Workplace tips for new graduates

July 20, 2017

You’ve got your degree. You’ve emptied the contents of your student apartment into the back of a van and you are ready to hit the road. If you are one of the fortunate minority of graduates who already have a job lined up in your field, contacts made through internships or co-op placements may have facilitated that process.

Nevertheless, you will typically be on probation for several months so it’s particularly important in the early days to gain a good understanding of the corporate culture and what is and is not acceptable in your new workplace.

Find out how many hours a day employees are required to work and the start and stop times. Flexible hours are very common now in many establishments, but be vigilant to better understand what that really means. Theoretically, you may be able to work 8-4, 9-5 or 10-6, but if your supervisor and co-workers are all early birds you could miss a lot of networking and useful socializing if you work the late shift. Also, if work-at-home days are permitted they may only kick in once your probation period is over. 

Dress code
In high tech companies, casual dress is the norm. In fact if you turn up in a suit and tie your coworkers will likely start making cracks about whether or not you are looking for another job. But muscle shirts and torn jeans even on more casual Fridays are rarely a good idea. In contrast, if you work in a large urban law firm, business suits and ties for men and stockings and heels for women may be the dress code on even the hottest summer day.

Speaking out
You got the job because the hiring manager believes you have something to contribute based on both your education and experience. By all means, answer questions and offer ideas at team and client meetings. However, particularly in the beginning, do more listening and taking notes than talking. In some cases it may make sense to pull someone aside after a meeting to discuss your brainwave rather than blurting out a half-baked thought or embarrassing a co-worker.

Personal vs. private
You are being paid to work for your employer. Keep personal telephone calls, texting and social media posting to an absolute minimum. If possible step into a meeting room or out in the hall to have a conversation. Most offices these days are open concept cubicle farms and loud private calls will not only bother others, but could result in over-sharing of personal information. 

Company gossip
Many offices have factions or cliques. Try not to align yourself with one group to the exclusion of others. Be positive and do not gossip! Negativity about people or company processes will give you a bad reputation. Finding and working with one or more mentors can give your career a boost, but developing positive relationships with as many people as possible can be just as valuable.

Chances are that you will end up working at something completely different than you envisaged when you started college or university. And you also probably won’t stay in your first job for more than two years. In fact, according to Workopolis, if current trends continue, Canadians can expect to hold roughly 15 jobs in their careers.

But your performance and the relationships you make in your first job will form the foundation of your career, so tread cautiously. After all, you will never get a second chance to make a first impression!

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.
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