Office Etiquette for the Recent Grad


Take a second to revel in your success—you’ve put that degree to use and landed a coveted job right out of school. Done reveling? Good. You’re in the real world now, and behaving like an adult (even when you don’t feel like one) is crucial to most careers. It could mean the difference between employment and moving back into your parents’ basement.

Different offices have different codes of etiquette, but there are a few things that tend to be true whether you work as a videogame tester or a corporate lawyer. Here are a few rules of thumb:

You’re not in college anymore. There are no friendly professors, parents, or anyone else to fall back on—your responsibilities are now your own. At the office, that means taking your work seriously. ‘Fess up when you mess up, and take credit when credit is due. Your coworkers and bosses would rather you be forthcoming than find out that you made a mistake after your report has gone to the senior VP with those bad numbers intact.

Watch your language. Whatever the work environment, you will probably become part of a hierarchical organization. Not everyone is your peer, so it’s important not to treat your coworkers like you treated your roommates. In other words, stop dropping those F-bombs and pick up a “sir” or “ma’am” where appropriate. A little modesty goes a long way, as does being friendly. Even if you know the answer will be, “fine,” it’s probably better to ask a colleague how her weekend was rather than pretending you’re not on the same elevator. Also, remember to say “please” and “thank you.” What would your mother think if you didn’t?

While we’re on the topic, less is more. Your long-winded diatribes may have gotten you off the hook during philosophy class, but they won’t necessarily fly when time equals money. Keep it short and get straight to the point. Let’s face it: People are less likely to read your email if it looks like the first draft of War and Peace. And when your colleagues are speaking, give them the same respect you’d want from them—listen and don’t interrupt.

Remember all that stuff about how it’s what’s on the inside that counts? Well, that’s only half true. What’s on the outside counts quite a bit in the professional world. The way you dress and groom will affect how people view you. If you dress like a bum, coworkers, clients, and other visitors to the office may actually think you’re a bum, which won’t reflect too well on the organization. While not all offices require their employees to wear dress shoes or ties every day, try to avoid that “just-rolled-out-of-bed” look that worked so well in college. A little spiff goes a long way (and no, we don’t mean formal pajamas).

Time is of the essence. Punctuality is a great way to make a good impression. Being on time day in and day out shows that you are in control of your environment and can adjust easily to the difficulties that life throws at you (like late subway trains).

Respect everyone. It pays off in the end. Treat your coworkers like teammates and support them whenever you can. If you help make them look good, they’ll probably do the same for you. While you may want to stand out in the crowd, it’s important to be liked, and it’s a lot more fun to work in an office full of friends than one that’s full of frenemies.

If these rules sound like the ones you learned in kindergarten, it’s probably because they are. But you’d be surprised how many working people forget these basic principles. Just as doing your homework and going to class put you ahead in college, adhering to office etiquette will likely be essential to your advancement in the workplace.