Learning by doing is equally as important as learning by studying – graduates need practical skills

said Lord Ken Baker at the ‘Skilling Britain for the 21st Century’ conference last week in London.  A lot of hands were wrung about who was to blame for the massive shortage of skills in the UK (if the tweets from the event were anything to go by).

Whatever the systemic and organisational changes required, they won’t happen overnight.  Working from where we find ourselves, what can students graduating from university this summer do to give themselves a chance of a successful transition to professional life?

A heads-up about the common business attitudes and behaviours expected in the workplace would be a start, given the challenge of getting relevant and genuine workplace experience.  Here are 30 tips on being professional, whether as an intern, on a work placement or first graduate job:

  1. Be punctual – Set the alarm clock on your mobile – “I overslept” won’t cut it; turn up for meetings and on time; colleagues will judge you on this
  2. Know the dress code – Are you wearing the right clothing that fits with the culture of the company?
  3. Learn business etiquette – Basic manners; what to call people; what are the acceptable behaviours for making phone calls, emails and participating at meetings?
  4. Show confidence & energy – An employer will determine this within 30 seconds of meeting you; shake hands firmly; make eye contact; stand up straight; be heard and match your tone to the situation; confident does not mean cocky!
  5. Be friendly and sociable – Behaviour breeds behaviour; don’t leave the best of you at home, bring it to work
  6. Be positive and enthusiastic – show a ‘can-do’ attitude; Think again before saying “I don’t know” or “That’s not in my job description”
  7. Show pride– In your work and in the company; talk things up
  8. Serious intent “There is no time for divas, drama, victim statements or whining” says Mark Babbitt, CEO of YouTern.com ; don’t try and be the office comedian until you’ve proved yourself
  9. Take personal responsibility – Own your job; reflect the values of the company in the way you behave; stand up for what you believe in and say it skilfully; make decisions, don’t abdicate
  10. Take the lead – You don’t need to ask – leaders do the right things and inspire others; help shape the culture; know when to follow
  11. Show genuine commitment and dedication – Meet commitments to standards set by the employer; keep your promises; go the extra mile when needed; you’ll recognise it when you don’t want to let others or yourself down
  12. Be accountable – Meet or exceed the expectations of your boss or customers; do what you say you are going to do, on time to the required quality; stand up and be counted for your actions
  13. Personal integrity – Deliver on promises; be consistent in what you say; ring people back; ensure your intent, words and actions are aligned
  14. Be open, honest and transparent – In your dealings with people inside and outside the business; show respect by treating colleagues, customers, suppliers and partners as you would like them to treat you
  15. Be reliable & trustworthy – Don’t cut corners; keep confidences; don’t let people down
  16. Get on the front foot – Stay off Facebook when there is nothing to do; find something that needs doing
  17. Smart effort with impact – it’s less about what effort you put in and more about the results you achieve and the attitude you show; that’s what your performance will be judged on
  18. Get your hands dirty – Just showing up isn’t enough; get on with solving a problem or making a customer happy; help your colleagues
  19. Be accurate and thorough – Be consistent, show concern for quality and attention to detail
  20. Offer a solution – We all have an imagination, apply yours to problems facing the business
  21. Be curious – Show you want to learn by asking great questions; show “ relentless dissatisfaction with the status quo” (Richard Pascale)
  22. Commit to personal and professional development – Join a professional association or group; put yourself forward for projects, roles and opportunities; take a personal risk occasionally
  23. Develop greater resilience – Accept tough love; take failure and difficult feedback on the chin and bounce back; no-one likes a sulk; learn from experience; be humble and courageous in the face of setbacks
  24. Be flexible – To changing circumstances, information and the needs of the customer; be prepared to ‘give and take’
  25. Manage your career – Take control of your destiny; make decisions based on how you want to feel in your life; then align it with what the business also needs and wants
  26. Communicate well – Be articulate, coherent and concise; listen to understand not to refute; muddled communication leads to muddled thought; don’t use text-speak; remember your grammar and use the spell-checker; be tech-savvy
  27. Develop your personal brand – Be known as professional at both what you do and how you do it; develop a positive reputation; be strategic about your identity and public image; don’t bitch about people, the job or the company behind backs or on Facebook; what do you want to be known for?
  28. Network online and in person – Within the company, with customers, with suppliers, with industry players; to help you learn the ropes and settle in, build your own confidence and the confidence of others in you and the company you represent
  29. Be a team player – Move from ‘I’ to ‘We’ & ‘The customer’; it’s no longer just ‘you’ to consider; pitch in especially when there’s a crisis; don’t let people down; make your unique contribution
  30. Embrace diversity – Consciously manage your relationships with people who have different personalities, preferred work styles, values, age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation

“The decision about how professional you are may be made long before you get into the interview room,” says Recruiter.com – so time to get started.

What does professional mean to you?  What stories from your experience can you tell an employer that demonstrate you understand what’s expected in professional life and that you are better prepared than the competition?