So you’re the youngest person in your office. You’re a 90s kid at heart. You graduated from college in this decade. You can’t relate to your co-workers’ stories about spouses or children or home ownership. You don’t have a wardrobe full of business wear acquired over the years.
The veterans may not take you seriously yet but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be professional. A few things I’ve learned in my year and a half as a post grad in the real world:
1. Proper Email Etiquette
This is first on the list because email is everything. It is (most likely) your primary form of communication at work. It’s daily documentation of your performance. It can be saved, reviewed, and scrutinized by anyone at any time, so it’s important that you understand and abide by email protocol in your office. As a general rule, always be more formal than you think necessary. Use titles (Dr., Mr., Ms.) rather than first names until the person you’re communicating with tells you otherwise. Sign off with traditional signatures. “Thanks” and “best” are good for colleagues and people you communicate with frequently. Something more formal like “regards” may be appropriate if you’re communicating with a superior or someone new. Don’t include anything in a work email that you wouldn’t want the entire office to read. Hello, that’s what gchat is for! Proper email etiquette demonstrates that you respect and can contribute to the professional environment your company is trying to cultivate.
2. Dress The Part
You don’t have to have the aforementioned wardrobe full of business wear. You just need a few key, neutral items. When building a professional wardrobe from scratch, black is your friend – a couple pair of black pants and a black skirt you can repeat without anyone noticing. These items pair well with any neutral top for a perfectly professional look. If your office is more formal, a black suit serves the same purpose. You can always branch out and buy more later. But it’s not just about the clothes; the accents matter too. Unless you work for a start-up based out of an abandoned warehouse in San Francisco, the days of dying your hair blue or piercing your nose on a whim are behind you. You should keep your hair and nail color relatively neutral and shy away from facial piercings and visible tattoos.
3. Don’t Gossip
There’s nothing wrong with you and your work bff swapping stories over lunch, but you should avoid telling the entire office about the conversation you just had with your boss. You should also limit the amount of information you share with others outside of work. Most companies expect and value a certain level of discretion from their employees.
4. Limit The Distractions
No one expects you to work uninterrupted for hours. Let’s be real, we all need a break and most places don’t mind if you take 10 minutes to surf the internet every so often. But you shouldn’t let these breaks spiral into hours of distraction, especially if you work in an open space where your monitor is visible. Trust me, you can’t minimize the screen fast enough. Others will notice if you’re on BuzzFeed half the day and assume you don’t take your job seriously.
5. Watch What You Post On Social Media
Facebook is now universal. It’s for your grandmother and it’s for your boss. And this is not college. There is no need to document every drunken outing with a new album. Your co-workers will look you up and evaluate you based on your updates. Limit the party posts and any other potentially inflammatory content to none if you want to appear professional.
6. Keep Your Private Life Private
Again, nothing wrong with telling your work bff about the fight you had with your boyfriend in private, but everyone doesn’t need to hear about it. Nor do they need to know about your family drama or your horrible roommate. If people think you can’t handle your personal life, they may question your professional judgment as well. You have to find the right balance between being friendly and sharing too much. Use your intuition and err on the side of caution. If you think a story might be inappropriate to tell in front of everyone at work, it probably is.
7. Be Present
Resist the urge to check your phone during meetings and zone out during conference calls. You may not have anything substantive to contribute, but you can always learn from others if you remain attentive. People will notice if you’re distracted or disengaged and equate this behavior with apathy.
8. Deliver More Than Expected
This may seem cliche, but go the extra mile. Go beyond the minimum your boss expects. Be proactive. Try to anticipate and solve problems before they occur. Tackle that project that isn’t technically due for awhile a bit early. People will take notice of repeated efforts and respect your dedication.
9. Don’t Wait
Don’t sit around just because you don’t have any pressing work. On slow days, ask your boss or co-workers if they have any projects you can help with. People may be hesitant to give you assignments or request assistance if they think you have a full plate. Letting people know you’re ready and willing to help out or take on something new demonstrates your work ethic and your willingness to be a team player.