As recent college graduates complete their post-commencement travels and celebrations, their minds begin to turn toward their first professional job. What will the first day of work be like? How will they navigate the transition from academia to the working world? Since many of my former students are contemplating these questions right now, I thought that I would offer a few tips:
1. Your appearance matters. Yes, many professional workplaces have shifted toward business casual or casual attire. Your boss has told you that you can dress in a more relaxed fashion. Think carefully, however, before you show up as if you are about to walk into your nine o'clock class at school. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to consider your appearance carefully.
2. Showing up (on time) is half the battle. If you aren't dependable, you won't be employed for very long. Dependability is a fundamental requirement for career success. Show up every day ready to go. It doesn't matter how great you are, if you are missing in action from time to time. Be on time. In fact, be early for work, for meetings, for client appointments, etc. Traffic is not an excuse; traffic is a reality. Always build in an extra cushion for travel, parking, etc.
3. Don't wait for assignments to come to you. Good employees deliver what has been asked of them. Great employees seek out interesting and challenging opportunities. However, they don't just argue that they deserve the chance. They do their homework, and they show quite specifically how they might be able to contribute.
4. Respond to messages promptly. Email may not be the way that you communicate with your friends, but it is still a principal form of communication at work. Check it regularly. If you don't have time to respond in detail at the moment, then send a quick note indicating when you will have time to offer a more comprehensive answer.
5. Don't keep people in the dark. Managers hate surprises. Keep your supervisors updated on your progress on key projects. If you have fallen behind schedule, then let them know as soon as possible. Explain the reasons for the failure to meet expectations and explain your corrective action plan. The worst thing you can do is have your boss become aware of bad news that you had been unwilling to share.
6. Stop with the work-life balance talk. Keep quiet about work-life balance if you are 22 years old, single, and free of family obligations. It's insulting to the 35 year old mom or dad with three kids, an aging parent who needs care, and a volunteer commitment at their church or community organization. They are engaged in an incredible juggling act every day. Be considerate of their situation before you begin talking about how you want to lead a balanced life with time for your bike rides on weekends, community service projects, or yoga classes in the evening.