New to Your Career? Here’s What You Need to Know When Starting Out

Fall is a challenging time for recent college and high school graduates who are starting their careers. They have to adjust to not going back to school with their classmates. Another adjustment is getting used to a workplace calendar that doesn’t allow for extended time off for the summer and most holidays. It’s time to apply everything they studied that has prepared them for the job market: the necessary technical skills and knowledge they learned along with the tools that will enable them to continue learning and grow on-the-job.

When I speak with people who are starting their careers, they tell me they’re surprised by several things:

  • the intensity and impact of office politics
  • how certain managers got to their levels of authority absent management skills and/or competence
  • the importance of social grace and manners in the workplace.

When they ask for my advice, here’s what I typically tell them.

Office politics and bad bosses

The who’s who and what’s what of office politics take a while to figure out. At this stage it’s important for new employees to keep their eyes and ears open and their mouths closed; refrain from bad-mouthing or complaining about anyone; and seek out a mentor who can help them better understand and adapt to the company culture.

This same advice applies to problem managers and others in charge. The reality is not every manager is skilled at communicating or working with people, and there are a lot of bad bosses in positions of power. Nonetheless, it’s critically important to respect that person’s position and authority level, even if you don’t respect them personally.

Social graces in the workplace 

Knowing how to behave appropriately in a business setting is also critical because it reflects one’s personal and professional brand. In her new book, Act the Part! Get the Part! Make Yourself a Power Professional, Linda Reed Friedman shares the “professional rules of the business game” that can be helpful to people starting their careers as well as those who’ve been in the workplace longer.

One of my favorite parts of Linda’s book is the chapter that offers helpful tips on business dining etiquette, including the basics of a formal table setting and which water glass, bread plate and salad plate are yours; how folded dinner napkins convey different meanings to wait staff; and how to initiate conversation at a dinner meeting with people you just met. Why is such etiquette important? “Because if you don’t know better, you may eat someone else’s food. Don’t eat someone else’s roll. This actually happened to me.” Linda shares her experiences with humor and grace, making her book fun to read.

If you or someone you know is starting a career, I recommend Act the Part! Get the Part! Make Yourself a Power ProfessionalIn addition to this great guide, check out Enlightenment for Those Entering the Workforce.

[Disclosure: Linda and I participated in the same writer’s group. I acknowledged her in my book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart, and she has acknowledged me in hers.]

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