I started working when I was 15 years old. My dad gave me plenty of little anecdotes to survive life, but there are five things I wish he’d told me about working in the real world once I graduated high school. Some I learned back in the day before computers, and many more I’ve had to learn the hard way. These are the lessons I hope my own teenagers know before they launch into the workplace:
1. Have a professional email address. Employers looking at your resume, especially if submitted online, are more likely to hire you if your email is simply your name @ whatever dot com. Avoid using addresses such as hotforyou at gmail dot com or bootylicious at yahoo dot com. While those were cute in high school, they aren’t attractive in the workplace (or on college applications, for that matter). They represent immaturity, and sophistication is important to potential employers. It’s also good to have a separate email for work and one for personal use. This prevents you from missing important correspondence from your current employer or future ones.
2. Practice social media etiquette.
Once you land a job, you’re going to have to tone down your posts and what you share. It’s just a fact of life. If you need to share about your night out after a hard week of work, that’s fine. It’s probably best, though, if you don’t post the pictures of you doing keg stands or passed out on the floor with a mustache Sharpied on your face. Even if you don’t add your employer on social media, potential bosses are now searching sites just to see who you are outside of work.
If you think you really want to or need to friend or follow someone you work with, do so after seriously thinking about who it is and why you would. It’s natural and good to make friends at your job, and no matter how much you want to add them to your circle online, it’s fair to say it’s not generally a good idea.
If you do decide to include them, be prepared to tone down your postings or tweets even more. Just because they’re your friends at work on Monday doesn’t mean that by Friday you’ll still be best buds. I’ve seen countless coworkers humiliated because a fellow coworker shared personal things with other people at the workplace and even went so far as to notify the supervisor. When in doubt, leave them out.
3. Be a true team player.
In high school, you partnered with someone in science class to do a project. Either you were the one who sat back and let the other person do the work, or vice versa. Maybe that was OK. In the workplace, that isn’t how teamwork happens. Always do your best to be a part of the project, and don’t hesitate to share your ideas.
The reason you sat quietly by in the classroom may have been because you were afraid of rejection. Don’t be afraid of that now that you are part of the team. You never know when your idea might be what a project needs to get over a hump. Employers look for those who take initiative and remember the workers who weren’t afraid to pitch in at the crucial moments.
Always speak up and use your chain of command if you feel like you’re getting stuck with all the work. That doesn’t mean you have to throw a tantrum in the middle of the office and swipe everything off the desk when it happens. Communicate to those you are working with how you feel. If that doesn’t work, then move up to a supervisor for help. The chain of command is a wonderful thing if you use it properly.
4. Pick your battles
Try to learn a little about the people you work closest with every day. This doesn’t mean you have to know every single detail about their personal lives, but understanding what types of personalities they have can come in handy when stressful situations occur.
Does the cashier you’re bagging groceries for become a time-management junkie when the line backs up? Stay focused and get the job done. It may not be your fault she doesn’t handle stress as well as you do, but that doesn’t mean that adapting to her pace is a bad thing.
If the guy working in the plumbing department is going through a hard time at home (because face it, you’re not just going to be working with other people your own age), and he’s always asking you to cover his area so he can have countless smoke breaks to argue on the phone with his wife, speak up to your supervisor. This interferes with your own productivity, and in general, bringing personal issues to work is not strong work ethic.
5. Don’t mix business with pleasure.
I’ll admit I’m guilty of doing this in the past, and I can safely say it rarely works out for the best. If you think that the humiliation of being embarrassed on social media might be bad when a coworker suddenly decides they don’t like you, add an innocent workplace romance to that, and you’ve got a multitude of problems waiting to happen. You might end up having to quit your job and go somewhere else. It could be that bad.
Think that guy who washes the golf carts at the end of the day is really nice and might be fun to invite over for dinner at your place? Don’t do it. More importantly, most employers forbid fraternizing with other employees. This is a serious offense and could cost you your job.
Despite having to conform to a more mature approach to life once I started working in the real world, I did just fine. It’s an ongoing process trying to figure out what my niche is. The best piece of advice my father gave me was to have fun but be aware of what I was doing at the same time.
I only hope my kids will listen to me when I give them the same advice.