Stepping into the workplace for the first time as a university graduate is an exhilarating yet nerve-wracking experience.
And while there is a lot to learn in terms of skill and expertise, one major part of your success will be to navigate the company culture and expectations of your co-workers.
With that in mind, we went straight to the boss to find out what university graduates should know about office etiquette.
Here’s what they had to say.
Luke Anear, CEO of SafetyCulture: Avoid being the loudest person in the room
See yourself as your own asset. The best people are those who consistently push beyond their job description, and that happens naturally when you increase your skills, demand training and contribute to different teams.
Back yourself: don’t be nervous to engage with a range of people across the company, many of the best ideas come from talking with people who don’t do what you do. When you do engage, ask how you can help them and what they need. People respond to others who are enthusiastic and thoughtful.
To that end though, avoid being the loudest person in the room right from the get go. Listen and learn for the first couple of weeks, it’ll give you a good idea how everything works and will show you where you can add value. Don’t be afraid to approach the CEO with your ideas, good CEOs may surprise you with their response, and invariably appreciate a fresh perspective that’s well thought out.
Sophia Zhao, CEO of E2 Media: Be respectful
Respect. It is both a powerful tool in business and an essential part of life. Being respectful at work means respecting your supervisor and being willing to learn from them, respecting your team members and appreciating that each person has something unique to offer, and respecting yourself by behaving professionally and working well with others. Respect is such a simple word, yet its impact on all aspects of your life is so profound. Having the respect of your peers and supervisors can be a very powerful tool for career progression.
Mick Spencer, CEO of ONTHEGO: Be personal and build relationships
Focus on being personal and building personal relationships. In today’s work environment things are changing rapidly. Communication is driven by digital technology and people can easily hide behind emails, texts, and instant messages. What we see often is grads taking the easy route by communicating through text or email, rather than actually saying things how they are.
As CEOs we understand that this is probably your first job and that offices can be challenging enough with managing personalities and familiarising yourself with the work, so a good piece of advice is to focus on being personal, be open to communicating issues, and maintain face-to-face contact with your colleagues and superiors as you will find that this will truly benefit you and your career. After all, the cornerstone of being human is building personal relationships.
Suzy Watson, Co-Founder of Intersective: Seek feedback and actively addressing it
Show initiative and respond to feedback! Businesses are aware that graduates may not know everything, but what impresses CEOs is when graduates “have a go”.
The only way a graduate will upskill is by being prepared to try, seek feedback, and try again showing how they applied that feedback. I am far more impressed with the wrong thing I can give feedback on, than nothing to give feedback on. If graduate shows how much they want to learn by seeking feedback and actively addressing it, I am prepared to invest a lot more in them and their career.
This type of experiential learning forms the backbone of lifelong upskilling and improvement and it’s at the heart of our business.
Adam Brimo, CEO of OpenLearning: Use appropriate language and have a sense of cultural awareness
Be the best version of yourself. While the formalities of a traditional workplace may not be as important as they once were, I believe that graduates today must present themselves well, use appropriate language, have a higher level of cultural awareness and have a strong work ethic to ensure they are successful in any role.
For some graduates, this should be second nature as they would have worked with a diverse group of students at university, participated in university societies that required them to interact with professionals and potentially interviewed with many employers before being selected for a role.
However, for those graduates who didn’t get involved in extracurricular activities during their university days and were lucky enough to be offered a job with minimal effort, remember that first impressions matter and you never know who you’re going to meet.
Chris Noone, CEO of Collabrate Corp: Make meetings matter
Adequately preparing for meetings demonstrates that you value your co-workers’ time. To do this, we like to follow six simple rules.
Before sending any calendar invites, ensure you:
1. Determine the purpose of the meeting and decide if you really need to hold a meeting at all. If your objective is better suited to sending an email, send an email instead.
2. Create an agenda that clearly outlines what will be discussed and the desired outcomes or decisions you’ll make as a team. Include the agenda in the meeting invitation.
3. Invite only those who are required to make the meeting effective, and don’t include more participants than what is necessary.
Then, during and after the meeting:
1. Keep participants from deviating during discussions.
2. Stay within the allotted time to keep colleagues from running late.
3. Send a follow-up email reiterating any decisions made and outlining action-items.
Beaut Bertolli, Joint CEO of Prospa: Stay out of office politics
You want to stand out but stand out for the right reasons. Work hard, deliver on your promises, always bring 100% energy to each day. You still know nothing after 3-5 years of university, so listen and learn.
Seek at least one mentor, and don’t be afraid to ask for an unfair share of their time to coach you. Executives love being asked to mentor someone but you have to take the initiative.
Stay out of office politics and office romances. Take it easy at social events – you don’t have to be the last one standing. Use these events to get to know your colleagues and seek out introductions to higher placed people you can learn from.
Helen Souness, CEO of RMIT Online: Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut
The personal anecdote that springs to mind is what a very successful — and grumpy — family friend said to me as I was going into my first job in a big law firm. He advised me: “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.”
I thought he was incredibly rude and was trying to shut down all my brilliant ideas, so I ignored him. But after a few decades working now, I wish I had followed that advice many times. There is huge value in just listening and observing until you work out the people and the workplace culture and practices.
Richard Watson, Country Director at Twilio: Respect people’s differences
Always look for where the “tide is breaking” instead of looking for the easy ride. Employers look for something different from individuals coming out of university, so demonstrate that you have an energy and thirst for challenge.
Keep in mind, your new colleagues will all have individual qualities and experiences. Respecting differences and being hungry to learn from your new peers will allow you to balance your enthusiasm with the reality of a new office life and really prosper.
The easy ride is for the herd, so you have to choose to stand out and take your own path.
Simon Banks, Managing Director of Hyperwallet: Dress to express your individuality, but be office appropriate
With more workplaces relaxing their dress code, there has never been more choice when it comes to how you can dress at work – and this is a good thing. It gives you the benefit of not only being comfortable but, more importantly, a chance to express your individuality.
How you dress builds your personal “brand” in the office, forming your identity in the workplace. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that what you wear should be appropriate not just for the office, but also for your clients. Based on personal experience I can safely say that you should wear your Metallica shirt to work if it’s who you are — but make sure it’s the clean and non-ripped version on the days when you meet with (perhaps startled) clients.
Nati Harpaz, CEO of The Catch Group: Don’t be fake
Be yourself. People can detect if you are fake from a mile and if you are genuine and personable you will find that the workplace is not that much different from school or any other environment. People will remember how you made them feel so make sure you are always true to yourself and support your team.
Mike Rosenbaum, CEO of Spacer.com.au: Be helpful and pitch in
One of the best pieces of advice I can pass on is to remember that your colleagues are normal people too. Don’t be afraid to start conversations with people, show interest in them, and, within reason, share your interests too. Be professional but also personable.
Another good thing you can do around the office is to be helpful. Even if you offer to make teas and coffees, tidy up the meeting rooms and ask if there’s anything you can help with – it will go along way. Make yourself indispensable in your work and around the office.
Justin Hales CEO of Camplify: Use the 90-day rule
Speak to the senior managers in the workplace and find out how they can contribute most in their first 90 days. That first 90 days provides a valuable opportunity to learn, and setup your role and next steps.
Using these outcomes from your manager, you can create engagement with other key people in the business to achieve these outcomes. It’s a great way to get to know key people, and your new work environment. Stay in touch with your manager and keep them informed with your progress, always ask for feedback on your direction.
Most importantly, its OK to fail; the journey is sometimes more important.
Ashik Ahmed, CO-Founder and CEO of Deputy: Never underestimate the power of face to face communication
It’s a common tune but in the workplace, communication is key. As businesses increasingly become global, technology is playing a huge role in connecting employees but there’s something to be said about simply getting up and talking to your coworkers.
The one piece of advice I would share for those who are new to the workforce is to never underestimate the power of face to face communication. Tech does a wonderfully efficient job of bridging physical distances and keeping teams globally aligned on projects, but they have limitations as communication tools. There will never be a better way to clearly communicate, avoid crossed wires, resolve doubts or most importantly, to build trust, than face to face communication (including through a webcam if need be).
We foster a flexible working policy at Deputy but managing your own communication lines for full team visibility is a crucial part of this policy.
When it comes to office etiquette, think wisely about how and why you’re communicating – as well as the platform you’re using. There’s a time and place for face to face communication or Slack and for many graduates these new tools will become the norm. Figuring out which tool is the most appropriate for the situation at hand will be key.
Detch Singh, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Hypetap: Be a team player
Be a team player. This involves actually asking people if they need help and going out of your way to assist teammates. If you’re in the right culture this won’t be taken advantage of — your tenacity will be appreciated. And great colleagues will always repay the favour.
Be your own advocate. Standing up for yourself can be scary, but you need to have your own back or else you can’t fully support the team. Confidence, not cockiness, and knowing your worth are important assets for any company.
Be respectful in your workplace. Open plan offices make your co-workers more accessible but you need to be aware of things like taking phone calls on speaker phone. A mindful deskmate is always appreciated.
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