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There have been a number of stories lately about recent college graduates (“the lost generation“) who are struggling to find employment. I graduated almost 10 years ago, and there were a quite a few things missing from my college curriculum that would have been beneficial for work life. With a pretty rough recession going on (yes, even in the DC area), here are a few tips for navigating the often confusing corporate world. In no particular order…
General Office Tips
Learn how to use a fax. People really still use them. (See one of my favorite movies, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead for a lesson in this!) Check out minute 6:16…
Learn how to send a FedEx (or UPS) package. Even if you’re middle-management, you will probably have to send these.
On that note, nothing is beneath you. When you’re starting your career, you might have to do some things that you deem unworthy. Suck it up. Do it with a smile. Employers want people who can be team players and roll with the punches – and sometimes you might have to do something you don’t like. I wouldn’t necessarily offer to get everyone coffee all the time, but if someone asks you to make a copy – do it. This is a fine line especially for women, who often try to please others and who unfortunately do often get asked to do more “administrative” work. The first few times, it’s fine – but don’t get taken advantage of. You don’t want to end up as “copy girl”. Nice girls don’t get the corner office!
Be polite and friendly to everyone, you never know who you may end up working for/with one day! Also, be polite to vendors, customer service representatives and hotel/restaurant concierges and managers – kill them with kindness and they’ll help you out when you’re in a jam and MUST GET a reservation for a business dinner for your boss. Seriously. I speak from experience.
Watch your email language. Don’t say anything in email that you wouldn’t want said to someone’s face. On that note, be careful what you say and who you trust. It’s great to have work confidants who you can vent with – but proceed with caution. You wouldn’t want your conversation with Joe about how terrible your boss Alice is to get around to the entire office (including Alice), now would you? Save your gripe sessions for those outside the office, or someone that you really know and trust.
Learn how to travel for business. Instead of “Whoop corporate card baller!”, think, my company is paying for this, and my company pays my salary. Err on the side of caution. Keep meals under $20 if you can (depending where you are), choose hotels and flights wisely, and make the most of your time (i.e. don’t lounge around the pool). Pack based on the meetings you are attending – will your colleagues or customers be wearing suits? You should too. Will they be wearing jeans? You should wear slacks. Always better to be overdressed than underdressed (except maybe in the case of a tradeshow/conference where you have a predefined wardrobe).
Speaking of dress, ladies please – no spaghetti tank tops, tube dresses, bra straps showing, no short skirts or shorts, no shower-like flip flops, and keep the hooker heels to a reasonable height minimum. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing a girl wearing a nice suit with 6-inch heels. I am guilty of being lax in the fashion department on some days – but try to find some classic pieces like button up dress shirts, blouses made of nice material (try for boatneck, not v-neck), wrap dresses, black slacks, and a good cardigan. H&M has good deals, as does the Merona brand at Target. Ann Taylor Loft and Banana Republic often have great sales. For good tips on dressing for the corporate world, check out my friend Capitol Hill Style.
Work the right hours. Every company is different. A good rule of thumb is 9 AM to 6 PM, but some places work on adjusted schedules. You don’t want to be the one who is never in the office, but also want to appear like you have a life (eventually it’s not cool if you’re in the office until 10 PM EVERY NIGHT). Don’t give the impression that you’re slacking off by taking long lunches and leaving at 5 PM on the dot every day. In this economy, every minute counts. Be available, and willing to do the hard work. You’ll be rewarded in the end.
On that note, be careful about being a slave to the blackberry (or other device). Checking email 24/7 is a great thing, especially for emergency situations. Depending what line of work you’re in – set rules for yourself so you don’t drive yourself nuts. Check email once when you get home, and once before bed. Check it when you wake up. Once or twice on weekends. There usually is nothing THAT important that it can’t wait until morning.
Work smarter. Don’t reinvent the wheel. While it’s a great opportunity to carve your own path and possibly start your own way of doing things, most jobs you take will have had someone before you. Try to make it better and work for you, but don’t make it harder. If it works the way they’ve always done it – then do it that way. Pick your battles wisely.
Social network etiquette. Personally, I don’t mind friending most of my coworkers on Facebook because I use it professionally and personally, and I feel I have nothing to hide. But, if you’re the kind of person who has photos tagged of you doing beer bongs at the frat house – I would keep it all private and have a “no co-workers” rule. Or, set your privacy settings and establish groups of work friends where content can be filtered. With Facebook’s new friend groups and privacy settings, there should be no excuse. As a rule of thumb for job hunting or other potential Facebook stalkers, make your entire profile private.
Moving On Up
Make the case for a raise. A raise these days is generally not just given to you for breathing. Document work you’ve done, projects you’ve completed, times you’ve helped the company make money (new business?), etc. and bring that to your boss. Show your value, and they’ll value you.
Don’t share your salary. You never know how much your colleagues are getting paid. You can share your salary or a ballpark with friends, but be careful when sharing with coworkers. My rule of thumb is “don’t ask, don’t tell!” You should be able to get a good idea of market value with sites like salary.com and glassdoor.com.
You are replaceable. Everyone is replaceable. You may think that what you do is SO important that they would never fire you, but no matter how good you are, someone else out there can do your job. Be grateful.
Be loyal, but be true to yourself. If you are lucky enough to have a job and are searching for another – be careful how you handle yourself. Be professional on all fronts, but make you sure you remember where you came from and what got you there. Integrity can never be replaced.
What other advice would you give recent graduates and entry-level employees?