By Chia Suan Chong for EtonX | June 2019
You’ve spent what seems like a lifetime as a student and soon it’s time to leave it all behind and start thinking about the working life you have ahead of you.
Do you feel ready to enter the workforce? Do you have the right tools and the right mindset to be awesome in the workplace?
Here are ten things you should know before starting your working life:
1. People will look at your social media profiles
Until now, photos, videos and discussions on your social media accounts have probably been posted for your friends and your school/university/college mates to see. You might have photos of you kissing your boyfriend. You might have a video of a wild party your friends threw for you on your birthday. Or you might have had a very public argument on your wall.
Many employers, colleagues and clients would do an online search of the new people they meet, especially when they feel a need to know more about the people they’re going to be in a close working relationship with. So put yourself in the shoes of a new employer or client. Do an online search of yourself. What would they find? If they were to look at your social media accounts, what would they see? How might they perceive you? Would they be able to trust you? Do a clean-up of your online persona and make sure you are giving the right impression. If you don’t already have a presence on more professional social media websites such as LinkedIn, this may be the time to create one.
2. Communication skills are crucial
Communication skills are not just about how eloquent you are or how many flowery words you know. A lot of the conflict and the dissatisfaction you encounter at work will be due to some form of miscommunication or non-communication. Something someone said was misunderstood. Someone made some assumptions and did not say what needed to be said. Someone passed on information that they had interpreted wrongly. Someone was not asked their opinion.
Having good communication skills is crucial to how a team is managed, how work is organised, and how relationships are built. If you’ve spent most of your school life doing a lot of solitary study, perhaps now is the time to start brushing up on those communication skills. Take a course. Read a book. Do some volunteer work where you have to collaborate with other volunteers, and with members of the public. There is still time to work on becoming a better communicator.
3. Clothes do make a (wo)man
While it is important to maintain your sense of identity, it is also important that how you dress fits in with the corporate culture of your future workplace. Some offices might see all their employees in smart suits and others might prefer a more casual ‘jeans and t-shirt’ environment. If you have a client-facing job, you might need to look the part.
Spend some time researching the dress codes of the industry and (if you know) the company you’ll be working for. Then go through your wardrobe. Do you have appropriate clothes to wear to work? Do you have something smart for your first day on the job? A shopping spree is probably unnecessary at this point, but you might want to invest in one smart suit that you can put on when you need to impress.
4. Looking at your phone when you’re in a conversation or in a meeting can be disrespectful.
You might think you’re good at multi-tasking. You might believe that you’re able to pay attention to a presentation or in a conversation while scrolling through your emails or messages. Even if this is true, glancing at your phone makes you appear distracted and will make it look as if the speaker does not deserve your full attention. Placing your phone face up on the table can also say ‘You’re important but I’m going to keep my eye out for something more important that might come in.’
Whether you are at a business lunch or in a social chitchat with a colleague, it might be worth putting that phone away. It shows that you treasure your time with your conversation partner and that you aren’t on the lookout for something more exciting to come along.
5. Mistakes and failure are inevitable.
Everyone enjoys the sweet taste of success and the feeling that they are good at something. However, the danger in that is that we start only to put ourselves in situations where we are know we can succeed. We start to seek out tasks that we know we are good at and avoid the ones that might see us struggling. We hide within this comfort zone and shy away from experimenting and exploring new territories. We stagnate and stop growing.
We can only develop and get better if we step out of our comfort zone and take risks. The only way to get better at the things we are weak at is to keep doing them. And in doing so, we are going to make mistakes and we are going to fail. What matters is how you are able to learn from your mistakes and climb back up to try it all again. The sooner we understand that mistakes are a vital part of growing and developing, the sooner we are able to embrace our failures and be proud of our risk-taking behaviour.
6. Be critical of the information you receive
In your working life, you will get told lots of things. Your colleague might offer you some gossip about other members of staff. Your manager might give you reasons behind a management decision. Your business associate might quote an alarming statistic in a presentation. Don’t be too quick to believe everything you hear or read.
Being critical is not the same as criticising. It is thinking about the information in as objective a way as you can and confirming the facts. You might want to check the source of the information, put the information in context and consider the opposing arguments before deciding to believe what you hear or read.
7. Feedback (both positive and negative) is important to development.
While praise can instil confidence and help us to know that we are on the right track, developmental feedback can improve our self-awareness and help us grow. After all, there is always something we can do better. When you are given negative feedback, try to focus on the future: how you can improve on it, rather than the past: what you should or shouldn’t have done.
Learn to receive feedback with humility and avoid getting defensive. And if you’re only getting positive feedback, consider asking for developmental feedback. At the end of a task, a presentation or a project, make it a point to ask “What can I do to make it even better next time?” and take on board the feedback given to you.
8. A successful career is built on good relationships.
You might be extremely talented and you might have the best skills for the job, but the relationships you have with your colleagues, your manager and your clients can affect your career and your enjoyment of it.
This of course doesn’t mean that you have to get along with everyone you meet, or that you have to avoid conflict at all cost. There will be times when there will be disagreement or a clash of opinions. But the way you deal with conflict can demonstrate your professionalism and bring people closer to you. Work on your people skills and build a strong social network. Be grateful for the people who support you and make an effort to foster good relationships with the people you meet.
9. Your kindness can make a difference
If your colleague needs some help with an issue they have, sit with them and work it out. If you notice someone being neglected, spend some time giving them some attention. If you see some rubbish on the floor, pick it up and throw it away. If you’re competing for something, do so fairly.
Being a kind and considerate person can not only make a difference to others but it can also make you happy. So give and be generous: not just with monetary items but with your time, your space and your energy.
10. The learning never stops.
Learning doesn’t just happen during your school life and it certainly doesn’t only happen in the classroom. Whether you’re a doctor, teacher, engineer or mechanic, you have to keep up to date with the industry, keep working on the necessary skills (and the accompanying soft skills) and develop an expertise in your selected areas. This might mean subscribing to an industry magazine, listening to relevant podcasts regularly, attending conferences or taking short courses to better yourself.
Your school life might have given you a strong foundation for your entry into the workforce but a hunger for knowledge and improvement can take you a long way in your career.
The length of the average person’s working life far exceeds the time they spend at school. And although there will be moments of stress and frustration, we would like our working life to be as fulfilling and enjoyable as possible. If we remind ourselves of these ten things every so often, we just might achieve that.