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10 Rules for Students and Recent Grads in the Workplace

Learn The Unwritten Rules That Can Trip You Up

10 Rules for Students and Recent Grads in the Workplace


By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer

On day two of my first real job, I wandered into my boss’s office when she was elsewhere at a meeting. Thinking I was being proactive, I picked up a couple of interesting-looking reports from her desk. Then I strolled back to my cubicle and read the reports. What initiative I’d shown!
The very next morning, before I’d even hung up my coat, the boss hauled me into her office. “Mr. Swartz,” she said, cheeks flairing red, “our administrative assistant tells me you trespassed into my office yesterday afternoon.”
I began to tremble a bit. Trespassed? “Moreover, Mr. Swartz, I am told that you stole two confidential documents from my desk,” she fumed. “Is that true?”
It was clear I’d breached protocols I wasn’t aware of. Suffice it to say I pleaded ignorance, then literally begged my boss to teach me the ways of office conduct. Here are 10 of the rules she shared with me about the real world of workplaces:
1. Respect People’s Space. Folks get pretty territorial in a work setting. Their office – whether it’s a teeny cubicle or massive corner mansion – is sacred ground. Do not wander in when that person isn’t there. Instead leave a message requesting access if you need to pick up a specific document or item.
2. Respect People’s Property. You’d think borrowing someone’s stapler (or related piece of equipment) would be no big deal if that person weren’t there. However once again you should always ask before taking something. There are eyes everywhere in an office. Someone is bound to see you. In a pinch, find someone, anyone, who’s at their desk and willing to lend you what you need.
3. Arrive and Leave When They Tell You To. Find out before your start date what the “expected” hours of work are. I say expected, because they may differ from the formally posted hours. It won’t look good even if you arrive an hour before the official start time, but leave 30 minutes early. Though you’ll have put in extra half hour, it may appear to others that you’re exiting hastily.
4. Electronics Aren’t Toys. Can you believe they set you up with the latest smartphone and laptop? Your friends using last year’s technology will envy you. Except this equipment isn’t yours. It belongs to your employer, as does every keystroke you type, every file you upload or download, each video you stream, and on. Treat their electronics as if you’re constantly being tracked. We used to call that “keeping your nose clean.”
5. Don’t Be Part Of The Rumour Mill. When you first start working you’re eager to fit in. Co-workers will start sharing secrets and rumours if they trust you. But spreading gossip can backfire badly. Avoid getting labeled as having loose lips. The newer you are, the more likely you are to get blamed for leaking the info.
6.  Ask For Help Early And Frequently. There’s a honeymoon period when starting in the workplace. No one expects you to know your way around until you’re there a month or two. Beyond that you’re no longer a newbie. So don’t be shy early on to ask the “dumb” questions (which may, by the way, only sound dumb to you). Pretending that you don’t need clarification is a sure fire way to make bigger mistakes later.
7.  Do Small Tasks Well. I found it demeaning to do small tasks when I first began working. Going out to get coffee and donuts for the group. Crunching boring numbers, or looking up stuff online all day. Yawn. Turns out the way to get better assignments is to earn people’s trust with the small stuff. Down the road, if they still aren’t giving you more responsibility, find out why (instead of letting it drag on interminably).
8.  Be Friendly, But Not Too Friendly. This goes back to the issues of boundaries and trust. You want your boss to like you. But you don’t want to stalk them on Facebook. You’d prefer to have some colleagues become allies. Except it’s too soon to know who’s reliable. Be somewhat guarded about your personal life – restrict the privacy on your social media sites. No one at work has to know that you support a particular political group or religious belief.
9.  Go Out To Play When Asked To. It’s likely you’ll get asked by people at work to join them for social events. The employer itself may host gatherings too. Join in and have fun. Show them you’re part of the team and can let your personality shine. This is not, however, an invitation to act irresponsibly. Just because you’re at play doesn’t mean you’re not at work. Govern your behaviour accordingly.
10. Get A Mentor, and Mentor The Mature. Mentors will show you the ropes and help guide you through office politics. They’ll suggest ways to cut through red tape so you can get things done faster. A good mentor is invaluable. Keep in mind that they are judging your potential for future growth. Be gracious, thankful, and offer to reciprocate where possible. In fact, you can mentor some of the long-timers by teaching them how to use social media and use smartphones.

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