover letter? What does writing one entail?

Cover letters are one-page summaries of who a student is, what position they want, and why they think they’re qualified for it. These letters give students the chance to highlight their specific strengths and how those strengths would be beneficial to the position, share a few of their past work experiences, and provide overall context for their application. 

Some best practices for writing cover letters include:

  1. Include the hiring manager's name and company address in the upper left corner of the letter, as this indicates you've done your research and know the identities of those who'll be interviewing you. 
  2. Make each cover letter unique to the job and company you're applying to. Don't send in the generic cover letter you send everywhere. Note that this doesn't mean you need to write a brand new cover letter for each position you apply for. Sometimes, it's easier to write a single cover letter, then tailor the language in it to appeal to each individual company you apply to in an industry. 
  3. Keep the cover letter concise. No hiring manager has the time or inclination to read a 10 page cover letter. Say what you need to say in a single page of writing. This will force you to be efficient and strike that healthy balance of only listing the key points that qualify you for a position. 

It's important to keep in mind that, much like an objective statement, not every employer requires--or will read--a cover letter. Cover letters can even be troublesome to write because of how counterintuitive they seem to students--like listing only some relevant accomplishments and experiences, rather than all of them. After all, most students wouldn't want to undersell their qualifications. 

The truth is, though, learning to write a great cover letter might be the difference between getting the job or not. It's a skill, just like any other, and by becoming proficient in it, students demonstrate a capacity for communication and critical thinking that will aid them in the workforce. 

Once they’re done with a cover letter, they can now apply for the job they want!

5. Applying to a Job

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When it comes to applying for a job, the process is generally uniform from company to company. Though individual companies may have differences or nuances that students have to follow, on the whole, applying is simple.

The common process of applying to a job includes:

  1. Write your resume
  2. Write your cover letter
  3. Fill out an application form (if needed)
  4. Submit the application (either digitally, in person, or via mail)
  5. Await reply

With the exception of awaiting a reply, all of these are fairly straightforward. After all, students should already have a resume and cover letter--preferably each tailored to the job they're applying for!

The application form itself might have some variation to it. Most jobs ask for the applicant's name, contact information, address, experience, and basic information about themselves to get a general sense of who they are. Higher level jobs, however, might have the applicant complete some kind of assignment to prove their skillset, or ask more specific or pointed questions to determine if the applicant would be a good fit for the company culture. 

After the application is completed and sent on its way, then the waiting game beings. 

Awaiting a reply from the company can be tricky. After all, waiting for someone to reply to your application can feel like an eternity. It’s especially stressful since some hiring managers choose to simply not respond to applications they feel are unqualified. In other words, students may apply to a job they want and simply never hear back.

The best thing students can do while they wait is simply continue to apply to other jobs. This ensures they won't just be sitting around waiting for a reply that never comes. Tell them to make use of that time by diversifying their chances. If they send out enough applications, they're bound to get responses. Much of the time, some representative of the company will have the time and decency to reply about moving forward.

If the answer is no, then the student has no choice but to shake off the rejection and try again somewhere else. It’s easy to become discouraged at this point. In some competitive industries, it can take weeks or even months to hear back from a company, and even then, it could just be a rejection notice. This is also true for unskilled labor. Because anyone can apply, a position could very well be filled before a student even submits their application.

When a student gets a positive reply from a company, then it’s time for the next big step: the interview.

6. Accepting and Preparing for an Interview

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Accepting a job interview may sound minor, but it’s actually a significant moment in the journey of earning a job.

An acceptance message — whether it’s written, typed, or verbal — conveys a student’s attitude and level of professionalism right away. Formal verbiage, structured responses, and politeness are all key to a strong first impression.

In addition, promptly responding to an interview offer reflects well on a student. It also lets students set a date and time in stone for the actual interview. Some hiring managers even place responsiveness on par with someone’s ability to be on time!

Once the student has accepted the interview, they should begin to prepare for it. The importance of this can't be understated. These days, no one should go into a job interview without spending at least an hour or two preparing for it. There are several solid strategies they can use to prep:

  • Research the company so you have a sense of their history, culture, and function. What does the company do? How did they start? If you join them, what role will you be playing in your new position? By doing this, you show you care about earning the job and will work hard to succeed in your new role. 
  • Come up with questions to ask during the interview. Hiring managers like when you have insightful points or questions you can bring up during the interview process. It shows you have an aptitude for the role, have thought about it in-depth, and envision yourself as a member of the team. Bringing at least 3-4 questions with you for the interview is a good place to start.
  • Bring notes and/or remember your main selling points. With how many interviews are now being done virtually, it's easy to keep an off-screen page of notes describing your strengths, weaknesses, and why you would be a good fit for the role. You can refer to this to help you keep a sense of structure for the interview. This might even work for an in-person interview, so long as you keep your notes compact and don't rely too much on them!

All of these contribute to an essential part of job seeking skills — succeeding in the interview itself!

7. Succeeding in an Interview

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Depending on the student, succeeding in an interview can be a difficult challenge, or the easiest part of the job search.

For the more friendly, open, and gregarious students, interviews can be exciting, easy, and enjoyable, as social skills undoubtedly play a large part in whether they do well. 

On the other hand, interviews can be a nightmare scenario for socially anxious or introverted students. They could be terrified of meeting a room full of strangers and trying to figure out what they want to hear, rather than answering questions honestly.

But regardless of where a student falls on that spectrum, they’ll need basic communication and presentation skills to really nail an interview, such as:

  • Dressing well
  • Showing up on time
  • Shaking hands
  • Speaking clearly
  • Smiling and being friendly

While these may sound simple or self-explanatory, you'd be surprised at the number of interviewees who neglect one or more of these skills. Whether they're late, show up in inappropriate attire, or give off the impression of being cold or disinterested, by neglecting these skills, they indicate they're not the best fit for the role.

As the bare minimum, your students should be capable of using these skills. By doing so, they show attitude, passion, pride, dignity, and kindness, all of which are positive qualities for an employee in any field.

But even if a student's interview still goes poorly, it's not the end of the world. 

Even the best of us sometimes make mistakes that end up derailing job interviews. It's a high pressure situation, after all, and that can lead to all sorts of nervous hiccups. 

It's important to emphasize to your students that job interviews are learning experiences, and that there's wisdom to be gained from each one, whether it's a success or a failure. 

Students who live through bad interviews have an opportunity to learn great life lessons. They know what they did poorly in that interview, and may even know if a job in the same field is a good or bad choice later down the line. In other words, they didn’t “fail” the interview--they learned something from it that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.

In fact, it's even common wisdom for new job seekers to always sit down to interview for a new position, even if you're not very interested in the job itself. By doing so, you'll learn more about interviewing successfully and further hone your social skills--and who knows, you might end up falling in love with the job once you find out more about it!

Enough of this learning and experience will prime students to become experts capable of nailing the interviews that truly matter to them, and getting that dream job. 

Then, they get to the next step of earning a job: starting to work.

There are two ways a student can start a job — as a minor or as an adult. We’ll talk about both!

8. Working as a Minor

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Unless you teach a class of high school seniors, most of your students will start their first jobs as minors.

This has a huge range of implications, but the most important ones to keep in mind are the labor laws that might apply to your students. These laws are designed to keep minors safe, paid honestly, and treated well while away from their parents, but they can also present a few extra hoops students will have to jump through to ensure they can legally work. 

The first step to educating your students on working as a minor is finding out what that entails in your state. 

After all, states can have different labor laws when it comes to minors, so it's important to have a solid understanding of the process your students will have to go through in order to begin working. 

For example, states usually require that minors have special papers — sometimes called “working papers” — and even doctors’ signatures on documents that say they’re cleared to work. These work permits can often be obtained through the student's school district, but that may vary by state, and you should do your own research in order to best guide your students on your state's laws. 

Bank accounts, medical documentation, legal documentation, and sometimes parental consent could all also play into a minor’s ability to start working. In that respect, minors have a lot of work to do before their first day of work in order to actually work, and it's your job to educate them on these practices. 

But even if your students have trouble obtaining this documentation, they can rest assured that it will only be for a few years at the maximum. Once they're adults, the process becomes easier, and that leads you into your next lesson: giving students context on working as an adult.

9. Working as an Adult

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The process of working is generally simpler for adults than it is for minors, and has fewer regulations. However, some legal documentation is still necessary in order to get started, as well as an available bank account. 

Generally, new workers have to provide documents that prove two things: that they are who they say are, and that they are authorized to work within the United States. As long as they present the documents within a few days of starting their job, your students should be fine. 

Some examples of these documents include:

  • A United States passport
  • A permanent resident card or alien registration receipt card
  • A social security card
  • A driver's license or citizen ID card
  • A Native American tribal document
  • A birth certificate

Note that your students don't need all of these documents to start working--usually just one or two of them will do fine. They simply help employers verify the identities of prospective workers.

However, depending on both the company and the qualifications required for the job, other documents, proof, or testimonials might be requested:

  • Many employers will request that your students present references--people your student knows who can vouch for their qualifications and skills. These could be peers, former bosses, or even teachers and professors. 
  • Other positions that require a college degree or GED might require students to present their school transcripts or even the degree itself.
  • Some government jobs require a verified security clearance in order for workers to be able to start. 

Depending on the company, your students may need to jump through some hoops to get all of their paperwork in order. But as long as they get it ready before they get to their first day, they’ve performed one of the last skills they have to master when seeking a job.

The last skill on this list may sound counterintuitive, but it’s just as important as every other job seeking skill here: learning how to quit. 

10. Leaving a Job

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Leaving a job can cause a lot of worry and anxiety for most people, regardless of where they work.

After all, no employer is perfect, but most employers aren't all bad, either. And that means when someone chooses to leave a job, they’re often both excited about their new opportunity and remorseful about leaving where they currently work. Even employees who think “it’s just a job” may feel strange about leaving coworkers with whom they forged meaningful connections.

When it comes to a strategy for quitting, what's most important is leaving in a professional, polite, and courteous way.

After all, former employers are the best references for future career opportunities. Former employees make great recommendations for future hires at a company, too.

So what do students need to do to leave a job the right way?

  1. Give notice in writing (usually two or three weeks)
  2. Sit down for an exit interview
  3. Discuss why you’re leaving without assigning blame
  4. Set expectations for the rest of your time at the company
  5. Maintain your same work ethic until you leave

These steps work tremendously well whenever someone needs to move on from one career opportunity to the next. Whether it’s in a retail environment, 9-5 office job, or temporary employment gig, these actions smooth the transitional phase so that both employer and employee gets the best results possible. 

So with that in mind, how can you actually teach these skills to high school students?

Want to Ensure Your Students Get Those First Jobs?

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Teaching your high schoolers the right job seeking skills can be an intimidating prospect. Chances are, your kids are of various ages and come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some might be heading into the workforce as soon as they graduate from high school, while others might simply need a part-time job to save up before they head off to college. 

Whatever their plans, the skills you’ve learned about in this article are essential to helping your students get started in the workforce. With these skills, your students know what to expect when looking for that first job. Without them, they might find themselves feeling overwhelmed and scared by a process that’s completely alien to them. 

But in this article, we still only covered the skills themselves, and not how to implement them in your classroom. 

If you want more guidance on how specifically to teach these job seeking skills in your classroom, check out the Job Seeking Skills module available in our digital career readiness curriculum. 

This module goes into the specifics of each of these job seeking skills, and provides helpful content to aid you in teaching them. Dive into lesson plans, projects, quizzes, activities, and more that will hone your students’ skills and ensure they’re starting their careers as strongly as possible:

Check Out the Job Seeking Skills Module