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Five Questions All Young Professionals Ask Themselves

November 21, 2016

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Author

Kelly Russell

Senior Manager, Project Management, US

Navigating the current work landscape can be confusing for any professional. For young professionals (YPs) just beginning to gain their footing in the labor force, the confusion can feel insurmountable at times. And with millennials surpassing Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest generation in the workforce, this confusion could be a barrier to overall productivity. For YPs, learning the lingo of your organization and the field as a whole can equate to learning a whole new language.

The term young professional covers a broad scope of individuals—from immediate post-grads, to those pursuing their Master’s degrees, to young people in their second job. The grouping can feel overly general, but there are shared experiences and questions that bring many YPs from a diverse range of backgrounds together.

From one YP to another, here are the questions we all have, but were too scared to ask—and some thoughts to help us address those questions.

What is office culture and how do I become a part of it?

The term office culture is thrown around a lot—and the importance of that buzzword should not be underestimated. First, you have to figure out what office culture is—which is a trick question because it is a word that can take on a different meaning in different offices. Office culture can generally be summed up as the overall personality of your organization. It is what makes your organization unique—what excites you (or doesn’t excite you) about going into work every day.

The best way you can learn to become a part of your office culture is by watching those around you. Do your coworkers eat lunch together? Do they talk about things other than work? What is the workflow of the office like? Maybe everyone in your office is driven by deadlines, or maybe innovation and creativity are what define your office.

Once you figure out your office culture, you need to figure out how to become a productive participant in said culture—whether that means lauding the accomplishments of coworkers, taking the time to ask about your manager’s weekend, or staying a little bit later to finish that project that did not get completed. It is essential that as a new member of your organization, you become an indispensable part of a dynamic office culture.

How do I dress the part?

It is easy to dismiss office dress code as a trivial detail. However, many of us remember the mental battle involved in picking out our interview outfit. Whether you spend too long picking out what to wear to work, or perhaps not enough time, the question of how to dress for success is something all YPs should think about.

First, you have to figure out what the dress code of your office is—this goes back to your office culture. Whether suits are the norm, or casual Friday is welcomed, attempt to mimic what your co-workers wear to some extent.

That said, it’s also important to err on the side of professionalism. And while you probably should not go over-the-top formal if everyone in your office wears jeans and flip flops, remember the value in dressing for the job or role you want to have.

Being taken seriously is a virtue YPs have to earn—and dressing like you want to be taken seriously can help you in your professional growth.

How do I communicate effectively with my different managers and colleagues?

We all remember the first professional email we ever sent. It can be difficult to go from the casual rapport you have with your friends and family, to figuring out how to effectively and professionally communicate within the varying levels of authority in your office. How you communicate in the workplace is and should be different than how you communicate in your personal life. Learning how they should be different is what will make you an effective and efficient communicator in the office.

After getting adjusted in a new job, you’ll soon realize that how you talk with your co-workers is different than how you talk with your supervisor—and that itself is probably different than how you talk to your other bosses or managers.

Observation is again integral to learning the general culture of communication in your office. Whether emojis are the status quo in email threads, or a more formal level of communication is the norm, experience will help you navigate the situations where you do not know what to say and to whom. When in doubt, it is always safe to go the route of being direct, honest, and friendly.

How can I balance my daily work tasks with long term professional growth?

As YPs, it can be easy to be overwhelmed with the stress of our day-to-day tasks. Whether you have a flooded inbox, or an ongoing project, it can be easy to forget about long-term professional growth in lieu of short-term success.

Short-term success should be your first goal. Making sure your daily tasks are completed, and completed well is essential to your professional development However, long-term growth should be taken into consideration. If you want to build a career path in your organization, going beyond the menial day-to-day will help you become an emerging leader.

Whether it is asking a supervisor if there are any professional stretch projects you can take on, or going to that conference on a subject that really interests or confounds you, remember that building skills and abilities beyond the role you are currently in will help you get to the dream position.

How do I overcome the YP stigma?

As YPs, one of the main obstacles to our professional growth is the connotations brought on by the millennial workforce terminology. With the expectation that because you are a young person, you are most likely constantly checking Facebook or looking at your Instagram feed, it can be frustrating to have to overcome a stereotype that in most cases does not apply.

The best way to overcome the stereotype is to overcompensate—while it is not necessarily a fair solution, proving your value as a young employee is essential. So even if coworkers check their phone or Facebook from time to time, perhaps you should avoid such distractions until you have a better foothold in your company (or avoid them all together).

Be authentic

The best tool you have in your goal of becoming a professional defined by skills rather than age is yourself. You got this job for a reason, and staying authentic to the attributes that got you the position will help you gain the trust and confidence of those in your office.

The answers to YP questions aren’t obvious—but with experience you can gain clarity. Never be afraid to ask for guidance from a seasoned professional in your office–after all, they were all in your position once. YPs face a dynamic and changeable professional world, but there is a wealth of other young professionals with the same dilemmas.

If you are a YP and would like the opportunity to discuss with other YPs the questions you have and obstacles you face, consider attending our workshop Essential Skills for Young Professionals. The training gives young professionals the foundational skills necessary to become an emerging leader in their organizations. The one-day workshop is being held next on August 30th in Washington, DC.