Starting Out: What I Wish I Knew Before

And Didn't Have to Learn the Hard Way

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When I think about what I know now that I didn't know when I started out in my career, I'm surprised that what comes to mind may strike some as superficial, but these are things that I really wish I hadn't had to learn the hard way. Here are four simple, but crucial (and too often overlooked) aspects of professional life that are just as important to know when just starting out as anything you learn in the classroom.

Dress Code – Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should
This may seem like an odd subject to start with but interns and "first years" often don't understand the parameters of terms like, "business casual" or "business professional" and think it is fine to use the hallways of their Madison Avenue office buildings as runways. Particularly for young women, ridiculously high-heels and mini-leather skirts may look fantastic on you…but just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

As someone who has worked in casual and business professional environments, I have seen it all: sweatpants with holes in them topped off with UGGS and a vintage ACDC T-shirt, to a young woman who accepted an entry-level job and showed up in a see-through top and skirt that would make Beyonce cringe. Doing a great job and having a great attitude will get you far but outwards appearances do matter in the work-place and I've certainly learned that the hard way. From accidental sheerness incidents to getting chastised by a client for having wet hair, people notice. Make sure you look at yourself every morning the way others will look at you and dress for how you WANT them to look at you.

Oh, and categorically, no rompers. Just no.

In A Digital Age, Communicating With Coworkers
Here's something no one told me…many companies now use AIM to communicate inter-departmentally. On my first day I was asked for my screen name by my coworkers including my supervisor. Most of you probably made your screen names in junior-high or maybe even earlier and most likely, with the popularity of G-Chat, you never bothered to change it. I have had too many situations where I've asked for someone's screen name and they have turned bright red or started attempting to give me the run-around because they're too mortified to say it out loud. Do not let this be you.

You won't know how your company talks to each other until you arrive so be safe. Have a screen name ready to go, one that 's boring , spelled correctly (no Z's instead of S's for example) and one that makes sense (initials, birthdays, full name or a manipulation of it (no "choccorocco" or "wazzup213").

Office Parties: You're A Pumpkin After 30 Minutes, Trust Me
One of the bonuses of entering the working world out of college is the occurrences of office get-togethers. Whether Christmas parties, cocktail hours or client functions, you'll find that the alcohol keeps on flowin' and the party can tend to keep on goin'. It's tempting to want to stay and continue to drink and socialize, especially when you're new, because these functions will be the first real opportunities you'll have to get to know your colleagues on a more genuine, social level (not to mention, free booze). But I beg you, fight the temptation.

I have seen far too many drunken mistakes happen that can ruin someone's reputation overnight. Whether it's as innocent as a poorly executed dance move to the forever mortifying need to be assisted into a cab or taken home, people will talk. Even if they themselves have been in your shoes, no one can resist the "did you hear" buzz of a great office party story. The truth of the matter is that the ones who usually find themselves in situations they can't take back are the younger employees, particularly those that have just started.

Thirty minutes is just enough time to make the rounds, talk to people you know or haven't met and want to make a connection with, have a drink or two, and get out with your dignity intact.

Office Gossip – XOXO…You're Fired
Ok, it may not be as dramatic as that but truth be told, office gossip is one of the worst sand-traps you can fall into and the consequences can be monumental.

I personally believe that entry-level employees get sucked into office gossip and drama because it gives them the feeling that they're bonding with their fellow colleagues. Giggling and getting together to make fun of someone else or discuss someone else gives a false sense of security and a feeling of belonging. Please believe me, this is a fallacy.

Office gossip is dangerous on so many levels, for instance:

"That's all right, that 's ok, I'm going to be your boss one day!" Seriously. The person you're talking about, if they aren't already higher than you or in your department, could potentially be your supervisor one day.

"Monkey See, Monkey Do" If you engage in office gossip, you're encouraging people around you to do the same. And the next target of the gossip could very well be you.

"Sticks and Stones…" Hurt. If you ever feel the need to talk about someone negatively that you work with, particularly if they're a colleague, stop and think about how you'd feel if you found out people were talking about you behind your back but you still had to work with them, or worse, for them.

So that 's my insider information that I thought you should know before it is too late, before you see it for yourself or engage in any of the above yourself. The last sage piece of advice I'll leave you with is , PLEASE do not answer your office phone with, "Hello?"

About the Author
Samantha Gladis is a specialist-integrated ad sales and marketing at Discovery Communications

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