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The (Surprisingly) Best Skill-Building Jobs for High School Students

Having a job while you’re in high school gives you extra cash for clothes, movies, food, or even building your savings before college. But that’s not the only benefit: High school jobs can help you build skills that prepare you for college and your future career.

As a high school student, your job options are limited. Still, you’d be surprised by how much you can learn from some high school-level opportunities. In this article, we’ll look at the best skill-building jobs for high school students.

What Skills Are Important to Employers?

First, it’s helpful to know what skills are important to employers. Hard skills — specific, measurable knowledge and abilities — will vary from job to job. Hard skills include mathematics, proficiency with a foreign language, web design, computer programming, and so on.

Employers also look at soft skills. Soft skills are less measurable and less teachable. They are personal attributes, characteristics, and communication abilities. Unlike hard skills, desirable soft skills remain much the same from job to job.

A PayScale survey asked 63,924 managers which skills recently hired college graduates were lacking. Managers reported that college graduates were missing the following hard skills:

  • Writing proficiency (according to 44% of managers)
  • Public speaking (39%)
  • Data analysis through programs like Excel and Python (36%)

Missing soft skills included:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving (according to 60% of managers)
  • Attention to detail (56%)
  • Communication (46%)
  • Leadership abilities (44%)
  • Interpersonal and teamwork skills (36%)

The great news is you can get a head start on building most of these skills with a high school job. You may not learn about Excel or Python, but you can certainly develop your communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. You can also lay the foundation for leadership and public speaking abilities, among others.

Here are some of the best jobs that can help high school students build these vital skills.

Entry Level Positions in Professional Fields

Do you already have a career in mind? Are you considering a few career options? Build relevant skills and experience by finding an entry level position in the field.

For example:

  • Interested in business or marketing? Work as a sales associate, personal assistant, or a front desk receptionist.
  • Planning to go into medicine? Work as a non-medical assistant or a pharmacy assistant.
  • Passionate about STEM? Find a research assistant position. (These positions are sometimes unpaid, so make it clear that you’re looking for a position with compensation.)

Starting from the bottom isn’t always fun, but you’ll gain more insight into your future career. You can observe your future work environment, network with/ask questions of people in the field, and ultimately decide if it’s really the career for you.

If it is the career for you, start building experience and skills before even starting college. The head start will pay off!

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Jobs That Develop Interpersonal Skills

If you don’t have a specific career in mind or can’t find a relevant position, work on building skills that apply to virtually every job.

For instance, no matter what job you have, you’ll probably have to talk to people. And when you do, you’ll want to appear confident, assertive, and likeable.

Finding a job that requires you to speak with coworkers and customers is a great way to sharpen your teamwork, interpersonal, and communication skills. If that sounds scary, all the more reason to do it! You’ll have to talk to people eventually, so work on learning the skill and addressing the fear now, and you’ll be much better off in the future.

Retail or restaurant jobs are a sure way to enhance your interpersonal skills. You may operate a cash register, man the customer service desk, answer the phone, wait tables, and/or circulate the store/restaurant answering questions and offering help.

You’ll need to make polite small talk with customers and, on occasion, navigate tricky situations and potential conflicts. Of course, you’ll also work with a team and hone your collaboration and cooperation skills.

When I was in high school, I landed my dream job at the local Books-A-Million. In addition to looking at books all day, I offered help and book recommendations to customers, answered phones, and sold BAM discount cards.

It wasn’t a fancy job, but I credit my time at Books-A-Million with increasing my confidence and my ability to hold a conversation with anyone. Those skills have certainly served me well in my career and in the real world.

Communication skills are important, and even a simple high school retail or restaurant job can help you enhance yours.

Jobs That Develop Leadership and Problem-Solving Skills

Leadership is another vital skill that can be developed through a variety of high school jobs. For instance, you can work as a lifeguard, swim or ski instructor, or junior referee/umpire. If you perform well at just about any high school job, you may be asked to help train new high school hires.

These jobs require you to project authority, be responsible for both yourself and others, and exert influence. To advance in any career field in the future, these abilities will be key.

At each of these high school jobs, you will also need to exercise your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Any time you’re in charge of others, problems may arise, and you will be tasked with finding a solution.

Whether it’s resolving a conflict between opposing teams, helping a swim student overcome a fear of water, or finding ways to motivate a new hire, your problem-solving skills will be put to the test and ultimately improved.

Final Thoughts: These Are the Best Skill-Building Jobs for High School Students

As a high school student, it’s helpful to find an entry-level job in a professional field of interest, a job that builds interpersonal skills, or a job that enhances your leadership and problem-solving abilities.

This includes jobs like:

  • Sales associate
  • Personal assistant
  • Front desk receptionist
  • Non-medical assistant
  • Pharmacy assistant
  • Research assistant
  • Retail worker
  • Call center representative
  • Cashier
  • Fast food worker
  • Barista
  • Waiter/waitress
  • Restaurant host/hostess
  • Valet parking attendant
  • Lifeguard
  • Junior referee/umpire
  • Swim instructor

Working any high school job will also teach you time management, responsibility, and dedication. The process of finding a job will enhance your ability to create a resume, fill out applications, and answer interview questions.

Building these foundational skills now will give you a competitive advantage as you seek internships and jobs in the future.

You’ll also learn about potential careers, enhance your college application, and foster the skills that employers say many candidates are lacking. When you’re ready to enter the real world and begin your career, you’ll be confident and prepared to succeed.

Ready to begin your college search? Start here

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.