How young is too young?

You can potentially leave school if you’re under 16, but you need a plan (preferably a job or training position lined up) and an early leaving exemption from the Ministry of Education. Bear in mind that the Ministry declines about 90 per cent of all early leaving exemptions, as they want to encourage students to stay in school and gain a qualification. If you want to go down this path, talk to your school’s career advisor or year dean. Otherwise, your best option is to attain some NCEA credits.

The first steps

Do you need NCEA credits to get a job? The short answer is ‘no’, but consider sticking out high school until you complete NCEA Level 2. With NCEA Level 2 under your belt, you will have the foundation skills needed for many jobs, and surprisingly, this is one of the first things they will ask about!

If you’re more interested in doing an apprenticeship, many apprenticeships don’t have any NCEA requirements. However, some industry training organisations (ITOs) recommend studying NCEA maths and English to at least Level 1 or 2 and any subject relevant to the particular apprenticeship you have your eye on.

Your very next step should be writing a curriculum vitae (CV). This is a summary of your work experience, education, and skills. We have everything you need to get this bad boy up and running, including an example to get you started.

On your CV, summarise your NCEA results. Be smart about this by putting the results an employer would most like to see at the top of your CV and including any credits towards NCEA, even if you haven’t completed a full NCEA.

Once your CV is in order, you just need to write a personalised cover letter (nothing fancy, just a couple of positive paragraphs about why you want to work at the company and what you can offer). Make sure you personalise each cover letter per each job, e.g. a pet shop you would say “I’m great with animals!” or a helpline, “I’m great with people!”.

Before you contact anyone, make sure your social media presence is sorted. This means ensuring you remove any nude selfies (!), photos of you passed out in the street, trolling rants, or any other randomness that your potential new employers might find offensive.

Work preparation checklist

Life as an adult requires paperwork! To ease your transition into the workforce, you’ll need to get these things sorted:

  • An IRD number (tax number)
  • A driver’s licence
  • A bank account
  • A birth certificate
  • Interview and work clothes
  • Transport (a way to get to and from work, such as a car or bus card).
  • Your parents, guardians, or whānau should be able to help you with most of these things.

Most jobs require a combination or all of the list above.

What sort of job do you want?

You know you want money, but do you know the field you want to work in? For a start, if you haven’t already completed the personality type quiz on page 6 , jump back there now and give it a crack. There are a heap of career suggestions in JETmag. I recommend taking your time to read through each one, and narrowing it down to a field you think you’d do well in.

Want a second opinion? Try the trusty Careers New Zealand career checker at There are hundreds of occupations listed on the Careers New Zealand website, and this five-minute quiz is the key to unlocking them. Go on, check it out, we can wait.

Think about all the stuff that makes you tick. There has to be a good job that will be a good match for you. What is your passion? What are your hobbies?

The nitty gritty – applying for work

Now you’re all set, here we go! The most common method for looking for work these days is online. Here are the most common websites/apps:

Careers New Zealand

A very comprehensive government resource, with advice covering all situations for school leavers. Of particular interest is the jobs database, which details all aspects of many common jobs, including the current employment prospects in that sector. Links to vacancies are listed under each type of job.


The most comprehensive jobs database in New Zealand (and Australia), SEEK arranges jobs in easy-to-understand sections and by location. If you want to find work as a retail shop assistant in New Plymouth, then look under ‘Retail & Consumer Products’, then ‘Retail Assistants’ in Taranaki. Sorted!

Trade Me

Good old Trade Me … why not buy a second hand car, some DVDs, and look for a job at the same time? New Zealand’s favourite website has thousands of jobs to choose from, arranged in similar categories to Seek.


Other methods

Talk to family, friends and neighbours – word of mouth is a very powerful way to find a job!

  • Check listings in local newspapers.
  • Sign up to job vacancy websites.
  • Contact employers directly (known as ‘cold calling’).
  • Sign up with a recruitment company – there is no charge for this.


Good jobs to try for straight out of school

Retail sales

If you love shopping, you might be a natural in retail. A sales or customer service position requires a sunny personality and lots of enthusiasm but also means you’re standing on your feet all day. Retail can mean anything from clothes (a private boutique or a department store like Farmers), sporting goods, and hardware (for example, Bunnings or Mitre10).


This has a lot of high-turnover jobs (where job openings frequently appear), in jobs such as a waiter, kitchen hand, and bar work (if you’re old enough to drink alcohol, you’re old enough to serve it). Work in hospitality is often casual, but any job, even a casual job, will boost your CV. Fast food restaurants (like McDonald’s or Burger King) are big employers in this sector.

The New Zealand Defence Force

(Army, Navy, and Air Force) – If you have a sense of adventure or duty to your country, this might be a great option. The New Zealand Defence Force accepts school leavers for many different types of jobs (not just those involving guns). To enter the Army and Navy, you need at least eight NCEA credits in English and eight credits in maths at Level 1 (some roles require at least 12 credits per subject). To enter the Air Force, you need at least 12 credits in English and maths at Level 1 (some roles require at least 12 credits at Level 2).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here