Be prepared: a guide to joining the workforce

Scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Barry Shannon

I WAS told recently about a large employer who operated a two-week induction programme for new graduates, ostensibly to teach them about how to behave and interact with other employees. This was on the basis that the demands of a workplace would be a massive culture shock after coming from academic life.

While we all hope that our career will be rewarding, exciting and fulfilling, we often never get that dollop of realism that can help manage expectations when starting out. So here goes.

First up: be prepared to accept that not everyone has, does or will actively like you. And more importantly, realise that this is okay.

In the movie ‘Ferris Bueller's Day Off' the school secretary advises the principal: “The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, waistoids, dweebies, d*ckheads, they all adore him”. Chances are you will not be Ferris Bueller, so deal with it.

Be prepared to encounter activities you don't like. Occasionally you might have to do work that's boring, repetitive or difficult. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean you can avoid it. That's what you get paid for. Life's not all gravy.

Be prepared to take part. You may not be the most confident person around and perhaps you don't like the social scene, but you will be expected to take part in work meetings and activities. Shyness is not an excuse to opt out.

Be prepared to laugh at yourself and with others. Being humourless in the workplace does not take you very far. On the flip side, know your audience. If folks don't like your humour, then leave them alone.

Be prepared to stand up for yourself. Respectfully. If you think you are being taken advantage of, discriminated against, bullied, left out, picked on or harassed then speak up. Companies do take this seriously.

Be prepared to be accountable and stand over your work. If necessary, take criticism and understand that it's not personal. No one is perfect, we all get things wrong. How you react to being told this is the key. If it's constructive and appropriate then take it on the chin, learn from it and do better next time. Never pass the buck and blame others (or indeed take credit for other people's efforts).

Be prepared to accept that it's not all about you. You are no longer mummy and daddy's special little snowflake. You are employed to do a job, which provides a service to customers, which generates money, which keeps the business running and which ultimately pays you. You are no longer the centre of the universe and don't expect work to treat you as such.

Be prepared to be a grown up. You are an adult now and will be treated like one. Didn't come into work because you had a hangover, or sat up too late watching a film, or just felt like a duvet day? Skived off early or came in late with no good reason? Then expect the company not to be happy and to take some form of action. Even being great at your job does not mean you can just do as you please. Your employer will expect certain standards. Turn up for work, come in on time, do your job, treat others with respect, clean up after yourself, be considerate and have manners. Easily done.

Be prepared to realise that you are not necessarily the smartest person in the room. You did really well in getting a job. Now take a breath and understand that there are folks in your workplace who have much more experience. That doesn't mean you can't question them (politely) or challenge (appropriately), but have the humility to understand that sometimes other people may be right and you are wrong. You can always learn from others.

Be prepared that work can be hard but also very rewarding. Lawnmower parents, who have spent your youth cutting down any obstacles facing you, don't hold any sway in the workplace. You will have to solve problems and overcome difficulties yourself - and that's where you can find most satisfaction.

And finally, be prepared to leave. If your first job isn't right for you, then have the courage to leave and get something else that suits you better. There are always new opportunities out there.

:: Barry Shannon ( is director of human resources at TSYS Cayan in Belfast

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