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Getting your first full-time job out of college is so exciting. But it’s definitely an adjustment. You have to go from it’s-mostly-acceptable-to-wear-sweatpants-every-day to an environment where you have to be more professional. Way more professional. It’s a bit of a culture shock.
While you might not realize how unprofessional you’re being… your coworkers probably do. Here are some easy ways to be more professional in your 20s.
Show Up on Time and Don’t Leave Early
This was a big one for me to get used to. I had been working an hourly job where I got to go home when I was no longer needed. That isn’t the case when you’re working full-time. As tempting as it is, even leaving 5 minutes early can be seen as unprofessional.
When you come in on time every day, you’re showing that you’re reliable. You’ll be there when you’re expected to be there, and you take your job seriously. And by staying until 5 (not 4:50 or 4:55), you’re telling your coworkers that you want to be there; you’re not looking to get out as soon as possible.
I’m not a big supporter of the “first one there, last one out” mentality, because I think that sets you up for failure. It’s not sustainable to work 50+ hours every single week; you’re asking to get burnt out. However, depending on your office culture, working even a few minutes less than 8 hours per day might be totally unacceptable.
This is especially important to keep in mind if you clock in and out every day. If you’re consistently showing up at 8:05 and leaving at 4:55 every day, even if it still calculates as 8 hours worked, your boss (and HR) might notice and get a bit irked.
Keep Your Space Clean to Be More Professional
Keeping your space clean is incredibly important when you want to be more professional. Loose papers, dirty dishes, and stacks of notes make your space unorganized. And if your space is unorganized, your coworkers might assume you’re unorganized with your work as well, even if it’s entirely not true.
It’s a lot easier to maintain cleanliness than it is to take a hot mess and organize it, so make it a daily habit. Spend a few minutes at the end of every day cleaning up your desk so it’s always tidy. Institute an organization system that works for you, so you always know where to find things and where to put something as soon as you’re done with it.
This is a great way to kill the final five minutes of the day if you’re staring at the clock at 4:55 and don’t want to leave early.
Invest in a Professional Wardrobe
Similarly, it’s important to clean up your wardrobe, too. A professional look doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to look good on you.
Keep in mind your office’s dress code, and take it at least half a notch up from that. For example, I’m allowed to wear jeans and a t-shirt every day, but I try to limit myself to once or twice per month. And even then, I wear jeans that fit me really well.
Remember, the tailor is your friend. If the $15 fast-fashion dress pants you have don’t fit right, you don’t have to swap them for $100 dress pants from J.Crew. Take them to the tailor and see what they can do. You might be able to dish out $10 to have pants that fit you even better than the $100 J.Crew version.
There’s a huge difference between being personable and over-sharing in the workplace. Your coworkers don’t need to know how late you were out last night or the fight you got in with your roommate.
Yes, it’s important to be friendly with your coworkers, but don’t let that stand in the way of your professionalism. You don’t know what judgments they’ll cast on you based on a personal story you tell, so it’s best to not take the risk.
Be Confident in Your Abilities
And finally, the best way to be more professional is to be confident in yourself. If you’re not going to stick up for yourself, no one will, so be that person who holds her head high and is proud of her accomplishments.
Of course, you shouldn’t be arrogant, but as a rule of thumb, confidence is the most professional look you can ever have.
Making the switch from college to the professional world can be tough. But with a few small adjustments, your coworkers will be really impressed by your professionalism!