This is a guest post by Anna Ivey, more on her at the end of this article.
The working world is a completely different beast from the college world, and the transition can be a bumpy one. There’s been a lot of talk about how Gen Yers demand meaningful responsibility on the job, and I’m all in favor of internships and starter jobs that offer opportunities for challenge and increased responsibility. However, you have to earn those things, and prove you can handle them.
I’ve also noticed a fundamental lack of respect by many twenty-somethings for the people they work for. That lack of respect can manifest itself in something as small as addressing an email or consistently refusing to follow — or even acknowledge — instructions. (And even if your boss is a drooling idiot, it’s in your interest not to reveal your contempt.)
The following eight tips might seem completely obvious to some people, but I’ve seen this behavior often enough that I’ll list the most common issues here, as simply and bluntly as I can.
1. Respect the English language.
If you can’t be bothered to spell properly when you’re writing to your boss or a customer, what does that say about you? We all fall victim to typos, and there are certainly different standards for text messages or wiki postings (or blog postings!) and more formal kinds of communications. But… ignoring the “shift” key altogether, when you’re writing to someone you’re supposed to impress? Not good. Same goes for proper grammar and precise vocabulary. Language is power. Don’t believe me? Read Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (“the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts”).
2. Banish “hey.”
Banish “hey” from your written communications (and spoken communications, for that matter).
Your colleagues are not your BFF’s (“hey dwight”), or even your MySpace/Facebook friends. They might turn into friends, but don’t impose that casual familiarity unless and until the relationship warrants it. Posting a message on someone’s Facebook wall and writing an email to your boss are two completely different things. (I remember calling someone a few years back to offer him a job, and thinking how badly I wanted to retract the offer when he told me how “stoked” he was. Argh.)
3. Follow directions, and don’t make your boss ask twice.
If your boss asks you to put the customer name in a header for all of your project documents, don’t send him a document without the customer name in the header. Simple, right? And if your boss has to remind you, don’t make him remind you again.
4. Don’t ask for clarification of perfectly unambiguous instructions.
If you’re asked to get the TPS reports on your boss’s desk by the afternoon, don’t ask him, “When do I need to get you those reports?” Or if you’re asked to restrict your report to 5 pages, don’t send him an email asking, “Is that a hard limit?” Your boss’s time has value, and stupid questions tend to waste his time. (Contrary to the brainwashing you’ve received in school, there is such a thing as a stupid question.)
5. Just OK is not enough.
Every day that you show up at work is another day you need to justify your employment. If you’re not doing your best, why should they keep you? Your job is not pass/fail, and the job interview never really ends. Don’t wait until your first performance review to shape up.
6. Tell your parents to butt out.
Don’t ever — EVER — let your parents contact your employers. If you want to be respected as a mature, independent professional, act like one and leave mommy and daddy out of it. Expecting your employers to deal with your parents is beyond lame. They hired you — not your parents — and it’s not a package deal.
7. Get used to grunt work.
I don’t care how smart or “entrepreneurial” you are, or how impressed you are with yourself, or how great your parents think you are. When you’re starting out in the working world, you’re going to do a lot of grunt work. It’s the only way to learn the ropes, and nobody is above it. Nobody. If you think you deserve to be entrusted with matters of importance in a starter job, you have delusions of grandeur. Plus, true entrepreneurial types do plenty of grunt work, and they don’t complain about it, because they know it needs to get done if the overall project or venture is going to succeed.
8. Understand your role.
As long as you’re reporting to someone, understand that your job is to make her life easier, not the other way around.
Anna Ivey, a recovering lawyer, decided the fates of thousands of applicants as former dean of admissions at a top-ten law school and now works with high school students and twenty-somethings to help them make smart choices in school, at work, and in life. Anna has appeared on CNN and Fox News Channel, and has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Business Journal, Fortune.com, Smart Money, and Marie Claire. Anna speaks at colleges around the country and publishes The Ivey Files, a blog for twenty-somethings, the parents who love them, and the bosses who manage them. Learn more about Anna at www.annaivey.com.