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Side jobs and internships are useful, but still fall far from the experience of working. So what do aspiring professionals need to learn in order to bridge this gap? Work experience helps translate your theoretical knowledge and analytical ability into the activities required of a certain job, and it teaches you the written rules of work: be on time, do A, B and C and you’ll receive a certain amount of monetary remuneration. But what about the unwritten rules? They’re often left out.
Some people claim that being aware of the unwritten rules and anticipating them is exactly what our life experiences teach us, but I don’t entirely agree. I think your life’s experiences help acquaint you with the workplace’s unwritten rules, but you can actually speed up the process of familiarising yourself with them if you are open to learning from others.
The unwritten rules of the workplace require more space than I have here – it could fill a book instead of a page – so I will focus on what I think are the most important three:
Rule #1: Familiarise yourself with the organisation
How do you this? Observe! I know that the soft skill of observation takes patience, but it’s a great asset to have and can be good fun. Think of it as sitting outside a pub in a hotspot location and watching all the different people who walk by. Are you enjoying this picture? Observe the workplace and your colleagues in a similar way – notice what people wear, what they are doing, who they talk to and what they talk about. It’s probably best to make mental notes and jokes instead of sharing them.
Rule #2: Keep your personal opinions to yourself
Until you’re more familiar with your colleagues, their opinions and their allies, be careful about what you share. It’s not necessary to disclose your first impressions of everybody in your second week on the job. This is all very funny on Come Dine with Me, but it may not be so amusing if you tell someone that your boss looks “very gay”, and this person turned out to be your boss’ best man at his wedding.
Whatever your opinion on it, office politics does exist. Aside from the formal organisation structure, there is also an informal one. You need to understand this informal structure and who the stakeholders are, who are your partners, your supporters, your adversaries. At work, things like fitting in with the social and organisational culture, your leadership potential and daily behaviour are all part of the equation determining how “well” you do.
Rule #3: Don’t behave as you did at university/college
There are many behavioural aspects that fall under this header, and I’m aware that everybody behaves differently. However, these guidelines can be useful for all: dress appropriately for work; don’t get drunk (before others do); take responsibility for your work; be friendly to all your colleagues, which doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with all of them – they are first and foremost your colleagues. I could keep going, but most importantly: enjoy what you are doing. You might get kudos at university for moaning about your studies, and there is always a group at work that will continue in this tradition, but you really don’t have to join that club. It is actually okay to enjoy your work, and that makes it much easier to spend so many hours there!
Other unwritten rules? Know where you are going and share your goal, make yourself and your work visible, make sure your activities contribute to what the organisation finds important, volunteer strategically, say a cheerful “Good morning” and “Good evening”, make sure you have a proper induction and ask as many questions as you need to in the first three months. As I said, I can probably fill a book with all the unwritten rules for young professionals, but these are a few of the most useful ones.