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First job toolkit.

First Job

First Job

Over the years I have witnessed countless first-job employees struggle through new hire documents.   Many of them have a parent with them or are texting or calling every other minute to help them understand what they are signing.   Federal tax forms, drug tests, policies and badges are confusing and even a little scary.   Most young adults that get their first job are hesitant to ask questions and fear looking naïve.

Typically one, if not both parents or care givers have a job outside the home, or did at some point.   The new hire process we remember as an inconvenience is something foreign to our children.   Even if it has been many years, think back to how overwhelming it felt the first time.

This is a great opportunity to talk to your kids as they approach the age of a first job and what they will experience in the scary HR office.   And, in case you forgot, here is a quick checklist:

  • I9 – The form I9 is a federal form that proves a person is eligible to work in the United States.   All employers are required to have employees complete this form.   If you haven’t had a job change in the last few years, the form has changed and can be viewed here.  A list is included of acceptable documents, which are often a driver’s license or school ID and a social security card.   It is up to the employee to choose the acceptable documents and an employer cannot mandate which ones are presented, as long as they meet the criteria on the list.
  • W4 – I have yet to meet a first time employee that had a clue about what to claim for tax status.   Please do your kids a favor and download the W4 from the IRS site and help them decide what to claim.   Also let them know they can change what they are claiming at any time.
  • Drug tests – Many employers require an initial drug test before an employee can start.   Drug testing is a complicated topic but if it is a private employer, most circumstances will allow them to conduct drug screens.   In my experience they are typically urine tests and can be done either at the job site or the candidate is sent off site to a lab.   Talk to your kids about the process and ensure them it is typical and not to feel nervous (unless they are doing drugs).   It may feel embarrassing but is often part of the process of getting a job.   There is a lot of information on the Department of Labor website regarding employment drug testing.
  • Internships:   Very few internships qualify to be unpaid.   The unpaid internship requirements and definitions can be found here, as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act.   If your child comes home saying they have been offered an unpaid internship, question them further.   An internship can be done anywhere, as long as they are getting at least minimum wage.   I have come across many employers that try to use this as a loophole to free labor.
  • Independent contractor:   Another tactic some employers will try is to tell a person they are hired as an independent contractor.   The IRS has a strict 20 point checklist to truly define independent contractor status.   Please review this at home if this topic comes up.
  • Handbook:   Employers spend a lot of time, money and resources to have a good employee handbook.   Sadly, many employees don’t take the time to read them and either get caught in a policy violation or ask questions that are spelled out for them.   Stress the importance of this piece and encourage them to read it.   If it is their first job, ask them to bring it home and go through it with them.   I’m sure your kids will have questions.
  • Reporting time worked:   Most first jobs are paid by the hour (nonexempt).   It is critical your kids understand that reporting time worked needs to be accurate.   Some first timers could get lured into to checking in for a friend that is running late or encouraged to falsify their time for an extra hour here or there.   Help kids understand that doing such things will get them fired quickly, with no recourse or unemployment.   Conversely, also help them understand that employers have to pay them for time worked.   Meaning, they can’t “flex” their schedule one week to get out of paying over time in a different week.   As long as the employer is in the private sector, they have to follow the laws of the labor board.   Each state is different in this regard but information is easily accessible by searching your states labor board website.
  • Honesty:   Depending on each situation, your child may have something they are not proud of that could come up during the new hire process.   It might include being fired, inappropriate social media pictures or maybe even a misdemeanor.   Most employers have plenty of experience with all of this and honesty is the best policy.   With internet access, it is nearly impossible to hide something.   Tell your kids to convey something negative in the most succinct and honest way and confidently explain how they have improved.   The honesty strategy will offer more successful outcomes than not.

Taking a few minutes here and there to prep your kids for the logistics involved in their first job will put them leaps and bounds ahead of their peers.   They will appreciate it when they realize that they are better prepared and unsurprised at what to expect.




Under the bus.



I have had personal experience with colleagues that would throw me under the bus. And I am not proud to admit that I have done it too.     It feels awful, on both sides. When I have been thrown under the bus, I have been caught off guard and completely unprepared to defend myself.    I don’t operate in a state of explaining-everything-I-do and it is exhausting to feel like playing defense is a new line item on your job description.

I see this at home all of the time.   Three kids under one roof means one sibling will sacrifice another sibling for their own selfish reasons, the very definition of throwing someone under the bus.   Kids are brilliant at it and they keep their own arsenals of data to fire back at just the right moment.   If I ask the children who didn’t clean their dishes, one will answer with the fact that another left their socks in the backyard.   And then a third will chime in that another bought cookies with their lunch money.   And on and on…

No one wins in this situation and mostly people end up feeling bad.   The dilemma is how to address this, how to prevent it and provide an environment, both at work and at home, that does not tolerate running over people:

  • Culture: Are your actions supporting a culture that allows self-indulgence at the expense of others?   Are you responding to the kids when they manipulate stories and rat out their siblings?   If so, plan on the behavior continuing…in spades.   Leadership is hard and comes with drama.   Face it head on and have discussions that are on point.
  • Admit mistakes: It may seem counter-intuitive, but openly admitting mistakes builds credibility.   Do this in front of your children and they will be more likely to be authentic workers when they get a job.
  • Take one for the team: When an issue is small, like a client claiming you never sent that email, go ahead and agree.   Yes it stings a little when you know you did communicate, but is it worth damaging a relationship?   The person knows the truth too and will appreciate if you help them save face.
  • What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: Did your parent say this?   After my experience with a vindictive co-worker, I realized all I could do was work on myself.   I had to develop some of my own coping tools.   I got the help of a business coach and started to:
    • Limit communications to the facts.   No editorializing on email.
    • Stop feeding the situation.   Every time I was thrown under the bus, there would be zero response from me.   Think of it like training a dog.   Consistency.
    • Recognize contentious topics and head them off at the pass. This might mean cc’ing the appropriate people or out lining exactly what I have done on a project so there is no mystification.
    • Trust yourself.   Trust your boss.   Without exception, every time I have experienced time of strife, it eventually worked itself out.   It might mean a new, better job.   Or, the boss will eventually see the bad behavior and address it.   People that spend their efforts to throw others under the bus eventually work themselves out of an organization.   The same is true with kids.   They have powerful group dynamics and will tire of troublemakers. Reinforce doing the right thing, it pays off.

You can lead by example whether you have the title or not.   There is always another path to choose and under the wheels is the least desirable.

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