If you’re a recent college graduate without much experience in the workplace, you might be wondering how to act or what to wear on the job. It can be quite intimidating entering the workforce and working with people who are your parents’ age. I’m no expert on professionalism, but I will say that I’ve learned a thing or two about what’s appropriate in the workplace over the years. When you land a job, your hiring manager may not go over every little detail with you. You’ll just have to jump in there and figure some things out on your own. Good thing I’m here to give you a few pointers!
Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the years. They are all simple, but a few might take a bit more effort.
Jeans are always a question. Even if you’ve seen what people wear during your initial interviews, never assume jeans are OK, especially if you are working a desk job. For my first full-time job, I assumed jeans were allowed because each time I had gone to the office for an interview, people were in jeans. But lo-and-behold, the days I had come in were casual Fridays.
If you’ve just graduated college and are completely broke and don’t know how to upgrade your closet to a more professional look, I recommend slowly acquiring a few items: black slacks, a white button down, a black blazer, comfortable flats, and a comfortable cardigan for those cold office temps. The blog Putting Me Together is a great resource I follow and check regularly. It’s really helped me develop my sense of style and most of the outfits are appropriate for work.
Learn telephone etiquette.
I despise talking on the phone. Don’t get me started on how many buttons are on an office phone, but speaking to people on the phone was a requirement for most of my previous jobs. Even if email is your main form of communication at work, people notice if you use a silly font or color in your work-related emails. If your heartbeat quickens every time the phone rings, try Googling a few basic ways to answer the phone, or even write them down on a sticky note so they will be in front of you. That way, if a call comes your way, you will feel more prepared.
Always make sure your resume is updated.
You never know when someone will reach out to you for a position. Also, if you can’t remember where you filed your resume, maybe it’s a good time to make a new one.
An online resume or portfolio does wonders.
I was forced to create an online portfolio my senior year of college. I made one begrudgingly, but after graduation when I was desperate for a job, my online portfolio became my beacon of hope. It’s helped land me two jobs so far, and I’m hoping it will continue to do so. Even if you have a job, try to keep your online presence updated and fresh.
Adjust your (negative) attitude.
Having a professional attitude at work means less negativity and more positive energy. OK, so maybe you curse like a sailor, but not everyone wants to hear it. Tone it down a little, and you might see a positive change in your annual evaluation. You may not realize this, but supervisors actually are required to give performance evaluations each year, and one of the categories (usually) is how well you work with others.
Stick to your commitments.
Simply being on time every day adds another gold star under your name. Maybe not literally, but when your boss knows they can count on you to come in on time (and do great work), that’s one less thing they have to worry about. This also applies to other commitments. If you told your boss you could cover a shift for someone, or work late on Friday evening, follow through. If you’re in need of work, dependability is a trait that all potential employers are looking for.
Always have pen and paper.
You did this in college. You can do it for your 9-to-5, too. Don’t be that person who is always in need of something. Nine times out of 10, you may not need to write anything down (like if you carry a laptop with you at work), but nevertheless, carrying a notebook or planner can come in handy if you have to attend a meeting. At the very least, you will look prepared.
If you’re a smoker, don’t make it obvious.
Personally, I don’t smoke, but I’ve worked with a few people in the past who do. If you take a 10-minute smoke break every hour and take an hour lunch, then leave when everyone else leaves, you’re cheating the system. Even if your boss gives you a pass, your coworkers have probably noticed and probably don’t like it. Just be more conscientious. Also, if you have any clothing that smells like cigarette smoke, you should probably toss them and purchase new clothes. Keep them as clean as possible and use fabric scents and softeners to make your clothes smell fresh.
Keep your phone on silent or vibrate.
Some ringtones aren’t annoying, but some really are. If you receive a phone call, it’s OK to take it, but does the ringer have to be turned all the way up? You can live without that Bruno Mars ringtone for 8 hours until it’s time to leave. Do the right thing and turn the sound off. Also, keep personal phone calls brief. I don’t need to tell you that it’s unprofessional to talk on your phone when you’re supposed to be working.
Avoid checking Facebook and other social media.
Of course, we all have some down time during the day and a brief check doesn’t hurt. But maybe rethink having Facebook up at all times in the background.
Keep your desk organized and clean.
Some people take “a beautiful mess” approach to their office, but high stacks of paper and trash everywhere doesn’t make it seem like you have everything in order. If you have ten minutes or so in your day, it’s OK to tidy up a bit. If you have your own office and have meetings there, this is a must. Make use of the free office supplies and keep important files and documents in a locked drawer, or at least out of view.
Develop a “professional” voice.
Meetings and presentations can be intimidating. But speaking with confidence can make all the difference. This is certainly easier said than done and it may take some work. Use a mirror to practice or try speaking with friends. The next time you’re in a staff meeting, remember your voice and speak up. Mumbling, speaking softly, or having a shaky voice aren’t ways you want to be remembered.
Use a planner or digital calendar to stay on top of events.
You don’t want to be that person who forgets there was a staff meeting. A planner can be a great investment in the long run, but your phone calendar works, too. Sync up your devices with your work calendar and email so everything is streamlined and you won’t have an excuse to forget.
Have a business card handy.
If your employer doesn’t create a business card for you with its branding, develop your own personal one. If you work in sales, customer service, or are your own boss, a business card is vital.
Clean up your LinkedIn and other social media accounts.
If there are pictures of you partying on Facebook, take them down or untag yourself, especially if you plan to add coworkers as friends online. Make sure your Twitter doesn’t have anything that could be misconstrued, and don’t rag about your job at any point while you’re employed there. You never know who could end up reading it.