The hard work has paid off, and you've landed a graduate job. Congratulations! Whether you are completely new to the world of work or have been earning your keep for years, chances are you're keen to make a great first impression.
Luckily, looking professional doesn't require expensive three-piece suits or staying at your desk till 10pm each night. Indeed, the following tips and tricks are so low-effort that they all take under five minutes to implement. Promise.
1. Proof-Read Your Emails
Few things look as sloppy as badly written emails. You don't have to be the next Pulitzer Prize winner, but your written communication should be correctly spelt, free from grammatical errors, and make sense!
Because we send emails often and quickly, it's easy to let our writing slip. But most errors can be avoided by spending just thirty seconds proofreading it before hitting send. To help you out, turn on or download an online spellchecker such as Grammarly.
Make a particular point to double check both the name of the recipient and their email address to make sure they're correct. Both are super easy to get wrong (take special care if they have a last name that could be a first name) but it's an embarrassing slip up, and one that some people find rude.
2. Dress to Impress
Skip this paragraph if you work in a bank, law firm or similarly corporate company: you're probably already required to wear a suit. But if you belong to one of the growing number of businesses that allow a more casual dress code, considering leaving the jeans and trainers at home.
Sprucing up your work wardrobe doesn't just make you look more professional, it makes you feel more professional too. Power-dressing doesn't require painful high heels or starchy work collars (you'll work better if you're comfortable). Instead, invest in a couple of flattering smart-casual outfits that you feel confident in.
3. Seek Advice
Many of us worry that asking our colleague for help will make us look stupid. It's actually the polar opposite: seeking advice makes others regard you as professional and competent.
Nobody expects employees to know everything, particularly if they're new or in junior roles. They do expect you to be proactive enough to ask for assistance when needed, rather than attempting to muddle through and ending up doing the task wrong.
4. Accept All Feedback
Part of your manager's job is to give you regular feedback on your work performance. Part of professionalism is receiving and responding to such feedback correctly. When it comes to negative feedback, that means discussing it calmly and coming up with suggestions for how you can improve. Throwing a temper tantrum or arguing back is a bad look.
But accepting feedback also means being able to deal with praise. Too many graduates shrug off compliments out of modesty or low self-esteem, which has the effect of making you seem unconfident or even ungrateful! Never get embarrassed or contradict someone if they give you positive feedback. Accept and appreciate it – after all, you earned it!
5. Organise Your Desk
Desks strewn with crumpled up papers, empty coffee cups and half the contents of your handbag do not make you look like a serious professional. If your desk is a mess, spend five minutes straightening your papers, cleaning up rogue food stains and putting things you don't need in a bag or box by your feet. (If you don't use your mobile phone for work, put that away too – fiddling with it during work hours is another unprofessional slip-up).
Incidentally, just because your desk should be neat doesn't mean you can't liven it up with a nice plant or favourite photograph: having an aesthetically pleasing work space boosts our productivity.
6. Plan Your Phone Greetings
If you don't have a naturally polished phone manner, you can help yourself along by planning out a set greeting for when you call someone or pick up the phone. Having this routine in place helps you avoid any initial nervousness and stops you stumbling over your words or umm-ing and err-ing: both of which look unprofessional.
When you're making outbound calls, it's also a good idea to jot out your main message in case you hit voicemail. It's pretty common for people to not be at their desk, and you don't want to forget something important, like your name or the number to call you back on!
While you're at it, get a proper email signature. This should include your full name, job title and perhaps the company logo. Get in the habit of adding it to all external emails – it lets people know instantly who you are and looks much more professional.
Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available. Or, if you're looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.
Image Credit: Olu Eletu