Education Career Services

September 25, 2009

A college degree will only get you part of the way

Submitted by Maya Lazarovitz

September 25Congratulations, you’ve graduated college! And with some stroke of luck and a lot of skill, you’ve managed to convince someone to hire you, no small feat in these most trying of economic times. So now what, you ask? As a wise man (my dad) once said, it’s not enough to get a job: you have to keep it. So how do you hold on to that precious profession?

Simple: by acting like a mature professional with a mature, professional work ethic. If you were a good student, this part should be easy. All you have to do is apply the same skills you used to ace your classes to ace the real world: showing respect and consideration for your professors and peers; working hard to get good grades by studying, doing your homework and making school a top priority; being at school on time, attending all your classes and being understanding of other people’s beliefs and cultures. But what if you weren’t exactly a model student? Well, buckle up my friend, and get ready for a bumpy ride. You’ve got a steep learning curve ahead.

For you see, while your college professors might have cut you some slack when you were late to school or skipped entirely, your new employer isn’t going to be quite so understanding. Your teachers might have bought your half-baked excuses of the dog eating your homework because they had to: they’re educators, which means they’re used to being endlessly patient with immature children. But in the adult world, an employer who is paying good money for your services is going to expect an employee who, well, acts like an adult. That means someone who shows up on time, ready to work, minus a hangover from one too many brewskis. And employers don’t want workers rushing in right at 9 or whatever time they need to be at the office, then heading to the kitchen for a breakfast bagel, or the bathroom for an eyeliner application. The employer wants you at your desk, ready to go. Which means you’ll have to apply a little time management and well, grow up. Save the partying for the weekend and go to bed with time to spare, so you’ll get that 6-8 hours of sleep you need to function, and so you’ll have plenty of time in the AM to do whatever you need to be prepared for the workday ahead. But whatever you do, do it on your own time, not the employer’s.

This brings me to my next point: respect. Showing up on time and prepared to work shows the employer that you respect him or her, because you respect his or her time. What are some other ways to show respect?

  • Work hard. Don’t spend your time at work chatting or surfing the Internet. Do your job.
  • Keep your lunch breaks within the time allotted to you. In other words, don’t take an hour when all you get is 30 minutes.
  • Don’t take too much time off from work, at least not initially: you want to make a good impression, one that says you want to be there. Yes, sometimes things happen: doctors’ appointments, emergencies, family reunions, etc. And if you get vacation days, it’s OK to take them. Just make sure your boss knows ahead of time, and make sure you show the proper courtesy and respect in asking for time away. Also, accept it if your request gets declined. It’ll go a long way to building good repoire in the future, so that you’ll eventually be able to take that vacation when you want it, with the sound knowledge that your boss thinks you’re dependable. 
  • Dress according to what company culture dictates. While some offices may prefer to keep it casual, your office might have a no jeans and T-shirt policy. If you have any doubts about how to dress, just look around you, and your questions will be answered. Or if you really want clarification, ask a trusted co-worker or supervisor about the office dress code policy. But whatever it is, follow it, along with other rules of office conduct. You don’t want to upset the wrong person and ruin what could have otherwise been a great career.

And while we’re on the subject of conduct, make sure yours is exceptional. How? For starters, by being positive; coming in to work with a smile and a can-do attitude. Yes, it’s a bit Pollyanna. But the fact remains that while you might not love every task you have to accomplish, your boss is paying you to do these things, and he or she doesn’t want to hear any complaints. So whatever you’re asked to do, as long as it’s not illegal or immoral, do it, whether you like it or not. Just think of it as a learning experience.

Building good relationships in the working world is important, because you never know who you might meet again, and you don’t want to burn any bridges toward future success by pissing off the wrong person. So cultivate good working relationships with your co-workers and supervisors by being respectfully tolerant of their attitudes, ideas, beliefs and cultures. In the working world, you’ll meet a lot of people, some with a background similar to your own, and others who see the world a different way. Sure, you’re not going to love all of them, but you can at least be civil and work together by respecting other people’s rights to think and feel as they choose, and to express those feelings in a constructive, professional way. The same goes for you: be respectful of other people by keeping negative opinions and gossip to yourself. If you do feel a need to vent, do it to someone outside the office. In the working world, you can never be too careful. Wicked words get around in ways that will make you wish you’d never said them. The old adage you heard as child also holds true in the workplace: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.

The bottom line is just because you nailed the interview doesn’t mean you have the job, even after you get an offer and start your first day. There’s a reason the first 90 days of any position are probationary: that time serves as an ongoing interview, a chance for the employer to really see what you’re like on the job. First impressions count a lot, especially in the working world: the first 90 days in a job could set the tone for how the rest of your time with a company, or even the rest of your career, goes. So make sure you start off right.

Thank you Maya  for your insight and no doubt many of our followers will benefit from your comments.

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP
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