By all accounts, the graduating class of 2008 is a group celebrated for their technological savvy but woefully unschooled in the customs of the corporation. So if you're a corporate newbie or a freshly minted graduate entering today's work force, how do you succeed in the brave new world of "The Office?"
"It's important these stars-in-the-making are prepared for the profound differences between work behavior and school behavior," said Shanti Atkins, president of ELT Inc., an ethics and compliance training company. "For example, do not rate your boss as hot or not," referring to the popular college pastime of rating professors and friends on social networking Web sites.
Instead, Atkins offers the following four tips to help students navigate the transition from college life to corporate America:
Technology is your best friend and worst enemy.
In matters technological, your ability to communicate and network goes far beyond anything previous generations have ever seen. But the rules are different in the workplace. Everything you do on company time and company equipment can be considered work product and is subject to standards of professionalism you might not be used to. Every email, voicemail and text message you send could someday be used for or against you in a work dispute or performance evaluation. Even if you're blogging about work on your home computer on your own time, say about an exciting new project or an annoying colleague, you could be violating company privacy policies or other standards. Your job is to maintain and even increase your technological edge on the job, but learn to keep the power professional not personal.
After-hours business events can be perilous parties.
If you are schmoozing on the company dime, you aren't off the clock in terms of business behavior. Yes, such events are designed to help people connect socially, but only to the extent that potential business ties are strengthened. So keep your eye on the ball, not on the open bar. Binge drinking and professional performance don't mix, so learn your limit and stay well under it at company events. As for how to be yourself and still create rapport with company bigwigs -- act as if you are meeting your significant other's parents. Politeness and respect never go out of style.
Your ethics can affect nations.
Think of Enron and imagine the long chain of invisible ethical lapses that lead to such a tragic corporate scandal. As a new college graduate, your sense of fairness, justice and right and wrong have never been stronger. But as you begin to make your name in the workplace, you will be exposed to normal workplace pressures to get the job done faster, cheaper and with the highest profit. Will you cut corners, bend rules, lie to make things fit? Will you adjust your timesheet, exaggerate your expenses, abuse office privileges? For help with navigating these complex issues, find an experienced mentor to act as your ethics adviser. Ask the big questions outside of work and don't be surprised at shades of gray. Also, while you don't want to become the office cop, be aware that there are "whistleblower" laws that protect you from retaliation if you were to raise complaints.
Learn the rules.
Learn the written and unwritten rules of your workplace, well beyond your daily hours and rate of compensation. What exactly are the rules of engagement regarding technology, after hours business conduct, office romance and sexual harassment -- and many more corporate cultural and employment issues that will define your work experience? Your best bet is to make a friend in the human-resources department and show your boss you are committed to learning and living by the rules of your new organization by asking for a contact in that department for routine questions.
By Marshall Loeb