So you just finished undergrad, and you’re ready to take the big leap into adulthood! But wait, you suddenly realize that all of those summer jobs and work study positions really didn’t teach you anything about the real world. While it’s really nice to be able to get paid minimum wage to do your homework, that’s not quite how the office world works and you learn that pretty quickly.
Maybe you’re lucky enough to have required internships or co-ops in your undergrad program – I was. I learned so much about the office world on co-op that by the time my first full-time day came around I could write a novel (or a TC article) about how to make people feel positive vibes about you.
DO: Show up on time, and dress the part. If you’re instructed to be there by 8AM, be there by 7:50. If the dress code is business casual, you probably shouldn’t wear jeans. You might even want to wear a tie on your first day (gents), or a business suit (ladies). Nobody will ever make fun of you for overdressing, at least not during your first day. Remember: Overdressing won’t become the hot topic of afternoon coffee rant, but underdressing might. “Did you see that new kid in jeans?!” “Yeah, what does he think this is the bar?!”
DON’T: Talk too much, too loud, or laugh at everything. I say this from experience. I have a very recognizable laugh. On my first day, I made sure to tone it down. It’s a fact that people in offices talk about the new guys. Generally they’re not positive conversations (sad, but true), and if you give them something to poke fun at, they will. This provides another barrier for you to jump over before you can gain their respect. Also, it’s probably a good idea to leave your sparkling heels (women), or your white tuxedo shoes (men) at home. Dress to impress, but don’t overdo it.
DO: Shake hands with everyone you meet, and be open. My first day of work on co-op was very lucky – everyone wanted to shake hands and talk about me. Where I come from, my interests, and how I landed the job. Ask questions back, even if they’re older. If someone asks you if you like to ski, or if you like Starbucks coffee, you can feel free to ask the question back. Age is something that disappears in the office. Just because someone is older doesn’t mean they’re above you, or that you need to be intimidated. Additionally, make sure you brushed your teeth, and wore some cologne/perfume (again, moderation!), since first impressions tend to last quite a while.
DON’T: Take your laptop, sit in your cube, and be silent. If someone asks if you want some coffee – say yes. Even if you don’t like coffee, you don’t need to drink any. Take a ten minute break and make sure your coworkers know you’re not a serial killer. If someone asks you to go to lunch, go! Even if you’re on a hardcore diet like I was, that one lunch where you had a reuben instead of a salad won’t kill you. You’re going to learn a lot about your coworkers, and you’re going to give them a chance to learn about you as well. Inter-office friendships can be key parts of life, especially if you moved away from home.
P.S. If you’re going to lunch, offer to drive. Even if you drive a 2000 Dodge Intrepid with an exhaust leak and 120K miles (again, from experience), it gives you something to discuss with your coworkers. Just make sure you don’t complain about it too much, the words “It’s getting me through college,” or “It was a great college car!” are words that people can respect.
DO: Work your tail off when it comes time to work. If it’s your first day, you will get grunt work. Get over it. Don’t complain about it, and do it right. Take your time and if you have a question, try to figure it out. If you can’t figure it out, don’t ask right away. Skip it and compile a list of questions as you go. That way when you’re “done,” you can ask 10 questions at once as opposed to asking 10 individual questions and probably pissing off and annoying your supervisor/manager/mentor. Remember that being proactive will go very far. If you’re a “go-getter” you will without a doubt impress people.
DON’T: Be an introvert, wait for people to give you work, or surf the internet. If you are out of work, or you finished something, immediately ask for more. Ask your supervisor, ask your manager, ask your other coworkers, ask everyone. Don’t go back to your computer, surf the internet, and wait for someone to provide you a new task. Even worse, let your manager know immediately when you finish something and ask him/her to review it in front of you so you can take notes on your mistakes. I actually have recently worked with an intern who didn’t tell me when he/she finished anything. This means that I have to end up micromanaging, and constantly asking them how their progress is coming along. Don’t be that intern, or that employee.
DO: Be sure to make sure your humor is office appropriate. I had a friend in college who got a co-op and couldn’t make a lot of friends. Well, bro, it’s probably because your 30 year old female coworkers don’t think your Family Guy references about women’s rights are funny. When you rub one person the wrong way, that person immediately goes and tells all of their coworkers about that inappropriate joke you made. But honestly, the older employees in the office probably don’t watch South Park anymore, and they probably aren’t playing the most recent Call of Duty, so they don’t wanna hear about how great that triple kill you had with your boys at 3AM last night was. Ladies, many guys won’t know anything about The Millionaire Matchmaker. Appropriate humor can be anything, but your own personal experiences are probably best. Anything that will spark a good conversation is a great icebreaker, or you can always wait for someone else to start a good chat. Use good judgment.
DON’T: Be a 9 to 5’er. Work overtime if you can. Don’t go home after work everyday unless you have a reason to, such as a spouse, a dog, a child, etc. Go to happy hour and listen to people complain! Hell, do some complaining of your own. Outside of work people have entirely different mentalities. Work the weekend. If you have a night shift, work it. Get to know everyone. Join the company softball team. Join the folks that play golf, and basketball, and participate in all of the company events. Even if you’re not an athlete, people like other people who try. Start a recipe club. Start a wellness committee. Find other people who love running or crocheting just as much as you do. Share books and workouts with your coworkers.
All in all make sure to be an open, hard-working, driven employee. Make friends, don’t be an introvert, and be sure to stay focused when it’s time to stay focused. Learn how to brew the coffee – this sometimes will gain respect (especially in my office). Learn when to complain, and when to keep it in.