For those about to work
June 26, 2008 5:42 AM   Subscribe

What do you wish you knew when you started working?

I graduated from college in May, and I'm starting my first Grown-Up™ job in August, working in position at a college that has a fair amount of responsibility and pressure. Up until now, I've spent most of my working life in low pressure, part-time jobs in offices and libraries, so I was wondering what you wish you knew when you started you first real jobs, from dealing with co-workers to what to keep in your office.
posted by nuclear_soup to Work & Money (46 answers total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What I wish I had known more about when I was just beginning my career job 35 years ago related to long-term investments. The need for retirement planning didn't really click in my head until ten years later, so I lost that decade of investment opportunity. It's never too early to begin saving for the future; for family, travel, kids' education, health emergencies, retirement. Congratulations on your graduation and your new job. You rock!
posted by netbros at 5:53 AM on June 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

Pick your battles wisely. Weigh up the energy you'll spend on them, with the best and worst possible outcomes. Most of them aren't worth the trouble.

Think 3 steps, 3 days, 3 weeks and 3 months ahead.

Managing others' expectations. But at the same time trust your instincts to know what you can bluff your way through.

Go easy on the booze at the Christmas party.
posted by mooza at 5:56 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ugh, on preview: manage others' expectations.

And while you're at it, think 3 years ahead too!
posted by mooza at 5:57 AM on June 26, 2008

i've only been working full-time for about 10 years, but if there is one thing I wish I understood better at the beginning was to have patience. In my experience, nothing happens as quickly or exactly as you want it to. By being patient - and having the perspective to understand the big picture - not only do you enjoy work (and your life) a lot more but it allows you to identify opportunities you may not have otherwise have seen, ultimately allowing you to achieve greater success.

Oh, and I second the retirement planning thing. Although when you're not making a lot of money early in your career that can be a bit difficult.
posted by tundro at 6:04 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Always have a book in your office, I would suggest a small anthology of short stories, so you can pick it up and take it to a nice, sit-down lunch, rather than grabbing Taco Bell on the run so that you don't have to sit by yourself.
posted by banannafish at 6:11 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I come back and read these observations (from a friend of mine) once a year or so when something reminds me.
posted by mendel at 6:11 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

All other things being equal, people don't respect you less for insisting on good compensation, they respect you more.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 6:12 AM on June 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

Yeah, def. start investing - even a small amount - as soon as possible. I did so, and wound up having to cash out when the internet bubble popped (so I didn't make much more than I'd put in) but at the very least it was nice to have that cushion.

And remember, no matter how nice your boss is, if his head's on the line, his first interest is his own neck, not yours. Don't let anyone who can get you fired know much about you that you wouldn't want HR to know about. Trust no one completely; they in turn, will certainly act like you're full of shit even when you're just reminding them the sky is blue.

And use all your vacation and sick days - don't let your job become all that you are. Work to live, not the other way around.

Oh, go easy on the booze any time you're around work people. I had one heavy-duty liquid lunch after which I spent two hours sobering up in a bathroom stall, and spent the next six months paranoiac about losing my job.
posted by notsnot at 6:13 AM on June 26, 2008

Well, here's something I wish I had known before I even picked my major in college, but it's definitely held true over the past couple of years since I graduated:

A few months before I graduated, I had an interview with the Jet Propulsion Lab. Here, I thought, was a place to do interesting work, challenging work, somewhere I could really stretch myself.

One of the first questions the interviewer asked was, "Why do you want to work here?" And I responded with just what I said above - I want to do real engineering, I want to make a difference, to be challenged.

He interrupted me and said, "You do realize that only about 10% of your time will be doing real engineering work, right?" I had no answer to that; I was pretty flabbergasted, actually.

But it's true. Whatever job you're doing, figure 10-20% of your time will be spent actually using the skillset you thought you would need. The rest of the time is spent in meetings, doing paperwork, all the menial stuff everyone expects someone else to be doing. Don't let it get to you, though, because everyone else is in the same position.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:17 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

-Put aside as much as you can for retirement. I know it seems like you will be young forever, but time flies by quicker than you can imagine. Don't make the mistake of thinking you have plenty of time in the future to start saving. Do it now.

-Live well below your means. Those things that you thought would bring you happiness will instead cause stress and resentment if you can't make the payments.

-Avoid listening to, or spreading office gossip. Anyone who will gossip to you will also gossip about you. Stay out of that loop.

-Do your work with enthusiasm and without complaining. Take on any task you are given, and do it to your best ability. Be willing to learn from others.

-Maintain your dignity. Don't let your bosses disrespect you, but at the same time understand that they sign your timesheet. If it's strictly work-related, make sure they know they can rely on you. Ignore anyone who calls that brown-nosing. It's not. It's called doing your job. At the same time, if a boss is personally insulting or disrespectful, let them know, respectfully, that you expect to be treated professionally.

-It seems like an outdated cliche from a less enlightened time, but be very, very cautious with social relationships with coworkers. I'm a pretty outgoing person, and I like to be friends with everyone. But I can't say that having friendships with coworkers has ever been a benefit to me long-term. It's one thing to have lunch with coworkers because it's convenient, but much more than that can tricky in ways it's hard to explain. You don't want to be aloof, which will get you branded as a snob, but getting too personal can also be a problem. I try to be extremely polite, friendly, and engaging when discussing work projects, but tend to not volunteer or ask a lot about personal things. (It was not always this way; once I felt getting personal worked against me, I greatly reduced the personal banter.)

-Remember that no matter what you do, someone will have an opinion about it, or gossip about it. There is nothing too little for bored coworkers to use as gossip fodder. So, be true to yourself and do good work, without worrying about what someone else may think.

-Make sure you have plenty of whatever office supplies you need at your desk. Borrowing them from others, even if they seem happy to lend, quickly becomes annoying and makes you look unprepared.

-Keep some basic toiletries and a clean shirt at work. A neutral polo shirt is a good bet, since you can fold it and put it in a desk drawer. There will be a day you realize you need an extra application of deodorant, or you spill coffee or lunch on your shirt before the Big Meeting.

-Speaking of grooming: keep your fragrances light, light, light. No one is impressed by heavy fragrance, and some people are sensitive to them to the point of illness. Be aware that some deodorants smell as strong as cologne. In the enclosed spaces of an office, a little bit goes a long way.

-Keep a positive attitude. Don't be known as a whiner.

-Buy this book.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:28 AM on June 26, 2008 [9 favorites]

If you start contributing to some kind of investment/retirement plan starting with your first paycheck, you'll never "miss" that money, having never had it to spend in the first place.
posted by srah at 6:29 AM on June 26, 2008

Your boss doesn't know what you do. He knows your responsibilities, but generally he has no idea how you accomplish them. You set that up through ad-hoc arrangements with those around you. I've had seven jobs since college, and this has been true in every single case.
posted by futility closet at 6:32 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Congrats and welcome to the working world! Having worked in various jobs both white and blue collar for over 25 years i can give this advice, (much of this you may already know, but just in case):

Be like a sponge - learn from everything and all people, Listen more than you talk.
Remember the golden rule - Treat others as you would like to be treated.
Kill em with kindness - sometimes smiling and walking away is better.
Respect is earned, not given.
There is no such thing as a stupid question.

Dont fall into the trap(s) that your "seasoned" co workers may have already succumbed to, like: Backbiting, back stabbing, infighting, & gossiping. they will only hurt you.

Dont forget to take care of yourself and your future! enroll in the 401k (especially if they match $!) start saving NOW for retirement. A Fully-Funded Roth IRA At Age 18 Could Net You 3.5 Million Dollars

They're is so much more, but i too have a job, and must get back to it.

Best of luck!!
posted by Wezzlee at 6:33 AM on June 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

Listen. Think. Listen. Then speak.
posted by KB.Boston_implant.By way of NY at 6:36 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wish I knew that even the best jobs come with a lot of crapwork like expense reports, filing, calling to double check things, filling out forms, etc. You're never going to escape some amount of drone work, especially when you first start working.

I also wish I knew that unlike school where you get grades and quizzes and assessments that let you know how you're doing, you are really flying blind most of the time at work. It's rare to hear "great job filing all those quarterly returns on time, Employee!"
For someone who is used to feedback and gets off on praise, it can be disconcerting to be going along day after day not hearing if your work is appreciated or correct or just ok enough to get by without a reprimand. Performance assessments that happen yearly are so general and laden with corporate-talk that it's hard to get much out of them. You have to be committed to doing your job even if no one notices (they usually won't notice unless you screw up or are late with something).
posted by rmless at 6:41 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

The retirement advice is spot-on. Even if your employer doesn't match (often they wait until you've been there a year or some period of time), start investing now. If and when your employer matches contributions, put in the maximum amount you can that they'll match to (ie, mine matched up to 2% of my compensation, so I put in 2% and they put in another 2).

Aside from that, one thing I wished I had known is how little time you have outside of the office! Use your free time wisely; on the weekends, make big batches of stuff that's easy to freeze, like tomato sauce or soup. This makes your dinners a lot easier, and a lot healthier. Also, bring your lunch, but try to eat it somewhere other than your desk. It's tempting to eat out every day, since you'll be making more money than ever. Don't do it, especially not every day -- it's expensive, and unhealthy. Do the same thing with coffee -- make your morning cup at home, don't buy it on the way in. Also, keep some healthy snacks at your desk -- nothing is worse than having a big meeting and a rumbling stomach.

Good luck, and congrats on landing your first job out of college!
posted by k8lin at 6:53 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good question. A few common misconceptions most people (including myself) have when they get their first job or two:

You're replaceable. 100%. Dont try to convince yourself otherwise.

Let go of all the classist issues you have been taught. You need the paycheck, youre not Che Guevara. Be practical not dramatic.

Every organization has politics. Thats human nature. Figure out how to work that to your advantage instead of complaining about it.

Always remember that its always downhill from here. Most office workers dont understand that they have the cushiest jobs in human history. Imagine manual labor 40 hrs a week, outdoors, no AC, no starbucks, no internet, etc.

Isolate yourself from the negative people and the gossips. Don't let them get you down (they will try). This is harder than it sounds.

Understand the difference between a real friend and work friend. The former you can complain about work to. The latter you cannot, or should not.

When you get home do your best to forget about work. Try not to think about it until the next morning.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:01 AM on June 26, 2008 [17 favorites]

Lastly, my personal work mantra is "You need this paycheck." Reminding myself of this when I'm doing work I dont like tends to help. Its more convincing than "this is a good company," "my boss likes me," "im a team player," etc.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:02 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Don't take out your work frustrations on your significant other. At the beginning, this may be hard. I like to think I've gotten better about it, but there are still some days where stress just gets to me.

Building a nest egg is indeed very satisfying. I don't actually know how much I have in my 401(k) because with the way the stock market's been I think it's just sort of depressing to follow...but that's a good thing, because while I'm not watching my retirement is getting more comfortable.

Learn your strengths and, where possible, use them. It's not always productive to work on your weaknesses; it is, however, good to know what they are so you can plan around them.
posted by crinklebat at 7:07 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Never get into a long explanation if you need to save face. Even if you're entirely faultless and circumstances conspired to make you look bad, the effort to explain a complex situation to someone who is disappointed in you will just make you seem like you're ducking responsibility for a mess. Or, if a supervisor gets drawn into a story, you will end up sparring over minutiae. Not fun. Otherwise known as the "dog-ate-my-homework-no-seriously-I-was-at-the-vet-for-six-hours-here-I-have-a-receipt-somewhere-hold-on" lose-lose scenario.

A short, professional message of contrition will always do. It's easier for you to move on when they have too.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:27 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

For the first couple of months, listen and don't talk a lot. Absorb the new world around you without offering your opinions. Since you are new to the job world, you won't be saddled with the urge to say, "At my last job, we..."

That gets old really fast.

The first couple of months sets an impression in your co-workers' minds. If you come across as the kind of person who is quiet, responds quickly, and does a really good job, that's the way you'll be perceived.

Think of it as an investment in your reputation that you'll be able to draw on in the future.

Ditto the 401(k) thing. Another good investment.
posted by producerpod at 7:28 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Damn Dirty Ape has a freakishly good list there.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:36 AM on June 26, 2008

Trust no one completely

Don't work in the same company as notsnot. Or, less sarcastically, don't settle for anything. If you feel work is a horrible, toxic environment with people out only for themselves and will gladly stab you in the back to progress, find another job (unless this the kind of environment that you strive in). You'll find the same stuff at every company/job, but at least you can try to find a place where negativity is the exception, not the rule. I suffered through shit jobs for good pay but have come to realise that I am happier working for (a lot) less money as long as I enjoy the work and the people. Not that it's 100% sunshine and kittens, but I don't have to convince myself to get out of bed every morning.

Another thing that bears repeating: leave work at work. I have a bad habit of taking it home with me and I have to be quite rigorous in my 'rules' to keep work (that I enjoy, mind you) from taking over my life.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Most office workers dont understand that they have the cushiest jobs in human history. Imagine manual labor 40 hrs a week, outdoors, no AC, no starbucks, no internet, etc.

Seriously, remember this. (Also, the 40-hour workweek is a newish invention.)

Keep some basic toiletries and a clean shirt at work. ... There will be a day you realize you need an extra application of deodorant, or you spill coffee or lunch on your shirt before the Big Meeting.

Yes. The Tide Pen is your friend. Also, having an extra toothbrush/paste set in the office is a great thing.

And: leave your work at work. This means two things: (1) Do not pretend you'll catch up on work tasks in your off hours at home (you won't, and you'll be lugging papers around straining your back for no reason) and (2) don't assume anyone in your life outside the office wants to hear anything about your workday. Unless you're an ER doc, a magazine airbrusher, or a bounty hunter, nobody cares about the minutiae of what you do.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:11 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Office politics sucks, but you'll be shooting yourself in the foot if you think you're too big to engage in it. Unfortunately, you have to play the game if you want to get anywhere. (Keeping your head down and doing a great job WILL go unnoticed.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 8:15 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

For the first couple of months, listen and don't talk a lot.

Exception: if you don't get something, ask ask ask. It might seem silly at the time, but you don't want to be caught out a few months later without a clue on how to do something basic. The phrase "You've been here how long...?" is not one you want to hear.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:16 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Never assume that you are entitled to your job. Do not start referring to tasks as "My" whatevers (My TPS reports, my backups, my filing cabinets, whatever). They're not yours, you're just borrowing them from the company.

Even if you're the only one in your office that can do your tasks, don't assume that state of affairs will never change. Assume you can be replaced at any time - because you can - and you will be much more successful.
posted by pdb at 8:32 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

You are expendable. Doing your job well, and getting glowing reviews count for nothing if the company wants to cut costs.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:10 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

-- Own up to your mistakes IMMEDIATELY, if you can't fix them without anyone noticing. It takes a while in a job to know what mistakes can and cannot be fixed (and I mean fixed, not covered up or blamed on someone else) without anyone noticing, so in the beginning you'll just have to fess up. The sooner the better. The longer you wait, the more hot water you'll be in. Chances are, if you tell your boss right away, he'll at least acknowledge your honesty and courage.

-- Leave the personal dramas at home. Everyone has a little drama at work from time to time, but don't let it get drawn out. Your coworkers may be supportive at first, but it gets old really fast, and it's disruptive. They will gossip about you, and you'll be seen as someone who has little self-control. Take a personal day or two rather than try to deal with your breakup over the phone at your desk.

-- Keep some healthy snacks at your desk, and you'll get in the habit of eating them before the vending machine junk.

-- Wait at least 3 months before using the work computer for personal stuff (surfing, keeping in touch with friends etc.) Work is a great place to get personal work done, but you need to know what you can get away with and what you can't.

-- Never keep your browser maximized if you're doing personal stuff -- resize it smaller over a work document so you can easily click over to the work document when someone's coming. Don't let anyone see you doing personal stuff, even your buddies. People don't like seeing their coworkers goofing off when they're overworked, and they WILL gripe about it to someone, and it could get back to your boss. If you always look like you're working, everyone will think you're always busy. This is good.

-- Gossip is fun, but be aware that no one is safe. Just don't tell anyone your darkest secrets, otherwise don't worry about what they're saying about you behind your back. Be on your best behavior at work, and they won't have much to gossip about.
posted by Koko at 9:26 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I wish I knew how exhausting the 8 hour a day 5 day a week schedule was. Work as little as possible, that's the best thing you can do for yourself and the rest of society. I think that was Thoreau's mantra. Remember every hour you spend working is an hour off the rest of your life.

Also: DON'T GET STUCK! Stay out of debt if at all possible. Think very long and hard before making large purchases like new cars and houses.

This is what I try to do: Live on only half of what you earn. That way you have a whole year of freedom saved up for every year you work! That might mean even more than a year of freedom if you go and travel in countries where the exchange rate is in your favor.

If you stay out of debt you can go both ways with damn dirty ape's advice (You're replaceable. 100%. Dont try to convince yourself otherwise.) and make your employer replaceable to you as you are to them.
posted by symbollocks at 9:27 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Learn all you can about the organization, not just your tiny part of it. Try to figure out how your tasks contribute to the larger whole, ask questions, see how things work. This will help you:
- prioritize your tasks once your bosses become more hands-off
- figure out how to become more valuable to the org and reap benefits in terms of promotions/raises
- figure out what you want to do career-wise in general: maybe another department looks more interesting to you, or another employer altogether

Seconding fessing up to your mistakes - you're new, you will make mistakes, if your bosses/coworkers are reasonable, they won't think anything of it if you immediately fess up and work to fix things. (If they flip out, they are unreasonable, and you need a new job.)

Try to figure out the culture of your organization - do people socialize? Socialize with them at least some of the time. What do people wear? Try to dress appropriately. How much slacking/personal internet surfing goes on? Try not to exceed the average. And so on...
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 9:43 AM on June 26, 2008

It's typically a soul-sucking experience, unless you luck-out and find a job you actually like. Don't focus on pay, it's not worth it, find something you like actually doing. That can be tough in a corporate environment.

If you haven't seen it yet, watch the movie Office Space.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:42 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

manage expectations. Pay yourself first. Have a healthy dose of humility. Realize that everyone screws up-just be humble about it. But managing expectations is by far the most important.
posted by neilkod at 10:44 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't make emotional decisions about business matters.

I've seen a lot of people convince themselves that they'll 'feel better' at another job or in another city.

As a corollary, it's time to leave when you're at your peak, not your low.
posted by milinar at 10:52 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You are replaceable, and there are plenty of people who want your job. You are not entitled to this paycheck.

Keep your finances such that you're not royally screwed if that check were to disappear with little to no warning. (I agree with the people who suggest setting up retirement savings this year -- but I'd stash away 3 months salary somewhere else first.)

Jobs come and go, and someone is always hiring. Your employer is not entitled to your devotion. When something better comes along... take it without regret (but do give 2 weeks notice, and work 100% through those weeks).

Keep your resume current, and don't be afraid to go on an interview for an interesting gig, even if you're happy with your current one. You're just playing the field, broadening your choices. Don't tell your current employer about it until you're quitting.

Your friends and former co-workers will more more influential in getting you your next job than anyone else on the planet, even craig. Conversely, if you like your job, don't be afraid to recruit your (competent) friends.

Get a different IM account for work, if your workplace is one that uses IM in any capacity.

Just because someone seems incompetent to you, doesn't mean that they are. They may have a different perspective, goal, or understanding than you do (or perhaps they're a superstar in some other area of the business that you don't see). Or, they might just be incompetent. 90% of the people who are above you in the org-chart are they because they earned it. Don't assume that you can identify the other 10.

Treat everyone (above and below alike) with respect, and the favor will be returned. Many more successful CEO's are described as "approachable" than "intimidating". Most of them started their career that way.

Give praise in public. Offer criticism in private. Don't give either when it isn't warranted.

Share your successes with the team ("We all kicked ass on that"). Accept your mistakes individually ("I was late with that, and it wasn't as polished as it should've been.")

Do everything you can to keep your manager from being surprised.

And remember that people tend to do better work when they enjoy the company of the people around them. Be the guy that people wouldn't mind being stuck in an airport with, and you'll be a better employee.
posted by toxic at 11:17 AM on June 26, 2008 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Great advice everyone, thanks a lot!
posted by nuclear_soup at 11:59 AM on June 26, 2008

I don't think this has been mentioned yet, but get to be friends with the support staff -- from the doorman to the secretary to the mailroom guy. Even if you are technically support staff yourself, if you graduated from college there's definitely going to be someone lower than you on the food chain who you should befriend.

Support staff can help you out in all sorts of ways if you get on their good side. And depending on the structure of your job, you may very well be working more closely and more frequently with them than anyone else in the office, and it's much more pleasant to do this from a platform of friendliness than from pure obligation/demand. Also, I personally think it makes you look good to win over the support staff -- everyone likes a likeable person, and everyone knows the support staff has no reason to like you unless you make an effort.
posted by footnote at 2:27 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Be organised with your filing from the very start, electronic files, emails, paper stuff.
Create a manual for your job as you go, even if there is one, because for sure, you'll be asked to do stuff only once or twice a year, and you'll forget how you did it, where you sourced the stuff, that sort of thing.

Keep an ego file. Everytime you pull something off, get a nice email from a client or a boss, save the details in the same place. When it comes time for promotion or a new job, answering those tricky questions like, why should we, it's easy. Also keep track of goals set and achieved there, and extra training completed.

Note publicly declared anniversaries etc in a perpetual diary so that you can congratulate the person next year before they declare it. Also, keep track of people you deal with (even in outlook) Susie has three kids, one going for a medal in track & field. Next time you ring, So Susie, how did the kid go in the competition?

Keep your office drawers neat. Seriously. Don't clutter your desk with cutesy things and photos etc. Not professional, and a pain when you need space to spread out. Share only tidbits of your personal life, and don't expect your colleagues to be your friends. You'll probably be surprised at who turns around and stabs you in the back. So don't give them any ammunition.
posted by b33j at 2:58 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Dress appropriately.
posted by Riverine at 4:10 PM on June 26, 2008

Treat every assignment you're given, even the bullshit ones, seriously and do the very best job that you can. Taking the job seriously will likely set you leagues apart from apart from your peers, which in turn will engender trust in most reasonable supervisors/managers, which in turn will lead to better assignments. No need to strut; just do a good job.
posted by hawkeye at 6:15 PM on June 26, 2008

With your co-workers, strike a balance between "colleague" and "friend". You'll likely work with folks who become good, solid friends (lovers?) in your life outside of work. Let that happen, but don't try to make it happen with everyone. With everyone you meet at the job, know that your relationship with him/her should, at least in the beginning, be strictly professional. Different offices and jobs have varying levels of formality, but "formal but friendly" is an important skill in the office. Don't kiss ass, and recognize flattery aimed at you for what it is.
posted by zardoz at 8:15 PM on June 26, 2008

It is a lot easier swimming downstream than it is upstream. Even if you think you are right, sometimes you will be more effective in the long-term by being diplomatic and letting your co-worker, manager, culture have its way. The right thing to do is not always the right thing to do.

Establish relationships as opposed to friendships with your coworkers. Even if you want to put your nose to the grindstone and put on your headphones, you will be more successful if you take time out to develop a relationship with people. If you want to get anything done outside of your cubicle you will need to have influence with others. Planting the seed of an office relationship can be as simple as asking someone about a project, offering to grab them a coffee when you get one, or popping in on your boss to ask a question you already know the answer to. And don't be a d*ck to the administrrative assistants or cleaning crew. Take 1 minute out of your day and ask your bosses assistant about his / her kids. In the course of your short conversations you will learn about the organization, who has clout, and who to avoid.

You may not be smarter than someone but you can always work harder than them.

Own up to your mistakes, ask questions, don't waste people's time, proof read your emails, and openly ask for advice from your superiors.

And if you get bit by the procrastination bug remember this: "Sometimes all you have to do is start"
posted by jasondigitized at 7:19 AM on June 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

It can seem awfully corny, but Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People is shockingly effective.
posted by mullingitover at 2:12 PM on June 27, 2008

Wear pants.

Seriously, however...the most important thing I've learned is that they will take as much as you are willing to give. If you're willing to give them your last drop of blood, they'll take it that too and probably forget to say thank you. You will be the only one setting any limits.

My mantra, which thank God I learned early on:

Work is good. But its not that important.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:56 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't promise things you know immediately you cannot deliver. On the other side of that, be tactful and have some finesse when you explain you can't--explain briefly but solidly why it isn't feasible, and then either offer compromises or suggestions that can make it happen (more time, a partner to work with, etc). When you CAN deliver but know it will mean a lot more energy/time on your part, weigh the benefits and costs. If you're going to make a very memorable impression by doing something ambitious and you realize you are definitely capable of pulling it off better than anyone else they could ask, but it'll just mean more effort on your part, strongly consider being enthusiastic and doing it. So much of work like grad school is about having limited time and resources and making hard choices about where to allot them for maximum benefit.

I used to think this was bullshit, but some social pleasantry really DOES matter. And really, it's pretty easy. Don't be fake or anything, but keep in mind that when you treat everyone in your workplace like a real human being with outside interests and dreams who just wants to get through their work day like you, you raise the comfort level for everyone at work including yourself. Be kind, be classy.

This is a total given, but duh, be super organized. The method varies by person--by now you need to have some idea of what works for you to get everything in order and remembered in time. Frankly I think pre-grad school is mostly useful simply if it teaches people this before they enter the workplace...

And this is painfully obvious, but get to work on time, in fact, a bit early so you can get everything in order and relax and be confident for the day. Work hours mean at whatever time you're scheduled you're BEGINNING your work, not just getting in the door. Being punctual and prepared is a foundation of a solid work ethic. (I learned this from my Mom who never used a day of sick time in over 2 decades of teaching and was never, ever late...thanks Mom!)
posted by ifjuly at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

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