Faculty/staff perspective

From Campus to Workplace

by JOY L. COLWELL
Director of Graduate Studies

With graduation exercises behind, the class of 2012 turns its attention to the world of work—and a set of new challenges.  Even students who have been working to pay for their education are looking forward to the day when September does not mean the start of new semester, but a new quarter in the fiscal year.  What challenges will the class of 2012 find in the world of work?

There are two key considerations to keep in mind as you enter the full time work force:  yourself and other people.  Interpersonal skills are as important as your parents told you they were. At work, everybody assumes you know how to do your job.  When you walk in the door with degree in hand, your boss assumes that you have a baseline competency in your field.  Is there room for improvement?  Sure.  Will you need to learn the ins and outs of your particular employer’s way of doing things?  Absolutely.   But just being competent at your job will not set you apart.

What personal characteristics do you bring to the table?  Can you manage yourself?  Can you keep deadlines, make it to meetings on time, and look for answers to your own questions before you ask others?  Do you bring a productive attitude to work with you, at least on most days?  Do you embrace change?  How will you keep up in your field?  Employers can find many competent people: the ones they look to hire and retain are those employees with both professional knowledge and interpersonal skills.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you move into the world of work.

  • Prepare for lifelong learning—what can you learn from your colleagues, your workplace, your professional organization, and from books and articles in your field?  Expertise can become stale if it is not nourished with new information and experiences. Take advantage of educational opportunities that your employer may offer. You are likely to make several job changes in your career (and maybe career changes), so keeping current will open doors to opportunities for you. Finding a mentor at work or in your field can also help.
  • Assume that you will run across people in your profession again—even the jerks.  Set a standard of professional behavior with your coworkers, even if you have to grit your teeth to do it on occasion. Those job changes mentioned earlier will make it more likely you will run across the challenging coworkers you thought you had left behind.
  • It’s not about you. How much interest do you display in other people?  The more you are interested in others, the more interested they will be in you.  Can you listen with attention? Do you use your manners?  Etiquette is the art of making others comfortable, and appropriate behavior goes a long way toward making people comfortable with each other.  It’s not about which fork you use; it is about showing interest in someone beside yourself.  And manners extend to the “little things” which are not so little over time: refill the copier with paper when it runs out; make the coffee when you pour the last cup, put supplies and equipment back where you found them, return phone calls and emails.
  • One phone call or personal visit may be worth 10 emails. Business may run on email, but it is certainly not a foolproof communication tool.  Sensitive information or items that require a lot of explanation may be better in a personal communication.  You can follow up with email, but don’t forget that there are more tools to communicate with than just the keyboard. Appearance is another way to communicate your professionalism, and the way your emails look is also part of your appearance.  Use proper grammar and spelling, and complete sentences.
  • Conflicts will occur at work. Learn how to manage stressful or conflict situations at work.  This will always be a challenge, but you can get better with practice.  Learning to control your first reactions will go a long way in work conflict.  Your first reaction is almost never one that will make things better.
  • It is never too late to learn more about yourself, and how to develop your weaker skills.  We tend to over-rely on our strengths, because it is comfortable, but having only a few strengths can be limiting. Work toward developing a set of well-rounded strengths—you want lots of tools in your toolbox.

For the class of 2012, your college degree may have given you several skills, which are useful at work, but it is the way in which you put your degree to work that will make the difference in your career.  Be the person you would like to work with.


—–Reprinted with permission from The (NW Indiana) Times Media, BusINess magazine, May 2012