The other day my three-year-old son stood before me donned in his spider man pajama top, no pants, and his giant Clifford book proclaiming “Ok, mommy. I’m off to work. It’s PJ day at work today!”
I giggled and asked him to show me his office. We entered his room and he pointed to the endless crew of stuffed animals on his bed, “ Look! These are my work friends. We all sleep together. What should we have for lunch today?”
This brief insight into a toddler’s mind made me wonder how much work perceptions change when we enter the workforce. Most of us eventually learn that pants are required and sleeping with all of our friends is a bad move (pesky social norms). In college, career services teaches fundamentals of resume writing, cover letters, job search resources, and using LinkedIn, but are recent grads really prepared for the professional world?
My experience in undergraduate career services showed me that there is such a desperate need to a) get students actually thinking about life after college and to b) teach them the bare minimum basics of how to consider career options, go after them, and ultimately get an internship and job. What often isn’t taught is the c) the “wear your pants” common sense factor of functioning in the workforce. I considered some of the cringeworthy professional faux paus I witnessed and came up with helpful tips to make sure recent grads thrive and grow in their early career.
Save the drama for your mama...and please leave her at home. When I worked in higher ed, parents called me or showed up (awkward) to career counseling appointments with their student. I heard employers tell stories about how moms and dads called to negotiate their child’s salary. I told students it’s fine for their mom to call/scream at me, but I’m not responsible for hiring them. Momterventions won’t fly in the real world. Know your worth (Payscale.com and Glassdoor.com are both great resources), show proof of it in negotiations, wear your grown up pants, and get the compensation you deserve - on your own.
Work hard, play...a medium amount. Community in the workplace is important, but no one wants to be the one dancing on the table at the company Christmas party. Oftentimes socializing with coworkers outside of the office serve as golden opportunities for networking. However, one must learn the art of social moderation in the workplace. Nurse your drink. Go out after the happy hour. Stay off of social medial.
Find a mentor...but don’t be awkward about it. Convincing clients the value of networking always proves challenging. Somehow today’s recent grad freely tweets their grievances 75 times to their favorite brands, but can’t fathom asking a professional they admire for 15 minutes of time. Networking, however, remains the cornerstone of professional success throughout one’s career journey. Coffee chats go a long way even when you already have a job. Remember, no GMOs in networking. Let relationships grow organically. After a networking meeting, set Google alerts for topics that came up in conversation - from sports teams to issues in the industry. It will give you an excuse to reach out again to say hi, and also provide compelling information!
Say thank you...in person and in writing. Just like at my son’s preschool, manners matter. I am always floored when students don’t know they need to write (or more likely, type) thank you notes after interviews. After a job is procured, formally thanking people is still a good practice. Handwritten notes (with an actual pen and paper) also go a long way. A client wrote me a really kind note after she got a job and it made my day!
Grow up...and grow a thick skin. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t actually my son’s perception of office culture. Our stuffed animal friends don’t always play nicely. When I sought a promotion at one of my first jobs, I interviewed with the president of the company. He asked how I took negative feedback. I told him that my former soccer coach used to scream and yell at me and call me the “best player for the other team” no matter what was happening on the field. He knew that I never cried or took his words personally. My coach’s poor tactics prepared me to land the promotion. The president later told me that my example gave him the confidence to deal with the pressures of working with a challenging supervisor. Hopefully you don’t attain resiliency through poor coaching tactic, but try to hear what your boss asks/tells you and not how they are delivering the message.
Overall, my son has a few years before he gets recruited by the investment banks (although with trends going how they are OCR may begin in kindergarten). We’ll have time to set his expectations. For the recent grad, it’s important to consider how professional conduct makes or breaks your early career. Resumes, cover letters, and interviewing skills are essential skills, but they won’t get you to the next level in your career. Follow some of these common sense tips, and you’ll set yourself up on the right path.