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Student/Alumni Virtual Help Desk:
(Tu: 10am – 2pm ET | Th: 1pm – 4pm ET)

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Workplace Etiquette

Making an impact in your internship or first full-time position comes down to simply understanding and following work-place etiquette. Workplace etiquette is nothing more than the behavior and manners that are acceptable at your work site. The tricky part is that each place-of-work is different and the rules are different from the rules that apply to you as a student. People don’t expect you to be a student. They do expect you to act the way they do, as a professional in their line of work. If you don’t figure out the rules, you may have a poor experience and a poor evaluation. So what do you do? Here are a few guidelines and ideas to help you get on track: 

  1. Dress the part: Yes, this is important! When you walk in the door of your work site, even if it is on campus, you are no longer a student. Appropriate attire is different for every organization. Look around you. What are others wearing? What about their hairstyles? What kinds of accessories are the norm? Model your dress and grooming after that of your supervisor and other professional staff.
  2. Follow the chain of command: It is important for you to know the formal and informal reporting structures within your organization. Once you understand them, follow them! The unspoken rule is this: do not go around, behind, or over anyone. Follow the chain of command in all your communications and actions. That means go to your site supervisor first. Also, identify the second in command or the person you can go to in your supervisor’s absence.
  3. Respect confidentiality: You can talk about issues, projects, and the work environment, but refrain from talking about people. Gossip can get back to people and wind up hurting you. Don’t be hurt if you are left out of certain discussions—some issues are for staff eyes and ears only. Finally, don’t take sides; steer clear of interoffice politics. Remember that you are there to work on your projects.
  4. Respect the support staff: They have been there longer than you, and they know more than you. They can be terrific allies in helping you get accustomed to the work environment, helping you understand the unspoken rules, and helping you accomplish your goals if you treat them with the respect they are due. Wipe the thought “just a secretary” out of your mind. Remember this: without support staff, the organization would not run. 
  5. Learn basic social skills: This might seem rather silly, but if no one ever taught you such rituals, you are well advised to learn them quickly! Go to the library and read some etiquette books, or pattern your behavior after those around you. How you handle hellos, goodbyes, and basic courtesies of speech and action can win friends or turn people off. For example, don’t sit down in someone’s office until you are invited to do so. Keep your feet off the furniture. Hats off inside! Don’t chew gum. 
  6. Be on time: As a student, some faculty members may not penalize you if you fly into class five minutes late or if you miss class. In the work world, that just won’t cut it. Tardiness and absenteeism signal disrespect for others’ time and a lack of interest in the work. Promptness signals eagerness, responsibility, and respect for others. At the beginning of the day and at all your meetings, be on time or five minutes early. The only reasons that may justify an absence from work are serious illnesses or family emergencies. It is important to call immediately and speak directly to your supervisor if you have a problem which will keep you from work.
  7. Learn to make a positive first impression: Practice until you acquire a firm handshake. Learn how to make introductions and how to introduce yourself to those you don’t know. Be friendly, smile, and extend yourself. These are all parts of those important first impressions, which can really earn you points. Picture this: the Executive Director of your organization is coming down the hall toward you. She is a valuable person to know. Are you ready to introduce yourself? 
  8. Take initiative: Offer to help on projects and assist others in the office. 
  9. Turn off the cellphone and don’t open Facebook: Your employer expects you to work during the work day, not conduct personal business or be distracted by texting friends or checking social media. These things can be done during lunchtime or other breaks, but don’t jeopardize your position because you couldn’t wait until after work to text your friends about dinner plans. 
  10. Be a good ambassador: Be aware that you reflect the institution. How you perform and behave at work will establish your professional image, for better or worse, and also, the future of other Rutgers interns or full-time candidates. Think about the long-term benefits of good workplace etiquette. You might want to ask your previous supervisors for job recommendations or contacts. You may apply for full-time or summer jobs at a previous work site. Have you proven that you can make it in that type of environment? Have you earned a positive recommendation? What you do today can stick with you for a long time. Make it count!