The ABCs of Excelling in the Workforce

By Priya Khatri

Well, you made it! You’ve graduated from college, and now it’s time for the real world. You completed the courses and got the job. Now what? This article will provide new, young industrial engineers with the “ABCs” of excelling in the workforce. That’s right. You still have a lot to learn, and the following fundamentals will help you make the most of your first job.

Remember to:

A: Be appreciative. Remember, many of your peers are still looking for that first job. Also, be grateful for being paid to learn. You will certainly contribute to your organization, but the first few months will likely be invested in your training and professional development. You may not even realize that you’re learning.

B: Be brief. In college, our professors gave us word limits for a reason. People are busy. Limit your content to the task at hand when writing memos, giving presentations and leaving voice mails. We are flooded with information and your brevity will be appreciated.

C: Be considerate. Your coworkers may be dealing with some personal issues that could impact performance. Be mindful of this. Tomorrow, it may be you who needs their compassion and understanding. Also, respect others’ privacy and maintain your own. You are at work, and yes, you may make a few friends, but keep it professional.

D: Be diligent and dependable. First impressions are very important, so put your best foot forward by being consistently diligent and dependable.

E: Be willing to experiment. An open mind may lead to creative solutions. Sometimes, we have to fail several times before succeeding.

F: Be friendly. This is similar to being considerate. Be friendly to everyone. Your assistant today could be your boss tomorrow, and well, there’s rarely a good reason to be mean. People should want you to be a part of their group, which leads us to letter “G.”

G: Be part of the group. In college, you were graded on individual and group work. Now that you’re at work, although your independent abilities are important, in some ways your teamwork skills are even more critical. Learn how to contribute by understanding your responsibilities and ensuring clear communication.

H: Be honest. If you do not understand something, let your director know. If you are overwhelmed, let your director know. There’s no need to always tell people what they want to hear. Your thoughts are valid and worth sharing. If, however, you are not in full support of a decision your group has made, as a good team player, after saying your piece, you should be quiet and help your team.

I: Be inquisitive. Ask questions. This is your time. Do not hesitate to ask your director and colleagues questions. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn.

J: Join professional networks. Professional societies are great ways to network and stay current with your field. If you’re lucky, your employer may help pay for your membership.

K: (As in 401k) long term financial planning. Invest in your future by contributing part of your take home pay to your 401k. It’s never too early to begin saving for your retirement.

L: Be a good listener. No matter how high your position, try your best to listen, and do not interrupt others.

M: Manage your money. If you haven’t already, say good-bye to mom and dad’s credit card and hello to standing on your own two feet. Read financial planning books and develop a budget.

N: Negotiate. Be strong when negotiating your salary and your raise. You have to take care of yourself. In a competitive environment you may not be able to negotiate salary, but you can negotiate other things: education funding, flex time, etc.

O: Be organized. For your own sake and for the sake of your coworkers, try to keep your work organized. The last thing you want to do is send your VP the wrong version of a document you’ve spent weeks creating. Also, imagine trying to continue a project your colleague started. Good documentation will make the task much easier.

P: Be patient and positive. You may feel qualified for more responsibility, but it may not come your way. You may be assigned to unexciting tasks. Be patient. There is a point to all this, and someone has to do the mundane, boring projects. Try to be positive and realize that there is a reason to this. The project may not benefit you directly, but it has to be done and believe it or not, you’re probably learning the basics.

Q: Be quiet. This goes hand in hand with maintaining your privacy, and no one wants a loud cube mate. Be aware of your surroundings.

R: Be resourceful. Most likely, you are working in an organization with several information systems. Get to know your IT personnel and understand each system’s use and connections to other systems.

S: Be strong. Industrial engineers introduce change. You will encounter pushback from coworkers, management and even your clients. Be strong when dealing with resistance.

T: Be timely. Go to meetings on time and submit your work on time. This is critical. If you are late to a meeting, you are disrespecting your colleagues who, like you, have several tasks on their plates. Of course, if someone is late, try to be understanding. If the problem occurs again and again, you have every right to speak up.

U: Be up to date. Keep track of your skills and accomplishments by keeping your resume up to date. If you have to look for a job unexpectedly, having an up-to-date resume will be a life saver. Furthermore, a current resume well help you write your annual self evaluations.

V: Have a vision. Where do you want to go? What is your goal? Keep this in mind and assess whether your current job is in line with your future goals. Of course, your goal may change over time, but it is important to think ahead.

W: Be well-dressed. Look good. We are all judged by our appearance. So, press your shirt and comb your hair before heading to work. This is a no-brainer.

X: Keep in touch with your X’s: ex-professors, ex-friends and ex-bosses from college that is. It is important to have a network to go to for advice and support. Knowledge exchange with former classmates will enable you to learn about their experiences and get insight on your own. Furthermore, if you decide to pursue graduate studies in a few years, keeping in touch with your professors will prove useful.

Y: Always yearn to learn new things. As an engineering graduate, you are probably very good at the analytical nature of your job, but other skills such as communication, project management or meeting facilitation could prove useful. Seek opportunities to sharpen these skills.

Z : Get your ZZZs. Late night parties should be a thing of the past. Tired, young employees are easy to detect. Try your best to come to work well-rested and alert.

Now that you’ve mastered your ABCs of work life, get out there. Best of luck!