How to succeed as a young professional

Are you a new graduate or young person starting out in the professional world? I remember that time. College was a lot of fun but also a lot of work and I was excited and a little nervous to start working at a “real job.” I’d held many jobs through my college years – scooping ice cream in the cafeteria, making pizza at the college pizzeria, weeding, counting the number of words in documents for a transcription company (yes, so long ago there was no internet yet), etc. Not very exciting or challenging positions, but they helped cover my expenses. As graduation loomed I was looking forward to an office position, where I could use more of my brain and contribute to something a bit more meaningful.

That first job was as the receptionist for an events production company. It was an innovative, exciting, well respected company and I was thrilled for the job. And while I was ready for the challenge, my personal skills were not. I was promoted quickly to events coordinator but I made many mistakes as a brash young woman. Here are some tips I learned through my career for you young people heading off to your first career type job.

Dress the part

How I dressed really wasn’t important for many of my college jobs. And, I had no idea what was and wasn’t appropriate for my new corporate position. Consequentially, I made many mistakes. How we dress at work is more important than many people understand. Dressing like you’re going to a yoga class or a night out on the town is not going to convey that you take the job seriously. Instead, your boss and others may question your suitability for the job. Ask your manager or the human resources staff what is and isn’t appropriate for your position. Watch what the company managers are wearing and follow suit (pun not intended).

In a professional environment the focus should be on your brain and not your body, so it’s usually appropriate to dress more modestly in the workplace. Avoid skimpy, skin baring items such as low cut shirts, short skirts or tight fitting dresses. Also stay away from wearing casual items like flip flops, shorts, ripped jeans (or jeans entirely if you work for a more formal company), tennis shoes and t-shirts. That said, those items may be perfectly acceptable when you hold a back office position in a tech company.

Put the phone away

Smart phones weren’t invented yet when I worked for my first organization so I didn’t have to worry about the etiquette for mobile phones. But, today with our phones practically being another appendage we need to pay attention to how we use them. The number one complaint I get from my clients is inappropriate cell phone use in meetings. My clients share that it’s very hard to have a productive meeting when everyone is focusing on their phones. You may notice others look at their phones in meetings, but don’t think that means it’s acceptable. When you attend a meeting, it’s best to leave your phone at your desk or in your pocket. That way you won’t be tempted to gaze at it when it lights up, rings or buzzes. If you forget and bring it to the meeting turn it to silent and do not put it on the table, even if you place it face down. Keep it in your lap, purse, pocket or under your chair. I guarantee you that if you can see it and it lights up you’re going to want to look at it. So, avoid the temptation.

Here are some other reasons for not using your phone in a meeting.

You’ll be more present and won’t miss potentially important details. You can contribute more meaningfully when you know what’s going on.

People will think more highly of you when you are attentive in a meeting. This could lead to being promoted sooner. You never know.

It’s embarrassing when you are asked a question when you are looking at your phone. You most likely won’t hear the question and you’ll stumble trying to figure out what was asked. Everyone will know you were not paying attention.

Use confident language

Try to use language that sounds confident and avoid words and phrases that communicate uncertainty. For instance, using phrases such as “most certainly” or “in my experience” will convey confidence in what you are saying. However, phrases like, “Do you know what I mean?” or “I’m not an expert, but …” will make you seem unsure of yourself. Also, adding the word “just” communicates insecurity—as in “I just want to make a point.” Jettison “just” and speak with authority.

Also avoid upspeaking. Upspeaking is when your intonation goes up at the end of a sentence like you’re asking a question but you are making a statement. For example, if you say, “I think we should change the brochure color to blue” and you raise your tone at the end, no one is going to believe you are confident in your statement.

Lastly, the people at your work who seem most knowledgeable are probably people who state their opinion with confidence, even if they aren’t 100% sure of what they are talking about. I’m not suggesting you share information that isn’t true, but when you deliver a message with confidence – using a confident tone, eye contact and a moderate volume – people usually respect and believe what you’re saying.

Be helpful

Be the person who fixes the copy machine when it gets a jam or who offers to help with the company holiday party planning. Ask your coworker if you can pick up a coffee drink for him next time you go to the local coffee shop for your cuppa Joe.  Clean up someone’s spill in the kitchen. Why? Because people notice when you go above and beyond and take care of things. You come across as reliable, conscientious and humble. All great traits!

I handled many of those seemingly beneath me tasks and I even wrote humorous reminder notes to my coworkers to get them to pitch in. Doing the chores and writing the fun notes got me noticed. That’s one of the reasons I believe I was promoted so quickly.

Good luck to you! Your new job will be filled with many adventures and important lessons.



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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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