Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Good Manners in the Workplace Needed by New College Graduates

Yesterday I began reading the book “How to Succeed in Your First Job: Tips for New College Graduates” by Elwood F. Holton III and Sharon S. Naquin.

The premise of the book is that, because new college graduates have spent the last 17 years in school, their mindset is not the mindset necessary for success in the work world. Therefore, according to the book’s authors, these new college graduates risk stumbling badly because they react to the work world as they would a school environment.

Although I’d only read the preface and first four chapters, I found myself disagreeing with the book’s premise. The specifics of college that the authors list as radically different in the work world didn’t resonate with me.

For example, the authors listed “frequent, quick and concrete feedback” in the school world compared with “infrequent and less precise feedback” in the work world. I find this the exact opposite.

In most colleges today, students get very little feedback. In a large lecture course there may be one midterm and one final. The midterm can be six to 10 weeks into a course, at which point you could be failing without knowing it. In the work world, if you mess up your first day of work in an obvious way, you hear about it immediately from colleagues if not your boss.

The more I thought about the premise of the book the more I disagreed. Even the amount of flexible time a college student has in comparison to the structured time at work (another of the book’s comparisons) can be advantageous. If a student has learned how to manage his/her own time to complete deadline projects when there’s little structure, how much more so can this same student manage his/her time in a structured environment?

So, you’re thinking, why do young people often have a hard time at first jobs after college?

Number one, I suspect these people haven’t ever had an unpaid internship – a chance to get inside a professional work environment without the accompanying expectations of already knowing what they’re doing. This is just one reason I feel so strongly about internships for teens starting in high school, continuing in college, and whenever someone wants to make a career change. Unpaid internships can be an important learning experience for young people.

Number two, in my opinion the basic problem (other than total unfamiliarity with a professional work environment) is lack of MANNERS. That’s right, I said manners. The things that parents used to teach their children in those bygone days when children weren’t so distracted by 24-hour television and music channels, the everything-always internet, and so many after-school activities that there’s not even time for a sit-down family dinner every evening.

Basic manners training could go a long ways towards helping college graduates do well in the work world. Just the simple acts of saying “please” and “thank you” to colleagues, of showing appreciation for help (rather than taking help for granted), and offering to help others could all earn good marks for a new hire. Unfortunately, basic manners have not been taught to many young people.

What’s the moral of this post? Young people graduating college this spring shouldn’t panic that their years in college haven’t prepared them for success in the work world. These young people should, instead, buy a basic manners book and try very hard to practice good manners from the moment they step inside a workplace.

If these new young hires practice good manners in the workplace, they will be much appreciated by their colleagues – and perhaps these new hires will even be an inspiration for spreading good manners throughout the entire workplace. Now imagine that!

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