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Things to Consider for Entry Into the World of Work

Kelly Garrison is a senior journalism major from Conroe. The opinions in this column are hers.

The college environment is so different from the work world.   It's easier to dress comfortably right now than worry about what you'll be wearing a few months after graduation. It's no big deal if you forget to turn your cell phone off in class. Nothing happens if you're a little late. But you know not to do all that after graduation, right?

Still, these changes and others can come as a shock to new graduates. Keeping in mind that these are pretty obvious work-place practices, now might be a good time to get into better habits. Besides, it probably drives the professors nuts.

Pam Laughlin, director of Career Services, said your wardrobe is the most important part of the first impression you'll be making- the one that might last your whole career- or at least the whole time you are with that company.

Laughlin said many students assume that what they would wear for a night at the club or a date is appropriate business attire, but that is not the case.

If you are entering the corporate world, picture a business executive. What is he or she wearing? Dark colors, pin stripes. Even if you are starting out as a clerk, that is what you should wear. You want people to be able to see you in that position some day, and the right clothes can do that for you.

Laughlin said you should dress for the job you want to have, because "people that dress and act professional are more likely to get ahead."

For women, that means no cleavage, ever, skirts at the knee, give or take an inch at most, and nothing distracting. No unnatural makeup, loud jewelry, or unkempt hairstyles. Lipstick is actually a necessity, though, because it maintains the polished look.

Some companies allow open-toed shoes, some don't, and some allow slacks and sweaters.

For men, it's important to keep up on haircuts and find out if suits are required or if everyone wears khakis and sweaters. Some companies allow collared polo shirts. Shoes should always be polished and sandals or sneakers are never appropriate. Find out the company's policy on facial hair and jewelry, like earrings.

Different fields require different looks, so there are few hard and fast rules. The best way to fit in is to visit the company ahead of time and try to emulate the boss, Laughlin said. It's OK to ask a co-worker or someone in Human Resources about certain policies, but try not to bother the boss with wardrobe questions.

Another big difference between college life and corporate life is in expected behaviors. offers career advice on its Web site. Basically, it has to do with etiquette and being considerate of others.

If someone contacts you when you aren't in, return the call or e-mail promptly. It should go without saying that casual slang, incomplete sentences and spelling errors are not appropriate in e-mails, but it happens all the time. Out of respect for the receiver's time, use the re: line and keep that short. And never, ever forward junk e-mails or jokes.

If you use the copier or other machines, refill the paper if it's low, and change settings back to normal if you are doing special print jobs.

If you drink the last cup of coffee, make more.

Return supplies you borrow.

Don't distract your co-workers with loud phone conversations or frequent visits to their desks.

Unless it is a conference call, putting someone on speakerphone is seen as arrogant. Speak slowly when leaving your name and number on voice messages.

Human Resources (Personnel) can help you with policies about taking time off, but Laughlin advises you to wait at least six months before you even ask.

Other bad behaviors include taking personal calls, eating at your desk, or dating a co-worker.

"It's not a good idea," she said. "If it goes sour, and many do, then you've got to work with them. A lot of companies have lost good workers over that."

If one party is the superior, "it's definitely a no-no," Laughlin said.

Sometimes co-workers drink at lunch or throw parties with alcohol. This is the worst time to lose control, and even if you manage to leave with your reputation intact, you could still be arrested or get in an accident on the way home. Many companies will fire an employee who gets arrested, Laughlin warned, so keep it to two drinks at office parties.

Laughlin said it's time for the "student attitude" to go.

"Adopt the attitude of your organization. You need to know how to establish yourself and how things are done. You need to establish credibility, and the way that is done now is different from the way it was done on campus. Pay attention to the way things are done. Understand what people expect of you."

For students who want more information, Career Services has many books and magazines with advice on dress and etiquette. Laughlin especially recommends Job Choices magazine, which is available at Career Services.

Career Services can be reached by phone (936.294.1713) or Web site.


SHSU Media Contact: Kelly Garrison
April 28, 2006
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