why don’t we teach new grads about workplace norms?

If you’ve worked with recent graduates who are just getting started in the work world, you’ve probably seen them make their share of professional faux pas. I recorded a piece for the BBC arguing that we need to do a better job teaching students and new workers about how to navigate an office (and I talk a little about those interns who petitioned to change the dress code).

It’s four minutes long and you can listen here.

{ 305 comments… read them below }

  1. ragazza*

    I work for a company in the higher ed field, and this is a top complaint from employers about graduates–as well as the need for better written and oral communication skills.

    1. buttrue???*

      You would think that class requirements of reports/essays and presentations would address this. However from what my daughter has described to me about her classmates in graduate school I have to wonder what they really learned as undergraduates. It would seem that a required course in communications with a research, write, rewrite and do a presentation with q&a would be good. This would need to be intensive in multiple drafts and redoes showing improvement and understanding of the outcomes.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        One issue here is that the writing I did for school, even grad school, was pretty different than day-to-day business writing. I spend a lot more time writing emails where it’s important to be concise and it’s fine to use bullet points than I do writing the kind of reports that needs citations and footnotes. The style that’s fine for a term paper may not work at all for a meeting recap document to send around to the people who participated.

        Same goes for verbal communication. School teaches you how to participate in class, maybe how to give formal presentations, and maybe a bit about how to work with a group of peers where you can be pretty informal. Those can be different skills than knowing when and how to speak in a meeting with clients or how to communicate clearly with a vendor.

        1. BRR*

          I had a couple friends who were business majors and in their business communication course, they had to write a memo that was no longer than a page with certain information to include. They all found it difficult because in college it’s more common to stretch things out. Looking back, I love that as an exercise.

          1. Newbie*

            I also had a few undergrad courses where everything we turned in was in the the form of a concise memo. At the time it seemed a little forced and silly, but looking back I really appreciate what the professor was trying to do.
            They were mainly stats/econ courses – and it’s so true that in the work world, after you run some analysis your audience doesn’t want to read a paper about it, they want a few bullets with key findings and important takeaways.

          2. Ted*

            I’ve given up grammatically dense emails, my management can’t read English, and call me. “What does this mean?”

          3. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

            I have a pair of trainees who are both about to get their MBAs… and they both are struggling SO MUCH with being concise, both in their workplace reports and in their emails. They’ll either give way too much unnecessary background or assume the person they’re talking to already knows everything. The concept of “your email should just tell the person what they need to know, or tell them what you need from them, and that’s all” seems to be a really hard one. One of them has a bad habit of, when asking questions, giving one sentence at a time of background info, pausing between each sentence, and not getting to the actual question til the 10th sentence. Or worse, not phrasing it as a question, so you have to guess what she’s asking… and you’re left having to wait there until you’re sure she’s done talking.

            So I’m not convinced business schools do any better at this, really.

          4. Hush42*

            Yeah, I just finished my MBA. In one of my courses we had to do a research paper on a topic as part of the final. Then we had to write a leas than 1 page memo to a CEO summarizing the research and how it would benefit the hypothetical company.
            I earned my MBA while working full time and I had to learn to have two very different writing styles. In my classes I had to find ways to make my papers longer while at work I had to find ways to make my emails as concise as possible. This is one of my main objections current academic requirements. Require a long paper means that you’re teaching students the exact opposite of what they need in the real world.

        2. nnn*

          Yes, that’s what I was thinking. In school, a lot of what I was writing was to prove a thesis and had to be supported with citations, which is completely unlike what I have to write in the workplace. We also learned all these rules for essay-writing in school (don’t use passive voice, don’t use “I”) that would just get in the way in the workplace.

          Some of the more useful writing instruction I had was in a university professional writing class, where they’d give you a big pile of information, not all of which is relevant, and have you write an email that achieves a certain goal.

          Also, for presentations, the difference between school and the workplace is in school you’re assigned a presentation where the teacher knows the topic but you don’t, and you have to research the topic and learn enough to give a presentation that meets requirements. In the workplace (assuming your workplace isn’t too dysfunctional), you’re only ever giving presentations where you know the topic better than the audience.

          1. notanyuse*

            Clear written communication requires a willingness to break most of the rules taught between third grade and freshman year of college for writing “formal essays” or “papers.”

            Young lawyers – particularly the ones who spent a long time being “good students” — have a lot of trouble with this. By the time they start practicing, they’ve spent more than a decade developing a certain voice, and they have internalized expectations concerning what “serious” writing looks like.

            They either don’t want to use (or think that they are not allowed to use) all of the tricks that can make written communication clear and easy to follow, such as: 1) bullet points; 2) numbered lists (outside of pleadings); 3)headings and subheadings (outside of pleadings); 4) tables or columns; 5) short paragraphs/negative space;
            6) underlining, bolding, or italics to highlight important information.

            It is hard.

        3. Choux*

          I was lucky in that because I was a communications student (Journalism), I got thrown into Business Writing my freshman year of college instead of Freshman Comp. I guess they figured I knew how to write, so they’d put me in the slightly harder class. It was pretty amazing and taught me A LOT. I wish it was requried of everyone.

        4. Antilles*

          The most important lesson I’ve learned in the business world is almost diametrically opposed to the lessons taught for school writing: The simpler your writing, the better.
          In school, you’ve got minimum word counts, minimum page counts, and all sorts of rules. In business, the best document is the shortest one that still conveys the necessary information for the reader to understand.

          1. nnn*

            And, added to this, in business sometimes words aren’t the best way to convey the information – a chart or an infographic or a screenshot is far better.

            In school – even in business writing – we learned how to write persuasive prose with introductory and concluding paragraphs and would have lost marks for inserting a graphic when the rubric didn’t call for it.

            In the workplace, sometimes the most effective communication is simply “I’m getting this error message: [screenshot]” And they reply with “Change your settings to this: [screenshot]”

        5. Pilcrow*

          Definitely this. Writing system documentation or manufacturing processes or a policy manual is totally different from writing a term paper for Early American Lit 304.

        6. Emarellelle*

          For my internship, I had to write a weekly summary of my duties. Basically a memo that my boss signed off on and I sent to my school advisor. My school advisor wanted at least a page and a half, boss wouldn’t sign it if it was over half a page. So I wound up having to write two separate papers. The “business” communication was totally lost on my advisor.

        7. Batman*

          Guacamole Bob- exactly. Writing a research paper or an analysis or a reaction piece is much different than writing a business letter or a memo or an email to a colleague or a procedures manual or . . . I could go on, but I spent a lot of time writing in college and grad school, but I didn’t learn business writing.

        8. Beth*

          All of this. All communication is not equal. It wouldn’t be considered weird for someone to be amazing at writing papers in an academic style but completely awful at writing poetry; writing a good email is just another genre, and knowing how to write other things well doesn’t necessarily translate. Same goes for verbal communication.

        9. LawBee*

          Our issue is that there’s a level of professionalism that just isn’t there. A very very BASE level, like “spell check your letter before it goes out”.

      2. TooTiredToThink*

        When I was in college we had a Speech class. In that class our professor also gave business hints/tips for styles of dress; etc…. The issue was that he was so very, very out of touch with business norms at that point. He said something like, “And women should always wear a nice broach.” We all looked at him like he had two heads and all the women in the class went “Uh, no…” in near unison.

        1. Manders*

          Yep, this is a big part of the issue. A lot of professors are trying their best to give advice, but the nature of academia means that most are giving advice that’s either flat out incorrect or decades out of date. It’s very rare in many fields for professors to be keeping up with trends in the larger working world.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            And unfortunately, many academics have not held jobs outside of the academy. The ivory tower is its own weird little beast, and it’s easy for the majority of faculty to fall out of touch with external norms and business practices/trends.

        2. Ruthie*

          That is some weird advice, even for back in the day. I have a hard time believing that EVERY woman he knew in his early career wore a brooch. I mean, what if it clashes with my modest string of pearls?

        3. Not So NewReader*

          The best business prof I had was the one who still went out in the working world, she had other jobs. She was real and people knew it. She magnetically drew students to her. It’s interesting because she was kind of gruff and everyone could see through the gruffness.
          She had weekly papers. It was not uncommon for her to write on the paper, “thank you for this, it was interesting and I feel more informed.” At one point, I wrote about different types of salt. My paper came back with, “This is something I always wanted to learn more about. Thank you.”

          Only once before have I seen a prof write thank you on a paper. He was very similar to this woman I mention above. He was interested in everything, kind of gruff on the surface but really cared about people.

        4. voluptuousfire*

          I don’t disagree. I do like a nice broach on my interview jackets if I have one. :P

      3. blackcat*

        Several of my friends in the humanities have course loads high enough they can’t meaningfully coach students in writing. Many (most?) students are taught intro English by grad students or adjuncts, who are paid $1-4k per course, with 25 or more students in each class. To make ends meet, they end up teaching ~5 classes a semester. It is very difficult to coach 125+ students in developing their writing at once. K-12 has the same problem.

        1. Boba Feta*

          This. We do the best we can in the hopes that our lone pebble of effort/ influence may tip an avalanche of improvement.

        2. Snark*

          Absolutely this. People, largely people in the business community or ideologically aligned with it, have been sagely demanding that every public institution imaginable be “run like a business” for decades now. Well, here you go, this is the result of your reduced labor costs and corporate-style management.

      4. Admin of Sys*

        One of my best college classes made us do a business presentation, a resume, a lab report, and a grant proposal, along with the standard literature analysis and creative writing. It was amazingly useful. But that was 15+ years ago, so I don’t know if they still do that.

      5. Dobermom*

        I teach a course EXACTLY like this at a university! My students just had to present business proposals today in front of the class (pretending like the class was a group of investors). We do business emails, resumes, cover letters, etc. The feedback I get about how “practical” the class is blows me away every semester.

      6. Not Rebee*

        Forget grad school, some of my college classmates made me seriously wonder how they managed to get out of HS given their essay writing abilities. What was worst was seeing them get the same passing grades for a very simply written essay (that nonetheless managed to get the point across, and the points were founded) as I did for my own essays (which seemed to me to have a more sophisticated writing style).

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      My husband went to a symposium at his alma mater for people who got PhDs in the hard sciences and went into businesses and what advice did they have for the graduate program, and a common theme that emerged was that you were going to have to communicate with people outside your research group, using words.

      1. ramonaflowers89*

        I was a TA for a college microbiology course while I was finishing my MS and disregarding the fact that my students did not know basic biology facts, their writing and source verification skills were atrocious. Every semester I had to do a quick grammar lesson review and talk about how to determine if a source was acceptable or not (note: wiki pages are not acceptable.) My students hated me for how much I harped on grammar, spelling, and presentation. I could not believe that I had to explain that not taking the five seconds to make sure your font and sizing are uniform on a lab report makes you look lazy and does not make a good impression. I ended up telling them to think of me as their boss – if you wouldn’t turn it into your boss, do not turn it into me – and that their job is to make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand what they did, why they did it, and what they found. If I can’t understand what you wrote, that means you failed to successfully communicate your findings, which is basically equivalent to having not done the experiment at all. Let’s say that message was not universally well received.

        I shudder to think what their resumes and cover letters looked like in a few years. I don’t know why some people think good writing and communication skills aren’t important in STEM because they totally are, but those kids were in for some rude awakenings when they got out of school.

        1. JobHunter*

          I tutored a student like that for a semester. Her TAs and profs returned her papers (multiple courses) for grammatical errors and overall poor communication of ideas and told her to fix them or fail the assignment. She just couldn’t accept that her writing was incoherent. I tried showing her by diagramming a couple of “sentences” for her–cobbled-together fragment and prepositional phrases with no subject or verb. Her reaction: “But you could still figure out what I was saying, right?” Only with great difficulty. She really struggled in her first professional job after graduation.

        2. feministbookworm*

          In grad school, I TAd for an undergraduate science policy course. All of the students were science majors, but the professor came from a public policy/writing background, and considered the most important objective of the course getting students to write professionally for a non-scientific audience. It was my job to grade/heavily mark up their writing assignments. Some of the hardest things to train out of these students, who were used to writing lab reports and research papers, was their constant use of passive voice. I actually find the use of passive voice in scientific/government/political documents completely fascinating– I suspect it comes from a perception that removing the subject from the writing makes it more analytical/impartial (an extension of how students are taught not to use “I” in their writing). My students seem to have found it less fascinating, even though I tried to illustrate the issue by having them pay attention to the way politicians use passive voice (it’s usually when the speaker is talking/writing about something they’re worried their audience will get mad at them about…)

      2. Leslie Knope’s Long-Lost Twin*

        So much of my work has been explaining complex legal topics at an ~8th grade level. I imagine the same is true for many professionals (just substitute “technical” or “scientific” or whatever term is relevant in your field).

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m learning more in Toastmaster’s about oral communication skills than I learned in college *and* twenty years of work.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      In short, I have learned more here than I ever learned in college.
      However, writing and oral communication skills are the tip of the iceberg on the list of things missing from education today.
      I went back as an adult student. There were so many times where I had to contain my laughter because what the students were being told was so off the mark.

    5. tamarack and fireweed*

      The complaint about oral and written communications skills is quite well-known, and I believe a lot of college programs are experimenting with approaches how to remedy it. Certainly there’s a lot of progress to be made, but I also think that there’ll always be a residual complaint, however good colleges get at this. The reason is maturation. Teaching a college freshman and teaching a senior is like night and day especially when it comes to the soft skills, and the maturation doesn’t stop there. People keep learning when they’re in a job.

      For what it’s worth, from the perspective of a German it is quite astonishing how *good* US youngsters’ communications skills at the end of *high school* compared with Germans of the same age, and that’s because Americans actually do a lot of presenting from early on.

  2. The Original K.*

    My best friend is an attorney and at her former firm, HR does a session with each incoming summer associate class about workplace norms. There are inevitably people who have never worked before (didn’t work in high school or college, then went straight to law school) or who haven’t worked in such a formal setting before, and the session is needed. She said they spent a LOT of time on the dress code.

      1. HMM*

        We do this with our interns – we cover legal stuff, of course (timesheets, taking breaks and lunches, what constitutes overtime, dress code etc.) but we also do several sessions on professional norms – interviewing, cover letter/resume writing, how to think about social capital in the workforce, initiative vs. gumption, your rights in the workplace… we don’t do one on business writing though, which is a great idea.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Email communication norms, how to ask for work or feedback, what an internal v. external deadline means, whether it’s ok to drink during lunch if others are drinking, how not to go overboard during all the intern outings over the course of the year, characteristics of effective interns/summer law clerks v. those who were weaker, and for nonprofits, the organization’s core values.

    1. Quickbeam*

      Number one thing our managers hate…whining about not getting “Thanksgiving Wednesday” off or the day before the day before Christmas. I think the transition from school schedules to a work life schedule can be a tough transition for some.

      1. Lusara*

        I agree. One of the hardest things about going from college into the working world is realizing how little time off you get.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Depends on the industry. I used to work for a national bank, and they had oodles of time off. All the federal holidays, plus specific corporate holidays, plus a pretty generous PTO allotment.

          Now I work in retail, and not only are there only 6 corporate holidays (New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day), and you’ll probably still be working on one or two of those.

      2. Travel*

        “Thanksgiving Wednesday” is still the busiest travel day of the year in the US. So at least some folks are taking it off.

    2. Dan*

      Hehe. The joys of working in tech is that the dress code is basically “don’t look like you just came from the beach”.

      That said, when I was an intern, I wore shorts to work one day (nobody told me about the beach, hah) and some old fart wanted to know who my manager was.

      1. Anonforthis*

        I work in biotech and lots of people, not just interns, wear shorts in the summer. I’ve even seen Birkenstocks here. I usually wear jeans, which is a nice to have option after many years of business suits, pantyhose, and heels.

      2. Wren*

        I used to work for Nike. Our dresscode was basically “Don’t wear Adidas.” They did eventually add “Or a tube top” after we had a woman wear one.

        Now I work in HR for a large phone company in WA and I could totally wear shorts and flipflops if I wanted. I love the Pacific Northwest!

        1. Cramdan*

          My first job was temping at Nike, then into tech communications, until going to a small town bank. I’ve been here three years and wearing slacks and a button up is stifling still.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        We re-tooled our handbook because the person who made it a decade ago was…lol well not here anymore. They had an office casual attire listed and forbid t-shirts and jeans and blah blah blah. NOBODY followed it except maybe our CEO.

        So it boiled down to “Wear what’s appropriate for your job” and “Clean, neat and covers up your bits.” So we wear shorts all the time but just not like cutoff daisy dukes because that’s not neat or covers all the bits.

    3. Armchair Expert*

      I was a junior solicitor at a big law firm and they did this too. We covered dress code, how to network (this was super useful; tips like, if you’re at a networking event and know nobody, find someone else who’s hovering alone by the snack table and befriend them first and it gets easier from there), general etiquette around having work friends, that sort of thing. I was a little bit older and had worked in the real world before but never in such a white collar environment, and it was so so helpful.

      1. Auntie Social*

        My friend taught a class to new law school graduates–“How To Find The Courthouse And What To Do When You Get There”. It mostly consisted of don’t P off the counter clerks, the judge’s clerks, and always say hello to the bailiffs. Those are the people who run the courthouse.

      2. feministbookworm*

        I was at a networking training years ago where they explained the advice you mention above as “pretend like you’re a lion, and the attendees are wildebeest or gazelles. It’s easier to pick off people who are by themselves, and people tend to gather near the watering hole.” I’m not sure it’s actually a good idea to approach networking in this kind of (literally!) predatory mindset, but the image sure has stuck with me….

    4. Silence Will Fall*

      I run orientation for our summer associates now. In additional to all the law firm type things (time entry, document retention, etc.), we do a couple of sessions on general office norms. We cover things like responding to calendar invites in Outlook, using the Scheduling Assistant when sending appointments, setting up a professional sounding voicemail. A lot of the new associates are on their way to being solid lawyers, but day-to-day office life is a complete mystery to them.

  3. Popcorn Burner 2014*

    I agree! I was fortunate to learn basic business communication at my decent business school. However, that class did not cover navigating common workplace scenarios (like someone other than your direct boss delegating tasks your way) or how to operate basic business equipment (i.e. operating a desk phone, using a fax machine, or how to use an office multifunction copier for more than copying, etc.) My first internship was a trainwreck that would have been made better with an extra week’s worth of classwork/learning.

    1. just a random teacher*

      In terms of Things I Actually Used in my first set of low-level office jobs, the most useful school experience I had was working as a library aide and office aide in high school. I knew how to use a photocopier to do pretty complicated things (manual duplex and such), I knew how to sort and file large piles of paper, and I knew that you should answer an office phone using some kind of professional script (and I think I even knew how to transfer calls). All of these things made me do much better as a temp in an office environment than anything academic I learned. Not bad for a “class” I got stuck in because there was a hole in my schedule.

      I’m not sure how to teach those kind of skills in a regular classroom environment, though, and schools really don’t have enough office/library work for everyone to get an aide period.

      1. Zephy*

        People have been clamoring for a “life skills” type of class to be added back in to the HS curriculum for a while. Something like that could cover all kinds of “adulting” minutiae – cover the usual home-economics topics (budgeting, cooking and cleaning, simple repairs like sewing or filling in nail holes), plus employment topics (resume building, interviewing, dress codes, general office norms, business correspondence etiquette), and an overview of one’s rights and responsibilities as a grown-up – intro to employment and tax law for the layman, how to buy insurance, that kind of thing. Refine and expand the concept of “career day.” Have people of diverse backgrounds that took diverse paths after high school come and speak on what they did to get where they are. Make trade school cool again.

        1. Airy*

          The only problem with this idea is that people always want to add things to the curriculum but not to have anything dropped from it and it’s a major reason for teacher burnout.

        2. Samwise*

          For awhile — well, for at least 40 years, because I sure remember reading editorials back in the 70s that bemoaned how little high school and college prepared students for the real world of work. (My folks always laughed at those; they said their bosses back in the 1950s made the same complaint.)

        3. Nanani*

          Classes like that are the first to be targetted for cuts because “that’s the kind of thing they’ll learn from their parents” etc etc etc

        4. just a random teacher*

          To teach that class you would need:
          – a kitchen classroom with enough cooking space and equipment for the class
          – a class set of sewing machines
          – a class set of cleaning equipment for whatever kind of cleaning you wanted to teach
          – a set set of whatever repair equipment you wanted (for filling in nail holes, I guess putty knives and paint brushes, mostly)
          – an updated curriculum every time the tax laws change (we could not buy a new curriculum this year, nor send me to any professional development on changes in the tax laws, so I was trying to use materials based on the 2010 tax code this year – sure, I also needed to know some of the tax code updates to file my personal taxes, but there’s a different level of knowledge needed to teach about something than just to deal with my own tax situation)

          All of those things need regular updating/replenishing of consumables, so they’re regular targets for cuts. When I was a student in high school home ec, the fire marshal condemned our ovens and we were stuck making salads instead that term since we couldn’t replace them. Our sewing machines were always in need of repair, and I probably spent as much time trying to fix mine as I did actually sewing.

          You also get safety issues as class sizes get larger. I can teach algebra to 40 kids a period (not well with that many, but safely), and none of them will probably set anything on fire or cut off a finger while I do so. If I try to teach kitchen knife skills to a class of 40 in an overcrowded classroom, even assuming I had 40 sets of knives, that sounds like an accident waiting to happen.

          I’d love to see schools teach those sorts of life skills, but I can see why they don’t.

          1. MayLou*

            When I was at high school in the UK 12-17 years ago, we all had design technology classes which rotates between woodwork, electronics, textiles (sewing) and food tech (cooking). Classes were capped at 31 by law, so of course they ALL contained 31 students. It was pretty successful really, I’d learned most of the home economics stuff at home but the woodwork and electronics were helpful. I don’t know if they’re still part of the national curriculum.

          2. Koala dreams*

            My high school did! We had home education with kitchen equipment (washing clothes we read about and were then supposed to practice at home), sewing classes with sewing equipment, another class were we learned to change lightbulbs and light buttons, and a wood class where we made wood toys. Our teacher did her best to teach personal finances during the home education class, but the time was too short to effectively teach everything that was supposed to be included in home education, sadly.

            I think there are s few issues. One is that young people move out later than they used to so it’s wasted to teach home education in primary school or junior high school since the students will just forget it before they need it. In senior high school on the other hand teachers want students to prepare for college and it’s hard to make a choice between home education and college preparation.

        5. Clorinda*

          The high school where I teach has a business class that covers all those business behavioral and communication norms. It’s an elective and most of the students who take it unfortunately don’t appreciate what the teacher is trying to give them.

          1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

            I took a business ed class like that in high school and I loved it! It was a long time ago, but I remember learning how to write resumes and cover letters, and reading the biography of a business person. (I chose Lee Iacocca, the person who saved Chrysler from certain doom and invented the K car.)

        6. Fan of academic rigor*

          Hard disagree. High school students in China, Singapore, etc. aren’t taking classes on “cooking and cleaning” or “simple repairs like sewing or filling in nail holes.” And that’s who we’re competing against. The world will revolve around its axis if you don’t know how to sew. Plus, in practice this is going to be awfully discriminatory. Dollars to donuts the women get steered to sewing, African-Americans/working class people to menial jobs, etc., while brogrammer types get the college track.

          1. Pandop*

            Not in the UK, this aspect of the curriculum has gone through more political meddling than most, but when I was at school the whole yeargroup rotated through the various practical aspects of woodwork, cooking, textiles. Just checking with colleagues of mine that are parents, it still is a thing

  4. Mikasa*

    I got lucky. I studied business/accounting (just graduated last year), so we had mandatory classes dedicated to practice interviews, resumes, cover letters, follow-up/thank you notes, LinkedIn, workplace norms, etc. My friends don’t have any classes like this. It makes me so mad that other majors don’t have this as a requirement because it is SOOO helpful! It is beneficial to everyone, not just business majors.

    1. Busy*

      When we used to get interns, the feedback we would give to the colleges was that what they were teaching was not transferable to the real world. Like you can math all day at me, but if you can’t verify and validate your designs, I can’t really do that much with you. We even had engineers who didn’t know how to use autocad or other drafting software. What can I do with this if this person was just graduating?

      We generally used some very expensive private schools whose faculty was small and no one had ever actually worked outside of the university. They only know the theory and lacked the knowledge of how industries applied it. I believe some of the colleges were implementing some part time positions for retiring engineers from the business world. Not sure if they ever did as I had left.

      1. CMart*

        In my accountancy graduate program (graduated 2 years ago) an alarming number of my classmates did not really know how to use Excel. Or any of the MS Office suite really. They could type, and knew about SUM, but did not know shortcuts (ctrl+C / ctrl+V blew their minds) and didn’t really understand the concept of spreadsheets or what they could do.

        Again — a Master’s program for Accountants.

        I learned how to use Excel in middle school in the mid-90’s because “computers” were finally hitting the mainstream and my school thought an MS Office/keyboarding class was important. I don’t know when or why they stopped teaching programs like this in school but it’s a huge disservice to people attempting to enter the professional workforce.

        1. Faith*

          I’m seriously surprised that advanced Excel skills are not being taught as a mandatory part of the accounting curriculum. I am not even talking about macros. It’s things like VLOOKUP/HLOOKUP, pivot tables/charts, etc. There is a 99.99% likelihood that you will encounter those if you work in accounting field.

          1. CMart*

            I really think there’s a systemic disconnect where it’s assumed that by the time you’re in graduate level business school of course you know how to use Excel/Power Point etc… so it’s not thought to teach it.

            I was a TA for a while for Accounting 101 and I tried to teach as much as I could. One of the first assignments was a basic Balance Sheet done in Excel, and a good 50% of my college sophomores just keyed in the numbers into the cells, and used their phone calculators to do the computations. I was agog, and did my best to teach as much as I could about the program.

            1. Busy*

              That actually makes sense. Because someone with say a communications degree can get into a master accounting program. I have seen it. So they may not have learned all that other practical knowledge?

              But I see people now in accounting who do not seem to understand basic accounting things, so I don’t know.

              1. CMart*

                That was me!!!! BA in Broadcast Comm :D

                But I had the benefit of being medium-old and not starting the accountancy program until I was 28 so I got the benefit of the “computers are the future! Everyone learn how to use them as if your life depends on it!” curriculum in middle school.

          2. Busy*

            I work with people in accounting right now who will make reports using some party software and never even ONCE make sure its pulling the data correctly or that their own calculation are correct. I keep having to go back to them and say “how are you reaching x when you have so many y’s missing from this report?” It is insane. Verify it!!!!!!

            1. CMart*

              I recently changed groups and was training my replacement (another internal transfer, and recent grad). The role he was moving into was “financial analyst”. I showed him one report that pulled account information from our general ledger system, how it was organized, what its purpose was etc… and then said “and then you analyze the balances and summarize your analysis in this table.”

              He looked confused and asked “what do you mean, ‘analyze’? The numbers are all right here… and they come right from the system right? So we know that it’s right, what else is there to do?”

          3. Fan of academic rigor*

            OK, Mr. Smarty Pants, you should be doing INDEX/MATCH, not VLOOKUP. :)

            I’m not making this point to be snarky. (OK, maybe a tad!) I learned that tip by Googling some excel modeling techniques, and for others I took short online training course in financial modelling. What I can’t do is learn critical thinking skills by Googling them. That’s the point of what university education should be doing.)

        2. Busy*

          Haha I work as an analyst. I took business management, and we had to take an ENTIRE class on excel. I opted out of the class and just took the test – but yeah you need to know this. It also explains a lot of what I am dealing with at my current company with accounting.

          I cannot even think of a program where I have not had to pull data out into excel? Companies use so many different types of software that do not communicate. Why isn’t that part of the curriculum?

          1. CMart*

            Yes – I use a bunch of different systems that you can’t reasonably expect every new employee to know, but the one thing they have in common is that they all export to Excel.

          2. MsChanandlerBong*

            I am going back to school to finish my degree in business management/HR, and I have to take an Excel class. It is the ONLY class I am worried about. I know basic Excel (formulas, creating dropdown menus, adding checkboxes, sorting data, etc.), but this course covers pivot tables and other advanced stuff. But, even though I am nervous, I am glad they are making us take it. I think it will be a real benefit in the workplace.

            1. Autumnheart*

              I had to take a class on databases (I am not a database person and have only a basic level of excel knowledge, less than you listed) and pivot tables were not bad. I think you’ll be fine.

        3. Nanani*

          I know the K-12 curriculum where I live stopped teaching typing some years ago on the assumptions that the digital native cohort would already know. Now there are kids graduating high school with basic hunt and peck – they can type fast on a smartphone but not on a full keyboard!

          I wonder if something similar has happened with these programs. “Oh kids these days are all computer whizes, we can cut this.”

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Ugh. I am such a fossil that I learned to type the old-fashioned way, on an actual typewriter! Computers existed back then, but nobody had any idea that EVERYONE was going to end up using them, much less that typing skills were going to be involved (there were no personal computers yet, just mainframes that were programmed with those punch card things). I can’t tell you how glad I am that I took that high school typing class or how useful those skills have been.

            Not giving kids a chance to learn proper keyboarding skills at all seems really sad to me.

            1. Iconoclast in California*

              I graduated high school in the 70s. I took a summer-school typing class. I sucked.

              Went I started working, I would not admit to knowing how to type so I wouldn’t get stuck in the typing pool.

              When PCs came out, I changed that. I learned them quickly, having programmed on keypunch cards. I got paid more because I knew how to use a computer.

              I still encounter finance C-level people younger than me who are incompetent with Excel. It’s mind boggling.

          2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

            I’m a college librarian, and I’ve deeply impressed several of my students by being able to type fast without looking. And then I watch them typing and want to tear my hair out…It must be so *frustrating* to type slowly

            1. Auntie Social*

              Amen. I went for one job that had a typing test and when they heard the fast keystrokes and saw that I wasn’t looking at the keys, they said “Oh, never mind. We just have to do this because some people can only type with three fingers.” (And I type even faster after a glass of wine!)

        4. Princesa Zelda*

          When I graduated high school in 2012 my district was talking about cutting out the typing classes because “kids all know computers anyway”. Less than a third of the students had a computer at home. I can only imagine what the typing skills of kids graduating from my high school today are.

        5. Koala dreams*

          I didn’t learn any computer programs when I studied accounting at university, we did all accounting by hand. Our teachers wanted us to learn the basics first which I can understand, but somehow we never got to practice using the software. The coworkers who went to vocational school for accounting did practice using the software.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is not shocking to me at all.

        I have had issues with newly graduated or first-job in accounting folks regularly. It brings me to tears and has given me pause at the idea of going to school to get a degree. I literally only need the degree so I can get into those silly nonsensical companies who still think that a degree or GTFO but the idea of being taught things that won’t benefit a darn thing except just to pay for me to learn these theories of things I’ve seen for over a decade in real life gives me a drowning feeling.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Honestly, as someone who went back to school later in life to finish my degree, you’ll get so much more out of your education *because* you will know how to apply it. Also, the program I was in was geared toward working adults, and the other students were so much more invested and motivated. And for me personally, I have tons of practical experience, but it was also really useful to get the theoretical background to back it up. Many times, I was able to use work projects as a basis for my schoolwork, and I was able to use the research at work that I’d been doing for school.

          And let’s face it, if you already have the practical experience that would make you excel at the curriculum, so much the better. Get those As. If you feel like doing grad school later, it’ll only be to your benefit.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        The school I went to (undergrad) REFUSED to teach any of the basic MS stuff. Students were supposed to catch it on the fly. (This was a little over a decade ago.) The student body was a really diverse group of people. Some students confided that they had never once used a computer in their high school.

        So if you have never seen Excel before and you are given a math question that does not lend itself to spreadsheets very well, how long might it take you to finish that project? I took a course in MS stuff at another college, because the learning curve was too steep for me. I force-fit the homework into Excel and it took me hours. I cannot imagine how long it would take someone who had never seen Excel before.

        I probably spent eight hours just putting it in to Excel after spending many more hours finding data and deciding on formulas. Punchline: I used all the wrong data. I used all the wrong formulas. Randomly I decided to cut the answer in half. I came to the correct answer and got a 92 on that project.

        What a mess we have.

      4. Pescadero*

        “We even had engineers who didn’t know how to use autocad or other drafting software. What can I do with this if this person was just graduating?”

        Train them.

        I’m an engineer (Computer Engineering). I worked in VLSI design at a company that basically used proprietary design software. The Engineers coming in did not know how to use it. They trained them. The physical design folks didn’t know it coming in – so they ran a 6 week class to train new hires.

        1. only acting normal*

          It’s not always useful for universities to focus on specific softwares. I’m currently doing a university statistics module that is unusually heavily focused on one software package (a common one in some fields, but requires a £££ license, and not used in my field) – it’s driving me nuts because it is not one of the *several* packages I do have access to at work, so I’ll need to learn one of those too in order to apply any of what I’ve learned.

      5. Fan of academic rigor*

        They only know the theory and lacked the knowledge of how industries applied it

        Well, yes, because that’s what academia does — teach the theory. Industries do the applications, so let them teach the applications.

        All of this clamoring for “less theory” in universities is missing the point. The theory is the building blocks of applied work. Without the theory, you won’t have the foundations to move on to the next level.

        You’ll end up with graduates who are, in principle, more “plug and play,” ready for immediate work — but who in practice miss the forest for the trees. And the consequences of *that* will be a lot more serious, a lot more evident years out, and a lot harder to correct.

        You can teach someone to write a concise e-mail from a couple days on the job. Most of the people complaining on this thread graduate from these supposedly disastrous academic programs, let they learned how to write e-mails or use Excel. You *can’t* teach creativity, or theoretical underpinnings, or thinking strategically in that same way.

        Lots of countries have tertiary education systems that are a lot more “algorithmic” than the US (Russia and India, for example). They often excel at basic research, but they’re piss-poor at commercializing technology, because those engineers have trouble thinking outside of their immediate comfort zone. (Despite all those math whizzes, there are no real world-class Russian companies outside the oil sector. And we all know how frustrating offshore tech support is.) Where so all those Russian and Indian engineers do well? When the emigrate to the US.

    2. RandomWords*

      When I was at college we had to take a “capstone” class during our last semester, which varied by major. My roommate was an accounting major. Her capstone class included resumes and cover letters, appropriate dress for interviews, mock interviews with local businesspeople, and etiquette for business dinners.

      I was an English major, and for my capstone class I had to write a 50-page paper. My roommate kindly shared what she learned with me.

  5. CL*

    This literally is part of my job at a university. But there’s only so much time in a semester, you only see any given student a certain number of times, students are on information overload etc. that covering everything you’d want to cover is nearly impossible. Some students are also learn-by-doing people, and just advising them on norms won’t sink in as much as them experiencing it directly (which they do through our various programs). It’s definitely a work in progress.

    To Alison’s point about what employers are doing, I share some of the same questions. It’s not possible for every young person to know every nuance of a professional environment when they get to a job – what are the employers contributing to the employee’s ability to succeed in their job, such as on-boarding, training, etc? It’s a two way street.

    1. Samwise*

      Right. That’s why optimally students have had jobs and internships while in school. Even so, they will need training provided by the employer. Realistically, classes like this can’t possibly cover everything.

      A good university career center like the one at the U I work at will offer workshops on these things, as will academic depts. In a number of depts at my U, students have a one-credit course their senior year, covering job-searching, workplace norms and so on. Of course, that class has to fit within the maximum number of credits allowed for a degree, so unless a degree is set up with some free electives, something’s got to give.

    2. Kristine*

      You bring up a great point. My first post-college job hired a ton of new grads at the same time for entry level positions but we got almost no on-boarding or training other than a crash course of Company’s Products 101. We were thrown into the deep end and expected to sink or swim. Thankfully I’d worked in a professional office as a file clerk from age 16-18 so I came into that job with some knowledge of office norms but most of the people in that new hire group quit within the first year.

    3. It's Pronounced Bruce*

      This is my reaction to the complaint that universities aren’t teaching enough workplace norms, too. This is one of those things that you really have to learn with actual experience, andI don’t think there’s an amount of information-giving in colleges that’s a substitute for that experience. That’s before you even get into the fact that the reliability of people’s opinions is pretty variable. My program in university had a long series of classes about learning the industry and the norms within it, and the woman who ran it was very pedigreed and a part of many significant professional organizations for our field nationwide… And her advice was often abysmally bad when it came to small workplace norms stuff. For example, she said women should never wear makeup of any kind to work ever under any circumstances. Not that makeup shouldn’t be obvious, but like, literally none, don’t even powder your nose, god help you if you’re stupid enough to wear mascara, etc.

      On top of that, it seems like more and more companies are expecting workers to come in magically knowing exactly how to function at the company without much on boarding or training. That’s bad enough when you’re talking about experienced professionals– it’s a disaster when you’re talking about interns and entry-level new grads. I think this is less a “colleges aren’t preparing students” problem but an “employers have unrealistic expectations” problem.

      Like, consider all the letters we see here from folks overseeing college interns who are annoyed that they’re coming in not knowing how to seamlessly integrate into the culture, and feel like they shouldn’t have to provide that much guidance. I always wish I could talk to these folks about their expectations. “Intern” doesn’t mean “free or cheap employee,” the literal purpose of their time there is to be trained!

      1. epi*

        This is exactly my reaction to this question. It hasn’t always been universities’ sole responsibility to train workers– obviously– and there are some elements of training that will just never make sense for someone besides the student’s eventual employer to do. Fitting into any culture, not just at work, is something that people can try to practice and prepare for but must actually learn by doing.

        I have lost track of the number of questions and comments I have seen on this site with people complaining that interns or brand new grads don’t already know something. That is part of the purpose of those positions– to learn so you are prepared for other things. Particularly in the case of interns, where the purpose of the position is supposed to be to benefit them, not to extract value from them. I get not wanting to be the de facto manager of all the interns, but I see an attitude from many people that even correcting trainees and early career folks is asking too much. Anyone can be a mentor– it’s really rewarding. And people who are already flawless don’t need your mentoring.

      2. NativeForeigner*

        I second.

        There are so many different working cultures – even within the same country, same domain – that it is impossible to teach them all in the universities. Who in the university would even be qualifies to teach that? Certainly not the professor of theoretical exology who has had a couple of jobs in the industry in the last century and spouse working for the municipality.

        The employers just have to accept that they have to teach all the newcomers some basic local norms and accept some errors to start with. Some senior staff just seem to forget how hard it was to learn that and may not realize how different they are to the other employers. Particularly, if there is a dress code or other strict rules, those should be given written before the first day.

      3. Fan of academic rigor*

        “This is my reaction to the complaint that universities aren’t teaching enough workplace norms, too. This is one of those things that you really have to learn with actual experience, andI don’t think there’s an amount of information-giving in colleges that’s a substitute for that experience…I think this is less a “colleges aren’t preparing students” problem but an “employers have unrealistic expectations” problem”

        100% this.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      This is the stuff that keeps Alison working!

      I do agree we have a collective responsibility to train new people and people who have moved to a new arena.

      Schools would benefit from updating what they teach people about workplaces. I have to chuckle, I mean, if a student can’t make their tuition loan payments how to colleges plan on surviving?? It seems self-defeating to not show students how to get and keep a job. They need a job to pay the tuition…..

      However, workplaces could do a better job of training people. In most places I have worked, I would say easily 75% of the people flat out refuse to train. And there is a percentage that seems to get great joy out of watching the new hire fall on their face without that training. “No one taught me, what’s up with the special treatment???” is an attitude I see often.

      Yet other companies hire someone to train and only that person trains. So the new hire sits around and waits for the trainer to be available.

      I have ended up training a lot of people. I don’t mind and it’s kinda fun. I did not know how to train at first, it’s not something that comes naturally, I think. I let the new people train ME. I learned through their questions and their actions where I was failing them. While each person has their own particular gaps, there are other things that are common questions and most people will ask those questions.

      As an example of personal gaps, I had one person who did most tasks well. Until she had to deal with a machine that heated up. I could tell by her reactions that she had a bad accident at some point. It took her a very long time to tell me about her accident. Our solution was we would look at a new machine together and I would specifically go over safety in great detail. It was maybe 20 minutes out of my life, then she was all set and we never revisited worry about that particular machine again. As we went through this with various machines, the 20 minute chat also got shorter.

      Training is two parts: General info and the individual’s gaps. We all have our own set of gaps that are unique to each of us. Just my opinion, but I think once people clearly identify their gap, most of the time they will work at filling in that gap. People can need help finding and identifying their unique gaps, though.

      1. I Took A Mint*

        I think the issue is that “set up young adults to get jobs” is a multi-faceted effort by parents, schools, workplaces, and the individual.

        Workplaces love to say “why didn’t you learn that in school? isn’t school for learning? it’s the individual’s responsibility to be prepared to work.”
        Schools say “how are we supposed to know every industry’s norms, shouldn’t your workplace teach you? it’s your responsibility to be prepared.”
        Parents say “I work in a different industry, and I learned on the job. Why doesn’t your workplace train you? Or look it up online!”
        And the student says “I don’t know where I’m supposed to learn this stuff! I only have 2 decades of life experience and the first half was learning to read and write and the second half has been heavily scheduled and directed. How do I ask about what I don’t know?”

    5. Genny*

      I’ve occasionally gone back to my alma mater to hold resume/cover letter workshops, talk about internships, etc. The turnout for these types of practical workshops is usually quite low. I think sometimes student get wrapped up in thinking it’s more important to have a stellar GPA and that the practical stuff can be figured out later. The truth is, above a certain GPA (IMO around 3.0), employers just don’t care. A 3.6 doesn’t give you much, if any, of a leg up on someone with a 3.1. Employers do care about resumes that contain the necessary information and are easily read/processed and cover letters that aren’t a dry regurgitation of info on your resume. I’m not really sure there’s much you can do to convince students otherwise either. It seems like one of those things you have to figure out on your own.

      1. Fan of academic rigor*

        I think sometimes student get wrapped up in thinking it’s more important to have a stellar GPA and that the practical stuff can be figured out later. The truth is, above a certain GPA (IMO around 3.0), employers just don’t care.

        This is a gross generalization. If you’re apply to law school, for example, your undergraduate GPA is vital. Keyboarding skills, much less so, even if I would like the lawyers representing us to know how to use cross-references in contracts. Focusing on your GPA is entirely rational.

  6. Green Goose*

    I’m a newish manager and I manage a part-time staffer each spring during our busy period. I’ve had three direct reports in the past three years. Two of the three had come in with previous work experience but Fergus had just graduated from a prestigious program at a prestigious university with no work or internship experience. Fergus’s performance task was very high quality and I was excited to hire him.

    I was pretty shocked at the knowledge gap and the learning curve he required in soft skills and basic office etiquette after he started. He arrived on the first day in sweatpants. We had to have multiple awkward conversations about punctuality (he truly did not “get” that 9:10-15 was not on time for an hourly worker) and other random work behaviors (taking a 40-minute bathroom break without clocking out and inviting friends to hang out at work without asking permission. )

    I learned from that experience that I am not interested in being someone’s first boss again.

    1. Busy*

      Omg its like he never worked anywhere before ever, nor ever seen anyone work, or even knows what that means!

      1. Green Goose*

        Yeah, it was truly bizarre. Sometimes during the conversations, it took serious skills to have a poker face, especially when I explained his friends could not come hangout during work hours. He meant no malintent at all, and would get really flustered whenever he got any criticism, he was just totally clueless.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Er, you can’t ask people to clock out while using the restroom. Unless he was lying about going to the bathroom and just taking regular breaks.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Many companies do however ask employees with a pattern of looong bathroom breaks to clock out. As OP here is saying it’s those people who are in there for a half hour or so on a semi-regular or regular basis.

        Many times its also connected with job performance and write-ups and threats of dismissal. This is because there are a surprising number of people who WILL hide out in a bathroom stall for prolonged periods of time. I have no idea what they are doing in there, but there is no medical/physical problem going on. Sadly, one person I was training, would report for work, stand in the middle of the work area until it was time to go home. I asked her to do things and she refused, she just stood in the middle of the work area like a statue. I thought, “Well, at least she is not hiding in the bathroom.” (She worked one night with the boss and that was her last night.)

        No, I never learned why she stood there like that.

        1. NoLongerYoungButLotsWiser*

          My brother said in his first full-time job, there was a guy who would come in, and then go to the men’s room and sleep in the bathroom stall for several hours every day! (Unclear if he had a second job or why he was not sleeping at home). It went on for months, and when he left, as far as he knew, the guy was still doing that.

          Now, I have seen/ heard any number of folks hiding in our bathrooms (probably on another floor from their group), playing games on their phone or having endless texting/talking sessions.

          So I completely understand that maybe, there is a “clock out” need if someone is taking very long bathroom breaks and has otherwise shown to be a problem employee.

  7. Kris*

    I’m an attorney who works for a court and I have a big list of these types of things that I go over with my law student interns and externs, but I find that it’s hard to anticipate everything. I never cease to be amazed at some of the behaviors I wind up having to address. For example, one of the things I now tell every student is that they may not eat in the courtroom during oral argument.

    1. just a random teacher*

      I’m…pretty sure we covered that in elementary school before going on courthouse field trips when I was a kid.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I am now picturing a line of second graders side-eying the third-year law interns.

      2. pentamom*

        That’s just it, though. I went to a middle class school that was very good in many respects, and a courthouse trip was nowhere on the agenda anywhere in those 13 years. Even when kids have a lot of positive formative experiences, no kid gets all possible ones.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I think though the concept of eating having a time and a place is addressed in most schools.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, very often it’s okay for people to expect others to extrapolate from one basic concept, even if a situation is not 100% The Exact Same Thing as the basic concept itself.

          2. Jessen*

            It is, and then you get to college and they keep you in class from 9am to 4:30pm solid two days a week and it’s your problem to eat somewhere in there.

            1. MayLou*

              I had this issue at sixth form college. My friend and I were the only ones taking five A levels (most people took three or four but we didn’t want to drop any) and they restructured to timetable to include a free period in the middle of the day. Except not for us, because we had classes in every slot. They had to make an exception to the no eating in class rule for us. And promised to revisit the timetable structure the next year. (Actually now they just don’t offer A levels at all… Which I guess is a solution of a kind…)

              1. Jessen*

                Yeah the attitude I got in college was that expecting people to give you permission to eat in class was sort of like asking the professor for permission to get up and go to the bathroom. Sure before college you were expected to ask permission, but that was just one of those weird for kids rules and now that you were officially an adult you shouldn’t do that.

          3. pentamom*

            Oh, sure, I was just addressing the assumption of a courthouse trip as entirely normal. I agree that the basic principle should provide for extrapolation, but it appears that this whole broader problem arises from the fact that it isn’t working that way, for whatever reason.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The issue is the things we learn as children in that setting stick in our minds as “KIDS don’t eat in the courtroom” not “Don’t eat in the courtroom.”

        Many things you learn “pre-Adult” you think of as “When I’m an adult, I make the rules, I don’t have to follow these rules, woooohoooo can’t wait to be King of the World come 18 y/o!”

        For real, that’s why I try to instill a lot of “Adults have rules too and no, they’re not all laws but they’re rules that have consequences if you break them.”

    2. Rainy days*

      Haha. +1 to it being impossible to anticipate all possible behaviors. Each year I get a longer and longer list of warnings to give. Like “If there is a happy hour after work or a group lunch out, you cannot put it on your timesheet just because everyone present was a coworker.”

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      When I worked for the courts, I would face intern issues that I had never experienced with each cohort. Like the time an intern brought in her enormous dog because the judge down the hallway brought his dog. She didn’t understand why it’s not ok to just bring a massive dog in without speaking to your boss (the judge) or the law clerks, who would have certainly told you you cannot bring your massive dog.

  8. soupcold57*

    This is basically why intern and entry level is paid what they are … because their manager would be teaching them this stuffs.

    1. Annette*

      No. It’s because they can get away with it. Not because they’re teaching them so much. That it’s practically paid school. Do not believe the bosses lies.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Nope. It’s because it’s an easy slot to fill [in theory, it’s hard AF to fill in a lot of cases], the bigger the possible candidates pool, the easier the necessary skills to do the job, the less money you make.

      It’s simple supply and demand more than it is because their manager is supposed to be teaching them things. It’s because they’re on a shorter leash and have less responsibility.

    3. Faith*

      Eh, in some fields (ex. public accounting) interns earn more than full-time associates and even some of the seniors because they are eligible for overtime at 1.5 rate. Considering the fact that busy season frequently means working 60-80 hours per week, that ends up being quite substantial.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s just more proof that salary is a scam in a lot of setups, nobody entry level should be pulling in more money than a higher ranked individual just because they’re non-exempt.

    4. SignalLost*

      That assumes that everyone can do an internship or their major lines up with the business world. I’m not trying to get all “not everyone can eat sandwiches!” but my major in college and grad school was anthropology. I didn’t do an internship, have no idea what one would have looked like, and didn’t wind up in anthropology at all in the end.

  9. Akcipitrokulo*

    Not all workplaces are the same. Unless you’re talking about something actually abusive or discriminatory, pause, watch and listen to how things are done here, and don’t assume it’s wrong because your last boss did it differently.

    And (if in UK at least) join a union. The backup they will give you – even just someone on your side at the end of the phone to ask “Hey, can my boss do this or am I over-reacting?” is invaluable, and if something does go wrong – they will be there for you.

  10. Cordoba*

    My undergrad was very co-op oriented and every student was required to do ~8x co-op terms that were each 3 months long. These co-ops were typically at medium-to-large corporate, government, or non-profit organizations.

    Prior to starting co-ops the school had a 6 week long “job orientation” class that all the freshmen took; it covered basic corporate etiquette like dress codes, use of time, behavior expectations, and showing up reliably. I thought it was great, and went a long way towards evening the field between students who had been raised in an environment where they had been exposed to these norms already and students who were encountering them for the first time.

    It is genuinely baffling to me that every college does not require (or at least offer) a course like this.

    Between the introduction we received in the orientation class and the experience gained during co-oping everybody was ready to actually go get and hold a job upon graduation. Starting your first professional job was basically just starting another work term, except this one lasts for decades rather than a few months.

    1. Alana*

      This is honestly a great idea. School norms do not translate into the workplace all that well (and vice versa). I try to be really explicit with interns and new hires about what I expect, down to things like “I sometimes work from home in the morning and you’ll see me actually arrive at the office at 11. That’s something I can do because I’ve been at the company a long time and it works for my role. You still need to get here at 9. It’s important for other people at the organization to see that you are at your desk and ready to start the day.”

      Otherwise, they tend to do what they see the people around them doing — and, because you don’t get “in trouble” visibly in an office, they have no idea who’s actually doing it right!

      1. Queen of the File*

        Yes! I made a few mistakes by following the lead of the person who best reflected what I wanted reality to be (dress code, lunch flexibility, etc.). It didn’t occur to me that some of the behaviour I was witnessing was not ok (or was ok in their role but not in mine).

      2. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

        Co-op students in my field are fantastic. I love it when my company hires them.

    2. MsChanandlerBong*

      I am curious to whether your school is in a large city with a good public-transport system, as I can’t see this working at a school in rural area. Not every student has a car or can afford to work for free in addition to going to school and holding down a job to pay for their tuition. I had to do an internship my junior year, but I ended up having to withdraw from it because my internship site was 35 minutes from campus, and I could not afford to keep putting gas in my car to get there and back four days a week.

      1. Cordoba*

        My school was in a town of less than 100k people with virtually no public transit and few employment opportunities.

        We left campus for co-op; students would disperse throughout the country (and occasionally world) during work term. Very few students do their co-op in the same town where the school is based.

        The co-ops we did were always paid. Typically co-op wages would cover work term living and transport with enough left over to cover non-tuition school term expenses as well.

  11. Flat Penny*

    I was just reading about “traffic gardens,” little playgrounds designed like cities/streets so that kids can learn how to obey traffic signals and navigate real roads safely.

    Something like this should exist for young adults. Little fake workplaces.

    1. Celeste*

      Some communities set these up for incoming kindergarteners; they call it Safety Town. It’s a great idea.

    2. Even Steven*

      Brilliant idea! Like mini-golf, but with suits, memos, meetings & deadlines. Kidding aside, I bet it would actually be easy to create a real strategy game for this, teaching skills and rewarding results. Anything to prepare grads for the working world would be a kindness.

    3. dumblewald*

      Working part time in high school/college can help. Though if you work service jobs, you learn little about office culture. In junior and senior year in college, I transitioned from food service work to working as an administrative assistant in an on campus office, and got more accustomed to *some* workplace norms. That being said, I feel like the only thing that prepared me for the real thing was the real thing. Even internships didn’t teach me everything about being a full time professional.

  12. bleh*

    A few things:

    Any instruction like this would be addressed in a class “outside the major” for most students or in residence hall programming – those programs do exist, and they do cover such material at times. However, students often do not respect anything outside their major as important or worthy of their respect. Hell, they don’t respect the University itself because they’ve been told it’s “not the real world” or “an ivory tower,” which reinforces that anything we say about the workplace would be ignored anyway. See also, Professors don’t pay students, so they really don’t believe what we say about work.

    Secondly, dress codes in a college classroom would be seen as classist (which they are) and therefore inappropriate outside business schools which cook classism into their assumptions more easily. We all have these classist (and often racist) kinds of assumptions about workplace appearance norms, so don’t think I’m not just as guilty. It’s just that business programs can get often away with it, when others cannot. I have stopped suggestions that students dress a certain way when they do class presentations because I know that not all students own professional clothing (and I know the norms for professional are changing in some fields).

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I went to a school where the belief was if you weren’t 20 then you were dirt. Yeah, try treating 40 year olds like that in the workplace and watch what happens. It was interesting to walk around campus and watch how many people would just turn the backs on someone who was not 20.

      Just to be very clear, I do not blame the students here. I blame TPTB for not putting their collective foot down. They knew the problem existed, they discussed it among themselves very often. And then did nothing.

      My previous school was a pure joy. There were people of all ages and backgrounds who chatted with each other regularly. No one cared about your personal demographics. It was so interesting to be on that campus because people shared their stories freely. You never knew what interesting thing you would learn today.

    2. I Took A Mint*

      Also a lot of students with heavy workloads don’t have time for classes “outside the major”. I had to do a major project and take lots of credits to graduate in my major, I wouldn’t have had time for “learn how a suit should fit: the class”.

    3. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      I had a heavy course load with only a few electives. I wouldn’t have wasted my precious arts electives on a “how to have a job” class. I took good stuff like English and Anthropology. I may have only had 2 electives actually.
      IMO academia, at least in science, is not where you learn hands on, practical skills (unless it’s in a lab). That’s what summer jobs are for.
      I think it’s on employers to be more accommodating to new employees. Train people in what you want them to know and stop whining about it.

  13. Akcipitrokulo*

    Oh – and if in doubt, err on side of MORE formality. It isn’t going to be a bad thing to be the new start who was more formal than expected – that’s normal and expected. New starts, new to workplace, trying to make sure they do it “right” – that’s fine, and people know you’ll relax if necessary.

    Being the new start who turns up in noticeably out of place casual (or less than spotless) clothes, and asks the CEO how it’s hanging? That’ll get you noticed in a bad way.

    1. Ruthie*

      Yes to the more formality. It’s far better to relax into norms than to go too casual and have to be whipped into shape.

      I also wonder if we don’t necessarily teach these norms at first because we never imagine people violating them so egregiously. I had one of my interns show up in bare midriff once, and I almost convinced myself that I’d hallucinated it because that was just. not. possible.

  14. bikes*

    A lot of the young hires I’ve worked with seem really chuffed that they aren’t allowed to contribute *all the ideas* when they’ve been hired to assist with a grant-funded, not-for-profit project that is underway. I try as hard as I can to be patient, but it really irritates me. I was the first in my family to work in a white collar office setting and I knew somehow that I was not going to be able to be sitting around doing big-picture thinking all day at age 22. Where do they get these ideas? I know college courses encourage original thinking and leadership but this doesn’t translate into running the show in your first job after college. It truly weirds me out.

    1. pentamom*

      I’m baffled by the cases I keep running across of people being hired as “management consultants” straight out of undergrad. Even as bit players on a team, I don’t see how that can be an entry level job.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        They’re generally crunching data, not telling orgs how to manage in the way we think of management here. It’s stuff like analyzing inefficiencies in a a procurement pipeline, etc.

        1. MBBer*

          They do some data crunching, yes, but that’s not how we do it at my firm and other McKinsey/Bain/BCG type firms. We have internal team meetings on each study and definitely encourage analysts to share ideas with the engagement manager.

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      Does chuffed mean something different where you are? It means “delighted, very happy” …. so reading that as they are happy they aren’t allowed to contribute, which I think is the opposite?

          1. bikes*

            I was thinking of the word “huffy” or something synonymous. But I took an antihistamine for my allergies, so…

      1. Airy*

        I had the same thought; I know it as meaning “pleased and proud,” as in “Wakeen was dead chuffed to get such a glowing performance review.”

      2. person*

        Chuffed is a contronym, at least in america.

        chuffed in American
        adjective British, Informal
        pleased, delighted, gratified, etc.
        disgruntled, displeased, unhappy, etc.

        1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

          Like nonplussed

          1. (of a person) surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.
          (of a person) not disconcerted; unperturbed.

    3. LaDeeDa*

      This reminds me of the letter about the interns who organized a petition to change the dress code at the company.

      I think part of it is just that unwavering belief we all had at 22 that WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD! So part of me kinda loves it…

    4. Batman*

      I think it’s because you’re supposed to share your ideas about stuff when you’re in school and it’s often a part of your grade. So you get used to it and it’s difficult to switch to not doing that anymore.

      1. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

        +1 In my (fairly recent) experience, a lot of school was very egalitarian discussion in which “no idea is wrong” and discussion sections were basically a round table of the students, any TAs who were present, and the professor. I can see where some new grads may not realize that nobody has any cause to hear out all of their ideas before they have experience in the workplace/industry/etc. The first couple years in the workplace will really de-puff your ego!

  15. Train new hires instead of expecting just-in-time delivery*

    I would reframe this to why don’t companies invest in training as much. You cannot expect a university or college to provide norms training for the workplace because norms are particular to companies and industries.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Yes, this.

      I’ve been a working professional in my field for years now, and I’ve periodically gotten “in trouble” at work for not being able to read minds to discern some site-specific quirk of a new employer. Things like not knowing how to work a custom-to-the-company software program, or the cell phone number of an employee I’ve never met, or what someone’s favorite restaurant is.

      Unless you are hiring a psychic, you will have to train your employees.

      1. Auntie Social*

        My daughter called from one job she was temping at: “What is rebar and why should I sign for it?”

        1. Princesa Zelda*

          Rebar? The only rebar I’m feeling familiar with is the rods you put in concrete to make it sturdy. Is there another meaning to it?

    2. Nanani*


      You can’t expect a new hire, whether they’re a new grad or not, to read your mind on your particular company’s norms and preferences.

      Outside of very specific schools and majors, like law schools that qualify students for a specific location, it’s impossible to actually cover all the possible norms in a class.
      Just off the top of my head:
      – Too many variations among industries; most degrees aren’t tied to a specific job
      – Can’t control for students moving to another region/country.
      – A lot of these norms aren’t applicable to university level content and curricula
      – Norms change much faster than any curriculum, more in some fields then others of course
      – Professors are unlikely to have first hand experience of non-academic workplace norms and will provide advice that’s out of whack more often than not, just like college career advisors do.

      Companies, provide clear instructions on the absolute musts. Don’t expect mind reading, and remember that it’s a diverse world now and not everyone comes from the same background anymore!

    3. MsClaw*

      Yes! There is so much that’s different from industry to industry or even office to office. Sometimes even within the same company, things like the definition of ‘business casual’ could be very different depending on whether you’re on the east coast or west coast.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      There are general norms such as being on time.
      And students can also be taught to ask about how the company handles certain things such as sick time.
      Some things can be learned through quiet observation such as copy what other people say when they answer the phone.
      Yet other things can be self -taught once the employee finds the resource for the information.
      And last, many professional jobs require life-long learning. Students can be coached a little about that.

      My school said nothing about any one of these five categories.

      I do however agree with you, that companies fail, too. So far, our society is great at finger-pointing but no one has really decided to fix the problem.

      1. Snark*

        I would argue there’s no problem to fix. Newly minted professionals don’t know norms and expectations; dog bites man. We all learn, or don’t, at some point.

  16. Akcipitrokulo*

    If you see something you think could be improved – assume that whatever brilliant idea you’ve had has occurred in the past, that the people with whom you’re working are intelligent and competent, and have a reason not to do it. Not saying don’t make suggestions! But tread carefully.

    1. QAnonymous*

      A off-shoot of this–I work as a QA Analyst for software and its like a right of passage for every single new person in our department to find this one particular defect that we’re never going to fix because it really comes down to an invalid configuration of settings.

      (People are all told to look in our logging system to see if something has been logged before but we’ve switched logging systems 3 times since I’ve been working here so that isn’t foolproof. And sometimes you have to search for something different ways because someone might word it differently.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think it’s more about reeling in your enthusiasm with your ideas.

      You should share them but be aware that the response is possibly “Thanks but no thanks”. Maybe you’ll hear ‘we tried it, it didn’t work’ or ‘we just do it like this because regulations’ or whatever amount of extra data. But just take it as an answer and move on.

      I am sick and tired of people being so beat down and told to “stay in line” that they never speak up. I have walked into countless businesses and seen things that should be changed, I mentioned it and the response is rarely no in the end. Then people are relieved that I’ve asked to or just imposed the a change if it’s within my scope.

      But be sure you’re around awhile before you make these suggestions. Observe the issue. Then observe people working with it. Are they struggling? Are they just stuck in a rut and too scared to ask for change or just don’t realize that they’re doing it the hard way? Observe for more than a casual glance and quick summary that you jump to the conclusion of “that can be fixed, I’m brilliant!” and try to steamroller your suggestions on through the office.

      A lot of offices are stagnant and archaic and do need change but it’s all about establishing yourself in your role first. A lot of times procedures are set and then never questioned because people are too scared to push back or just conditioned to “do what you’re told”. So it’s such a fine line and shouldn’t boil down to “Someone else probably thought of it, so chill.”

    3. Fan of academic rigor*

      If you see something you think could be improved – assume that whatever brilliant idea you’ve had has occurred in the past, that the people with whom you’re working are intelligent and competent, and have a reason not to do it

      This worked so well for Boeing that we got the 737MAX.

  17. MsClaw*

    I think there are multiple things at play here, like the expectation that these are things your parents would have taught you, or that your first job out of school won’t be your first job *ever*. Because while some things are office-specific, some things are just …. how to behave at life? We had a recent problem of a new hire not showing up to meetings on time. When chastised, he expressed that he didn’t think being on time was a big deal at a ‘real job’. You shouldn’t need a college course to explain to you why wasting 5-10 minutes of your colleagues’ time and making someone hunt you down for a meeting *you arranged* is a bad idea.

    Other stuff, like how to communicate on your job search, how to dress for interviews, how to write a good resume/cover letter, how to handle rejections, what to expect if you are heading for a cube farm, etc could definitely be a senior seminar type thing.

    My point is, a lot of the complaints I hear from younger employees about things they weren’t taught in school are things I wouldn’t think you’d need a course in.

    1. Choux*

      I come from a blue collar family and my first few jobs were all service oriented. I definitely had “ideas” about what was going to happen when I finally got a “real job”, all based on TV and movies, I’m sure. I was shocked to learn that I had to actually work the full eight hours even if I completed all my work for the day in six. I was under the assumption that you could just manage your own hours at every “real job”. I also thought I was salaried even though I was hourly because I thought every “real job” was a salaried job. My parents certainly didn’t have any information to tell me different.

      1. MsClaw*

        Yep — there are absolutely things that people just assume you’ll know, along those lines.

        And even more confusing, some workplaces *do* have a philosophy of ‘if you’re done, go home’ and others want your butt in that seat 8 hours a day.

        One thing that always befuddled me about shows set in both high schools and work places is that characters wander in and out of them all the time, with zero consequences.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          My niece is in the 8th grade and was asking my about my job– I am an executive, I work from home, etc, and I had to be very clear my life wasn’t always this flexible. When I was a new grad I didn’t have the flexibility that I have now and with my flexibility comes huge responsibility and SELF-MANAGEMENT. Sure, did I just take off for 3 hours in the middle of the day to get my oil changed, and then get a mani-pedi. Yup. But I was also up working at 6 am this morning, and my last meeting isn’t until 10 PM at night. Those are things she doesn’t see. She just knows if she had a day time concert or event at school 99% of the time I get to be there.
          In her world- her Aunt and her parents come and go when they want (not true, but that is what she sees) If she walked into a job her first day, she may think it would be like that for her! LOL!

          Also- many new hires/interns get a lot of bad advice from their parents and other adults who may be a bit out of touch or in an industry so incredibly different from the industry a new grad is entering that the parent couldn’t possibly know how to navigate it.

      2. Queen of the File*

        Ugh, and the outfits. The definitely-not-appropriate-for-work outfits. Curse you, Ally McBeal.

      3. Batman*

        Yeah, a lot of these assumptions are based in classism. Or, at least, ignorance of class differences.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      And some of that may be down to not understanding nuance. Alison talks all the time about how being 5-10 minutes ‘late’ isn’t a big deal to most office jobs, as long as the workflow isn’t affected. I bet a few new grads aren’t really hearing that part–workflow being affected–and only hearing “It’s not a big deal, and a good boss won’t nickel and dime you over minutes.”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      One would hope people would not need a course, but somehow this happens, people do.

      I grew up in a white collar family, we were firmly middle class. My parents did not believe in teaching me things. “Up to the teachers to tell you.” I learned nothing about holding a job. (Among the many other things they did not teach me.)
      Given this background, I tend to have empathy for those who, for whatever reason, seem to have gaps in their pool of basic knowledge. Even the seemingly savvy people can have questions about basics. I have been asked questions by people with grad school degrees that I find remarkable they got this far without knowing the answer to that particular question.

      However, I don’t think that the expectation that someone else should have taught the person is going to serve us well. People don’t know stuff and that is going to continue to happen.
      I do think it is good to learn how to explain things to people. My turning point with my own awkwardness came when I had to explain to a person that if they have a nasty time in the bathroom, then they must clean up afterwards. Do not leave stuff on the walls. Since then most conversations have been much easier.

      1. MsClaw*

        There’s not really a perfect solution. A class can only go so far, given how much things differ from field to field and even office to office. A lot of it is on managers to orient their new hires to office norms (even if it’s not your first job, knowing what the norms are for that space could be extremely helpful). But managers are going to expect a baseline level of professional manners.

        I’ve had to have some blunt conversations with employees (not as intense as that one!) about how … not to be. Don’t comment on your coworkers’ food choices. We don’t need *that* much detail about your romantic relationships. Our office is casual, but not so casual that your t-shirts should feature blue language or nearly naked ladies or misogynist messages. You have to wear your shoes if you’re walking around. Turn off your cell phone ringer, FFS. And I can’t imagine any class would cover that sort of thing. And to be clear, not all of these conversations were with people fresh out of school.

  18. Justin*

    I had to learn so much basic office stuff when I got my first office job. And I was smart, full of degrees, etc etc.

    It’s not all things you can just guess (you should be able to guess that being on time is important). People can pick it up fairly easily if told. But boy do most of us need to be told, I think.

  19. nnn*

    I’ve been thinking lately that students should be taught (ideally in school, but, if not, in the workplace) not just what workplace expectations are, but also how and why workplace expectations differ from school expectations specifically.

    For example, there was an AAM letter a few weeks ago where LW wanted to know if it’s okay to say “I’m not sure, let me find out and get back to you.”

    In the workplace, that’s normal and good and professional.

    But in school, looking it up would be cheating! Most of what you do in school is testing whether you know the information right this minute, and if you don’t know you should guess in the hopes of getting part marks.

    1. Zephy*

      That’s a really good point.

      During my last job search, one of the positions I applied for required me to take a skills test for MS Word and Excel. Sure, okay. The test had a virtual “model” of the program and asked me to do particular things (bold this text, make this cell red with white text, make a graph out of this data, insert a page break, etc etc). But I had to do the thing perfectly the first time or it counted against me. So, after finding that out the hard way (because I clicked the wrong tab in the ribbon, looking for the function I needed), I just Googled all the questions that were more complicated than “bold this text” and followed the step-by-step directions. It’s called creative problem-solving.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m glad that worked for you but sadly a lot of those skills tests are built in with time limits, so they don’t give you enough time to google answers *sobs*

      2. just a random teacher*

        I haaaaate those tests. I am almost always one of the people who is best at figuring out how to get Word/Excel/Adobe-whatever-it-is-now to do what I need it to do as I discover I need it, and it’s not because I have memorized the exact location of each option in the current UI. It’s because I’ve been using word processing programs since Bank Street Writer, spreadsheets since Lotus 1-2-3, and desktop publishing software since Aldus Pagemaker.

        I’m very comfortable figuring things out on the fly, but the UI has changed so many times that I find no value in memorizing where everything is located in advance with each new software version. Give me the actual program and I will quickly figure out how to use it to do a given task, but I might have to click through 2 or 3 options to figure out where page break lives this time.

        It’s particularly bad if it is something I use all the time, so I use a keyboard shortcut the testing program doesn’t allow, or I have it pinned to the top in my own version of Word and have long since forgotten where it lives in the menus.

        1. Lucy*

          Heeeeeavy +1000 to your last paragraph. I once took an intermediate Excel course where the instructor didn’t know any keyboard shortcuts and the test didn’t allow for them. Took ridiculously long to work out. Very frustrating.

        2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I once took a skills test at a temp agency on Office 98…in 2011. I’m young enough that Office 98 came out while I was still in middle school.

          Needless to say I did not get any work through that temp agency.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          That test sounds like it’s a memory test rather than an actual ability test. Anyone can memorize a bunch of stuff. In fifth grade I had to memorize the names of all the bones in the body. I did it. I could not apply it anywhere, but I had a full list in my head. Whoopee pickle.

          1. just a random teacher*

            I can sing all of the states in the United States! Mostly in alphabetical order, although the North and South whatever states are lumped together under “north” due to the specific song I learned. It has been useful in a “no one expects the trivial inquisition” sense several times, and in actual life never. I can also sing the great lakes in order since it was in a Gordon Lightfoot song, which came in handy on a geography test once when I was about 11. I also remember at one point having to learn some sort of dreadful “USA Presidents Rap”, but have thankfully forgotten all of it except for the part about Grover Cleveland getting to be president twice.

            Perhaps I should learn to sing the Word menus in order.

            (I remember using Word Perfect when it came with the little reference card that went above the F keys so you’d know what alt+shift+F8 did. I am glad I did not attempt to memorize that card, for it was overtaken by menus rather than key chords when Windows overtook DOS. I assume any particular interface thing I use now will be similarly obsolete within a decade, and choose not to give it valuable memory-space, otherwise usable for remembering where I left my car keys and/or the lyrics to Stan Rogers songs, unless it’s something I’ll use daily.)

            A decade ago, when I taught a middle school computer applications class, I pretty much alternated assignments with “figure out how to re-create this output” accompanied by a screenshot with assignments that were more “show me you can use this feature to do something interesting”. I never gave a test where they needed to fill in the steps to do something, because if you can figure out the steps on the fly when you need to do that thing, that’s just as good as knowing what they are in advance, and is likely to be a better skill to have in a decade anyway.

            However, when I was applying for temp jobs, I sure took a bunch of “can you click correctly in our fake test version of a Microsoft product on the first try” tests, and resented them greatly.

    2. Hope*

      School is just going to be happy to get them to learn the SCHOOL expectations. Trust me. And don’t think teachers (and profs, even) don’t try to tell or teach students these things. Sometimes it’s worse the smarter the student is–I had an A student who blew off my advice that I ran into a few years later (I’d moved from teaching high school to working on a college campus), and the first words out of her mouth to me were “Ms.MyName, you were right, college is so much more work than I thought it was” and went on to tell me various things she never expected to have to deal with, many of which I’d expressly told my class to expect.

      Students (humans in general) are often really good at never learning something until they experience real-world consequences for them.

      1. TiffanyAching*

        YES to learning “school expectations!” I’m thinking, for example, the different paper formats. During my time at college I had professors that required MLA, AAA, APA, and Chicago style formatting. Some cared whether or not you were late; some allowed and encouraged laptops, others forbid them; some counted “class participation” as part of your grade, some did not. So it was good preparation for the work world in that you had to learn the norms of each situation and adapt, as one might when switching jobs. But not good preparation in that typically these things were laid out in the syllabus at the beginning of the term, whereas many employers expect you to just KNOW.

    3. Gloucesterina*

      I disagree that students are taught that looking up information is cheating in all contexts. Seeking out expert resources to answer a question is the core task of the research paper that some high schools and many universities require of their students at one point or another, and most research-oriented work (whether academic research or industry) calls for profound comfort with the idea that no one’s person head can hold all relevant information.

      But I agree that this can often feel different in the soft-skills sense of “how do I handle everyday conversation and questions with people regarding work?”

      1. Gloucesterina*

        Oops, I meant “profound comfort with the idea that no one person’s head can hold all relevant information.”

  20. Kari from Up North*

    My son, a high school senior, is in a Work Seminar class right now. They apply to be in the class, they clock in/out each day, call/email the teacher if they can’t be there (and provide a valid reason) and on the last day of the class they submit their letter of resignation. They also develop their resume, search for jobs, write a cover letter and finally do a mock interview with a community member who works in their field of choice. It is a wonderful class that I wish I could’ve taken.

    I’ve participated in the mock interviews as the hiring manager. And it is so much fun. The teacher talks to them about questions and illegal questions. And we are encouraged to slip in an illegal one: ‘So… where do you see yourself in five years? Married, kids, same job?’

    1. Gloucesterina*

      ” on the last day of the class they submit their letter of resignation” – I love this!

  21. Beth Jacobs*

    I’m a pretty new grad myself. In my field, most people work part-time during school and I honestly feel that’s just better than any class anyway. I think employers also need to adjust expectations a bit and realise they will have to invest in training anyways.
    I do have some cringe worthy memories from my freshman-year-first-office job: thinking a bareback dress was business casual (it’s a dress!), breaking a few binders (oh – so you open them with switch inside, not by forcing them apart) or not offering a client coffee… but I honestly feel that you need to make a few mistakes to learn. I think workplace norms are just really hard to teach in an academic setting and schools are better off facilitating work experience (my school doesn’t even do it directly, but it lets people put together their schedule as they please, which – combined with a great job market in a major city – just works).
    And by the time I was a new grad, I had over three years of office experience and it was fine. I’m glad I didn’t make those mistakes at a full time “real job”.

    1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      And “not offering a client coffee” is 100% the particular field/role/company!

  22. Alana*

    I’m a manager full time (editor managing a team of writers), and I teach a writing class at a local university part-time where, in theory, I have my students doing similar things to what my employees do during the day. I think there are a couple of things in play here.

    One is that the experience of being a student and the experience of being an entry-level employee is really, really different. It’s very clear what you’re being evaluated on and what you are not. Your professor might roll her eyes if you turn up in pajama pants 5 minutes late every day, but unless that’s somehow written into the syllabus, it’s not going to affect whether you pass the class. The classroom can also be quite a bit tighter on ends and looser on means than an entry level job; if you want to do nothing for 6 weeks and stay up all night the night before to write a paper, fine. At work, you usually can’t get away with that level of procrastination. There’s also more autonomy over how much effort you put in. Sometimes students just decide to blow a deadline or not do an assignment that’s only worth a handful of points (less than 1% of their grade). There’s no real equivalent to that at work; there’s not a consequence-free way to drop the ball.

    The other is that being a professor and being a boss are also REALLY different. Your goal as a professor is for the students to learn; it’s not for the end product to meet a perfect standard (though ideally it meets the standard for “A” material, some students will get Bs and Cs, whereas I cannot pass “C” work in the workplace on up to my bosses as complete). The idea that final projects I am grading are DONE, and so there’s no point in me doing a full professoinal edit on them, has been a hard one to get my head around.

    Add that to the fact that some (not all) professors primarily have experience in academia, which is just really different from many other kinds of offices where educated people work. Deadlines are longer, hours are more variable, there is way less oversight (I get more feedback at my day job from my boss and grandboss in a week than I have in 3 years of teaching at the college level). Sure, some norms are universal, but it’s not surprising that colleges don’t necessarily do a great job communicating them.

    1. Samwise*

      This is off the point of this thread, but a suggestion on what to do about students who blow off assignments:

      You can set up minimum passing requirements that students must meet — after that, A/B/C/D is determined by the quality of the work. For instance, you can state that students must turn in X% of the small assignments in order to pass. (X can be a high percentage, too) Or Y number of missed assignments results in a half-grade or full grade deduction on the final course grade (Y can be a very small number). Or you can list specific assignments that must be turned in for a student to pass, regardless of how many points they earn. As long as it is clearly stated in the syllabus and by you in class, you’re on solid ground.

      If you’re teaching an entry-level news-writing class, I personally think you could tell students, I’m going to use real-world, newsroom standards to judge your work, which includes timeliness, completion, etc. Share with them what would happen in the real world if they turned in work late, incomplete, etc. Again, needs to be in the syllabus…

      1. Alana*

        This is a great idea! Interestingly, it doesn’t really bother me on the small stuff unless it becomes a real pattern; I understand that students have a lot going on in their lives, and maybe they’re willing to take the 0/10 on the week’s copy editing quiz so they can pass a midterm in another class. That can be a rational choice, and I don’t have any expectation that they will explain to me that that’s what they’re doing!

        Whereas at work I have exactly the opposite reaction: Even if you’re in crisis, you have to try to figure out how to get the work done. If you can’t, you need to let me know what’s going on, not just ghost on an assignment, so we can work it out.

        I’m not sure the classroom is the right place to teach work norms, for exactly that reason. I can huff and puff all I want, but at the end of the day, my students’ livelihood doesn’t depend on whether they are doing what I perceive as a good job.

        1. Leslie Knope’s Long-Lost Twin*

          I think that’s a good point. I remember in school being frustrated that teachers didn’t talk to each other before scheduling papers or project or tests. You can’t go to one teacher and say “Hey, I know we have a test on Friday, but I also have a paper due Friday in another class, so is there any way to move the test to Monday so I have the weekend to study for it?” In the workplace, you can often do just that. Certainly not every time, but you and your boss can usually figure out what to prioritize and what effort level is needed for each thing.

    2. vw*

      I’m in a very similar situation: work full time for a startup and teach a required Introduction to Human Communication course on the side.

      As I teach the class I explain how what I’m requiring is different from what the business world would require. For example, if you decide not to do an assignment, it doesn’t affect anyone but you (even in group projects; I grade everyone individually). But when you start working, your work will be part of a greater team’s work and if you don’t do it, you’ll be fired. I tell students that their assignments are similar to a science lab. Yes, your informative speech is pretty rote and boring. That’s fine. It’s setting you up for some important base public speaking skills which you can apply in different contexts.

      Academia could also learn a lot from business. For example, I come in to class each day with an agenda, much like we would for a meeting. Last night we talked about how the agenda helps keep us on track and makes the (three hour) class seem structured and manageable. Then I hopped over to my imaginary soapbox and said, “this won’t be on the exam, but this is also how you run a business meeting.” I talk openly about my own job and the things I see every day whether it’s within my job descriptions or just our #cute-animals slack channel. When I talk about organizational communication, I pull in examples of other organizations and show how they work. I spend time thinking about how I could scale (oh the horror) my teaching so I can teach two sections in a hybrid format instead of six hours of face to face time.

      I definitely see concerns with using adjuncts for everything, but it would be nice to see more practical things brought into the classroom. And as much as they whine that I’m a hard ass, I’m happy to do it.

      1. Roja*

        This is a whole different discussion, but it’s just related enough I wanted to toss it in–that, to my mind, is exactly the point of adjuncts. Having a few classes (a few! not the whole department!) taught by people who are currently in the field and are in touch with current happenings is really, really good for the students. Helps bridge the gap between work and school. When used for that purpose, hiring adjuncts is a great idea. My math class was taught by just such an adjunct!

      2. GS*

        This is interesting because my experience is the inverse; one of the differences between work and school for me is that at work I have more to do than I possibly can finish, and it’s my job to weigh my time and priorities and then decide not to do things. I try to keep that work on my boss’ radar as unfinished, but I most certainly am expected to just not do it if there aren’t great enough returns.

        In school I was expected to accomplish every task and was looked at unfavorably for triaging.

    3. Batman*

      Yeah, the main differences I’ve noticed, at least in my field, between work and school are:
      A) Things get edited and reworked by the people above you A LOT before they are considered done

      B) Deadlines aren’t actually as tight and fast as they are in school (I generally don’t have to deal with external deadlines, just internal ones and those tend to be more flexible (at least where I’ve worked)

      C) In school you do a lot of individual work because you’re trying to show that you know the material and aren’t just copying off of other people, but in the workplace everything is pretty much a “group project” because no one is judging you individually on your knowledge and someone above you has to okay stuff before it gets released (and sometimes someone above them has to as well). So working together and getting input from your colleagues isn’t cheating – it’s the whole point.

    4. TiffanyAching*

      I’d also add that at college, students tend to have more flexibility in their schedules and classes. You can set up your class schedule so that you never have class before 10am, or so that you don’t have class on Fridays, or so that you have a 3-hour break in the afternoon, etc. Most homework/projects get done in the evenings and on weekends, not during the M-F 9-5 that is typical of many workplaces.

      As a young professional, it was definitely an adjustment. On the plus side, I get to be done when I leave the office for the most part — no more homework. On the downside, 8 hour days can really suck when you’re used to a max of 4 or 5 hours of “on” time in class.

  23. LaDeeDa*

    I have an Intern and a New Grad programs for which we have worked really hard over the last few years to cultivate a curriculum to help them learn how to navigate the corporate world, our global company, and our corporate culture. My goal is to give them the best start and to help retain the top talent we have spent so much time in finding and recruiting. The programs start with a 2-day kick-off workshop, we cover
    * Communication assessment/learning/practice – similar to a DISC but much deeper
    * Working for a global company- we cover some specific cultural difference between North America and the culture of our foreign-owned company
    *Working in a team
    *Our industry/our corporate culture
    *Identifying and managing priorities (this includes managing email in-box)
    * PPT design
    *Presentation skills
    *During one lunch we have a business etiquette expert come in to teach business dining expectations and “rules”

    The interns participate in that workshop, and because they are only with us a couple of months they don’t get anything else that formal- the rest is handled by their leader and “buddy” with guidelines to help them know what to discuss and information to share.
    For the new grads- their first 18 months at the company they participate in additional learning opportunities and mentoring.

    I don’t know if it is possible for a school to teach them these things… things change so quickly in the corporate world and if you aren’t smack in the middle of it, keeping up with those changes can be hard. I think companies have a certain about of responsibility to help employees continually develop. I am biased- because that is literally my job to do that. :)

    1. LaDeeDa*

      UGGG hit enter too soon. I think school is there to teach theory- to fully learn we need to apply, and while school may provide us with the opportunity to apply some of that in the form of a project or assignment, you don’t fully use your education until you are doing it. And if you don’t know how to navigate the corporate world, you don’t get to fully use your knowledge. Navigating the corporate world IS different than school, and I don’t think school can fully teach it.

    2. LaDeeDa*

      One more addition– the new grads/interns we are recruiting are almost all engineers/software developers and most have at least a Masters degree. They have invested a lot of time and money in their education…
      Is this possible or necessary in every industry- no, but some sort of development/on boarding is..

    3. Train new hires instead of expecting just-in-time delivery*

      I really like how your firm sells itself to newbies. Companies who view recruiting and training as a sales opportunity (i.e. meeting the needs of the customer) will have long term success because the mission statement and values are put into practice as soon as the newbie hits the ground. I bet you’ll also find employees that leave the firm are more eager to come back to work for it after working at companies who lack this.

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    More training can’t hurt, but how basic would this really have to be to be broad enough to be relevant everywhere? (“Don’t hit on your boss”, “Don’t buy personal items on your company card,”, etc…)

    1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      Right, this is what occurs to me. The norms vary wildly across fields.
      Hell, even in library school, we got a ton of professional development about “this is the hiring process in academic libraries,” but almost none of it applied to the smaller academic libraries I was interested in, which threw me off at first.

  25. bikes*

    The other one I see a lot with first job after college-types is that they do not take notes during meetings. And then expect the project director to reiterate what they said orally in an email. I’ve seen 4 different individuals do this in the last two years.

    1. Kris*

      I have seen some similar behavior. I now have a habit of having an extra notepad and pen on hand to give to my interns or externs when I am explaining their first assignment to them. I have told them point blank, “You need to take notes on this.”

    2. NotAPirate*

      This makes me feel better. I take a lot of notes in grad school meetings, and some people have mocked that. (Or worse, expect me to be fine with typing up my notes and emailing them to them rather than take their own).

      1. Auntie Social*

        I told someone he could have my notes (he asked for mine, rather than taking his own). They were in shorthand.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also taking notes while being trained on things so you don’t have to ask every time you do a task that’s going to be a regular or semi-regular duty. It makes me want to poke my eyes out, I’m happy to explain things a couple of times even but by the fifth time I’m clinching and making judgements.

      I’ve rarely need to take a note during any meeting in particular but you should always have the ability to and if you need a reminder, you darn well better make that note.

    4. cheluzal*

      Because no one knows how to take notes in school anymore. I was never taught but we just figured it out. Kids now don’t know how to synthesize and if you say take notes, they try to copy everything down, slowly and neatly. Since texting is quicker than writing, they give up….it’s exhausting (middle/high school teacher of 19 years here).

  26. CommanderBanana*

    Agreed! The hardest direct reports I had to manage were inevitably the super-smart kids who did really well in competitive colleges and had never worked before. They were terrified of ‘failing,’ as they saw it, and were pretty much unable to function in an environment where most colleagues weren’t particularly interested in hearing their opinions and really just wanted to them to get on with whatever entry-level work they were hired to actually do. As in, don’t interrupt the CEO at a meeting to share your opinion.

    It was rough.

    1. bikes*

      Yep. Years ago, I had a new grad from Harvard tell me how we were going to restructure our multi-year federal grant to his liking after two weeks on the job. Okay then.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Aaah this is giving me flashbacks to when I was evaluating internship applications for the Department of State – one kid wrote that he was confident that he could solve peace in the Middle East.

        I needed someone who was good at solving jammed copiers.

        1. bikes*

          Such talent cannot be wasted on copiers!

          All kidding aside, I really do wonder if we are doing something different today at the university level. I don’t remember feeling like I could solve complex world problems while in my early 20s.

          There’s been a pedagogical shift, right? Fewer lectures, more solutions-oriented group-work. Maybe this gives the impression that your ‘A’ project is fully-implementable rather than a decent cursory investigation.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Every once in a while, I get new hires who are all excited about putting X application in the Y environment! It’ll be so cool! It’ll solve all sorts of problems! Except, I’m the Y environment expert and I can tell ya, I spent over a decade learning why X application cannot work in Y environment. New hires do not want to hear this, just like I didn’t want to hear it when it was my suggestion in my first year.

      One of the best lessons I’d want to convey to new employees? Listen and learn first, for a lot longer than you’d like, and then ask questions and make suggestions.

  27. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    To be honest, I’m not sure people in academia are wholly the best group to be teaching office workplace norms. Academia is very much its own animal.

    1. Admin of Sys*

      You know, that’s a good point – Some folks went straight from grad school into teaching or research. A lot of the professors I’ve worked with don’t know what the professional norms of corporate even are.
      Also, reading these comments is fascinating to me, because it never occurred to me how much of the corporate norms I picked up because my Mom was in white color work since I was like 5. I keep thinking ‘but everyone would know that’ and then trying to trace why /I/ know it – and realizing it was, in fact, taught to me because I asked my Mom questions about her clothes and briefcase and such as I was growing up.

      1. Tau*

        I’d probably assume most faculty’s careers were purely in academia, tbh. May depend on field, but for pure maths it was pretty rare for anyone of the lecturers to have spent any time in industry.

        And I’m from an academic family and AAM was a lifesaver when it came to my first job. My parents, both of whom have always been employed by some form of university or research institute, couldn’t help me with a lot of professional norms. My mother even pointed out that I was trailblazing for the family by working in the private sector!

    2. Nanani*

      This this this.

      And no, the retired CEO who occasionally lectures in the business school is not a good substitute, what with being light years removed from the new hire experience.

    3. Rainy days*

      Yeah…my husband works at a university and most of the (tenured) faculty are pretty unprofessional (at least when measured by other workplace norms), for example, as a group they came to the administration arguing that they should only be evaluated every five years. Not a great model for a kid going into a normal workplace.

      Not to mention that on the (uncommon) occasion that I recieve a job application from someone with a Ph.D., they send a 16-17 page CV with long lists of publications which are totally irrelevant outside of the ivory tower.

      1. Dan*

        Even worse — I… have the misfortune of reading academic publications that are government funded and not worth the paper they’re written on. I’m serious. The fact that people are getting citations on a CV for things that are just plane wrong is really just disheartening. “Publish or perish” should actually have some standards beyond page length.

        You may have “found” X, but you used the wrong data and overfit the heck out of your model and had no idea.

    4. Sara without an H*

      I agree. It would be as bad as some of the college career center “advice” that’s turned up on this blog over the years.

      One of the reasons I read AAM is to keep in touch with how things are done outside academia.

    5. Dan*

      Honestly, I just gag any time a prof says something about “the real world” unless they’ve actually worked in it, the experience is recent, and its relevant to our field of study. I kid you not, I still go to work in my pajamas. Well, ok, I take telcons without getting out of bed and nobody sees me.

      No, the classroom is not like the real world. No, team work in school is not like team work in the real world. And no, the professor is not like my boss. I get to go to my boss and tell him the assignment doesn’t make any sense. And unlike the classroom, my boss actually tells me I know what I’m talking about and that I know stuff that he doesn’t.

      And team work? Gag me. In a classroom, a “team” is full of people who don’t know what they’re doing, and the “team lead” still doesn’t know what they are doing, nor do they know how to effectively lead said team.

      In the real world, a team is (or should) be comprised of a variety of people with different experiences and backgrounds, all of whom have something to contribute. Some may be junior people there for the grunt work and to learn, some may be experienced in X and others in Y. The team lead? Knows what they’re doing. For the most part.

      And… drum roll… I get paid every two weeks, and I know exactly what my paycheck is going to be.

    6. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Right? How many letters has Allison answered over the years from new grads who have received absolutely *awful* advice from people in their colleges who are supposed to be training them on this sort of thing? “My college advisor said I should definitely follow up fifty times on the phone!”

  28. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It’s an interesting concept to say that we need to have teachers teach “life skills” and “business norms” since we hear so many tales of the bad advice that they keep circulating. The “Gumption” ideas and the resume paper, “objectives” and wearing outdated awkward interview attire. I’d rather learn by trial and error than have these people actually taught by teachers that “this is right, do it!” only to be told “my God, please don’t.”

    I think a big issue is that the schools aren’t able to really instill the critical thinking skills and right amount of confidence that interns and new to the workforce folks really need. I don’t need you to take a class on photocopying, you need to just have the confidence to work with the not that complex piece of office equipment.

    First rule I tell everyone is don’t be afraid of the equipment unless there’s a sawblade or something else murderous attached to it. I also tell them not be afraid to ask questions if necessary, which some are drilled into their heads throughout their educational process that asking questions is met with contempt, just the whole raising your hand to speak and cowering to your superiors is out of wack.

    Until formal education catches up with “the now”, I personally would rather deal with awkward weird behaviors than just having them think that they were taught one way therefore it is the right way. It’s easier to say “oh you never learned this, that’s okay!” then to tell someone that their favorite teacher, Ms. Smith, did you dirty and gave you bad education that you need to disregard ASAP.

    1. Retail*

      On the first day of my groundskeeping job, I asked about what to do about a hole (it made sense at the time) and someone told me that if it doesn’t hurt an animal or a person, 90% of the time it’s fine.

      On the other hand, I wasn’t told until last Saturday that the big expectation for my topiary giraffe was that he gave the impression of a giraffe to a kid – his wonky neck is fine!

  29. Faith*

    My university offered a 1-credit course called “Professional development”, which was mandatory for accounting majors. The subjects covered were what to wear to an interview, table manners (I still remember that “salt and pepper shakers are married”) – which was important because professional dinners were a huge part of the accounting recruiting program, basic email etiquette, and other similar things.

    1. Not So Little My*

      OK I will admit that I had a weird childhood, but can you explain the salt and pepper shaker rule?

      1. Ruthie*

        I think it means that when someone asks you to pass the salt, you should hand them both the salt and pepper shakers. I’m not seeing a practical reason for this, but if people are expecting it and judging us for not doing it, we should probably just do it. My salt is having an affair with the hot sauce.

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          A practical reason: if the two shakers are always together, anytime someone needs either the pepper OR the salt OR both, they only have to be located once.

  30. Batman*

    Even when they try to teach you, you don’t always think they apply to you. I went to a session on workplace norms and I still made some of the mistakes they’d warned us about in my first job.

    1. Nanani*

      Or you can misunderstand things that don’t come to light until you walk face first into the consequences of your misunderstanding…

  31. Sue3PO*

    As a senior in high school, I applied for and received a generous 4 year scholarship from a credit card company that no longer exists. Part of the scholarship included weekly “education” during the summers, where attendance was optional but encouraged. They covered soft business skills for a cohort of kids who grew up mostly in blue collar homes and the education was invaluable – we learned about dressing for business, how to deal with a business lunch, interviews, resumes, presenting… the scholarship was helpful, obviously, but the soft skills training was hugely valuable. I always look for programs offering this kind of training when I’m looking for places to donate.

    1. Lusara*

      The soft skills are huge and I think it’s criminal that colleges don’t teach them. Out in “the real world”, being able to get along with people, communicate, network, etc, is so much more important in most jobs than the hard skills. Obviously if you are an engineer or accountant or such you need to have the technical skills. But generally having the soft skills is going to more than make up for missing some hard skills. Employers realize that it’s easier to train someone on the technical aspects of the job than it is to teach them how to communicate effectively.

  32. Serin*

    I have a kid in college, and this kind of thing is on my mind right now. My kid would definitely be willing to learn from me, but it’s hard to identify the knowledge gaps.

    Actually Alison’s columns start a lot of conversations!

  33. OhBehave*

    I shared this on my social media platforms, urging parents to share with their students. Invaluable insight to be gained here.

  34. E*

    Alison, I’m sure there are books out there geared toward teaching folks who are new to the workforce, but I can absolutely see this thread is full of what would make for a great book from you. Complete with real world stories of what happens when you don’t learn these things before starting your first job.

  35. Anonforthis*

    Years ago, I ran an internship program at the company where I was working at the time. I set up interviews, made offers, got the interns oriented on their first day, etc. I remember one young man asking me what he should wear to the interview. The company where I worked was business casual, and it was summer, so I told him he didn’t have to wear a suit, but he could wear nice dress slacks, a dress shirt and tie. He showed up for the interview in clothes that looked like he had literally stopped at a department store on the way to the interview, bought the first things he could find, and got dressed in his car. The pants still had price tags on them and one of those size stickers down the sides. The shirt still had all the folds and pin marks in it from the dress shirt packaging. The tie also still had the price tag attached. I’m not sure if he was intending to return everything after the interview, but bless his heart, at least he tried.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      OMG this is epic, I love it.

      Sadly the last time I had someone ask me what to wear to an interview, I was too vague I suppose. I was like “We’re casual, it’s a shop job, so no suit or tie necessary.” The guy showed up in a hoodie and jeans, fine enough but he kept the hoodie hood up the entire time. At least he took the price tags off his clothes though!

    2. LaDeeDa*

      This makes me sad because he probably had to return everything so he could eat, pay rent, and/or buy gas.
      I work with a STEM university group that identifies and helps the students who are homeless. It is a growing problem in the US. College students are living in their cars and tents, to attend school.

      1. bikes*

        So important to consider! I know some community colleges have wraparound services to help connect students with what they need if they can’t afford food, housing, medical, but most schools don’t do enough.

  36. Hermione at Heart*

    I worry colleges would do a terrible job of teaching workplace norms, honestly, especially in the job seeking process. I’m hiring a summer intern right now, and you would not believe how many emails I have from students following up on their application and asking if they were chosen — most of them sent 10 days or less after the deadline, and some very aggressive! I actually reached out to the aggressive ones to gently inform them that in a hiring process, 10 days is very fast to make a decision, even for internships. I think in general, colleges don’t really understand how hiring works from the hiring side, and so encourage behavior that is wrong or counterproductive.

    The stuff like “be on time, take notes, listen” is so broad that I think most college students would eye-roll their way through it, because everyone knows that. Where I struggled as an entry-level person was with things like “It might be a problem even if you’re not corrected in the moment” or “Just because more senior people do it doesn’t mean that you can.”

  37. Rick Tq*

    This is an old problem. My late father told the story of arriving at 9 AM for his first job out of college (in ~1948) to find out he was an hour late.

    No one had ever told him a ‘9 to 5 job’ started at 8 AM.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Everyone starts at 9am for their day here because it’s our “everyone has a different start time and that’s the time everyone who needs to onboard you will be here”. So lol yeah you need to make sure that whenever you accept a job you get the day and start time, then get here five minutes early because holy crud, I’ve had managers flip out if someone hasn’t arrived on their first day and it’s 8:55, argh.

  38. Middle School Teacher*

    We always, always sit down with every new group of student teachers to talk to them about our school and how things work here (for example our kids wear uniforms so teachers are expected to be better dressed than at a regular public school), and mostly they get it. I also, for two years, ran a session at our big convention about things teachers don’t learn at university. I remember being a dough head in my first year because I just … didn’t know stuff. I hated that feeling.

    1. Retail*

      My sister had a summer day camp job before her teaching job started and she had to cover every tattoo. During her student teaching time, the kids loved them! She also had to submit to a more humiliating drug test.

      1. Middle School Teacher*

        Kids love teacher tattoos but a lot of parents haaaaaaate them. It’s definitely a case of knowing your environment. Alternate program or arts school? Cool. Super conservative environment? Probably not so much.

        1. just a random teacher*

          I am pretty sure that there were years when I was the only teacher at my current school who didn’t have a tattoo. I suppose I make up for it by wearing hiking boots to work and no makeup. Schools are so different from each other, and they all don’t realize how.

          Since I work in alternative ed, and have for a long while now after going through school in that system myself, when starting a new job I always ask the principal if this is a “first name school” or a “last name school”. Many of them seem to feel the answer is so obvious that they are surprised that I asked, and the really fun part is that they do not all have the same answer after that surprised moment. (I currently work in a “last name school”, and it’s one of the things I most wish we’d change.)

          I remember during student teaching all of us student teachers getting to go to a meeting that was basically just someone telling us we couldn’t wear jeans to school. (I wasn’t doing so, although I suspect I could do so in my current job if I happened to own any. My current principal tends to wear sweats and sneakers.)

  39. Retail*

    I see people addressing university to white collar jobs and it really shows me the demographics of this site.

    Even going to retail has its own hurdles and huge differences from school.

    I wish businesses that had many employees going to school (high school or college) modeled more “professional” behavior, adapted to what fast food/retail/etc requires. Yes, if you have time to lean, you have time to clean – but how does that translate to hourly work where you have downtime?* Your manager treats you with disrespect – how can you trust a “real” boss?

    *my groundskeeping job can have a lot of downtime – in the 2 hours after lunch my group worked maybe 45 minutes due to the boss’s inefficiency

    1. Princesa Zelda*

      My first day unsupervised in an office job, after years of retail experience, I had no idea what to do with myself when I had about 40 minutes of downtime. I cleaned the break room.

      The custodian told me very nicely that it was her job, thank you, and not to do that again.

  40. Not my real name*

    About 15 years ago, I was tasked with training the new college hires for my department for my company. I worked with them one on one as they made their way through my department. Only had one person at a time kind of thing. I would train them on how to underwrite an insurance application and offer a quote.

    After a couple days of them watching me, I let them do the work themselves with me overseeing. This included sending out emails when more info was needed, etc. Oh the emails they ALL wanted to send out were atrocious. Run-on sentences. No punctuation, spelling errors, not making sense. I had to correct every single email for them before they went out

    After a couple people come through my dept, I went to HR and told her what I was seeing from these folks. She was horrified. She immediately put in a business communications section into the training program that we had.

    Also had one guy who would chew rubber bands all day. It was gross. When we went on the road to visit an agent, I had to tell him NOT to chew rubber bands in front of them. During that trip, we stopped to get something to eat before going to see that agent and he licks his knife at lunch. Yick! Right then and there, I said “Do NOT do that in front of agents. It’s gross. It’s bad enough you did it in front of me.”

  41. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    This is a niche thing, but I think creative writing undergrad programs should have a course in how to get published: what’s a good query letter, how to write a synopsis, what are the markets like, what are the independent publishing options, what should a decent contract contain, and so on.

    1. Lusara*

      Exactly. A lot of fields have similar things that are very important that the programs don’t cover.

    2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Exactly. And they should also make the students aware that many of the skills required for good creative writing are also necessary in business–creating longer documents that are consistent and well written with a logical flow, the mechanics of good writing, and the ability to analyze large bodies of text.

  42. Lusara*

    As has been mentioned, a big part of the issue is that many college professors/teachers have never worked in industry jobs or are many years removed from it, so they really don’t know what the norms are.

    Also, schools and departments/programs (and sometimes teachers individually) are evaluated and ranked based on criteria that aren’t really related to the jobs they are preparing students for. I went to nursing school, and nursing grads have a really hard time finding jobs in many areas because nursing schools don’t teach you to be a nurse. They teach you to pass the boards. Nurses don’t come out of school with the skills that hospitals want and need. But nursing programs are ranked on their NCLEX pass rate, not their job placement rate.

    And in general, the soft skills – communication, networking, building relationships, etc – are much more important to your career than knowing specific technical skills (obviously there are some fields where you need to have specific technical knowledge and such). Yet colleges teach almost nothing in this regard.

  43. Richard*

    Why would employers teach new grads to integrate better into the workplace when that would end the constant cycle of whining about new grads that is so near and dear to everyone’s heart? How else can you keep morale high if everyone can’t unite around feeling superior to the 23-year-old that is doing the exact same things that they did when they started? What would those people do, like, work or something? That’d be a catastrophe. Never change!

  44. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    I worked in a university academic department after many years in the business world. I was horrified at the attitudes and sense of entitlement that were being instilled in the students. When I brought up the kinds of behaviors employers would expect from young adults in the work world, my colleagues thought I was nuts. Didn’t help that it was one of those god-almighty STEM subjects. As for writing and communicating, so many were so bad, and they all thought they were brilliant writers.

    I went back to the business world and found myself working with a recent grad with a couple of short-term jobs under her belt. You couldn’t tell her anything even though she’d never worked in our field before. She bragged about her “leadership” (she was an arrogant know-all) and got pissy when our manager told her her chronic lateness wouldn’t fly. She was gone in less that two years and it wasn’t soon enough by half.

  45. Anonandon*

    OP #1: Your boss screwed up and sounds like a jerk.

    Professional development is HIS responsibility. Leaders have to train junior employees so that they understand what is expected of them in order to advance to the next level. If you current job requires X, and more senior jobs require Y, it is HIS job to tell you that.

    Failing to explain the requirements and then making snarky bullshit comments is terrible leadership.

  46. JanetSnow*

    These things should be taught in college. I know that when I first started working, I committed many mistakes that I cringe when remembering. I have a coworker who is in her early 20s and she has no emotional intelligence. She is very aggressive and doesn’t know how to speak to people. She told me she was written up a few months ago because she was overheard bad mouthing a fellow co-worker. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to learn from any of this because she believes she is so much smarter than everyone else. It’s unfortunate because she is very smart and bright and learned the job quicker than most but I think her attitude and complete lack of any manners will hold her back.

    1. Snark*

      Either you understand the concepts of “don’t badmouth coworkers” and “don’t be a condescending ass” or you don’t. People get it because they’re basically decent and kind, or they don’t because they’re assholes, but colleges are not in the business of instructing new graduates on the basics of respectful human interactions and shouldn’t be.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        People who think they’re the smartest one in the room never are. They’re conceited egomaniacs.

    2. Gloucesterina*

      I’m not sure how to set up a class or workshop to teach basic respect that would not come off as a waste of time condescending? Any thoughts?

  47. ScienceTeacher*

    I teach intro biology for non-science majors at a community college. I have students who are working full time to help support their families, ones with serious medical issues, many, many who are food or housing-insecure, and I need to teach them both the basics of life science and science literacy + critical thinking for a world that treats science as a conspiracy to ruin American businesses.
    When, exactly, am I supposed to cover professional norms? No two students have the same major/career path. This is something employers need to be doing. We used to have actual training in entry level jobs, and it was understood the new hires aren’t psychic. Set aside a few days to a week. It’s an entry-level job and they get paid peanuts anyways- they can spare a few days to bring everyone up to speed on the basics, which change from industry to industry, region to region, and company to company. There is nothing I can do in my class that would be a practical solution to this.

    1. pentamom*

      The intro biology course is not a place to reasonably expect it. But surely before you confer a degree on someone, there’s room somewhere in the curriculum to address issues that are actually going to be part of your career.

      1. Snark*

        That’s what internships, conversations with advisors, and first jobs are. I really want to push back against the idea that college is a jobs training program. It’s not.

      2. Carolyn the Red*

        Exactly. In the cohort of biology majors, Alice is going to med school, Bob wants to run his own physiotherapy practice, Charlie wants a lab job, Daniel is more interested in office admin work, but needs a degree to, advance, Eve wants to go to grad school for computational biology, and Frank will go into teaching. Maybe George will be a nurse and Heather will be a social worker. What norms do you teach?

  48. Jennifer Juniper*

    This type of training would also be good for people shifting into offices from call centers, blue-collar jobs, the hospitality industry, etc.

  49. Ethel*

    I am so lucky that I had three THREE internships where I learned how to act professionally before I got to my first salaried job.

  50. dumblewald*

    I would like to add that even some of the advice we DO give college students and grads suck! (Thought I think the advice is more to do with applying for jobs rather than what to do after hired.)

    I would be lying if I said I didn’t make some awkward communication faux pas when I first started working. It doesn’t help I’m already socially awkward as it is.

  51. Gloucesterina*

    As a university teacher of first-year composition, I am generally preoccupied with (1) teaching students how to college, that is to observe and absorb spoken and unspoken academic norms of behavior and communication; and (2) keeping my own head above water.

    To me, part of the answer to AAM’s question is to ask: how do we train people to observe and absorb norms–including observing power dynamics and their implications–in a given context? Are there people to whom this skill either comes more “naturally” or who have had to develop this skill in order to survive and thrive? To what extent do organizations able to meaningfully observe and articulate to newcomers and outsiders their own norms of behavior and communication? How consistent are these norms across different segments of a given organization?

    As a humanist, these feel like very anthropological and historical questions to me.

  52. Rebecca*

    Internships/first jobs are so valuable when it comes to workplace norms. A course or seminar on the topic would be great! I had little to no job experience when I graduated from college, so I joined a temp agency because I could type fast. I ended up doing admin tasks at a CPA firm for about 18 months and it was a great “business” education. I don’t do anything remotely related to that work anymore but I learned so much about how to treat fellow professionals.

  53. L. S. Cooper*

    I think dress code is something that has to be taught at each individual company, because it varies so wildly. And “business casual” doesn’t mean anything at all. My office’s business casual is such that it’s appropriate for me to be at work today in jeans and Birkenstocks, because we’re in Colorado and we’re the main office for a shoe brand known for comfort and casualness, and it would be weird to not allow people to wear our own product to work. A friend of mine, working for a branch of a Japanese company in L.A., who dresses much more nicely than me, was actually told she needed to dress more formally. I would look ridiculous showing up to my office dressed like she does, and she’d look ridiculous at her office wearing my company’s shoes (let’s call them, oh, say, Alligators) and jeans.

  54. Gladiator*

    I’m confused. I’ve never looked at college as a way to prepare myself fully for a job or career. It’s purely for education. I pay a lot of money to have the best schooling on math, science, and literature. I can use that knowledge in a job. Not that it’ll teach me how to work. That’s really the parent’s job.
    As far as work place culture goes, work should introduce them. Not all places are the same anyways. I wear t-shirts and jeans every day. I can joke and laugh about a lot of stuff. It’s pretty casual. If I were to go somewhere else in my company, I couldn’t do those things. A lot depends on the workplace culture, the culture of the city you’re in, and the culture of the company. Schools will never be able to help with that.

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