Dear College Grads:

Many of you will be entering the work force shortly. For many of you, it will be your first or nearly first professional job. Below is some advice from a slightly more seasoned professional.

First let me say that I mostly enjoy working with college graduates. They are much more willing to learn new things than some stodgier older experienced professionals. Most college graduates come to the job with a lot of intelligence and have their own unique thing to offer. Not knowing what is expected of them, they often surprise with what they can do.

That said, here are a few guidelines for you.

Put down your damn iphone

… and your ipod and your constant internet usage. Every college graduate that I know has some nasty habit involving some piece of information technology. They either text all of the time; surf the internet; or walk everywhere with an earpiece for an mp3 player in their ear.

First of all, you look ridiculous. With a Coke or an energy drink in one hand and some IT product in another, you look like an overgrown teenager.

Second, it is totally rude. You were fortunate enough to get a job in this rough economy and more fortunate to have an older person mentor you or work with you, and the older person has to compete with the constant beeps of your phone while you compulsively text. Unless you explain to us that this is a college admissions board or a direly important medical call, we are not going to enjoy competing for your attention with the latest text message that you got from your probably jobless friend. Listening to an mp3 player is somewhat forgivable. However, we shouldn’t have to tap you on your shoulder to get your attention nor should we have to put up with you keeping them in your ear while you talk to us.

Third, don’t think we don’t notice. Even if you think you are being super clever by minimizing your web browser when someone walks by, IT records are kept of your internet usage. A manager can easily check what you surf all day. I would also strongly advise against combining the mp3 player with your compulsive texting habit. It is way too easy to sneak up behind you.

Every college graduate I know compulsively uses one of these devices and their use of them eventually wanes over time, so it is obviously simply a nasty habit that needs broken. The sooner, the better.

Don’t tell us you’re bored

We don’t take this as a sign that you are super-efficient and you have completed all of your tasks. We take it as a sign that you can’t manage your time. It is particularly grating to hear it when we have given you tasks and you haven’t completed them. Unless you know how to do absolutely everything at your job, know who everyone is, and have already pinged several managers for work, you’re not bored. Take it as a luxury to learn the new skills you will need to be successful at your job.

Expect to work an 8 hour day

This thought just doesn’t seem to die: “If I finish all my work, why can’t I just go home before the 8 hours are up?” If you have completed your tasking, you need to alert someone that you need new tasking. The next time you have this thought, look around you. Are your older coworkers busting their butt to get things done? How do you think they would feel if you told them, “I’m done for the day so SEE YA”? Do you think that their work is too difficult for you to do or learn? Well, aren’t you in luck for all this extra time you have should allow you to start shadowing them to learn something. If you have such minimal tasking that you can get done quickly and easily, the powers that be might start thinking if your services are really necessary.

And, on this note, don’t cheat your time and don’t take super long lunches. People do notice. You could get written up for it. So just don’t do it.

Be grateful for training, mentorship, and even criticism

I’d be lying if I said it was a new phenomenon that young people think they know everything. This is how it has always been. While this gives undoubted confidence to move forward with as turbulent of a time as getting your first job, it begets a certain arrogance that has its problems.

If someone is offering you training, advice, or mentorship, simply take it. If they are really the stupidest person on the face of the earth, eventually you can see it and probably distance yourself. However, they might—just might—know something. Graciously accept their help in the meantime. If they hear you saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can do that,” they will simply stop mentoring. Always accept formalized training. It can do nothing but advance your career.

Second, if someone takes the time to review your work, see it as the luxury it is that they actually took an interest in your work. The overwhelming majority of the time when I review a young person’s work, they get extremely defensive with me about my comments. They are almost always convinced that if something is broken, it is not their fault. I’ve had to simply demonstrate it was their fault many times. It is a thick, almost impenetrable wall that I have to push through. If a person is reviewing your work, they are giving you tips and pointers of how to grow as a professional. Imagine if you went 5 years while no one took an interest in your work. Where do you think you’ll be? Expect criticism. Further, be thankful for it.

Take initiative, communicate, give slightly more than asked for

OK, so these are more classic values that apply broadly to every age group in the professional work environment. But they are worth emphasizing.

Take initiative: see work as your playground. This is not to say disrespect the equipment but see it as something you can touch, use, and interact with. Need information? Get it. Don’t have a particular skill? Develop it. There is virtually nothing outside of your ability to learn. I have never come across a problem that didn’t come down to a few fundamental principles that is open for anyone to understand. No job is too complex. With your fresh out of college brain, you are in a stronger position to learn new skills than older professionals. For the projects you are given, jump over the obstacles. Go out and talk to people and get information. Too often college graduates have the deer in the headlight look when given a task that is not immediately solvable.

Communicate: I don’t know why, but I have to constantly ping new hires for status updates. If there is a new development, your leads probably want to know. It is not entirely the job of your lead or manager to come ask you for an update or to know when you need work. Having a young person come to me with status updates—and requests for work!—is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Give slightly more than asked for: Really, as projects leads and managers, we can’t think of everything needed to complete a project. We have some tasking, give you a general direction, and let you go. If you see something that needs done, do it. If something is broke, fix it. If something seems to cause confusion, clarify it. If there is a better way to do something, find it. Don’t complain to us that none of us know what we are doing because you found this problem. The very reason you were hired was to fix problems. If there were no problems to solve, you wouldn’t have been hired. Take some ownership in a project and give everything it needs to get done, not just what we assigned you with. It will impress us.

So, there’s the list. Go forth, conquer, and all that jazz.

Amber Pawlik
June 22, 2011

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