what do you wish new grads learned in college?

A reader writes:

This might be an “ask the readers” question — what do managers (and coworkers!) wish new graduates would have learned in college? I teach a lot of first- and second-year college students, and I try to incorporate professional norms into my classes and course design. I begin each class period with a practical moment, many gleaned from your site (resumes should be about accomplishments, thank-you emails not thank-you notes, how to appropriately respond to a peer’s bad behavior, etc.). I also use (white-collar) employment norms when I can – instead of group projects, I assign students different roles on a team and have them work towards a specific outcome. I actively encourage students to just email that they’re ill or have an appointment instead of sharing every detail of their vomiting or sister’s visit. I use a contract grading system that gives students practice planning and regulating their workload. I don’t have “excused” vs “unexcused” absences, just a set number they can use for what they wish. Things like that.

I know that school is not work, and should not be work — my goal is my students’ learning, an employer’s goal is for the organization to succeed. But I want to prepare them for the world they will enter, and if I can design a course to achieve the appropriate learning outcomes while also accustoming them to workplace norms, so much the better.

So, same question asked two different ways. What do managers and coworkers wish new grads had learned in college? Or, if you like, what bad habits or bad approaches do new grads bring to their first job from their educational experience?

It’s a great “ask the readers” question. So readers, have at it in the comment section.

{ 1,179 comments… read them below }

    1. lost academic*

      How to ACTUALLY use Excel and what it means to be an advanced user. I have so many new grads confidently tell me that they are advanced or expert at Excel because all they’ve ever done with it or seen done with it is organize data and make charts. In our engineering work, that’s barely at an admin’s level of proficiency.

      1. katelyn*

        yup, I work in banking and have written basic macros but consider myself a high intermediate user because I haven’t used functionality like pivot tables (which everyone talks about!) and mostly google my formula questions to see if a formula exists for what I want to do (which mostly they do).

        Biggest pet peeve is people who type all the data in instead of relying on formulas, so if I change something in equation A it doesn’t flow through to equation D. I’d love to hear a teacher/professor cover that kind of data error in their classes or assignments.

        1. Just Elle*

          I used to think pivot tables were just a buzzy thing to know. Then I tried one. They. Are. Life. Changing!
          But yes, I agree to all of this.

          1. katelyn*

            To be clear I’m in a position where knowing how to conditionally format things, and lock the sheet or workbook down except for certain fields is way more useful to me. I haven’t run into a use case for pivot tables or I’d have spent the time to get into them. But I 100% agree that they look powerful and super useful when you have a use for them (also you’re a genuine wizard for understanding them!)

            1. Just Elle*

              I’m only pushy about them because a lot of people think that they don’t have an application for them, because pivot table sounds spooky and mysterious. But their basic functionality is way more widely applicable than people realize, and suppperrrrr easy (literally just drag things around until the table looks like you want). If you ever need to summarize a lot of data, a pivot table is definitely your friend. If not, eh, I’ll agree with you its less relevant.

              1. Dwight*

                Pivot tables are one of those things that until you have a use for them, it’s almost impossible to retain how. Super useful though.

              2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                Seriously. Pivot tables and charts seem to scare people and impress if you know how to do them, but they are ridiculously simple to learn. I think I ended up figuring them out because I was too lazy to do a real analysis one time

              3. Jules the 3rd*

                I am also a pivot table advocate – I walk my mom through it for her 1x / year mailing list unflinchingly – but yeah, if you don’t use it regularly it doesn’t stick.

              4. Doctor Schmoctor*

                That’s one Excel thing I still don’t understand. I have been able to get it to work once or twice, but in 95% of cases, I just can’t get it to do what I want.

          2. sacados*

            I LOVE pivot tables so much!!!
            Though I am admittedly not very proficient at them in Excel– I much prefer Google sheets, I find the interface (with formulas and all things, not just pivot tables) much more intuitive than Excel.

        2. Sivina*

          Even lawyers need to know how to do basic formulas in Excel or Numbers (whichever is used).

          If you can’t do basic automation in Excel, you aren’t even an intermediate user. If you don’t know how to properly format cells in a column (e.g., dates should have a uniform text and date format), you aren’t even an intermediate user.

          1. The Original K.*

            My best friend is a lawyer and I had to teach her how to use Excel formulas on the fly! She was panicking. It was a very basic formula, too – she just had to add up the columns on an enormous spreadsheet. I happened to be there (she works from home and her day was winding down; we were getting ready to go somewhere and I had just gotten there) and she was like, it’s going to take me forever to do this! Me: “No, just use the sum formula.” Friend: “[blank stare]”

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            I have been on a years-long crusade to get the legal profession to use Excel efficiently. I’ve become The Excel Person. You don’t even have to know how to do anything fancy, but that exhibit list is going to go much faster in Excel than a Word table AND be more useful (filtering! sorting!) to boot.

            1. Former B4 Manager*

              Word tables are the absolute worst!!

              Also, when will they finally figure out how to embed excel files in word that don’t end up bricking the document half of the time. Seriously, what is an OLE action anyway?

              1. AnnaBananna*

                Amen! As a data analyst, I create a toooooon of charts and reports for our clients. Because I openly loathe Word tables here in my smallish service department, I’ve successfully moved a large chunk of our reports to Powerpoint, using the embed (from Excel) function. I will never use Word for anything other than straight up words, again. Nuh-uh, you can’t make me.

                I highly suggest those that create reports move to Powerpoint. It’s easier to format in every concievable way.

                1. AnnaBananna*

                  I will admit that I miss the Track Changes function from Word, but at least PPT has a Compare version feature.

              2. Gail Davidson-Durst*

                The only thing worse is PowerPoint tables!

                I successfully argued my team-at-large into doing a report to the CISO using Excel instead of slides, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much satisfaction at work. No more randomly inserted spaces and hard returns, or fiddling with shapes to make them line up!

                1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

                  AnnaBananna, sorry, this was not a jab at you – I replied before refreshing and seeing your comments!
                  At least we can agree that Word sucks, LOL.

              3. Anax*

                OLE stands for “object linking and embedding” – basically, it’s how Office applications talk to each other.

                (You can also use them “off-label” for other programs to talk to Office – for instance, automatically resaving every .doc file in a folder as a .docx. I had to do a lot of that at my last job, and goodness, OLE is exasperatingly unreliable – sometimes it just breaks for no reason, on files which usually work just fine.)

            2. TardyTardis*

              I am the Excel person for our local political party. When you do a mailing for 8,000 people (I know, that’s amateur league around here), Excel is really your friend. Mmm, sorting by zip codes, the 4-banger number, and the precinct…

        3. kittymommy*

          Oh goodness – pivot tables! I have a co-worker who teaches a class on pivot tables for our organization. I haven’t taken it yet (mainly because I have very little use for Excel in my job much less that level), but he gets SO EXCITED about pivot tables!

            1. M. Albertine*

              If you like VLookup, check into Index + Match. It has a lot of flexibility that V(H)Lookup doesn’t have, that comes in handy sometimes.

        4. The Tin Man*

          Hah, in my mind macros, even basic ones, are wayyy beyond pivot tables. It’s all about what you know!

          I consider myself high intermediate too, unless I am feeling really bullish I’ll say advanced. But I know there is so much wizardry beyond what I know.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            It depends on how the macro is designed – if it’s just a basic one that records the steps you take to churn out the same output from data in pre-defined spaces…eh. Fine. But our intern designed macros that ask you what you need and have you select the data from anywhere on the sheet so that as our database formats evolve these will be just as useful. My first engagement (without the charts) just putting together my graphs and formatting them to our standards took about 4 hours. It takes 30 seconds now and I never want to go back to the old ways.

            1. Just Elle*

              I have such a love hate relationship with excel macros. Excel isn’t a database people! And I find that people who want macros *actually* want a database.
              Plus, I’ve never once had an excel sheet with a macro that doesn’t break 6 months down the line when the creator has already moved on and literally no one else knows how to fix it. I STILL get frantic texts from my boss from 6 years ago when the first macro I ever wrote breaks because someone renames a folder.

              1. The Tin Man*

                Yeah, the macros I write are usually for more cosmetic things like automating reporting and not actual manipulating raw data. Especially since the default reports in the programs we use are SO CLOSE to useful but could use some tweaks to make life better for everyone. Lots of “Export, run macro, now we have a purty report”.

                And yes 100% some of the favorite macros I have are houses of glass cards and should not be used by anyone but me. At some point (i.e. probably never) I will circle back and make them more robust and create a job aid.

                1. Hush42*

                  I love macros but 90% of them are just to clean up data exported from our ERP system. There are some reports that are definitely not useful in the format that they come in but a quick macro makes it so that I don’t have to do the same clean up every time I run the report. Also we have some clients who require that reports come in specific formats so I wrote macros so that the raw data can quickly be reformatted in the required way. I also took the time to write out instructions on how to use them so that other could use them. But like others have said- if they break I’m not positive anyone else would be able to correct it.

              2. AnnaBananna*

                Yeah, but then they’re stuck with Access (((shudder))). Have you checked out Airtable? I find it’s a decent alternative if you’re regularly sharing the data with clients.

        5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I consider myself intermediate, at best, because, although I know it is possible to do fancy stats in Excel I have never bothered to learn because I always had SAS, R, SPSS, or STATA available at work. I’m sure I could figure out how to do everything in Excel, but those programs are just so much better and faster that I never bothered to learn.

          1. Veronica*

            I have a continuing cost/benefit ratio in my work – is it worth the time it would take for me to comb the Excel boards and figure out how to automate this, or should I do it manually?
            Usually it’s not – it’s something that takes 20 minutes 3 times a year vs. 3-5 days of research to learn how to automate it…

          2. gyrfalcon*

            Never do statistics in Excel. The functions are poorly programmed and unreliable. Stick to the dedicated statistics packages like SAS, SPSS, etc.

        6. Veronica*

          Agreeing with katelyn, this is hugely important to using Excel correctly! An excel sheet with all numbers (including the totals) instead of formulas or references when appropriate is a liability, IMHO. Just wait till the next person changes something without realizing there are no formulas and the totals don’t update – all the info is wrong from there on.

          Sadly, more than one of those has come out of our corporate finance dept. The first thing I do with one of their workbooks is check the formulas.

        7. Ben Marcus Consulting*

          To be faaaaiiirrrrr:

          Even CS grads google the answer and pivot tables are more valuable than gold pressed latinum.

          1. AnonPi*

            +1 just for the gold pressed latinum comment :D

            I took a pivot table class and enjoyed it because I finally learned what was what (I had had some dumped on me to manage when someone else left with no clue how to use them and felt like tearing my hair out). Unfortunately I haven’t needed to use them recently so I’ve forgotten everything.

            1. Veronica*

              I learned them from the Mr. Excel book Pivot Table Data Crunching. A good book, you can have a refresher whenever you need it!

      2. Amy Sly*

        In fairness, Microsoft’s training programs do not help with the mismatch of perception to skill level. What skills are considered “basic,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” skills seems to have little resemblance to what businesses would consider those skills.

        For myself, I’m pretty sure I botched an interview by answering a “how are your Office skills?” question with “Well, I know that they are incredibly powerful programs and frankly, I know there’s more that they can do than I know how for them to do.” Which is true. Of course, when I go to Microsoft to learn how to do something like updating all uses of a field with Quickparts in Word or put together a vlookup formula in Excel, I have to use an Advanced tutorial.

        1. Eryn the EA*

          I’ve answered similarly before. “I know enough to realize that excel can do A LOT that I don’t know about yet. But, I’m comfortable enough that if something comes up, usually a quick google search is all I need.”

        2. sacados*

          I think that’s really common. People who are actually proficient at Excel are much more likely to caveat their experience, because they are much more aware of “what they don’t know.”
          Whereas someone who only knows how to do basic charts and things in Excel probably doesn’t understand the full functionality of what excel is capable of, so they’re much more confident about being all, “yes I’m totally a pro.”

          1. Cathie from Canada*

            Actually, that’s true about everything — the people who actually understand the subject often realize how much they can still learn about it, whereas people who don’t understand it also don’t recognize how far behind they are.
            In my experience with university students, if I asked a student how they are doing in a class and they said “oh, about 80 per cent” then actually they are 85 to 90, whereas if they said “oh, about 65″ then they might not even be passing.
            So in an interview situation, someone who doesn’t really understand Excel might proclaim”oh, yes, I am an expert at Excel” whereas someone who really does know how to use it might say “well, I know how to XXX but I haven’t learned yet how to YYY” and the interviewer might not realize the significance of this difference.

          2. Anax*

            It doesn’t help that there are two kinds of job listing here!

            One is “we need you to have basic computer skills – can you use Office, type at least 15wpm, and use email?”

            One is “we need you to use advanced Office functions to manipulate and display large amounts of data – like pivot tables.”

            Both often seem to say “proficient in Office”, and without more detail, it can be hard to tell which is which!

        3. Grapey*

          If you were interviewing with me, I wouldn’t consider that botched.

          Like, knowing what vlookup is used for is way more relevant than knowing if you memorized the formula. Anyone can google the ‘how’, but as an employer I’m more interested if you know when it’s called for in a business context.

      3. Peaches*

        With her being a first or second year teacher, though, should she really be the one teaching advanced Excel skills, though? Maybe so; to me though, it just seems like something students would learn when (and if) it becomes applicable to their major further down the road. While there are plenty of jobs that require advanced Excel skills, I think there are just as many (or more) that only require basic Excel skills. I actually had a boss in my job right out of college ask me how my Excel skills were on a 1-5 scale, with 5 “being a programmer”. With those parameters, I said a “3”, because I’m obviously not a programer. Turns out, only basic Excel skills are needed in my job, and I’m definitely a “5” compared to others in the office – haha. So, as I new grad I actually undersold my Excel skills!

        1. Urdnot Bakara*

          i agree with this. the level of excel proficiency you will need is highly dependent on your field/job. however, i think it would be valuable to teach students where they can find the resources to become more proficient should they need to!

          1. Peaches*

            however, i think it would be valuable to teach students where they can find the resources to become more proficient should they need to!

            Definitely agree with this!

          2. Andytron*

            If nothing else, students (well, everyone really) should have an idea of how much they know and don’t know about a program. Tons of people think Proficient in Excel means “can open a file and type in it”

        2. Another worker bee*

          I’m actually a programmer….and we don’t use Excel at all. Endorsing someone in my field for Excel on LinkedIn is literally a prank we play on each other.

        3. Veronica*

          However, as we discussed above, knowing how to use Excel *properly* to make a worksheet continue to be accurate when changes are made, is hugely important.
          IMHO basic skills should include the concepts of using formulas for totals and other calculations and why this is important.

        4. TootsNYC*

          I agree–this is not something that should be taught in most college courses.

          I don’t think it’s college level at all.
          Continuing ed at a community college? Yes.

          College level, when the course is on something else? No.

      4. pleaset*

        Frankly, I wish more people in my office knew how to use Excel not so much for numerical information, but simple for structuring information in text – lists of things, people, etc.. So helpful for running events, mass mailings, etc. Lists.

        Also using the Styles function in Word and master pages in Powerpoint.

        THOUGH I don’t really think these should be taught in an academic class. They are office/production skills.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I took an office productivity software elective course in college, and it was one of the most helpful ones I had, in terms of preparing me for the real world. It wasn’t just about how to use the actual software tools, but how to think about and structure your information, choose the right tool/format, and then actually create it.

          My elementary-aged kids use office productivity software. My 10-year-old makes a mean PowerPoint.

          1. Ophelia*

            YES – this would be a hugely valuable course, but I don’t think it’s material that, say, a history prof should take time out of teaching history to cover.

      5. Vemasi*

        This wasn’t a grad, but this exact thing. My sister is an individual contributor on a team, but their boss essentially leaves hiring decisions up to the contributors, who interview and decide by committee. Excel is used constantly in their office at what I would say is a lowish intermediate level (which is higher than I’ve ever used it, and I can do a lot of formula play that my coworkers don’t even know about).

        They had an older lady with no history of technical work say she was an “Excel expert.” This rang alarm bells for my sister (she says, and I agree, that there’s almost no one who should claim to be an expert in Excel, since most competent people should know that there’s so much they DON’T know), but one of her coworkers took the interviewee at her word and pushed her through to hire.

        Turns out the lady was the expert OF HER OFFICE, just meaning she used it the most, and didn’t even know how to write formulas at all. At her last workplace when she needed a formula, she would ask IT to write it, and then she would use it. She also thought she shouldn’t have to learn how, and was eventually fired because she couldn’t do any of her work.

        1. Not in US*

          This is why I give an excel test in interviews. And when I’ve answered the question about excel abilities – I provide details of my experience. I rock pivot tables. I haven’t tried to create a macro in years and would have to look it up. I can do VLOOKUPs, some IF statements (embedded IF statements are so frustrating to trouble shoot when something goes wrong), etc. I don’t consider myself an advanced user – my husband does major programming in Excel but I always answer with the context.

          1. Ophelia*

            Exactly – I’m a competent intermediate user who googles for help, and frankly that’s all my industry requires, but it’s way more than I was able to do when I started–our excel test is pretty basic for entry-level employees, but you do need to be able to input data, write up a few basic formulas, and *save the file* – people still fail it.

        2. Shiny Flygon*

          At her last workplace when she needed a formula, she would ask IT to write it, and then she would use it.
          She ASKED IT to write it?! AND THEY DID?! Oh dear lord.

          1. Vemasi*

            I know, right. I cannot fathom that workplace. She must have been the only person to ever even touch Excel.

      6. Leela*

        I ran into this a lot on the other side, I was good with what I’d known Excel to generally be used for so I said yes when interviewers would ask “are you good with Excel” but then that’s all they’d say! And that’s all that would be on the job requirement, not “can do macros that do X” or any specific thing, just generic “good with excel”

      7. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I have the opposite problem – I learned quite a bit about how to use Excel for calculations and data presentation as a chemistry major. Today, I waste hours digging though the instructions to do something I knew how to do in the old late 90s / early 00s versions of Excel before Microsoft loaded it up with unnecessary bells and whistles.

      8. businessfish*

        One of my favorite interview questions is “what’s your favorite excel trick?” I find with that I can assess a candidates comfort with Excel WAY more accurately than with a self-assessment. Sometimes, the favorite trick is “sorting.” Generally, people who have any idea the power of what Excel can do rate themselves lower – the more you know, the more you know you don’t know

        1. JeanB in NC*

          My personal favorite is double-subtotals (or multiple subtotals). But then I don’t do a lot of analysis using excel.

        2. Plant*

          Haha, I’ve used sorting to cross reference data sets that would have been unnecessarily complicated to cross reference using something like VLOOKUP. Everything is powerful in context.

        3. Doctor Schmoctor*

          I have a “sorting” story.

          At a previous job, we had Excel tables of about 200 cables, each with up to 37 cores and where each of those cores were to be connected. We kept running into serious mistakes, where it looked like the people just connected the stuff randomly. And every time I opened the Excel file, it was all jumble up, and I had to spend the whole day trying to fix it. Eventually I realised that someone had been trying to sort the data, but only sorted some of the columns. And this person did it every day. They didn’t listen when I tried to explain it to them, so I had to fix the file every damn day. I don’t know how we ever completed that project.

          That was what inspired me to become more proficient in Excel. I still don’t get Pivot Tables, though

        4. Emmaborina*

          Goal Seek – especially useful for things like break-even calculations. I showed this to one of my staff members several years ago, after she was stuck on something, and she was floored. I was floored she didn’t know it!

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Oh goodness, I’ve had to show a lot of coworkers how to use VLookup, and that was just on a basic report. This one coworker was taking an entire day to do a report that it should have taken her 2-3 hours at most, because she was severely lacking in computer skills.

        1. Clisby*

          Depends on the job. I was a computer programmer for 27 years (retired 4 years ago) and never needed Excel. I (and other co-workers) used it from time to time because it’s easy to format text information – but never once did we need to know formulas, pivot tables, Vlookup, etc.

          1. De Minimis*

            Even within job fields it can vary. I’m an accountant and you’d think I’d really need to know really advanced functions, but I’ve rarely had to do anything more advanced than pivot tables, and these days I don’t use those much. I haven’t had to use Vlookup since my days in public accounting. I occasionally use sumif but that’s about as advanced as I need.

          2. Liz*

            Thank you! I’m a paralegal but not working in that capacity but more regulatory. I have never needed to know or use Excel. So i agree, it really does depend on the job and what the functions are.

    2. E*

      Yes, I’ve run into so many coworkers who are amazed when they see me use Ctrl + C to copy or Ctrl + V to paste. That should be basics already taught, and used regularly.

      1. Jan Levinson*

        What?! I’ve never heard of anyone not knowing that. I learned that as an eighth grader in computer apps class. That amazes me. I used those functions a million + times a day, I thought most people did.

        1. Sivina*

          A lot of people go to schools without computers.

          These skills should absolutely be taught. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have that exposure.

          Like many things, a lot of this type of knowledge depends on your parent’s social class, your school, and your community.

            1. Sivina*

              No worries. It’s so, so easy to assume that what we view is normal is also universal.

              There is a huge, and growing, gap between the digitally-literate and those who are structurally unable to learn those skills.

              I don’t want to even contemplate how much of the US is without proper broadband service.

              1. TootsNYC*

                a guy I knew who lived in the Twin Cities was complaining bitterly that his tax dollars were going to go to get high-speed Internet access out to small towns and farms of Minnesota.

                HIS Internet access hadn’t been paid for by the taxpayers!
                Yes, I pointed out–it was paid for by all his immediate neighbors in his densely populated section of the state. The citizens in small towns and farms didn’t have neighbors to help share that cost.

                1. Oaktree*

                  That guy’s a fool- that high-speed internet access is critical for farmers’ IoT tools (which are increasingly in agriculture) to function.

                  Also, you know, he’s being a hypocrite.

          1. Not Janet, but still a sower of chaos*

            Also, in this day of Windows & mouse everything, kids aren’t learning keyboard shortcuts. It’s all point & click to them now. That’s based on observing my own middle-school aged kid.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              The ‘shortcuts vs buttons’ debate is as old as Windows itself, and will never be resolved. It boils down to familiarity, preference, style, and needs. I showed middle-schooler how to use them in Google docs, and he’s 80% shortcuts, but I’m only 50/50 on them, since I need ‘paste specials’ a *lot* in my Excel for work, merging data from a lot of different formats.

              1. Amy Sly*

                I found out the hard way a context in which knowing keyboard shortcuts is a life-saver: foreign language versions of Office. I was interning at a law firm in China, and while everyone spoke at least some English, the software menus were all in Simplified Chinese. I was quite thankful for all the time I’d spent learning shortcuts!

          2. DataGirl*

            A long time ago I worked in the library of a for-profit (predatory) college. The majority of students either came from poverty or were older returning students, or both. It really opened my eyes to work with students who came from school districts which didn’t have computers and they didn’t have them at home usually either. Things like how to use an internet browser, how to compose an email, how to Google were completely new to them. There is definitely still a wide digital divide in the US.

        2. Vemasi*

          There are teenagers who don’t know it. They don’t have any required computer classes, and many don’t have home computers and only use phones to use the internet.

          I repeat, in my public school system, THERE ARE NO REQUIRED COMPUTER LITERACY CLASSES.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Interesting – in my kid’s system, there’s no required (so far), but computers have been so integrated into the classrooms and lessons that they’re all well into google docs / sheets / presentations by 3rd or 4th grade.

            I am having to work with him on exclamation points and emojis, but that’s a style problem…

            1. Mama Bear*

              Similar here – my kid was doing Slides presentations in 3rd grade. However, that hasn’t lead to any good Excel skills yet, and I’ve come to realize that she may need us to teach her touch typing as they don’t do any basic business-related computer skills courses. I was meh on keyboarding and formatting class in HS, but I’m grateful for them now.

              1. dbeland*

                For touch typing I recommend, a website called typing games zone, it’s free and consists of older arcade style games converted to typing skills. Like space invaders, type those words before they hit the ground. Levels add more keys as you go.

                I still go there every know and then when my brain refuses to type properly lol, 15 min and i’m Back on track

        3. Quill*

          I think there’s a sharp generational (and in many places socioeconomic) divide between when people went to school and how much access they had to competent computer instruction. (Also, you’re never going to learn the right shortcut keys if you only work with school macs!)

          1. TootsNYC*

            In school, you only need to learn THAT shortcuts exist.
            Once you actively start using a program–whichever it is–you will be able to teach yourself the proper shortcuts.

            I, for example, USE Macs in my job, so the school macs would use many of the same shortcuts.
            But I had a Windows machine at home, so I used those shortcuts then.

            College is not the place to train people on all the shortcuts.

        1. Peaches*

          My boss saw me do that recently and she was floored. Her job has way more aspects than mine in which she can take advantage of CTRL + F, and hadn’t ever used it in the 8 years she’s been here.

        2. Memily*

          My new supervisor—who is AMAZING at Excel and very computer savvy—was so shocked the other day because I used CTRL-N to open a new window in File Explorer (looking at the shared drive). It’s amazing how much we just pick up randomly and is easy to miss!

      2. Becky*

        My 71 year old mother knows Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V-she picked it up somewhere but most definitely not from any schooling.

        1. Kiwiii*

          I had to teach a 56 year old coworker at my last job. She was very cute about it and had them on a post it on her monitor for months afterwards.

    3. tomatotomaahto*

      Yep, I WISH I’d learned how to use excel better in school. I thought I had it covered because I took an accounting class… how wrong I was *sobs gently*

    4. Mrs. Psmith*

      Still one of the most useful classes I took in college (over 15 years ago!) was an Excel for Business. I was not a business major but it fulfilled a required credit for computers and was taught by an adjunct professor who was a working accountant. Taught the most basic of formulas and using Excel correctly, so while it didn’t go super deep, it was a great building block to demonstrate how to not screw up your Excel sheets!

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        Back last century…..ok, the 1980’s, we had a course in business computer applications…..Lotus 1-2-3 Student Edition…..word processing was a shareware package who’s name I don’t remember.

        Tractor-feed printers, monochrome monitors, no mice, and DOS 3.1…..Good times!!

        1. All Hail Queen Sally*

          The word-processing program I used at work in the late 1980s was WordStar. I can still remember some of the commands.

    5. Amber T*

      Ach. I’ve watched coworkers fly through excel (and without using the mouse! Just keyboard shortcuts! It’s amazing!). I can do basic formulas, sort and filter… and that’s about it. Literally, just this morning, one of my coworkers (who I’ve watched use excel and is quite good with it), was standing over my shoulder while we were trying to figure out an error. Meanwhile, there’s me, copying and pasting data, dragging formulas, moving at the pace of a snail…

      If your projects could use excel, I would definitely recommend pushing them learning on their own, or taking some time to show them some intermediate/advanced methods. At least letting them know “for this part of the project, it could be made easier if you utilize pivot tables in Excel.”

    6. Amethystmoon*

      Soft skills. I’ve met a lot of younger people that had great technical skills, but didn’t know how to deal with people in person or really, how to behave in an office in general.

      1. Mama Bear*

        +1 I worked on a team with a lot of people fairly fresh out of college and HR had to play whackamole with dealing with inappropriate or borderline behaviors. Start up mentality and open offices don’t help.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Yes, this. At least Excel, Word, and Powerpoint. Especially the latter. Which ties to one other item: ensuring new graduates know how many jobs require them to present well.

      2. Quill*

        That’s only going to get worse now that Office moved over to a subscription basis… people are going to opt out WAY faster instead of holding onto the same copy with 10 installs on it for 10 years.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        I am going to try reaaaaallly hard not to get on my soapbox about this, but I literally hate the Google apps. They are missing so many basic little things (table. header. row. repeat.) that just drive me bonkers. The only thing Google apps do far better than Microsoft is simultaneous multi-user editing.

        1. The Tin Man*

          I prefer Google Sheets over Excel for making dynamic reporting/dashboards. The FILTER, QUERY, and ARRAYFORMULA features make my life so much easier.

          The built-in Pivot Table feature needs a lot of love, however. That’s one of the reasons I use the above three functions so much.

    7. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I have a Master of Accounting (unrelated undergrad) and Excel skills weren’t even really taught there. I’ve had to use a fake it til you make it approach to Excel since starting my corporate finance career using a combination of Google and existing models.

      I’m pretty decent now (VLOOKUPs, pivot tables, creating macros, etc) but I was never taught and I did a lot of “Excel? Why yes, I’m good at that” fibbing in interviews early in my career.

    8. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Does anyone have any good resources for helping students use Excel, if you’re only a beginner beginner Excel user yourself?

      1. Lime green Pacer*

        I have been upgrading my skills using LinkedIn Learning’s (formerly Lynda.com) MS Excel Essential Training. It has rocked my Excel World and I’m only 2 hours into the 8 hour video course. I have free access through my public library.

      2. Annony*

        I teach basic Office to high school freshmen. The best resource I have found it https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/topics/excel/ It’s free, it’s indexed so you can look up exactly what you are looking for, and it provides video as well as written instructions (different learning styles). In addition there are modules for Excel 2016, 2013, 2010, 2007, 2003, XP and 2000. So whatever version your office is using (and yes there are still non-subscription work places using what they own) you can get an in depth look. Won’t make you an expert, but will make you a solid Beginner (and it does cover pivot tables and VLookup)

      3. Coffee Owlccountant*

        There is an amazing 4 part course on Coursera called Excel for Business (I think?) through Macquarie University in Australia. The tests and exercises are behind a paywall, but you can audit the course and watch the videos for free. It’s what taught me all about tables and how absolutely marvelous they are. Now literally everything I do is table-based. I recommend it to everyone who’s looking to expand their Excel skills.

    9. Be Gregor not Jeff*

      How to format Excel for printing. I get beautiful spreadsheets that are not formatted for printing.

      I have had executives stand by my desk waiting impatiently on printouts only to discover the file delivered is not formatted for printing. Don’t get me started on multiple sheets not being formatted.

      1. Spreadsheets and Books*


        At my last jobs, we used to collect Excel reporting from the business units that reported to us and combine them in Acrobat to create one master PDF that could be distributed to the higher ups.

        There’s nothing like painstakingly separating out files and waiting for the loooong convert and combine process… only to realize that a few weren’t formatted to print and a one page Excel document becomes 15 pages of three cells each in PDF. WHY. JUST FORMAT.

        1. Alex*

          Ooh, now I’m wondering if I should feel guilty about never doing this. To be fair, we all have tablets and there’s a big push to be as paperless as possible – I’ve never seen anyone trying to print out my excel sheets before.

    10. TootsNYC*

      I’m not sure this is something that I’d expect a college to teach people. I think that’s a really expensive way to pick up that skill (even at a more affordable state college).

      1. DataGirl*

        YOU HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE! I’m a DBA of 10 years and I had no idea you could do queries in Excel- that is going to make my life so much easier. THANK YOU

    11. Beancounter Eric*

      Agreed…..and for accounting students – how to use a 10-key.

      As much as we use Excel, there are still times where a simple 10-key adding machine is the go-to tool….and I am amazed at how often new accountants lack that basic skill.

      1. Accounting Student*

        I literally didn’t know what a 10-key adding machine was and had to google it. It’s…just a basic calculator?

        1. bishbah*

          Think of it like touch typing. A digital 10-key (found on the right side of larger physical keyboards or sometimes as a separate USB entry pad) allows for extremely rapid number entry by touch with one hand. It also includes a return key, so you can enter long columns of numbers without lifting your hand. If your office has old adding machines lying around, I suppose using one can sometimes be easier than opening up Excel, but the useful skill is in the typing method.

    12. Important Moi*

      Also how to use Word (or whatever word processing program). Especially if producing documents is part of your job.

      Learn basic document formatting:
      -font selection
      -set up margins
      -how to add page numbers to document

      I was just in a meeting where 10 minutes was spent explaining:
      -cut and paste
      -how to select and unselect a font

      And yes, lots of people think they “know” Excel.

      1. Clisby*

        Aren’t Excel and pivot tables pretty limited, though? I’m pretty sure at one time you could read only about a million rows into an Excel spreadsheet.

        1. R*

          Complicated question.

          So, a LOT of data is small data (Excel sized) and because of that, Excel is still very powerful. To give a few examples:
          * Summarized data used for descriptive business analysis is usually Excel-sized
          * Employee worklists are Excel sized
          * Ad-hoc files from external clients are usually Excel-sized
          * Additionally, everything worked on outside of the IT department usually has to be Excel-sized.

          So, if you look at Excel from the lens of big data, programmatic data processing, or IT, then it’s pretty limited. If you’re working from the business-side though, then it’s a life-saving tool.

          That being said, if you can figure out tools that can handle more than 1 million rows (which is still the limit, I believe), then you can probably figure out Excel, unless the newness is too scary.

      1. Mama Bear*

        I used to work at a federal agency where you could learn Access, Word, Excel, PPT, Visio in their Training Center. It was very handy to learn the skills for your particular job function.

      2. Avasarala*

        Totally agree. Everyone is going to need to use a different level of computer skills. An analyst needs these more than a translator.

    13. pivoteer*

      In order to do that, university lecturers would have to learn how to use Excel. Seriously, I am one of two academics in my school of more than 100 academic staff who know what a pivot table is. I once sat in a meeting in which we all boggled at a completely unintelligible spreadsheet of student results, until my colleague from the engineering school finally asked “did you average the percentages?!?!” in a quiet, stunned voice. When the dean presenting the data agreed he had, and insisted the results were still useful, I got in one of best lines of my career ((un)fortunately only to my colleague in engineering): “well, I think we’ve solved the problem of why their students are all failing math”.

      1. R*

        …. how can you function as a researcher while being that innumerate? This isn’t an Excel issue. This would still be a mistake if you calculated the numbers by hand.

    14. R*

      At many schools, the modern business school curriculum usually has a basic class on MS Office applications. That being said, based upon the comments, it feels like the real issue isn’t “using Excel”, as Excel has many different functions, different places use it differently, and nobody knows “everything”. Instead, it seems like the real learning is how to navigate logic-based software. Nobody knows “everything” with Python, PHP, Java, or any other broad tool.

      At a certain point, if software is “eating the world”, shouldn’t there be a heavier focus on working with computers and data overall? (I mean, if we’re going to complain about how people don’t know Excel, why not talk about the horrors of badly documented VBA, mismanaged data processes, abuse of Excel and other tools to create a shadow IT infrastructure)

    15. ugh*

      For those of you not using pivot tables- go, right now, and learn. I’m such a Luddite I can’t name a spreadsheet – only know how to input formulas in cells. A friend of mine was doing something cool with a spreadsheet for our pistol shooting group and I asked him to teach me how- turns out it’s PIVOT TABLES! I didn’t know what it was called, simply learned how to do it. If I can do it, so can you!

  1. CTT*

    Email etiquette! Norms vary by office, so I would want them to be conscious of that, but really getting to the “how you are perceived” issue with emails. Inappropriate use of reply-all (which is not a sin of people just out of college, but maybe the children can be the future on this!), not cc’ing people who are directly impacted by the message you are sending, out-of-office messages, etc.

    1. Just J.*

      Yes! And to remind them that email needs correct punctuation and grammar! And, that email is PERMANENT and can be forwarded on to ANYONE.

      1. Sivina*

        Also, basic understanding of why and how companies archive anything done on their systems, irrespective of the device.

        It’s all permanent.

        1. Chinook*

          As well as the importance of consistant file labelling vs. doing it the way the individual wants.

          A perfect assignment woukd be to have them look for information in two different drives – one that is managed. Correctly vs. One that is all willy nilly.

          1. Devil Fish*

            Apparently graphic design is where you learn the importance of file naming conventions? I took a class on PhotoShop a couple years ago and they spent what felt like a re a l l y l o n g t i m e explaining what I thought was a very simple and logical system to keep files in order, and then I saw how some of my classmates were saving things in a different class and omfg.

      2. Amber T*

        *looks at an email from the head of my company that has zero punctuation or capitalization*

        On the flip side, depending on industry, sometimes email etiquette is a three word response. When you’re starting off, you should make sure every email is short, succinct, to the point, with good grammar, but it also shouldn’t throw you through a loop when you get a response from someone way up the chain that just says “ok” or “why do we need to do this” (lack of question mark). It took me a long time to realize that my very nice, jovial boss wasn’t angry at me or being rude because he would send an email that just said “please handle”

        1. mmpgh*

          Yes! I have some co workers who send paragraphs when two sentences will do in answer to my question. I have had to really work at concise communication.

      3. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

        Oh my gosh, yes! And depending on where you work, it can be subject to FOIA. You don’t put anything in an email that you don’t want to hear read in court. Or that you don’t want your grandmother to hear.

        1. LizM*

          Yup. Or read about it in the paper.

          We used to joke about this in my office until a couple of my emails ended up in a national paper. Thankfully I’m low enough in the organization that my name was redacted, and there was nothing d written that was too terrible. But it taught us all how important it is to avoid sarcasm, as some folks higher in the organization did have jokes taken out of context.

      4. Fikly*

        The professors responding to emails that I sent in college that I spent 15 minutes checking for correct grammar, etc, with just an “ok” are not helping this issue.

        1. Tina*

          Until you talk to a classmate who does NOT bother to check the grammar and make sure everything is clear and worded perfectly, and realize that they take (on average) two days longer to get that same ‘ok’.

      5. Ed*

        I had a coworker who had to explain in federal court why she had an email stating “bite my ass”.


    2. Kiri*

      I’d also add – CHECK your email! Check it regularly! Not checking your email isn’t an excuse for missing important information! (I work with college students and a lot of them don’t realize that checking their school email isn’t optional – at least until they miss something crucial.)

      1. Properlike*

        This. Today. “STUDENTNAME – You have not checked your email in at least six days. Guess how I know.”

        And the ones who are surprised when there’s a problem with student aid and they get dropped from my class.

      2. alh*

        Agreed. We had a student intern with us last year and he just never checked his email, even after repeated requests to do so. He missed so much information. We can argue all day about whether email is the most effective way to share information, but it is the reality in the vast majority of offices. You have to check email regularly, and reply promptly and appropriately.

        1. Massmatt*

          I don’t get this, aren’t younger generations supposed to be tech-savvy? How are they expecting to get information? Texts? Twitter? They are mostly glued to their phone screens, what is it about email they are not getting?

          1. Clewgarnet*

            Email is too out of date to be a standard form of communication among The Yoof. My friends and I are 30s/40s, and even we don’t use email to communicate – it’s Whatsapp or, occasionally, texting. If email is so completely removed from your daily life, it’s like remembering to check the pigeon loft in case a carrier pigeon has come in.

            Of course, for the office, they need to remember to check for new pigeons, but it’s something that isn’t the norm. (And in my office, information is as likely to come via Skype or Teams as it is via email.)

          2. Devil Fish*

            Younger millenials and gen z do not use email because it’s something only boomers use. (Ignore the fact that the “boomers” they’re talking about there are mostly gen x and elder millenials (boomers are all about Facebook and Twitter).)

            The problem I’ve always had with school email (I’m elder millenial or young gen x depending on where you draw the line) is that I can’t link my school email to my phone and get notifications for it. I also can’t forward it to my primary email to get notifications that way. And it’s Outlook, so every time I log in on a computer, it logs me out and makes me log in again. These are all based on permissions set by the school that I can’t change or request to have changed.

            I have no problems being logged in to email whenever I’m on a computer but juggling multiple emails without a dedicated device to use for them is inconvenient at best and I totally understand an intern or a student not remembering to log on to email everyday.

      3. Hush42*

        So much this! I hired an intern who had just started her first year of college. She would go days without even opening outlook. I had to tell her several times that she was required to check her e-mail every day before it actually stuck.

      4. Ophelia*

        YES – I was kind of floored when we got an email from my graduate program with expectations around email use (I’m back in school 15 years after college), but apparently they have learned that they actually need to instruct all students to check their email at least once a day.

        1. Elle*

          We have a phone call to register students, and we have to tell them on the phone that we expect them to regularly check their student email.

      5. Librarian1*

        I feel like this is the result of changing modes of communication. when I was in college, about 15 years ago, give or take, everyone checked their email all the time because that was our main method of communication (that and IMs). Texting was still kind of expensive and not everyone had texting on their phone. Plus, we didn’t get the best cell phone reception, so people didn’t really use their phones a lot.

        Now, everyone communications on social media apps or through texting for social stuff, so kids aren’t used to checking email.

    3. Drew*

      Legitimate uses of the Bcc field (e.g., collecting RSVPs and entree orders for a big meeting) and not so legitimate uses (“Fergus, look at the smackdown I’m laying on Wakeen”).

      What makes a good subject line? (“Questions” is not one.)

      Deleting irrelevant quoted material in replies, especially in a long email chain (you don’t need every message dating back five generations when we can just go back and re-read them).

      Judicious forwarding when your boss is allergic to Reply All. (I…may have stories.)

    4. Anne of Green Gables*

      Also, just the expectation that they *use* email at work. I know there have been letters on here from people who don’t like to use email. That may be fine in some industries or with some employers, but I don’t think it’s the norm. You are expected to use email. You are expected to check your email.

      1. De Minimis*

        I’ve had more problems with older employees not using e-mail at the jobs I’ve had, not new grads. If there’s something people need to know, e-mail it. That way there’s documentation of it.

        My most recent manager was particularly bad about this.

        1. doreen*

          I’ve had similar problems with both, for different reasons. Some of the older staff apparently haven’t gotten used to email after 15 years and are still expecting that anything important will be typed in memo form, signed, copied and given to them after they sign a form acknowledging receipt , while some of the younger staff apparently think I should text them if I want a response.

      2. ian*

        Based on my experience working in higher ed, that’s probably more better directed at their professorial colleagues than at any of the students.

    5. rip city*

      “not cc’ing people who are directly impacted by the message you are sending, out-of-office messages, etc.”

      I’ll add to this point; realizing that if your supervisor has cc’ed someone, it’s an indication that they want that person on the email, and it’s not a great idea to unilaterally decide to remove them (at least not without speaking to your supervisor first).

      1. Alex*

        The exception here is the judicious un’cc, which I don’t think is something to be taught in school but definitely a good idea when you spot an error that affects the content of the message. There’ve definitely been a few times I’ve replied back to just one person in the chain with, “Sorry, did you mean $1,000 or $10,000 there?” When I know darn well it should be the other one. That way they get to save face by making their own corrections.

    6. OP*

      I think the “how you are perceived” thing is really sharp, my students tend to undervalue perception in all kinds of ways (doesn’t matter if I’m cold to my classmates because I get my work done, but now no one will share notes with me).

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Add to that their status as a junior employee. The CEO may use snarky language, poor grammar, or punctuation and get away with it. Most new hires cannot.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          FPoste had a great throw pillow along the lines: If you are a junior employee, do not break ground in a direction other than quiet professionalism.

        2. Pickles*

          Yes, this!

          Things like, oh, what it may take to earn your right to “get away” with things as you go up the chain. I don’t wear a blazer every day because it’s enjoyable, but on the rare occasions when I come in wearing skinny jeans, boots, and a leather jacket, no one blinks because they know at a glance that I’m coming in on my off time.

          Or the range and limits of those earned rights. Can you walk into someone’s office and score a meeting immediately? Do you need to schedule a meeting for a future date at the other person’s convenience? Is the person in question the CEO and you should really leave them alone because you were hired two months ago?

          And one more: A senior person should be held to a higher standard than a brand-new analyst, and that’s not unfair, it’s totally okay and expected. The paycheck is earned.

      2. Amy Sly*

        One of the most valuable things my parents taught me when I was homeschooled: you are only as smart as your ability to explain your ideas to someone else. That may be by showing the logical progress through an algebra problem, organizing your thoughts in an essay, or simply being able to express yourself in a clear, grammatically correct sentence, but in every case, it is absolutely necessary.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Frequently comes up in the sciences: You will need to explain your ideas to people outside your immediate research group, using words.

          1. Amy Sly*

            And there’s an enormous amount of truth to “if you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it.” That’s the whole point of the rubber duck, after all.

          2. RecoveringSWO*

            Yes! If you’re teaching or mentoring any science/engineering, etc. students who bristle at that idea, please remind them that communicating directions and concepts only gets more important as you reach higher levels of authority.

      3. MsMaryMary*

        I think a lot of young people struggle with the perception issue. I was a business major, and I saw so many first or second year students with blue hair or piercings slowly move to a more traditional look when they started job hunting senior year. It’s fine to say that it’s that employer’s loss if they’re going to judge a candidate based on their looks, and another when your interviewer visibly writes your off as soon as they see your clothes or hair. It’s not fair, but life’s not fair.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Some of the best advice my mother ever gave me was “nobody ever said life was fair”. Reminding myself of that keeps me from getting rage-y about all sorts of things.

    7. Sales Geek*

      And phone etiquette! A long time ago our management decided to give us a course on this skill and I’ve used almost all of it for the last twenty years of my career. It’s seemingly little things like a proper greeting to your voicemail (“Hello, you’ve reached Sales Geek of Technical Strategies’ Riverdale office. Please leave a message at the tone and I’ll get back to you by the end of the next business day.”) and to change it when appropriate (on vacation, OoO, etc). And how to pick up a call as well. “Hello…” or “Yeah, howdy” doesn’t cut it.

      How to leave a voicemail message is important, too. I have a last name that is easy to misspell. The common English word it’s based on uses two consonants in the middle while my family name uses one and even when I spell it out people often unconsciously add in a second consonant. If they do that and then try to search the corporate directory (which is extremely strict when it comes to spelling) my name can’t be found. So when I leave a message I spell out my name, slowly give out my phone number and then do it all again…most people are using a pen/pencil to record my contact information. We were taught that if you do this once that just serves as a heads-up to fumble for a writing instrument and the second repetition provides the information for the caller to write down this information.

      This has served me well. I was in sales and callbacks are important when you’re trying to reach busy people in order to to ask for business.

      The only thing that I *don’t* do is to change my voicemail daily. Our senior office exec wanted us to do this…it meant a voicemail message that started with “Hello, it’s Thursday, November 14 and you’ve reached the voicemail &etc.). That just got tedious and eventually this got relaxed since he had to do it as well…:-)

      This has changed a bit since most of the communication with people I know is now done by text. But leaving a clear, well thought out voicemail with your contact info slowly provided twice still works…

      1. Chinook*

        Phone etiquette is important and will make you look competent. I know this because I learned how to answer the school phone in Japanese when I worked overseas because all I would need to do is ask them to hold for the manager (when she was with a potential student). By knowing the correct phrases and what to listen for, many people thought I was much more fluent than I was rather than merely acting as a human answering machine.

    8. Andream*

      Yes! As an English major it really is off-putting when a co-worker would email something full of mistakes, odd formats, etc. Shortly before I left my last position the company was actually looking at providing a training session for new hires and others to teach them how to email.

    9. Sleepytime Tea*

      Working with people who are new out of college, one thing I have definitely seen happen on multiple occasions is them not understanding tone and audience. DO NOT USE EMOJIS. Sure, I throw a smiley face in sometimes, but I never do it with someone I don’t know, someone higher up, never in an e-mail about a serious matter, and I generally only use one after the person I’ve been corresponding with has used one and basically signaled to me that it’s ok.

      Your tone when writing an e-mail to a director absolutely needs to be more professional than when you’re shooting a colleague a quick note. Your tone when corresponding about a serious issue needs to reflect that you’re taking it seriously. I’ve had colleagues taken off projects because of emails with smiley faces and relaxed responses hurt their credibility for the issue at hand.

      1. The Tin Man*

        YES about the emojis. The only emoji I have ever used at work is the “thumbs up” to acknowledge to someone that I got their text. And I only did that after seeing my boss and grandboss do the same.

      2. Anax*

        And on the other hand – don’t write in an overly-formal, verbose way, the way you might write a college essay!

        I erred WAY on the other side in my first job, and people found it offputting. Especially because my job involved Davis-Bacon Act administration, so I was generally emailing middle-aged, rural construction workers who already found this government stuff convoluted and scary…

        It’s important to know your audience, and writing succinct, clear, but polite language is an important skill.

        (I’ve actually encountered more middle-aged folks using emojis in business correspondence than new grads, and it can be super awkward. What reads as sincere friendliness to one group can read as sarcasm or patronizing to another, and the line can be so fine. Better to avoid the ambiguity!)

        1. Anax*

          Oh – and as a sidebar, a useful use of emojis IS to ratchet the formality of language down a notch or two, just like a self-deprecating joke. If I want to be clear that a peer’s request or mistake was no big deal, I might use a :), especially if I’m working from home – more formal language might read as cold or covering for real annoyance, which isn’t what I want to convey.

          That’s a fine, fine line though.

    10. Mom of 5-6 kids*

      You are not Special. You might be special to someone; but you are not special to everyone. Even if you are “One-in-a-Million” on this planet, that means there are more than 7,000 just like you. Prove yourself. Use manners; say please, thank you , and excuse me.

      When you are walking in a corridor or hallway, do not walk shoulder to shoulder with someone when another person is approaching you. Move out of the way, allow others to pass, to not block the progress of another person, both literally and figuratively.

      Acknowledge those who help you or do a great job.

      Don’t be a suck-up, it’s obvious.

    11. TheOtherJennifer*

      I would like them to be able to actually WRITE an email. In full sentences. I read so many emails to clients that have just fragments strung together in a stream of consciousness – it’s horrible.

  2. glitter writer*

    How to try solving their own problems FIRST. (Word has a help function! If you Google “how do I [do thing] in [software you’re using],” you can usually find the answer!)

    1. ellex42*


      Even the people who aren’t new graduates need to learn this. I am not your personal database, Felicia. Especially when we have multiple SOP’s, cheat sheets, and instructional documents. Don’t pester your coworkers for answers you should be able to figure out for yourself, and that includes information in mass/departmental emails they also received and things they could easily Google.

      1. aqueenvictorious*

        I swear this comment gave me flashbacks to being the only technologically adept employee at my library. “Look it up? Why, but aqv is right here! She’s explained Computer Thing to me 60 times already so let’s just ask her to do it.”

      2. Hush42*

        YES! I have one employee who has worked here for two years and she still asks me things when I KNOW she knows how to find the answers herself. Then, when I explain where she can find the answer, she gets annoyed that I didn’t just give her the answer. Today she came into my office and asked if I knew the name of a filter that would pull certain information. There are hundreds that would do what she needed AND you can easily create your own. I told her that I didn’t know what it was called but that I’m sure she could easily find it. She just said “okay…sorry” and left.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Agreed! I had a coworker who apparently had never learned how to critically think or problem solve in school. He was in his twenties. I had created an entire help manual for my job so he could cover for me, and half the time, he was too lazy to check it and would just frequently interrupt with questions, all which were covered in the manual. I even had section headings and a table of contents, and it was in Word, so you could do a ctrl + F by keyword.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          No, but I did wind up leaving the job in large part because of him and another toxic co-worker.

      1. TootsNYC*

        THIS is what I want colleges to teach people.

        It used to BE what they taught people.

        There are other ways to teach people things like email etiquette and Excel skills. Paying for college credits to learn that is not a good use of tuition money, even in a less expensive school.

        But how to reason, how to construct an argument, how to research, how to determine credibility, how to establish credibility–those are the basics of a college education.

        1. Properlike*

          Dude, why do you think there are a million “students don’t read the syllabus” memes? We’ve tried!

          1. TootsNYC*

            Oh, I get that colleges can’t succeed at that without the participation of the students.

            but my point is not that colleges aren’t doing it–it’s that colleges shouldn’t be distracted from it by teaching people Excel and how to write an Email subject line.

            1. Liz*

              Why not? Someone who’s a first generation college student may not have anyone to teach these things otherwise.

          2. Lora*

            They learn when you are allowed by the school to dish out the natural consequences of failing to read the syllabus. Sadly, many schools are proud of their grade inflation behaviors.

          3. Fikly*

            But are you testing them on this? Or are you testing them on information they are required to memorize?

            Attach their grades to something and you may see a change in what they learn.

            1. Emma*

              Maybe it’s different in the US, but my experience of higher ed is that there is really no memorisation. At my law undergrad we were allowed to have all our primary materials with us in exams; and as a postgrad we had no exams, everything was assessed on the basis of papers, research and analyses. The goal is absolutely to focus on research, problem analysis, choosing and justifying your approach and sources, synthesis, critical thinking and effective communication.

        2. Triumphant Fox*

          I would argue that these need to really be taught in middle school and expanded in high school and then college. If you don’t have good reasoning skills by college, it’s really hard to train that in the framework of a few days a week course.

      2. Manhattan Transfer*

        The key there is to turn it back on him by asking him what the manual said about that particular topic.

      3. RL*

        I had that same coworker…it got so bad that my job manual included things such as turn on computer or print item, go to printer to retrieve item, printer is located xxx

    3. Donkey Hotey*

      Ironically, I see much more of this skill present in the younger/newer members of my team than in the older members of the team.
      Where I see “lack of problem solving” from younger members usually boils down to “I don’t want to get in trouble” more than “I don’t know how to do this.”

      1. OP*

        Donkey Hotey, I run into this *so often* on both ends – my students either pester me with questions because they don’t want to do something wrong and thus “get in trouble”, or they don’t ask questions when they should because they don’t want to “get into trouble” for not knowing something. Neither of these things would get them into trouble with me, but even my juniors and seniors sometimes hold on to this mindset.

        I have a moment early in the semester where I tell them to spend 15 minutes looking for an answer before approaching me, and to “show their work” by saying “I checked x and y and asked x” to avoid replication of solutions. But I’ve been trying to think of ways to remind them/have them practice this. I direct them back to the syllabus or website or whatever when they ask questions that are answered there, though I have my doubts they notice the pattern.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah: because pre-collegiate education varies *wildly* between “You have to do a thing EXACTLY THIS WAY, do not try to set it up on your own,” (generally how lower math is taught) and “why the hell don’t you already know this???”

        2. AnnaBananna*

          Why limit it to just you? Maybe introduce a game in which you assign leaders and subject matter experts randomly in the class. The purpose is that they need to a) collect evidence and b) complete project ____. Almost like a scavenger hunt, but maybe you can time ‘1X1s’ in which the students go meet with their leaders and share where they’re at and where they’re stuck.

          Does this make sense? Basically they would spend the hour interviewing SMEs, reporting status and asking for advice from their leader, and then creating whatever little project you make up (I’d do something easy/funny, like a crossword puzzle or something).

        3. Emily*

          Hi OP,

          I recall some of my teachers in HS/college telling us specifically, “No question is a bad (or stupid) question.”

          It was kind, and helped us understand that it’s far better to ask when you’re unsure of something (and can’t figure it out yourself), rather than risk a bad grade on a project, for example.

          This was in the days before Google, but it might still be useful with some students, if they seem afraid of “getting in trouble” for doing something wrong.

          1. tangerineRose*

            When I was in college, if I was afraid a question might seem stupid, I’d wait until after class and ask the teacher. But if you don’t know, and you need to know, you’ve gotta ask!

            1. Meagain*

              My PI’s answer to how do I…. (fill in administration question) was I already have a degree. Ask a question about work and we’d talk for hours.

              I have homework for my juniors and seniors but it’s due 1’ before the exam. It’s all online. They freak out over the fact that there’s no set time frame when there is…1’ before the exam. I tell them they are old enough now to figure out how to not die from alcohol poisoning they are old enough to manage their life. Since these are the premed/grad school kids, they sink or swim. If you have an A in this class, you have an A.

              My favorite is case studies. They can all turn in one answer but they have to all agree they did equal amount of work. One person can dissent, but if their peers get the problem right they get it wrong. And vise versa.

        4. RecoveringSWO*

          In my military officer training, “showing your work” before asking questions was ingrained at every level. It’s probably the best habit I took into the civilian workforce. Repetition was key. Junior officers learned to show their work at initial training, but what really makes it stick is that if a junior officer forgets/fails to “show their work” when asking a question, most superior officers would automatically answer their question with, “what references did you check for the answer?” You learned quickly–if I named where I searched, the boss would tell me the name of the specific reference with the answer. If I shrugged my shoulders because I didn’t look, I had to try and find it on my own and wasn’t going to get any clues from the boss.

          So, I would see if consistently responding with “where have you looked for the answer?” will create more of a habit for your students. I liked this system because I knew I wouldn’t ever “get in trouble” for not knowing something, I always met expectations by simply trying to find the answer first. Ironically, the only authority figure I ever had who yelled at people for not knowing something was a bad professor and no one in the military.

    4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Honestly one of the most useful things my grad program did (out of many very useful things) was to have a university librarian come in and teach the cohort how to do boolean searches, find resources, and double- check research.

      Good both for finding resources to teach you to do the thing, and for general research.

      1. Kendra*

        One of my pet theories about why “the kids these days” don’t seem to even understand the concept of doing research or verifying information is that we’re seeing the results of all of the K-12 school librarians that have been cut from budgets over the past few decades.

        Even in the schools that still have them, they’re mostly a random teacher’s aide that was shoved into the library on the first day of school and told to make it work, not someone with training and a library degree. Not to say that some of them don’t do awesome things for their students regardless, but you can’t teach skills and concepts that you don’t even know exist, and “how to tell a reliable resource from an unreliable one” isn’t something most people can pick up on the fly.

        1. Bears Beets Battlestar*

          All. Of. This.
          We can’t keep underfunding programs because they don’t matter then complaining that schools aren’t working.

      2. Academic librarian been there done that*

        Hapless Bureaucrat,
        Thank you for this. This is what I do. Please send an email to the dean of the program and cc the dean of Libraries at your grad program as academic librarians are a jobs that are being eliminated.

    5. Eric*

      So I actually want the exact opposite of this many times. I feel like students in school are trained to not bother the professor with questions, the idea being that they are supposed to figure things out on their own. I generally don’t want someone on my team to spend all day (or more!) on a problem where if they came to me, we could talk through it and solve it in 10 minutes. Yet, I think coming out of school they often feel like they have to spend forever trying to do it themselves before they ask for help.

      1. TootsNYC*

        they’re being graded in school; but we aren’t grading people at work–we’re getting stuff done.

        So some level of initiative is important, but we also expect (especially with people new to the workforce, or even new to our company/team) to spend energy acclimating people.

        So maybe it’s a good life skill to figure out what things you should look for on your own, and what things you should touch base on.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I give new hires a 15-minute rule – if you can’t even find anything touching on the topic with in-house searchable resources, the internet, and the relevant court/agency/company website, ask a coworker to point you in the right direction (not do it for you). And it helps, when you ask for help, if you say what you’ve already tried unsuccessfully so they know you’re not just expecting them to be your personal Ask Jeeves.

          1. TootsNYC*

            that’s a great guideline. Because until you have experience, you don’t know when to give up.

            i do a meet-and-greet with college students from my friend’s school each spring break, and one of the things I told them last time was to ask questions, calibrate, etc. That in their first jobs, we EXPECT to answer questions.

            but this is a good rule of thumb to use for “how long should I try to be self-sufficient”?

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I work in a billing industry, and they can’t bill three hours of “trying to figure it out” to a client (nor will they meet their requirement if the bill that three hours to the office). The 15-minutes originally came from a time that was one time-billing unit, but now that 6-minute billing units are the standard, I left it because 6-12 minutes to figure it out just seemed weird. :)

              1. TootsNYC*

                Interesting where you got it! I thought you’d just picked a “rounded off” portion of an hour that gave people enough time to try but not enough time to waste a lot of energy.

      2. Marissa*

        I agree with both this and glitter writer’s comment. I feel like knowing when to look and when to stop and ask someone is a skill so many people lack. I don’t want someone spending all day banging their head against a wall, but for goodness sake, troubleshoot on your own for a few minutes before asking me.

      3. Filosofickle*

        When I was in graduate school we spent tremendous amounts of time trying to figure out what the instructor/instructions meant, because the instructors were 100% unresponsive or simply unavailable to us. It was incredibly frustrating. Now, in hindsight, I’d counsel someone in that program to just do whatever you want, because basically there was no “right way” or rigid expectation, but I had a hard time with that in the moment. (It was total black-box grading, too. We never had any idea why we got the feedback we got.) It sets up some very bad habits.

    6. Arctic*

      I don’t know that I agree. I find grads rely on this too quickly. And then a document formatting is totally screwed up (Word help is *terrible*) or the program is totally off base. So, a problem that would have been fixed in seconds if they had just asked is now a whole project.

      1. Ashley*

        The catch their is how they learn in my opinion. I don’t want to keep fixing their formatting issues for years.

    7. Tabularasa*

      When I went through university a second time, a couple of my professors actually did do this. They would have “open everything” and “open internet” tests, because knowing where to find the information you’re looking for is also a valuable skill as an employee. And by “open everything”, you could literally ask your neighbor, or text your friend who is already working in the job you’re studying for – they didn’t care how you got the correct information, as long as it was correct, you were learning something valuable for a workplace.

      1. legobitar*

        My graphic design & media teachers did this in high school. During our media exams we were allowed to bring all our books and notes, and during our graphic design exams (where we had to use our computers), we were allowed to use the internet. And still, no one got 100 %, because having access to all information doesn’t mean you’re able to search for the correct information, or sort it out.

        Their reasoning for doing this was “you will never find yourself in a situation in real life where you will not be able to search for the answers to your questions”, which has been true during the 12 years since graduation.

    8. sapebraw*

      Completely agree, but the flip side is also knowing when to ask for help. We don’t want to find out the website’s been down for an hour while you desperately tried to fix it. This can be kind of hard. Big problems, escalate quickly, smaller problems, maybe it’s OK to spend a bit more time trying to figure out how to fix.

    9. OG Orange You Glad*

      This this this!!!

      Also once you’ve tried to solve your problem yourself and still need help – ask the right questions for help! Be specific!
      Coming to me and asking how to do is not a good use of either of our time. Telling me you are specifically struggling with step 5 will let me help you much better.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Also, if you’ve been reading doc and are confused by it, it is OK to ask about it. You may save the person you’re asking a LOT of time by telling them what you’ve looked at and why it’s confusing to you. And you may help them improve the doc.

    10. prismo*

      Totally. I would even add another layer to this and say how to know when to solve a problem on your own vs when to ask for help. I’ve managed a lot of interns and learned this is a real skill–I’ve seen people who don’t ask for help when they should, and people who constantly ask for help instead of trying to figure it out on their own, and both can cause real problems. (Like, I’ve seen interns waste an entire eight-hour shift doing the wrong thing because they didn’t clarify a bit of wording in the instructions they were given.)

      I think knowing when to ask for help is a great skill in both work and in life, and it’s something you can and should start practicing early on.

    11. Bopper*

      But don’t waste too much time trying to do it yourself either…if you are taking more than 15 minutes ask somebody.

    12. The one with childish shirt*

      Would like to expand this – if there are written instructions on how to do your tasks, please check them first. After the fifth time explaining something that is written in bold, on the sheet that you have in front of you, with pictures, your colleagues might get a bit peeved. Besides, coming to someone with a problem and saying :” I tried A, B and C and they did not work” will save time for everyone.

  3. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    And that Excel is not a database.
    Powerpoint and the Non-Compulsory Nature of Animations

    1. MarsJenkar*

      Two of the more useful courses I took in college related to that. Not only did I learn a good deal about Excel, but I also got a bit of Access knowledge as well. (This was back in 2000-2004, and I’d say the knowledge I gained then is still useful.)

    2. Just Elle*

      I wish I had had a class that actually taught me how to effectively use PowerPoint as a medium to convey detailed data in a quick, high level summary to people who really don’t care how I got there.
      Instead, all my classes were ‘how to make powerpoint animations’ or ‘present a really long research paper as a 45 minute powerpoint.’

      1. Drew*

        I remember being a new teacher back in the ’90s and sitting through interminable “HyperCard is the future of education” inservice trainings. I think PowerPoint is the new HyperCard: a useful tool in the right circumstances but you don’t have to do EVERYTHING in it.

        1. Eleanor Konik*

          I have a coworker who puts long texts into powerpoint slides to print because she “doesn’t like word.”

        2. TootsNYC*

          we just cleaned out my dad’s basement office–he was a teacher, and he was on the forefront of educational technology. And there was SO MUCH HYPERCARD!

          I didn’t realize it was happening in the ’90s–released in 1987. I thought it was much earlier.
          Is it even still in use? I think I threw that stuff away.

        3. Junior Assistant Peon*

          When I was in high school in the mid-90s, I used to get away with doing really brief, half-assed projects and reports by doing the equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation in HyperCard. The teachers at the time were so impressed that I was doing my project on a damn computer that they would fail to notice I basically wrote one page of text instead of 10.

    3. A Girl Who Has (92% of) Everything*

      Also, how to do a mail merge. Infinitely valuable for a lot of entry-level jobs, especially in the event/non-profit/development sphere.

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        Oh my yes. I developed a mail merge for a former employer and they looked at me like I had summoned a beast from the pits of heck or something.

      1. Yet another Steve*

        Excel is not a database and should never be confused with a real database. This is one of the major bugbears I have as an IT architect. Excel is great at what it does, but it is not a database.

        1. MarsJenkar*

          Agreed. If you’re working with a single flat file and that really is all you need, it’s okay, but anything more complex, you really do need a proper database program.

        2. A Computer Scientist*

          Excel absolutely is a database. You are confusing the technical meaning of a database with the suitability of using a particular database in a practical application.

          1. R*

            I feel like the debate over what is a “database” really is one over preferred definition of terms.

            Excel can store data electronically. It stores them in a tabular format, and is capable of performing functions where different datasets (sheets, tables, etc) can be looked up based upon fields that can function as primary and foreign keys.

            However, the primary function of Excel is light data storage and processing. It does not perform advanced data storage well. It is not reliable or robust for storing mission-critical data. It cannot scale well. It is not normally classified as a database solution (even if it is sometimes treated as such)

            If there’s significant disagreement past this, then that can be followed up upon. Language is a tool for conveying meaning, and terms frequently change meaning, so let’s make sure we’re clear on meaning first, and then try to use terms consistently with the best way to convey these meanings.

    4. TurtleIScream*

      I was doing a presentation in a college class, and had PowerPoint slides. Each slide had a topic heading and 2-4 bullet points. Almost the entire class interrupted me, and asked “where are you reading your information from? I don’t see it on the screen!” The prof then had to explain that I was using PP correctly – to provide high-level overview/visual tracking. The huge walls of text other students were presenting were really not appropriate.

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        This is a huge pet peeve of mine as a scientist – someone packing way too much information into a PowerPoint slide using a tiny font. If you have a big, complicated data table, it belongs in a written paper and not in a talk.

    5. Former Mailroom Clerk*

      Excel’s best use is not as a database, but sometimes you make do with what you’ve got. I once wrote a VBA-based application that basically turned an Excel file into a relational database because the computers it needed to run on didn’t have Access. Was it using Excel the way it was designed? Not really. Did it solve a problem and make things easier for my co-workers? Yes.

  4. High Score!*

    To convey their ideas concisely. College professors tend to say, “write a 25000 word essay on…”
    In the real world, NO, your future coworkers do not want you to send them infinitely long emails and reports. We want to read your ideas in as few words as possible. Thanks!!!

    1. Andytron*

      This. I need to know and be able to supply that much info if asked, but my boss (or more importantly, boss’s boss’s boss) needs that distilled to three or less bullet points.

    2. Just Elle*

      Yes! I just listened to a podcast with the Basecamp founder, and he said he wished every writing assignment in college was:

      -Write a 6 page paper on this topic.
      -Now make it 1 page
      -Now make it 1 paragraph
      -Now make it 1 sentence.

      The art of editing is lost on many.

      1. Sivina*

        And how to turn that into a 30 second elevator pitch in case you find yourself in an elevator with the CEO, most important client, etc.

        1. Just Elle*

          Yes! Communicating the same concept in all the mediums: email, presentation, elevator pitch, one-on-one with your boss.

          Jocko is huge on the benefits of roll playing difficult conversations too. He said its amazing how much progress you see in people after 3-4 iterations of, for example, the “I need you to improve this aspect of your work” conversation.

          1. Sivina*

            Agreed: I’d add that it’s not just editing. It’s the process of practice and refinement.

            The best speech I ever gave was about 10 minutes. It was a social gathering. As I cared about the guests who I had just gotten to know in my new community, I practiced and refined forever. I had people laughing and nearly crying.

            I don’t consider myself witty, clever, or a spectacular public speaker. I am, however, very good at practice and refinement.

      2. MoopySwarpet*

        I think also how to reverse that. Most people will be fine with the 1 sentence solution/summary, but you will have varying levels of people who may need to know how you got there. Not every 1 sentence summary needs an official write up prior to that, but knowing how to communicate your steps is important.

      3. LQ*

        Yes! There is no minimum word count in the professional world!

        And some things need 6 pages, some need 1 page, some need a paragraph, and some a sentence. Sometimes you need all 4 of those documents for different audiences.

        1. Sally*

          Yes! I’m a product manager and most of my day is spent making multiple versions of documents covering the same product release for different audiences – some are quick overviews, and some are extremely detailed, depending on what the audience needs to know. A developer needs the 20 pages of business logic and functional requirements for a new module, whereas the salesperson just needs to know a five-minute overview of the benefits and how our functionality stacks up against the competitors.

      4. Frances*

        I had a professor in grad school who would regularly assign 1 page memos. And she meant 1 page, standard font, standard margins. 1 page with a line on a second? Didn’t count. It’s invaluable to me. I do policy work, and you absolutely cannot count on decision makers reading more than one page.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          In college, our philosophy students had to reduce a philosopher’s argument to 500 words and we spent so much time refining those and making sure they still had all elements of the argument and made sense. That exercise was so invaluable.

      5. Sales Geek*

        That was my skill set. In the oldjob culture it was not unusual to receive a seventy-five page “weapons grade” dense PowerPoint presentation from our brand folks. Although it wasn’t my job I became the go-to guy to cut something like that down to five pages of clear and structured text.

        My secret? My wife was a technical writer and after ten or fifteen years of being brutally edited myself I learned the fine art of brevity. Credit where credit’s due…

      6. OP*

        That is such a good suggestion for an assignment approach. Watch out, next semester’s first-year writing students.

        1. Just Elle*

          Haha yay! I think the trick is, you can’t tell them what’s coming. Otherwise, they’ll write the 1 pager and then add 5 pages of fluff.

          And make it something they WANT to take 6 pages on. That’s the biggest difference I see between college and the real world. In college, it was torture to drag something out to 6 pages. In the real world, I have a hard time editing out ALLLLLL the ‘valuable’ details.

        2. Blue Horizon*

          More generally, learning to think about who your audience is, and structuring your content accordingly, is a very important skill and much rarer than it should be.

          I was recently asked to reformat a long (20+ pages) technical assessment document as a set of recommendations for consumption by C-level executives. It took me about three hours, which was handy as it was a last-minute effort and I was able to minimize the amount of weekend work needed to get it ready. The guy that wrote it is technically second to none in his field and the recommendations were very sound, but his writing was all over the place (never summarizing, constantly diving into detail etc.)

          The whole thing has earned me an unreasonable amount of credit and I’m now viewed as the go-to person for tasks like this. This should not be the case. Everyone should know how to do this, and it’s the kind of thing that can be taught in writing classes.

          So as a follow-on exercise to the above, you might try giving a snapshot of a particular reader and ask students to tailor their writing to that. For example, “CIO who has 5 minutes to read it before a meeting in which she may be challenged to give supporting evidence” (give a really good one page summary, spend some time writing clear and concise sections that support the conclusions and cross-reference them clearly). Or “middle manager who understands the approach already and agrees with it, but needs something to present to his management to get budget allocated” (quickly summarize the recommendation, list benefits of doing it, list costs/disadvantages of not doing it, list alternative approaches and why they are less desirable, have supporting detail available in an attachment or appendix).

          1. Just Elle*

            Yes, so much to all of this! I’ve recently moved from engineer to “person who summarizes information for executives” and learning this skill is exhausting.

            Maybe giving them a big long court document or case study to summarize would be a good route. For different audiences – your boss, your bosses boss, and the communications department making a press release.

            1. Chinook*

              I did this a junior high English teacher for some of their writing projects. I would give them the assignment with a specific audience in mind and they really enjoyed being able to focus on which detail they think would be important. My favourite was one assigmnent where they had to describe a book they want to make into a film to a producer who happenne to be my dog (because he had never heard of Harry Potter). It also made my reading of these assignments less mind numbing.

      7. Orora25*

        YAS! I just wrote a massive report but the most important part was the executive summary because I was sure the Board was not going to reac that entire report. Figure out the most important points and be able to summarize them. Then have the backup data there in case you need it/to support your findings.

      8. Peachywithasideofkeen*

        I had a professor who did a similar assignment. It was one of the greatest lessons and I think about it all the time.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      As someone who used to be a teacher who specifically taught writing and had students write essays, I would say having mininum word counts is ridiculous. Yes, obviously, you aren’t going to write a groundbreaking paper in three words, but it doesn’t make sense to ding people for writing a 10,000-word essay that’s excellent, and then reward other people for writing a 25,000-word essay that’s mediocre or horrible.

      1. InfoSec SemiPro*

        One of the all time best educational experiences I have had was a class where the professor graded you on your 15 best pages of writing produced for the class.

        The syllabus offered a rough guideline for dates when turning in 3 5 page papers would keep you on target. But he’d accept papers at any point, and give them back with grades and comments, and you could resubmit. He did give a preference that you not do 15 1 page papers.

        I started with a 5 pager, and continued working with him on developing and deepening the topic until it hit 15 pages over the semester. I always knew my grade, I learned a ton about building out ideas, and the end product was really well polished.

      2. Emily Spinach*

        The length requirements should tell the students about the level of depth you’re looking for. A thesis you can fully flesh out in three pages doesn’t have the depth or nuance or controversy necessary for an assignment that asks for six or eight. The three page paper might be very good, but in theory it’s not what’s being asked for at all times, unless the teacher makes up lengths arbitrarily, which maybe some do.

    4. sometimeswhy*

      Oh man, yes. I had a prof who assigned 200- and 600-word essays on really complex topics. The class was a medicolegal thing and it was expected that some day we’d be testifying in criminal court cases. And it was BRUTAL but it was so, so worth it in breaking us of the habit of getting fully in the weeds on every little thing.

    5. ZuZu*

      This was one of the best things I learned as a journalism major! I never worked in the field, but I can fit a lot of information into a space measured in inches. (I also deleted about 5 extra words from this comment…)

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        There’s a lesson there: edit everything. Emails. Even texts. Cut words out and make your point clearer.

        1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

          “I apologize for the length of this letter – I did not have time to make it shorter.”

      2. Natalie*

        The inverted pyamid concept is so helpful in business as well – critical information FIRST, background later and easy to cut/skip as needed.

    6. Alternative Person*

      This, teaching basic office style writing; enquiry e-mails/terms of research headed reports/meeting minutes/memorandums etc. and the language that goes with them.

    7. Amy Sly*

      As advice to the professor, I’d suggest phrasing writing assignments as “to properly answer this assignment, I expect you will need approximately #X words, give or take #Y.” Then you can ding the people who were so brief they didn’t answer the assignment and the people who buried the lede under tons of hipposcat equally.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I also think that not a lot of students get good instruction on WHY it needs to be X long. My son would just go straight to the point.

        But there should be a reason things are included: -you’re establishing the facts you’ll base your argument on; you’re arguing for the validity and applicability of those facts; you’re bringing up alternate theses and rejecting them; whatever.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Exactly. I struggled in high school and college to make word counts because I thought I was being clear and concise; I was, but I was also not including elements that were thought necessary. I would have been far more successful if someone had explained, “Not repeating yourself to make word count is a good thing, but you need to be laying more foundation, addressing counter-arguments, etc.”

    8. Learning Curve*

      The first assignment we had in one of my Marketing courses was to write a memo about ourselves. It seemed fairly simple, but to get to the length he asked for we all used a lot of “fluff”. The grades we got on it were pretty brutal – he basically went in and told us most of what we wrote was unnecessary. That set the tone for the course, and it’s really helped me a lot since then.

      1. The Original K.*

        I got dinged on my first assignment in business school on this (we weren’t given a word/page count but however much I wrote was too long), and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s a big part of why I use bullets (and pretty short ones, at that) so often in business communication if I have a lot to convey – those are the highlights, and I get those out up front.

    9. Moi*

      This! We had a professor with a maximum page limit. You got 2-3 pages for your essay, and he would literally throw away pages if it was longer. For a bunch of students who were used to writing 10 page minimums, all the cheats we used to pad an essay were suddenly useless and we all struggled the first couple essays trying to be concise.

    10. LCH*

      I had a grad school class where we had to turn in our thoughts on our readings in 50 words. So helpful and so difficult.

    11. Ace in the Hole*

      I really appreciated my science classes that focused on practical writing assignments – for example, mock journal submissions. Far from the minimum wordcounts I’ve been assigned in humanities classes, we had *maximum* lengths! Exceeding the max was an automatic failure because real journal submissions would be rejected for being too long.

    12. TootsNYC*

      And even when professors want it long, they want it long because they want it to be COMPLEX, to cover more aspects, or to provide depth of research. Not because they want it to be wordy.

      My poor son always had trouble with making his essays long enough. He would write his entire point in three short paragraphs.

    13. Desperate Times*

      Oh my gosh, YES. I am a English lit major and am not known for my brevity. Part of my current responsibilities is writing blogs and white papers for our clients and it is so hard for me to keep them from being comprehensive 10 page essays. I am lucky in that I work closely with a guy who wrote copy for advertising and is the king of brevity and that he is willing to edit my papers and work with me on being concise.

    14. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m from the US. In college, I had an independent study program with a visiting English professor. His assignments were to read a text and answer one question — restricted to one handwritten page. I had never been asked to write short & fast before, and I really should look him up and thank him. (I’m much wordier online than I am on the job.)

    15. Ophelia*

      Yep – I spend my whole life writing to tight page limits – going back to school where there are page *minimums* is both baffling and so much easier than writing concisely. Frankly, I spent the first 5 years of my career making myself indispensable by effectively getting 50-page thought pieces written by PhDs down to 15.

    16. Fabulous*

      I’ve just came to the realization literally this week that my co-workers may be struggling with the written word because of this exact issue. Everything they write is S O L O N G – W I N D E D. It’s in our company’s writing guidelines to use brief and concise language; it’s been such a struggle to get them to comply!

    17. JaneB*

      But we are told we have to give students “what they want” and mine complain a LOT about being set 350-400 word pieces which ask them to condense ideas. Glad to know it’s something that will be Good For Them in the workplace at least!

    18. aelle*

      One of my college projects did a great exercise on this. We were instructed to prepare 3 presentations: one exposing our results in 90 minutes, one in 20 minutes, and one in 2 minutes, and it would be a surprise on the day of the exam which one we’d be judged on. Most groups got a mixed request, starting with the 2-minute executive summary and being asked to deep dive on 2 or 3 details by pulling out slides from the 90-minute presentation.

      It was nerve wrecking as a student, but such a great lesson for the real world. Sometimes someone needs information from you who truly only has a few minutes to understand it. Also taught me that I don’t write mystery novels for a living, and my most important piece of information should come at the top with details to follow, not be a reveal on the last slide of a powerpoint.

  5. Translator*

    This should be a general common sense thing, but proper grammar!! I’m a relatively fresh graduate myself, but I’ve found that so many people both my age and senior to me struggle with good academic grammar (using commas correctly, knowing when to use a semi-colon, when to use a hyphen versus an em dash, proper capitalization, etc.). As a translator, I take great pride in my team’s final products, and I find it reflects poorly on our professionalism when incorrect grammar goes unchecked.

    1. MillersSpring*

      I’m in marketing, and I concur 100 percent! New graduates should be able to write concisely and persuasively with perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation.

      It’s ridiculous that any grown adult with a university degree cannot draft a coherent paragraph. What are you trying to SAY or REQUEST? What do you want the reader to DO? Why am I wading through four paragraphs of background, before you finally state what you NEED?

      Put the ask in the first sentence, then follow that with any supporting information. And use bullets for Pete’s sake.

      1. Manon*

        To be fair, I think a big part of this that students don’t learn the difference between academic and business writing. The type of writing most students do for research papers does not translate well to clear, concise, direct business communication.

      2. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

        Perfect grammar is an absurd standard for jobs that don’t absolutely require it. Grammar might be very easy for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! And being able to “draft a coherent paragraph” is way way way different than having perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation. The goal is to be understood clearly, and you absolutely do not have to have perfect grammar, spelling, or punctuation to do that. It’s an unnecessary barrier for smart people into jobs they would thrive in.

        1. Blueberry Girl*

          I agree. Grammar matters for a certain type of work. It does not matter for all types of work.

          1. Chinook*

            I disagree. Proper grammar ensures that the meaning of what is being said is clear. Proper comma use is mandatory otherwise you end up windering if a panda is a ciolnt gunslinger or just eats shoots and leaves.

        2. Avasarala*

          Above this people are claiming all students should learn Excel, writing skills, etc. The least everyone can learn is the proper rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Nobody needs to be perfect all the time but they should at least know how to do it.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Students should know this long before they get to college, though. They just did seven years of specifically English classes in middle and high school.

        1. Amber T*

          I learned 90% of my grammar skills from taking Latin. I’ll never forget the first day of Latin class, where my teacher wanted someone to point out the indirect object of the sentence on the board, and we all sat there super confused.

          1. Clisby*

            My 7th grade English class was 90% grammar. Even diagramming sentences. There’s very little I’ve needed to know about grammar that wasn’t taught in that class. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case any more.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I did this in both elementary and middle schools, at differing levels of detail (obviously). I don’t remember most of it now but I know it exists and that it’s a thing I need to double-check when I’m not sure why a sentence seems awkward.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Ours was 8th, but, yeah, we drilled grammar hard, as does my middle-schooler’s English teacher.

            3. pleaset*

              I wasn’t taught grammar at all that I can recall – perhaps in primary school. However, I had to read vast amounts in from middle school through college – so I know a lot simply from usage. So there are different ways to learn it.

              I do think a key to writing well is reading a fair amount, in different genres and styles, and to keep reading well-written material such as a good national newspaper.

          2. blackcat*

            I learned a lot of grammar through studying foreign languages.
            When I did a month long homestay in France, it was one of my household chores to help the 10 year old with his grammar homework. I knew French grammar rules better than the native speakers, because I had to explicitly learn them as I went. You don’t get that by just being exposed to a language. Often spoken language does not obey the same grammatical rules.

            1. Junior Assistant Peon*

              I seldom make grammatical errors in formal writing, but I have no idea why a sentence is grammatically incorrect beyond “that doesn’t sound right.” If you gave me a third grade English test with sentence diagramming, I would fail it (and I barely limped through English classes as a kid). The only reason I even know what an adverb, pronoun, etc are is because I took Spanish and had to learn the grammatical rules.

              1. pleaset*

                This is me, though in my case I learned the terms from studying French.

                I also learned more about sentence structures while working due to the need to explain errors other people made.

        2. Amy Sly*

          My law school — I repeat, law school — had remedial grammar classes for things like subject-verb agreement. These were people who’d not only gone to college, but had succeeded and thought that a professional job was a good fit for themselves.

          Please Professor, demand every paper be grammatically correct, even if you’re not an English teacher.

          1. Blue Anne*

            My mom teaches criminology postgrads at a state university. Postgrads only, no undergrads.

            She used to sit me down with a thesis draft and a red pen. I would correct all the grammar and punctuation so that she could focus on the actual content. I started doing that for her when I was about 10…

            These were smart people, but mostly coming from professional backgrounds other than academia (lots of cops), and from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. I was the child of two professors and attending a private prep school. It was so clear that these students had been failed by their early educational institutions for reasons beyond their control. (Which is probably the lesson my mom wanted me to learn, now that I think about it.)

            1. Amy Sly*

              I would quibble; post-grads without strong grammar skills haven’t simply been failed by their primary education (what used to be literally be called “grammar school”). They’ve been failed by their secondary and collegiate education as well, and college education in particular is too damn expensive for professors to shrug and say “Not my problem.” Every teacher should require correct grammar because HR departments, management, and customers will expect it as well. Intricacies of style such as the proper use of em dashes instead of en dashes or how often to use semicolons may not be important, but subject-verb agreement, correct verb tense, and clear pronoun antecedents are necessary for clear writing.

              1. Emily Spinach*

                At the college level, there are a lot of course outcomes beyond “proper grammar” and limited time to teach. At my institution, our department policy is that students have theoretically already learned grammar and we don’t have time to teach it in addition to our course content. You can grade for it if you want, but many faculty don’t feel they can consistently mark work down for an issue there isn’t time to teach in class (and most faculty don’t have time to get every student up to speed in office hours!). So certainly I think many/most of my colleagues address major patterns of error that they see many students dealing with and that interfere with meaning, but very few “teach grammar” as part of their course content or include it as a major part of their grading schemes.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  Does your university not have a writing assistance program?

                  I agree the professor isn’t responsible for bringing the student up to a college level, but the student needs to be told that his skills are lacking. Grades are perhaps the most effective way of communicating that. Moreover, what is more awkward and embarrassing: marking down students for things they should have known before coming to college, or being part of a university that graduates students who aren’t producing college level work?

                2. MentalEngineer*

                  If I started teaching my students “how to write” in general rather than only the specific things you need to write in my field, my courses would all become Comp 101 at best and remedial English at worst. Not only do I not have time for that, I’m not the right person to be teaching that class!

            2. NewGuy*

              My mother was also the one who provided me with the majority of my grammar education. Anything less than perfect grammar was unacceptable, and she would constantly be getting onto us. I will never forget how angry she became when I misspoke and said, “Me and Jim” instead of “Jim and I”.
              If she could see how lazy I’ve become in regards to the grammar and word choice I use when I speak and write, she would murder me.

        3. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

          See, I totally think vocab and books SHOULD be the focus. Grammar is a bunch of arbitrary rules. The goal of writing is communication – to be understood. You do not need to have perfect grammar to be understood.

          Yes, there are some professions (editing, especially) where you need 100% grammar perfection. Those are rare, and a *terrible* reason to force everyone else to learn more about comma rules in lieu of things that will actually be useful to them.

          (And if you hire for a profession that does *not* require that level of perfection, but screen for it anyway, you’re filtering out people like me who are very good writers, great at other things, but will not pass a grammar test with 100% marks because it does. not. matter. for the vast vast majority of my work! Editing for perfection is the province of editors, everyone else just needs to be understood!)

          1. Ophelia*

            Yep. I also work in an industry where there are tons of people from all over the world – we have plenty of fluent English-speakers who are very adept at organizing their thoughts and writing clearly, but don’t have perfect grammar. I would 100% choose to work with them than with someone who has perfect English grammar, but can’t organize their writing well, or answer a question directly.

          2. The grumpy copy editor*

            As someone who copy edits, I firmly believe that the goal of writing is to convey the writer’s meaning. But I have seen poor grammar, style, and word choice impede that far too many times, and people just shrug and say, well, they should know what I meant, or say that I’m quibbling over something silly.

            I’m there to help you communicate your ideas. My goal is to serve you. Grammar matters immensely. Those arbitrary rules convey meaning and understanding. Yes, they change over time, and it’s very important to understand how (and even why) they are changing, and to adapt to the changes (using they in the singular is a recent example). That doesn’t mean we should just give up on following the current rules. They are there for a reason.

            Almost every profession requires some kind of written communication. And in every one of those, problems, both professional and personal, can be caused by misunderstood written communication. The need for grammar skills is not limited to editors.

      1. Drew*

        That’s fine in the ideal case, but in the real world, a lot of schools aren’t as good as we would like them to be, and they’re graduating people who aren’t picking up the skills you would expect graduates to have.

        Source: Former remedial math TA.

        1. pleaset*

          I went to what is arguably one of the top high schools in the United States from 7th through 12th grades (a public school where in my class of 220 about 12 went to Harvard, 10 to Yale, 4 or 5 to MIT, etc; we have graduates at the tops of many professions, particularly entertainment, law and scholarship).

          And we never studied grammar apart from in foreign language class. Never.

          We just read a lot, talked a lot, and wrote a lot.

    3. Tundra*

      THIS! We have all job applicants (sales/marleting/PM-type positions) complete a simple writing assessment during their interview. Nothing crazy, but we want to be sure you know how to use commas, not to mention the difference between “you’re” and “your”. More than 50% of candidates are rejected based on their grammar/spelling alone.

    4. The Tin Man*

      hah, I was reading this and thinking that some of this seemed a little over the top until I saw your profession! I know in my company clear communication and things like capitalization are important but I don’t think anyone would care or notice about semi-colons. Though I suppose that would only be true if one were not used in a blatantly incorrect way.

      1. Translator*

        Haha I see why you might have thought it was too strict at first. The biggest thing is my team is responsible for translating the source content (Japanese) from our parent company (manufacturing industry) to the content the USA side uses (English). They HAVE to be accurately done or manufacturing may not be done correctly. That said, I seem to be the only one on the team who’s so obsessed with it so I may be overly strict myself, I couldn’t say haha.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          When did “They HAVE to be accurately done” start? I’m old enough to remember hilariously badly translated Japanese VCR manuals, video games, etc in the 1980s!

          1. Translator*

            Haha, but that’s exactly the thing! To be clear, I’m a white, female American, but I don’t like it when people associate Japanese translation with those hilariously bad translations, and some of my Japanese colleagues, who are translators with me, are also trying to shed that stereotype. Any industry and any translation will have mistakes, that much is true, but there’s a difference between those manuals that made us laugh when plugging in electronics and manuals that engineers are reading to properly build a piece of heavy machinery. Like I said though, I’m a stickler for the rules more so than my colleagues, so this could be a skewed, stick-up-the-butt opinion. I’m just one voice. :)

            1. Junior Assistant Peon*

              I have a friend who does video game localization, and he shares your passion for getting everything right in translation. White American guy who speaks fluent Japanese.

              I guess Chinese translation is now dealing with the same growing pains Japan did in the 1980s. My boss and I bought a cheap digital camera from China, and we ended up throwing it out because we couldn’t make heads or tails of the instructions. Stuff like “press button for best happy good feeling!”

    5. lemon*

      Yes, and going off of this just… how to write in general.

      I work full-time but I’m also in a master’s program and a lot of the people in the program are a few years younger than me, and also have limited work experience. My program relies on a lot of dreaded group work, and I am *shocked* at how poor people’s writing skills are. They randomly capitalize words, don’t use ANY punctuation, are excessively casual (describing things as “pretty cool” in an academic paper). Basically, they write like they’re texting a friend. One student in my group didn’t know that the report he’d been assigned needed to be written in paragraphs, and not bullet points. So his solution was to just replace each bullet point with “and also,” which resulted in a half-page paragraph of a run-on sentence.

        1. lemon*

          It’s about style, for sure, but also just about being able to put a thought into words. I can’t tell you how many papers I’ve read that are completely incomprehensible.

    6. Sivina*

      Grammar, punctuation, and style.

      I know too many people with decent grammar and punctuation skills whose writing is so turgid that it’s a chore to read. While not everyone will be the next Proust, most everyone could improve substantially with a little effort and proper feedback.

    7. Marny*

      APOSTROPHES! Is no one teaching that apostrophes don’t make things plural? I feel like no one understands this anymore.

      1. Kendra*

        I’m not sure they ever did; I’ve lost count of the number of signs I’ve seen on people’s mailboxes or front gates that say something like, “The Johnson’s,” even when the occupants are retired professionals who should know better.

    8. Summertime*

      I majored in engineering in college and there was a communications class that was added to the coursework because industry professionals had identified that fresh hires from our school were lacking in presentation, communication, and writing skills. Of course the class went beyond basic grammar, but it was taught by a professor from the English Dept who graded the papers like we were in a proper english class. I liked that it gave us a chance to break from the usual rigor of engineering and that the college was actually looking out for our success after graduation.

      1. The Tin Man*

        Yes! We had a writing for engineering class that first was about resumes and cover letters but then had other things like this. I missed most of the class though because I was part of a group that, instead of the regular coursework, wrote a technical grant proposal.

      2. CheeryO*

        That’s so great. I had an engineering professor who gave technical writing assignments AND graded them super harshly, and it was a huge wake-up call for all of us. I hate the idea that it’s somehow acceptable for engineers to have terrible communication skills. I can’t tell you how many reports I review where it takes me several re-reads just to figure out what they’re trying to say.

    9. The Original K.*

      I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across in the workplace who have no idea how poorly they write.

      1. it's me*

        Yes. I’m a technical writer, and part of my job is revamping older documentation. A lot of the existing content was written by people who aren’t technical writers and who don’t seem to understand that what they’ve written doesn’t meet content standards. Not only does our product itself have a huge learning curve, trying to determine what it actually does from this documentation is a crapshoot.

    10. TootsNYC*

      College shouldn’t be teaching that.
      This is a function of elementary school.
      I’m a copyeditor, and I just raised two kids.

      You should learn ALL the grammar and punctuation rules you need to do my job by the 4th grade. Maybe by the 8th grade you’ll have learned the subjunctive (though I think that was in my kids’ 4th grade class).

      1. littlelizard*

        I agree with this (and also with the idea that since schools aren’t doing this well enough, colleges should still have writing skills classes that people need to pass). I’m pretty sure my English skills came mostly from reading, though, and we’re bad at teaching kids to read well (and making reading appealing as a result), so on a pretty basic level I don’t think kids are prepared with the grammar skills they need.

        1. tangerineRose*

          So many things I had to read in school were depressing or (Edgar Allen Poe) just scary. If I hadn’t already loved to read, that might have discouraged me.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I have kids between 4th and 8th grade, and the overarching philosophy has been to get them into generating and organizing ideas before sitting on them with spelling and grammar in order not to crush the young writer’s spirits with the red pen. My 5th-grader is in the first year of spelling, capitalization, and basic grammar count, and my older one didn’t start getting heavy grammar (beyond subject-verb agreement, capitalization, and periods/apostrophes) until middle school.

        I have no strong feelings about this, as long as the kids can write coherently by the end of middle-school, but our school system has taken a very different tact that what you describe. (And this is generally a very well-educated area with a strong school system.)

        1. The New Wanderer*

          My daughter’s 4th grade class last year did something similar, focused on expressing ideas in writing rather than learning strict grammar rules. The ability to do this is really important to so many types of work later on, but of course without the basics it’s really hard for anyone to figure out what you’re saying. She pushed back on me once when I was reading over a short essay and making a few suggestions, saying it didn’t have to be *Mom’s Job* quality, just something a 5th grader could write. Which, fair enough.

          I do think spelling, noun-verb agreement, tenses, and basic punctuation (e.g. capitalization rules, commas vs periods) should be learned early and often, but more sophisticated things like colon vs semi-colon and endash vs emdash are beyond elementary school scope. Most of what I learned about more complex English grammar was from taking Spanish classes in high school.

        2. Amy Sly*

          This sounds crazy to me … like telling someone to go build a house but not teaching them how to use a hammer because that will stifle their “spirits.” The logical way to learn how to write is to first learn to combine letters into words (spelling), then combine words into sentences (grammar), then combine sentences into paragraphs (style), then paragraphs into essays (rhetoric). Somehow, that system of education worked for two thousand years; I don’t quite understand the push to get rid of it.

          1. Avasarala*

            Yeah I’m sorry no one should be getting to 4th grade without learning spelling and grammar. What brilliant ideas do 8 year olds have that learning how to write them correctly will crush their spirit? Should we just have them play with numbers for 10 years before teaching them addition and subtraction, lest they get discouraged by the fact that they make mistakes–a crucial part of learning?

          2. Parenthetically*

            Ding! Memorizing grammar and spelling rules in fun ways is, like, the least soul-crushing thing EVER for an elementary school kid. It’s what their little brains crave. I taught at a classical school for 10 years and we always had to remind skeptical parents that little kids are sponges — they will CRUSH you in a game of Memory — and what an adult thinks of as “rote” memorization is only boring to a little kid if their teacher works to make it boring. My first year teaching I had 3rd and 4th graders and they basically spent all day singing and chanting and doing hand motions, learning every bit of data ever.

            Prior to the middle of the 20th century, every educated person in the west learned nuts and bolts facts, followed by the logic/interrelatedness of those facts, followed by the beautiful expression of that logic. It’s silly (and frankly developmentally inappropriate) to invert that, forcing elementary kids to “express themselves” in a language they haven’t mastered the components of, and forcing moody teenagers to memorize boring grammar rules.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Amen. One of the tricks my dad used when I was struggling to memorize addition tables in elementary school was to teach me blackjack. Not only did it make learning basic addition more fun without requiring the purchase of flashcards, but also he understood that without a solid foundation of arithmetic, I would never understand algebra.

              Likewise when I was formally homeschooled in middle school, he understood how to explain the pre-algebra and algebraic concepts clearly and straightforwardly. He didn’t bother with this “present a complicated mess and see if the student can derive what they need to do” technique that high school tried, and as a result, while I never found math easy or intuitive, I did understand the concept of using a few simple tools to hack at the problem systematically until I could get to an answer.

              I wish more people understood the wisdom of my husband’s partial differential equations professor: “It took many smart men many hundreds of years to figure this out. You will not repeat that feat during the test.”

    11. deesse877*

      One thing I’d like to mention about **how** people learn, in college and elsewhere.

      I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but remarks about learning “proper grammar” (i.e., the grammar of the professional classes, often called Standard Written English) often assume that drilling in grammar is a good way to learn to produce clean copy. In other words, people imagine either a class that includes grammar instruction, or a grading practice that involves penalizing people for not respecting certain standards. It’s natural that people should think that, since many (a) have the experience of being graded on or drilled in grammar in school and (b) have achieved professional grammar skills in the workplace.

      Thing is, there is no such causal connection. Education and composition researchers have 40 years of data showing that grammar drilling does not work. We do not just learn “rules,” like the rules of a game, when we learn a particular grammar; it’s more like achieving fluency in a foreign language, where the rules are, like, step zero, and being understood during a basic conversation is step 11.

      What does this mean in real life? Well, to learn a specific grammar, exposure is paramount, and people gain workplace-appropriate grammar skills mostly by reading college-level or more difficult, professionally-edited texts, regularly and consistently–at least an hour a day for several years. Someone who is not able to produce clean copy after graduating college, and who is a native speaker of English, almost certainly needs to read more.

      (What this also means is that General Education college courses with heavy reading loads are doing more for workplace readiness than most realize, but that is a rant for another day.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        professionally-edited texts,

        This is one of the things that’s hurting us; people are reading more, but they’re reading on blogs, the Internet, etc.

        And I had someone tell me that in some regions, it is TOO spelled “skiddish.”
        Like, no, that’s not a standard, accepted spelling for that word, even if all the people you PERSONALLY know have been reinforcing it for one another.

      2. Foila*

        That is such a helpful way to think of this, thank you. It also illuminates why it takes so long to learn how to write “well” – it’s not formulaic, you have to learn the whole language!

      3. Librarian1*

        Yep. I learned grammar in 7th grade, but I didn’t take it seriously, and therefore don’t remember any of it, because I read A LOT and I picked up a lot of it from reading. So I knew it subconsciously but had trouble explaining it.

        And now that I don’t spend as much time reading books, but do spend a lot of time reading Facebook and blogs my writing skills have atrophied. It’s frustrating. It’s not a huge deal because I don’t currently have to do a lot of writing for work, but it’s still kind of disheartening that I’ve gotten worse at something I used to be good at.

    12. NLP Person*

      I feel like this is very job-dependent. For me 95% of my written communication is with coworkers, so some of the more stylistic things like semicolons and dashes don’t matter at all, it’s really just about getting things across clearly. I can see why this would be important for people who spend a lot of time communicating with clients or working on things that will get published but there are a lot of jobs where just being able to communicate your ideas effectively is enough

    13. MentalEngineer*

      I teach undergrads (not English, but a field that mostly involves writing) and I would settle for sentences with subjects, objects, and verbs rather than 2 out of 3.

  6. Sloan Kittering*

    I suppose how to raise issues respectfully, but also how to draw your own (healthy, realistic) boundaries in the office. You can’t always trust that your bosses will treat you correctly, and new grads are especially ripe for exploitation because they assume that’s just “how it is” – but unfortunately there’s also a right way and a wrong way to push back or ask questions.

    1. Just Elle*

      I think role playing a variety of difficult conversations, and learn in this low-stakes setting that sometimes things that sound good in your head go over like a led balloon. This applies both for communicating ‘down’ as a manager, and ‘up’ as someone who is trying to persuade others.

    2. irene adler*

      Yes! New grads get taken advantage of because they just don’t know any better.
      To that, I’d say, they should obtain a basic understanding of the local labor laws. Not suggesting they need to spend hours on this. Just know how exempt vs. non-exempt works, over time pay, lunch (can you be required to work during your lunch period and NOT be paid for it?), how contract jobs work vis-à-vis who pays the payroll taxes, compensation for delayed pay checks, etc. Maybe even include some basics on OSHA safety.

      Just knowing a couple of the websites for looking up such information would suffice, I would think. And following through with some research when any employment situation just doesn’t “sound right”. Listen to the ‘inner voice’.

      1. CM*

        Yes to this, but also with realistic asvice about how to avoid getting punished for trying to assert your rights.

    3. Kiwiii*

      Healthy, realistic boundaries (especially around like … reasonable expectations and emotional investment in things) would have helped me massively just out of college. Everything I did had so much of myself in it, when I got corrected on anything it felt like a wound.

    4. Quill*

      Honestly we need a required workers’ rights and citizens’ rights class in high school. Maybe replace one of the repetitive “history of the USA, but only up to the civil war” courses…

    5. R*

      I think the failing is with schools being very focused on “technical” information, like clear facts, rather than squishier issues. So, I think a “workplace norms” type class which includes relevant labor laws and ethics would be a good help.

      Honestly, business schools also tend not to understand how to meaningfully include ethics as well. I had so many textbooks that shoved in “Utilitarianism is seeking the maximum utility…” or “Rawlsianism is seeking the solution that benefits the worst off member of society the most”. Ethics (& philosophy in general) isn’t a field of memorizing terms, so much as reasoning. Business ethics would be better taught as practical tools for managers to develop defensible positions.

  7. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You won’t know how to fix something if you don’t do it wrong at least once. And knowing how to fix something is just as valuable an asset as knowing how to do something.

    1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

      Also – keep notes on everything you know how to do. And update it as you learn something new. I’ve done it for every job from the day I was hired. If I’m out because I’m sick/on vacation/won the lottery/quit for a better job, my replacement (or cover) has a record of how to do my job.

    2. Delta Delta*

      Yessss!!!! I teach a course to law students and I tell them to please make mistakes in my class. I want them to a) feel what a mistake feels like and b) make a mistake in a safe place where clients aren’t at risk.

    3. katelyn*

      Oh, and also admitting to mistakes early so that the team can fix them as a whole without rancor instead of hiding it and having it blow up in your face at the worst possible moment. Owning an error and working to fix it will make you more credible with coworkers and managers in the long run.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        Exactly! Mistakes don’t equal failure. (And even failure doesn’t equal failure as long as you learn and improve from it.)

      2. ThatGirl*

        Yes, this is what I was going to add – if you make a mistake, fix it, or ask for help with it, own it, that goes a long way.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is literally part of my orientation deck. Every single one of us here has made a serious error on a work assignment – shit happens. Tell us, let’s work together to fix it, and then we’ll debrief to see how we can avoid in the future.

    4. Chris*

      “Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up–it means you trust them even when they do screw up.” – Ed Catmull

    5. Katrinka*

      Especially because people might be coming from a school or a graded setting where making a mistake is failure and asking for help is cheating. Not in the real world!

    6. Hull & Oats*

      Yes! And just generally to match perfectionism to the importance of the task. I’ve seen new grads do multiple polishing passes at an FYI communication that will only be seen by 3 people on their team. Getting something out is the goal, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Save that time for the tasks that do need to be perfect.

    7. TootsNYC*

      right! We don’t grade you as harshly as school does. The point is not for you to prove yourself; it’s for us to get stuff done.

    8. OP*

      I think I need to start incorporating some “this will make you fail” assignments because my students are so afraid of mistakes. And in my first-year writing classes, even the students who recognize that clear communication is an important life and work skill want to avoid the shame and the “extra work” of fixing the mistakes.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        Yes! Being ashamed of mistakes is so hard to overcome. So, when I’ve trained people I trot out three things:
        “Mistakes are going to happen. Because you are a human and not a robot.”
        “There is not a mistake you can make [on this system for this role] that I have not made.”
        And the very first thing I say when they’re on their own is, “No matter the size of the mistake, we can fix it.”

      2. TootsNYC*

        In elementary, middle, and high school, getting things wrong on a test is seen almost as a moral failing.

        There’s a theory of education that says the test is for the TEACHER. That if a student scores badly on a test, it means the teacher didn’t teach it properly (I’ve seen that in my kids’ schooling) or sometimes that the test is badly wording (seen that too!).

        And if it is the student, not the teacher, it’s an indicator that the teacher needs to take a different tack with THAT student.

        Sure, sometimes a bad grade is because the kid didn’t care, didn’t study, didn’t learn. But tests, and grades, are almost exclusively framed that way when they shouldn’t be.
        And especially if the kid is actually trying–the purpose of making a mistake is to bubble up a thing that you FIX.

        Thomas Edison argued that no scientific experiment is a failure. Sure, this plant didn’t produce a fuel, but now we know it won’t, and that’s a win. We don’t waste more time pursuing something that won’t work.

        In schooling, we often turn grades and mistakes into a referendum on worthiness, and not as a road map for what is left to learn.

    9. Aurélia*

      Agreed. Along those lines, something I picked-up from my first manager was to document when you made a mistake, along with the lessons learned and what you would do (ideally) going forward to prevent said mistake from re-occurring. Like, “Hi Janet, apologies for sending that partially-executed document out as if it was final. I’ll open and double-check the attachment before hitting “send” next time.”

    10. Little Orange Nail*

      I tell my employees that I know they will make mistakes, but I request that they make new and interesting mistakes, not the same old boring ones over and over.

  8. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

    GOOGLE. IT. Don’t just collapse the first moment that you don’t know how to do something, especially software issues.

    1. NotAPirate*

      Along the same lines, the give and take between being an independent worker and when to ask for help. Don’t waste 3 hours googling unsuccessfully when you could have asked cube mate Jane and had an answer in 2 minutes. And the reverse don’t ask Jane questions every two seconds because you didn’t take any notes during training. If it’s conceptual, or company specific better to ask. If it’s software 100% google first. (And if you are having a high volume of questions write them down and ask to have a meeting with someone to go through them rather than interrupt every 10 seconds).

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Corollary: If you have a question, ASK THE DAMN QUESTION.

        Bad: “I have a problem.” or “I’m getting a yellow-box error.”
        Good: “When I try to attach the teapot handle to the body, I get an error that says ‘teapot handle out of alignment, fiddle with the whizzbanger to correct.’ Can you help me check the settings on the whizzbanger so I can figure out what’s not lining up right and fix it?”

      2. Andream*

        Unless your organization has blocked any outside websites and you can’t use you phone at work. My first job was call center for cell phone company. I knew what was wrong but I couldn’t remember the exact steps, and the trouble shooting didn’t help, (it was an app not the actual phone). We would sometimes have company phone to use to help troubleshoot, bit only a few people that access, and they were usually gone. I had so many calls line that!

    2. Willis*

      I agree. It AMAZES me how often someone says they couldn’t find some piece of info, then I spend a few minutes googling and its readily available.

      1. Mid*

        It’s not that they don’t know how to use Google. I think it’s more knowing when to use it, and when to ask for help. (I say as someone who graduated college this past June.)

      2. Elizabeth*

        I teach a class that involves them learning new software and they are generally stunned when, in response to their questions, I begin with, “What did you get when you googled that error message?”

        I need to teach them to debug. Some of those skills are specialized, but some are literally just google.

  9. Lauren*

    I would encourage them to update a Google doc of how they are progressing on a group project of their task. This is how far I’ve gotten on research / final product, barriers, asking for help, and next steps.

  10. ElizabethJane*

    A few course titles I would like to see added. Maybe they can be one day seminars:

    -More Excel.
    -How to Google Literally Anything
    -Casual Fridays Don’t Mean Sweatpants
    -How to Observe a Company’s Culture Before You Criticize It: Interns Shouldn’t Tell Managers it’s Unprofessional to Work From Home
    -Don’t Brag About That Time You Got Fired

    1. Larry Nyquil*

      I’ll add a few to this:
      – Showering (With Soap) And Not Suffocating Everyone With Axe 101
      – Packing Lunch for Yourself Instead of Buying Chipotle Every Day and Complaining About Low Pay
      – You Made Money And Need To File Your Taxes Next Year (based on a true story from my first job where a dude owed the IRS something around $37k from not having filed taxes for 5 years or done like, any withholding)

      And on a more serious note:
      – How to Properly Fill Out W-4 and State Equivalent Withholding Forms

      1. ellex42*

        Can I add:

        – How to behave correctly and contribute appropriately to group discussions/meetings

        I’ve sat in too many meetings where one person dominated the discussion with nothing relevant to the actual meeting, or things they ought to already know; meetings where people started “spitballing” rather than making some attempt to organize their thoughts before they spew out a half-formed notion that turned out to be unrelated, impossible, or already implemented; and meeting etiquette – stop tapping your fingers/pen/shoes, clicking your pen, making mouth noises, murmuring “uh-huh” or “hmmm” every time someone else says anything.

        1. Lisa*

          And learn business meeting etiquette and tactics and follow it scrupulously when you’re starting out, even if others aren’t. It takes experience to understand the nuance of who gets to break the rules and when. Don’t use your phone or laptop in distracting ways. If you realize you haven’t been paying attention, you gotta hold off on questions or suggestions until the topic changes, because if you say something someone already said you will look like an ass. Etc.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Oh yes! Not to mention, How Not to Bring Annoyingly Stinky Lunches to Work, or at Least Microwave Them in the Cafeteria and Don’t Eat Them at Your Desk
        How Not to Annoy Your Coworkers Incessantly
        How Not to Complain About Last Bad Job and Terrible Boss
        How Not to Brag About Yourself Constantly

        1. Jia*

          Stinky may also vary by culture. I find kimchi very strong. My Korean friend can’t stand the smell of cheese.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            But according to AAM, at least from what you read in the comment sections, it’s considered generally impolite. I think if anything, it should be eaten in the cafeteria. I personally like really spicy chili and curry during the cold winter months, but I don’t eat that at my desk. I wouldn’t eat kimchi at my desk either, but I like it once in a while. Just had some today for a snack, but I’m working from home.

      3. Amber T*

        +10000000000 to taxes and other state/government forms. Ask for help – someone in HR can help you! Or your boss! I think we all remember the first time we sat down with one of those forms and went, “uhh… what?”

        Also – your paycheck is NOT going to be Salary/24. It won’t. It’s going to be way lower than you expected.

        One more class – what is a 401k / IRA / other retirement accounts and why you should start one ASAP.

        1. TiffanyAching*

          Yes! We have had folks confused because their take-home pay each check wasn’t Salary/24. They seemingly didn’t realize that taxes are, in fact, a Thing, and no, you can’t “opt out” of Social Security and Medicare taxes. Also, if you’re confused about your payslip, don’t have your mother and her bookkeeper call the Payroll office for you.

        2. LessNosy*

          100% agree with learning about retirement accounts and why it is important to take advantage of them if they are part of your benefits!! I knew this going in because I made a point to make myself very financially literate (my family is NOT, at all, and I watched them struggle while I was growing up) but oh my goodness, how surprised and relieved my mentor/coworker was when she found out I had been contributing to my 401k since day one. That is not A Thing younger people figure out quickly.

      4. Ayko*

        Also: Labor Laws (state and federal), and in particular the definition of wage theft and the multiple insidious means by which companies/bosses try to get away with it. It isn’t just “Oh, I decided not to pay you” (although it can be), it is also claiming work you’ve already done doesn’t “count”; or management taking credit card fees out of your tips; or “we expect you to be immediately available 9-5 every day but will only pay you when we have something for you to do”; or “we’ll penalize you for clocking out a minute after 5 but you also have to stay until you finish your workload which is equivalent to three people.”

        And if there are local laws which give them additional protection, such as city laws regarding minimum wage, sick leave, consumer protections (can an employer make a credit check a condition of employment, etc.).

        1. Ayko*

          As well as how and where to report violations when they occur. And perhaps how to find a lawyer and the potential cost involved if they need one.

      5. Collarbone High*

        A huge yes to “how to fill out withholding forms.”

        I used to do retail payroll, and a huge number of people thought that writing EXEMPT on their W-4 would make them exempt from taxes. (And who wouldn’t want that?) Also saw a lot of single people with no dependents claiming 4 or 5 allowances because they’d looked at the table and wanted as little withheld as possible.

      6. agmat*

        I’ve been married 4 years and have had a child for 1, and only just figured out the w-4 thing. No wonder our refunds were so high!

    2. E*

      Keeping track of your expenses: also known as not spending money that has to pay that upcoming utility bill before the next paycheck.

    3. Bacon Pancakes*

      Casual Fridays don’t mean sweatpants/yoga pants/anything worn out. Ripped for the sake of fashion is questionable but worn out holey shirt you wore in high school when your dad made you mow the lawn Is Not Okay.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Eh, might depend on the company. We’re not supposed to wear anything ripped for the sake of fashion where I work, although some people do anyway. When it happens enough times, a memo gets sent out with dress code reminders.

    4. cacwgrl*

      – How to Appropriately Name Your Resume (PROTIP: ress, rez, my res, fancy resume, mine, [random combo of number], etc are NOT acceptable naming conventions when someone is quickly reviewing and downloading resumes and I have seen literally all of these in the last week alone) *Put your last name in the title AT MINIMUM. Last name, first name or first name last name are my preferences but I’m well aware that’s not the rule* I can see what you name your documents when you upload it and I am sometimes very much secondhand embarrassed for you applicants.
      – Understand that a Google Docs link is not “sending your resume”, especially when you send literally only the Google Docs link in the email with no words, comments, nothing about your self to include even your name. I’m deleting your “application”.
      – Reply to the organization with some degree of promptness, especially when they say a response is needed with a specific deadline listed. If you don’t, don’t send an email five days after the deadline to ask if you can be considered anyway. You won’t be, at least not in this organization.
      – Casual Friday typically does not mean sports bra and very short workout shorts with a very open tank. If you’re changing and heading to the gym at lunch or after work, that’s maybe less of a side-eye, but that is not appropriate otherwise for the most part.

        1. cacwgrl*

          Thank you! I was on such a rant about resumes, I forgot the email address part, but YES, THIS!

          We actually had to call the local college’s job placement office and the high school counselors to ask them to address both of these issues with their students. That’s now bad this problem has been for us, the largest employer in the area.

        2. Pommette!*

          In retrospect, my first e-mail address was embarrassingly juvenile. I don’t regret creating it: I was, in fact, juvenile and ignorant at the time. But boy do I ever regret not jettisoning it sooner! I used it for years, including for job applications and to correspond with colleagues. I am retroactively mortified by that fact.
          Every once in a while I’ll get an email from someone whose email address reminds me of my old one. Addresses that are aggressively quirky and personal, flirt with cultural appropriation, involve puns, etc… It took me a long time to realize that I should start telling them what I wish someone had told me back then: when you email someone, you want the content of your message to be what they remember, not the handle it was sent from.

        3. Alice's Rabbit*

          Ugh, yes! I kid you not, I once got a resume with the email address “sweatywookie.” I love Star Wars as much as the next Jedi, but that resume was tossed without being read. Get a professional-sounding email address for business correspondence, and save the one you created at 14 for friends and family only.

    5. Keener*

      -How to use a belt so your underwear/boxers/plumbers crack are not visible to your co-workers

      (I think it is less of an issue these days but 10 years ago when low jeans were popular it was a legitimate issue. I kept saying that our orientation package for new grads should include a belt)

    6. Stornry*

      or wrap them all up into one course: How to be a Good Employee and Live the Work-life you Deserve. with the AAM book (and blog) as the required text, of course.

    7. Alice's Rabbit*

      -No one wants to see cleavage, chest hair, midriff, or buttcrack in the office. I don’t care what gender you are, wear proper office attire, and decent, covering clothes on casual days. Not clubbing attire.

    1. Reba*

      Oh yeah. I once told a student that her paper sounded like SAT flashcards wrote it. She took it well, fortunately!

      1. Sparrow*

        When I was teaching, I definitely told students to write only with words they use in everyday life. Better to know you’re saying exactly what you mean than to throw in a word just because it sounds fancy. That and “read it out loud to yourself” are my favorite pieces of advice for academic/professional writing.

        1. Quill*

          I did science majoring and I have had an extensive vocabulary all my life… and I hated that advice. What people think is a word you use “everyday” is totally dependent on your demographics (age, gender, race,) and we should be focusing on picking the APPROPRIATE word, not the most common one.

          (Also, just because I can’t pronounce it doesn’t mean I don’t know the word in print: I grew up with a speech impediment.)

            1. Quill*

              Five year old me had been reading for 2 years and could not distinguish between india and indiana because of my stutter, but I sure as heck knew what carotene was and how it was different from keratin, because the only TV I watched was Magic School Bus and Wishbone.

              Heck, there are things that I knew in middle and high school about electrical charge and chemistry that I learned at 4 or 5 due to magic school bus…

              At approximately the same age, my brother, a certified dinosaur nut who also learned to read at 3, proposed “micropachycephalosaurus” as his class’ challenge spelling word. Needless to say, this was not put on the test.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Same. My husband sometimes gets on my case that I’m mocking him because I’m using words he doesn’t know, but it’s just that I have a large vocabulary.

            I do highly recommend double-checking larger words for the right shade of meaning, though. I’ve gotten myself in trouble by using a word that I thought I understood from context but turned out to have nuances that were inappropriate for the situation.

            1. Pommette!*

              Urgh, yes. This comes up sporadically with my partner, too. No, I’m not using that word to make you feel stupid; I’m using that word because I’m relaxed, happy, and therefore un-self-consciously speaking in the language that comes naturally to me!
              If you don’t know what a word means, just ask! I often do, and don’t (and shouldn’t) feel any dumber for it.

            2. Filosofickle*

              I was just talking to my SO about this. I grew up as a reader with a massive vocabulary, from a family that speaks very formally. Over the years, I’ve dialed back a lot because I have gotten so much crap over the years for how I talk. And communicating well DOES mean communicating accessibly. But I’ve started to wonder about when/why I do this. When is it a form of bigotry to assume someone can’t keep up with my vocab if I don’t actually know? Sort of reverse mocking. It’s something I want to keep an eye on.

          2. CoveredInBees*

            Agreed. Telling people to not use “fancy” words feels like the same people who mock colleagues for being “too smart.”

            1. Quill*

              Yeah, middle school flashbacks there.

              Really, 100% certain that my use of the word opaque is situationally accurate, not my fault you’re bad at scrabble!

            2. Pommette!*

              My impression (and I could be wrong!) is that Sparrow isn’t telling people not to use “fancy” words; s/he’s telling people not to use words *just because* they are fancy.

            3. lasslisa*

              Working in an international environment, I actually have come to disagree with this. It’s not just about using words that are “everyday words” for the WRITER, it’s about knowing your audience and picking words that will make comprehension easy for them.

              I love words, grammar, fun turns of phrase. I enjoy terribly finding exactly the right word to connote precisely what I want to. And I had a (great) manager who, when we would be drafting a message together to the company, would make me go through and replace every semicolon with a period. She was completely right.

              So now when I’m corresponding with our global teams I make a point of going in and deleting all idioms, using three short sentences instead of one long one, and assuming all nuance will be completely lost so I should be clear rather than clever.

              1. Filosofickle*

                I do a fair amount of messaging & messaging testing for a tech company. Nothing knocks me down a peg like testing, especially with international customers. I was oblivious to the complexity and length of my sentences. And idioms! Idioms do not transfer well to other cultures, and I didn’t even recognize a lot of phrases as idiomatic. Further, American idioms tend to focus on sports and war and many testers have been very sensitive to anything sounding aggressive. My work gets more clear and simple every year.

          3. Pommette!*

            I think that Sparrow’s advice (at least, as I understand it) allows for people who have extensive vocabulary to use those vocabularies. Your focus is on picking the most appropriate word, not the fanciest one. The words you use might happen to be words someone else would consider fancy, but that’s not your reason for picking them. You pick them because they help you express whatever it is that you want to express!

            I used to work as a teaching assistant and had to read a lot of essays. It was easy to discern between the students who were trying to “write academically”, and made clumsy and sometimes indecipherable use of uncommon words and complex sentence structures, and the students who were trying to write clearly and drew on the rich vocabulary and diverse syntax they used in real life to do so.

            I advised students to aim for clarity and to write in a style and using words that came naturally to them – but also to read a lot to expand the style and words that would come naturally. And it did seem to help! The great writers stayed great writers, and the people who had been misusing whatever big words their thesaurus suggested started to write more clearly.

            1. Sparrow*

              Yep! That’s exactly what I was getting at. If I opt for a word I’m not super familiar with because I think it sounds more sophisticated, there’s a greater chance I’ll use it less effectively – or even less accurately – and obscure the intended message. But if you and your audience are comfortable with the fancy word, great! I’m all for it.

        2. azvlr*

          For important papers, have a screen reader read it out loud. It’s annoying to listen to, but it will catch a lot of small errors in a way that spell check and grammar check won’t.

    2. Donkey Hotey*

      I was recently asked to submit guidelines for technical writers in training.
      Bullet point #1: Plain language is your friend. Re-write Infinite Jest on your own time.

    3. Pilcrow*

      One of the best business writing tips I ever learned: Write it like you would say it. How would you explain something to a co-worker?

      Badly written example: I present to you the writing implements that were requested. The carrier delivered them antecedent to noon.

      As you would say it: Here are the pencils you ordered. They arrived in this morning’s deliveries.

      1. Sparrow*

        Works for academic writing, too! Reading your writing aloud and making sure it sounds like something a human would say goes a long way.

      1. Oblique Fed*

        One of my favorite plain-language tips is “the zombie test,” which is a way to see if you are writing in active or passive voice.

        If you can add “…by a zombie” to your sentence and it makes sense, you are writing in passive voice and should consider revising.

        So you get “The reports were generated last week …by a zombie” versus “I generated the reports last week.”

        Many people have trouble with active v passive, and the zombie test is colorful and funny enough that people seem to find it easy to remember.

    4. R*

      Complicated. $20 words are not great. Some subjects in some offices will need to be tiptoed around. So, if you are advocating a change, it’s very important that you pick your words very well, even sacrificing plainness at times to form a better slogan

  11. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

    This might be hard in a classroom setting, but determining priorities when there’s multiple tasks. I have a recent (2 years) grad who I assign a number of various tasks, some are much more “fun” and exciting than others and he always tackles those first rather than the ones with a tighter deadline. I’ve been very explicit when giving him work to say what the priorities should be, but he will still gravitate to the more fun work before closing out the other tasks 100%.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah, I like this a lot.

      Even for assembly-line workers, the work you need to do is not spoon-fed to you one bite at a time. You need to look ahead and prioritize things so you get things done efficiently, so that you mesh well with your coworkers, and so that you leave room for unanticipated risks that might crop up.

    2. OP*

      I generally set up my classes so that there are X assignments and students need to do X-1 satisfactorily to earn a 4.0, X-2 satisfactory to earn a 3.0, etc. This means that on a given day they don’t necessarily HAVE to do my assignment that’s due that day, and plenty adapt well, but I always have some who have gotten themselves into a deep hole because my class assignments have some flex and now they’re way behind. That’s when they’re crying in my office.

      I think I need to scaffold that kind of prioritization better – I have them make a semester plan at the beginning of the semester and we revisit it about once a month, but some still really struggle. I don’t know if they’re not actually looking at their schedule when we’re revisiting, if they’re not being honest with themselves about how much work can be done, if they’ve literally just never been taught how to prioritize, or what. I do see that last one on occasion, where a student will tell me in evaluation forms, essentially, “if you don’t force me to do something I won’t, so it’s your fault I didn’t”. That’s not true of most, but it pops up every once in a while.

      Now how to scaffold/teach such thing…

      1. Just stoppin' by to chat*

        Wow…it’s scary that someone in college may be thinking that if someone doesn’t tell them to do something, it’s that person’s fault the task didn’t get done! I mean…you’re already in college! Take responsibility! But I also get that this mentality needs to be re-enforced and taught throughout someone’s lifetime. I will definitely teach my kiddo to prioritize, and hold him responsible for his tasks (school-related, chores, etc.) so that they don’t go to college thinking someone needs to hold their hand to get their homework done.

        1. Mid*

          It’s also hard because a lot of the time, everything is the priority. Or you have been in such a hyper-structured environment that you never had to judge for yourself what the prioritization should be.

        2. Meredith*

          I have a coworker who needs another coworker to meet with him several times per week to prioritize his tasks for him. He’s been out of college for 15+ years. Don’t worry – incompetence doesn’t mean you won’t successfully hold down a job!

      2. LCH*

        OP: do you state during orientation to your class that you’ve had that sort of feedback before and it definitely is not the case? that even with the flexibility you give (so nice! never had that in college!), they still need to be responsible for managing their assignments? because wow. woooow.

        1. OP*

          I’ve avoided saying so early on because it sounds adversarial to my ears, as if I’m assuming they’re all looking to skive off on work and oh-ho-ho I’m wise to their tricks. I know that’s not at all how you mean it, and that’s not at all how I would mean it, but I already have to work pretty hard to convince them that I’m not out to destroy their GPAs through my strange grading whims. They tend to buy it eventually, it just takes a couple weeks, and usually at least one experience of me having them revise an assignment which then receives full credit.

          I do wonder if there’s a positive and inviting way to phrase this, though, because I receive far more positive feedback about how helpful it is to be able to adjust assignments and take responsibility for their own work. Something like “In the past two years, many students have commented that they appreciate the ability to flex the work for this class around their other responsibilities. Staying on top of your schedule, for this class and for other parts of your life, is key to making this work”

          1. Please keep helping the children*

            OP, Would it be possible to split up the semester – like split the semester in half, they get a mid-term grade, then have half a semester with a fresh set of work to try to dig their grade out of a hole if they’re in one? Just a thought…managing work like that is definitely a skill set that many people don’t have, so some kind of framework to let them know for SURE that they’ve overestimated what they can get done, while also giving them a chance to fix it/try again with a fresh set of work, might help the overall success rate.

            But as a person who supervises college students almost exclusively – what you are doing is amazing! Although your students may never fully know how much they owe you (and neither will their future employers!), you will impact a lot of careers/lives. So many of my employees are smart, capable people who don’t have a clue what it means to be in the workplace, because no one taught them. Sometimes it feels like half my job is just unofficially teaching Being an Employed Adult 101 and I get so TIRED. The world needs more people like you!

            1. OP*

              Hmmm, that “reset at midterm” idea makes me think that I should have them actually write down and then talk to me about their plan at midterm. I’ve generally done the “once a month check” as something they do for themselves, and I do my best to keep track of and reach out to the ones I see struggling, but scaffolding it might just require them to actually articulate things to me instead of assuring themselves it’s fine. I already build in several weeks of conferences for my first-year writing classes where I can do this, I may need to build in one mid-semester conference for my upper-level classes too.

              Thank you for also teaching Adulting 101! It baffles me that institutions devoted to learning have so many people unwilling to teach, in various roles. I work with a couple people at my university who supervise undergrads and whose own sense of professional norms isn’t great – sending out staff-wide emails when someone left gum on a clipboard, for example. On the one hand, gross. On the other hand, unlikely to be something you need to remind all 50+ undergrad employees of via email. Students pick up bad habits, like the one student who was afraid to ask the same supervisor if she could leave an optional meeting early because her grandmother had been rushed to the hospital. I and several other non-undergrads in the room all but shoved her out the door.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      The single most useful class I had in my entire 19+ years of school was Project Management.

      I just happened to take that 1st semester of grad school, and I would never have made it through if I hadn’t. How to set a work timeline, prioritize, use informal authority in group projects – it made my (and my team mates’) lives and grades much much much better, and carries through to projects now, almost 20 years later.

      So, teach your students how to break down a project into component tasks, how to estimate the time, to schedule, and that this organizing is real, value-add work. And for god’s sake, that writing down due dates matters.

      My kid’s magnet middle school has 4 core classes, 3 electives. We got the school recommended planner, he and I set it up, and I did a couple of classes with him on how to use it. I teared up when I realized he’s still marking down his due dates two months later, with no prompting.

      1. Just stoppin' by to chat*

        Nice! Great parenting Jules the 3rd! I got into project/program management in my first job out of college, but didn’t even realize it was a career option! Making a workback schedule is how my brain works, so it really comes naturally to me. But such an important skill for everyone.

    4. circuit*

      This is a pretty basic thing to expect from someone coming out of school without requiring univeristies to change curriculum. Starting in high school (or even earlier), students are given multiple assignments with varying deadlines and are expected to manage their time well enough to meet deadlines. If this person has a college degree, he should definitely have learned this already just because he was probably taking multiple classes at a time. Sounds like your employee has a time management problem.

    5. Stornry*

      and the wisdom to know when to (cheerfully) ask, “Hey Boss, you’ve asked me to do these five different things. which would you like first?”

  12. Mme Defarge*

    About trade unions. A bit of history, how they work and how to join, get union recognition, and issues of organising.

    1. KevinCantWait*

      This one!!! This one this one. And what it means to apply for a job with union, versus a job without unions.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      On the contrary. I think students should be taught that in the workplace, you have very few rights, and asking for them to be enforced will get you fired.

      If it’s not going to physically harm you, zip. your. lip. Because the next place you work will be exactly the same.

      1. Lora*

        Depends on location. In much of Europe, trade unions for white collar jobs are the norm, not the exception. And even in the US, depends on location – some states I’ve worked in, the unions RULE a given field within that state (in my field it’s pipefitters) and at the very least even as a manager, you have to know how to work with a unionized division that is doing work for you – how to plan with their contracts and leverage the cost fixing that the contract language gives you.

      2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

        That completely depends on your workplace. When I was bartending, if I tried to claim I had rights, I would’ve been laughed at and then probably fired for a BS reason, but I currently work in state government and it’s extremely important in my current job to understand the union contract and how the union interfaces with HR.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Yes. I recently helped an employee through a worker’s comp process for a small (but significant) injury. It’s nothing life changing but it will require some medical care and prevent him from doing his job for a few weeks. He was absolutely floored by the process because none of his previous employers responded appropriately to work injuries. He thought he’d just be sent home with no pay and no medical attention, or even disciplined for failing to complete his work.

          ALL people should be educated about employee rights. People can’t stand up for rights they don’t know they have.

      3. ThatGirl*

        That isn’t – or shouldn’t be – true, and I think “knowing whether it’s a hill you want to die on” is important too. There’s a difference between asking to change the dress code because you don’t like it and asking for your rights to be enforced.

      4. Ace in the Hole*

        That alone is a horrible message to be giving students.

        If it comes along with a dose of information about how to stand up for the rights you do have, the history of labor rights movement, and how to effectively take organized action, then that’s a different thing. Telling people they will get fired for standing up for themselves and all workplaces are equally bad is actively promoting a culture that allows employers to exploit workers.

        1. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

          ^^^ This. If you teach people that their employers WILL exploit them and there’s nothing they can do about it… well, you can’t be shocked when nobody wants to do anything about it and exploitation continues!

        2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          TBH, my family was union and I was always raised to stand up for my rights and labor laws.

          I have never worked in a sector where that was allowed or appreciated. It has held me back professionally. You often do have to go along to get along, even if it’s illegal, and I grew tired of my parents screaming at me about reporting someone to the state labor board for making us work off the clock, because that is how you get fired.

      5. Jesse D*

        Could not agree more. How many embarrassing viral incidents in just the past few years could have been avoided if people knew this in advance?

        I feel like many people enter the work world with no sense of scale, e.g. a bad dress code might merit a quick suggestion through an existing channel for feedback, but uncovering evidence of discrimination or fraud merits a much more serious response. But it doesn’t surprise me anymore to see people discussing or acting on small issues as though they’re full-scale human rights violations.

        1. Sparrow*

          I think having a proper understanding of the history of labor would actually give them a better sense of which fights are worth having.

    3. Kiri*

      YES YES YES! My workplace has multiple unions (public university) and it’s really sad to see how many people in my age bracket (a few years out of college) don’t join the union because they don’t understand/care how important it is.

    4. boredatwork*

      This was a master’s level HR course at my university (that I took for fun mostly). It was one of my favorite classes by far. Extremely eye opening.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        IMO, “right-to-work laws” are actually “right-to-work-for less laws”. They put all the power in the hands of the employer.

    5. cacwgrl*

      Real question here, because I am in a position where I can somewhat influence changes in curriculum and instruction, at least at the high school level locally. At what point would you suggest that is taught? Where does that fit in, subject wise?
      I learned about unions early in college, in US History. But that was just history, nothing really about today. Despite living and working my entire professional career in CA, I never had to interact with any union when I was in industry. Now that I’m government, we have one union here the is part of the trades, which is one of my main focuses in my job, trade skills development. Our union rep is wonderful, very open to communication and we also have a team that addresses union issues. They have the same feedback, the relationship is great. Most of the employees I work with that are in the union don’t know really what it does for them or how it benefits them. I also know we do not have the only union in the area, but everything outside our fenceline is foreign to me. I agree students need to be better educated in trade unions, but I don’t know how to make that happen. Suggestions?

      1. Lora*

        In terms of history? I’d imagine there’s quite a lot online, but for high schoolers asking them to find out why there is such a thing as a weekend, what “full time” means in different countries, and how fire codes came into existence would be a start.

      2. RecoveringSWO*

        I think there could be two prongs of education on labor/employment protections in U.S. high schools. The first being history, but then a 2nd prong focusing on practical aspects of these laws in a Government/Civics class. My high school government class did a wonderful job of sparking my passion for political science, but it was broken up into the standard 3 branches of government + hot political topics and I don’t remember going into federal agencies and regulatory bodies. I would love to see a whole section on “law/regulations/agencies that will protect your butt in the future!” From there you could do a brief history of all sorts of federal & local bodies and focus on current protections that students should know about. OSHA, NLRA, EEOC, FLSA, FTC, etc.

    6. MentalEngineer*

      I teach at a public university in the US and am a labor organizer. Advocating union membership at my workplace is “misusing taxpayer funds to promote a partisan political viewpoint.” Depending on precisely what is said, it may not be illegal, and it looks like you’re aware of this, since all your suggestions are about teaching ‘bare facts’ rather than opinion. That distinction will not help me after some kid from Turning Point USA secretly records my class and I end up on Fox News. And I can tell you that any university in my state that tried to formalize some kind of instruction on these things would get such a kicking from the legislature…

      I hate to be so pessimistic about this, I really do. In a perfect world? Absolutely. Will it happen in the US in my lifetime? Absolutely not.

      1. MentalEngineer*

        Minor edit: advocating membership while working is illegal, which includes basically any time I interact with a student while on campus. Talking to colleagues is looser.

  13. Delta Delta*

    Work does not equal school. In school you might get credit for trying, or you might get a good grade for showing a lot of work and a lot of effort. but in the long run, no matter how much effort you show, it might not be sufficient to do the job if you’re not doing the job.

    Also, grades, while important, are not the most important. Your client does not care that you got an A in classes X, Y, or Z, the client cares that you do the job you were hired to do. (Spoken as both a professional and an adjunct instructor in that field)

    1. Points for anonymity*

      Couldn’t agree more with your second point. I’m a fairly recent grad [3 years now] and I’ve run into some others who asked, straight away, what degree results I got and what A-level results I have. As if that has any bearing on my ability to do my job!

    2. Neon*

      This is a very good point.

      I genuinely do not care how hard my colleagues and suppliers are working. I only care that they successfully do their jobs and get me the information/parts/money/whatever I need to do my job. If they routinely fail to do this at a satisfactory level, the fact that they “worked hard” doesn’t mean anything because I still don’t have the stuff I need.

      I’d much rather fly with an airline pilot who does not “work hard” but lands the plane safely every time than with a pilot who “works hard” but puts it down in a corn field once a month.

    3. sometimeswhy*

      Related: one of the things I’ve learned that I need to tell my fresh out of college folks is that (at least here) “Meets expectations” is an A. And “Needs Improvement” isn’t an F.

      If I give you a set of tasks and a standard and you do those tasks to that standard, you have met expectations, not exceeded them. And meeting expectations is OKAY! It’s not bad! It’s not a punishment! Needs improvement comes with a side of “and here’s how you can improve.”

      There are also general guidelines for what an exceeds looks like. If you’re consistently bringing new and novel or suggesting system improvements or performing your assigned tasks at a level above the expectation of your grade then that’s a thing that gets recognized.

      1. Neon*

        I’d also say that at work “meets expectations” is very often all that needs to be done, and attempts to exceed those expectations are just waste rather than something that gets you extra credit. Not all effort is valuable.

        If I ask an employee to sort a bin of fruit into apples and oranges, they should just do that. If they take it upon themselves to also polish all the apples and organize the oranges by size they have wasted time that could have been productively spend sorting lemons from limes instead.

        This makes me substantially less happy with their work than I would be if they had just hit the expectations I asked for and then moved on to the nest useful thing.

        1. sometimeswhy*

          Yes, that too. Learn the systems, ask the questions, make suggestions, but don’t try to manufacture excellence. Don’t take it upon yourself to alphabetize my fruit because if they’re stored by frequency of use, you’re going to piss off everyone and possibly break something.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Couldn’t agree more!

          Not that one should never go above and beyond, but it’s important to only do so once you’re familiar enough with the work and the workplace to know what effort will actually be useful. I’m reminded of the time a coworker decided to “exceed expectations” by thoroughly cleaning and polishing the meat slicer without being told… and began the process about 10 minutes before the lunch rush. Lunch rush with a disassembled slicer was not a good experience for anyone! It would have been lovely if he’d done the same job 3 hours later.

        3. Delta Delta*

          I think polishing the apples and size-organizing the oranges gets to happen one time if the employee doesn’t know that actually lemons and limes are the next priority. That’s on the employer to ensure the employee knows what to do. sometimes an employee doesn’t totally know what the big picture is or what’s important, so they do something thinking they should. As long as it’s easily corrected and not repeated, it seems like a good learning experience.

          1. sometimeswhy*

            I treat them that way the first (and sometimes the fifth) time. Sometimes the lesson is for me and its to restrict access to or put better control measures around things that would adversely affect operations if someone decided to polish it.

    4. huh*

      Quitting because of feedback, ghosting interviews and jobs, lying on resumes, etc will all lead to long-term career harm. I cringe internally at the number of people who have ghosted an interview, submitted untrue resumes, lie about drug convictions (like the DEA -recommended background check won’t find those) and then apply to this company again several years later. My spreadsheet goes back a decade, when the second ghosting incident occurred, and it doesn’t forget. Grow up, it’s work, you shouldn’t tolerate abuse, but you do need to work hard, make your employers priorities yours, be pleasant and helpful, and not crump the first time things don’t go your way.

  14. lost academic*

    How to communicate in email up the chain, down the chain and laterally as well as understanding how to manage your own time as a preface to project time. How to delegate effectively and how to follow up. What a successful team actually looks like and how it functions. And how to document everything, including the steps in a calculation in excel!

    1. Sivina*

      How to email – Not everyone needs to respond with thank you. Not every response needs to be to the entire group. Do not clutter up someone else’s mailbox just b/c you want to be acknowledged or seen.

      I would LOVE to see a thread here just on email pet peeves.

      1. Zephy*

        I think one of the recent Thursday ask-the-readers questions dealt with email pet peeves, if I recall correctly.

  15. Phil*

    Ears open, mouth closed. That isn’t taught in school. I was in the technical end of the entertainment business and people would arrive fresh from school stuffed to the gills with information and eager to impart it with no idea of professional behavior. Now as that person’s first employer maybe it’s my job to impart that I’d sure love it if they arrived with some idea of how to act on the job.

    1. Just J.*


      I’ll add eyes open too. Watch, listen, and learn. Do not comment. If you need clarification – ie, you want or need and in-depth conversation – on what you see and hear, ask your mentor / manager.

      1. The Bad Guy*

        Slight disagree, one of the most valuable things my new employees say is “why do we do it that way?” Either they learn something or we reevaluate why we do it that way. For established processes, we sometimes get so engrained in our ways that we forget to ask if there’s a better way, new employees ask the question.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*


              Boss: “Do W, then X, then Y, then Z”
              Me: “Is there a reason for that particular order? Are any of those steps that have long waits or are able to be done concurrently”
              Boss: “Ummmm…. Well, Y is the longest, but it depends on W, and Z depends on X and Y. So you could probably start Y before you did X, but both would need to be after W and before Z”

              I’ve saved days of labor by finding out which tasks could be started and just watched, and which tasks depended on others, and which didn’t, instead of doing everything linearly. But to do that, I had to a) try it linearly first, and b) ask why certain steps were in certain order. At the end, though, I understood the process, and could teach it.

        1. LQ*

          I think part of this is how people ask and how often.

          If you ask me why the laws that govern the program are the way they are when I’m trying to show you how to enter your time card, nope. If you want to ask why the payroll system for the entire system was selected, nope. If you want to say why the entire state selected outlook and you can’t use a personal gmail to email with, nope.

          If you want to ask why we do project management the way we do it on the project I’m giving you? YES! Great question. If you want to ask why one project is a priority over another? Great!

          And you have to be willing to take, that’s so far outside the scope of anything that matters to getting this done that literally you’re asking me why a different government agency is run the way it is, why it selected a piece of software it selected, and why I personally can’t change it for you because you think it’s annoying? No. Go work for them instead. You have to take I don’t have the time or energy to explain how the universe was created to you right now as an answer.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        Maybe it depends on your field, exact job, etc but I disagree with this one. I’m hiring intelligent people who have every right to ask questions and discuss things. I want them doing this.

        In general, maybe I’ve been lucky but the recent grads I’ve hired over the last few years have been as good or better at the things mentioned here than anyone. I find they often know what they don’t know and have the emotional intelligence to act accordingly.

        1. Amber T*

          I think you need to learn the system and why things are done the way they are before you can make suggestions on how to improve things. I was that young eager new hire who could fix EVERYTHING I thought was wrong/slow/out of date. At that point, I had no idea WHY things were done in a certain way… I usually saw Step 1 and the final outcome, not seeing steps 2-10.

          1. Joie*

            Right! We recently hired someone at my part time job who’s like this. We in admin take an extra 5 minutes to re-enter the data in another place then the main system. The new hire thinks it’s stupid and redundant and complains she has to do it. The reason we do it is that it saves the controller about an hour per transaction in time for 5 minutes of ours.

            For how low our admin work load is, that’s a pretty good deal for the company and keeps our controller on pace as she has more work then hours in the day already.

            1. Just J.*

              Agree. But my point above, and my point here is that, as a newbie, don’t just make random comments or offer your opinion to the general office community until you have learned about how the organization works. It will make you look foolish. And I have certainly seen enough new people, both straight from college and with years of experience, stick their feet in their mouths doing so. It kills your credibility.

              If you are confused, or think it can be done better, then ASK, but ask your mentor, someone who you can trust who will be understand you are a new to the company and be nice to you.

              1. juliebulie*

                I also find that if I sit on my questions for just a bit, many of the answers soon become clear anyway.

                1. Alice's Rabbit*

                  Yes. Wait and see if your question gets answered as part of the spiel first. Then try doing the thing, and see if your question is answered by the work itself. Only then, if the you still don’t have an answer, should you ask that question.

    2. Joie*

      Also an understanding that ‘in theory’ and ‘in real life’ are rarely the same thing in business as people are never going to be a textbook example. While yes, solution X does work when all the variables are set up in the textbook to make it work but real people talk back and do weird things, and work systems are rarely set up to be as easy as the textbook will make you believe they are.

      It’s better to fact find and adapt the solution to reality then double down on “well, this is what I did in school”

    3. Us, too*

      My workplace culture is one in which it is encouraged to ask questions and really push on what we do and why we do it. If you did the ears open, mouth closed approach you’d fail here because you’d be seen as not contributing to the company. i.e. It is EXPECTED that every employee ask lots of questions and challenge anything that seems not right.

      We hire smart people and we expect that they’re willing to look critically at everything and willing to step up and say something if it doesn’t look right to them. And it’s NBD if they are wrong – we just explain why and they accept it and move on. Or, even better, they challenge that reasoning and suggest an even better way!

      1. LQ*

        If every single employee is always questioning every single decision and thing they don’t like how do you ever get anything done?

        Why don’t we use macs? Why don’t we use PCs? Why don’t we use tablets? Why don’t we all use the same devices? Why do we have to have a log in? Why can’t our login be once a day? Why do we all have to use the same email program? Why do we have cubes and not offices? Why does Sally have that office and Jane have this office?

        (These are all fairly close to questions I’ve been asked and why I disagree that a just “everyone should ask every question” approach is a good one. At some point, you wear out even someone who can answer all of a 2-year-olds infinite why’s, and then they are too worn down to answer your actual good questions.)

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          “Why can’t our login be once a day?”

          Someone asked that question where I work a while ago, and now we have single sign on.

          Yes, some things are kinda silly to ask (“Why do we have to log in?” is one of them.) but not all are. Some are good in some departments and not in others.

          Part of being an adult is learning to ask good questions, and you should have learned that by High School, IMO.

    4. juliebulie*

      “Ears open, mouth closed” WAS taught in my school… grammar school… by a nun who would hit us with a ruler.

      Later, in high school and college, we were penalized if we didn’t participate in class (Somehow I missed the notification that it was suddenly not only permissible, but actually required, to speak in class.)

      Then, out to the working world where it’s smarter to shut your trap for a little while again. Luckily I guessed as much, but not everyone did. I remember telling a recent graduate countless times, “you learn more by listening than by talking.” But I don’t think he heard me.

      1. Devil Fish*

        You people need Satan.

        (Seriously, the Satanic Temple is doing a lot of good work to change the remaining laws that make it legal to beat children in school. This shouldn’t have happened to you and it really shouldn’t still be happening. Wtf is wrong with people when the goddamned Satanists are doing more to prevent child abuse than the law is?)

    5. Anon for this*

      Oh man, I’ve actually had professors who taught us the opposite! Their philosophy apparently was that you should approach every interaction as an opportunity to show your boss how brilliant and full of initiative you are, or something.

    6. Mistress Ook*

      I somewhat disagree – particularly for people new into industry (for me this is corporate law libraries). I always encourage new starters (researcher and lawyers) to ask questions – too many people are afraid to and either do something incorrectly or stress over tiny things that can be answered in 5 seconds. Obviously don’t be a know-it-all and if someone is asking 1000 questions a day that is an issue, but as a manager I would always prefer to be asked than not. I know I appreciated it a lot when I was starting and learning the job.

  16. writerboy*

    I studied broadcasting, so this would have been particularly important in that context, but one professor taught us a lesson that everyone should take to heart.

    To preface this, I realize not everything is time-sensitive. For most office-type positions, we don’t all have to be at our desks at 9:00 and stay until 5:00. But when something IS time-sensitive, we need to be on time.

    This professor had a box with a lock on it. All assignment due dates were given as both a date and a time (for instance, Thursday, November 21, 9:00 a.m.). At the appointed time, he locked the box. Late assignments were to be placed on top of the locked box. He would evaluate them for our personal/professional benefit, providing any comments and/or corrections that he would for any assignment that arrived on time, but the mark for that assignment would be a fail. There weren’t very many late assignments from our class, for his or anybody else’s courses.

    And for the record, this professor was universally liked and admired by his students because he was consistent, fair, and clear about what the rules were.

    1. Sivina*

      Time-management skills, checklists, etc. are something a lot of people don’t know how to do at all.

      I think the first course in college should be on how to project-manage your college courses.

      1. Sivina*

        I recently had a judge tell me that my filings are always complete in that they always have the statutory elements, etc. I make check-lists to ensure that everything is in there. It amazes me how many lawyers do not do this.

        1. Drew*


          At a former job, we had checklists for each stage of the process and people griped about them to me, their boss. I reminded them that every single line item on every single checklist was because, at some point, someone had forgotten that step and cost the company money (and in several cases cost the employee their job).

          They still didn’t LIKE them — hell, I didn’t really, either — but they at least understood why they were required.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          A good checklist is worth its weight in gold. You have to do them right – kitchen sinks or those that don’t leave room for thought or that are not up-to-date are useless, but a good, landing-gear-is-down checklist? Could not live without them.

          I rarely recommend management books, but I did really enjoy The Checklist Manifesto.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      My professors always had hard cutoffs. it was a small town–we could put the paper through the guy’s mail slot late at night, but he collected all the papers at x:00 and anything that arrived after that he would grade, but you got a zero.

  17. Points for anonymity*

    Owning up to mistakes.
    Reflecting on what went wrong, what went right and what you’d do differently in future.
    How to stand up for yourself and resolve conflict in a professional way.

    1. Points for anonymity*

      I’d also add, encourage them to seek out learning opportunities and ask for work if they don’t have enough. Show them how to present their ideas in such a way that explains the benefits both to them personally and the business as a whole.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Yes! In school, a mistake may lower your grade, so many students hope the professor won’t notice. In a work environment, a mistake means a project is delayed, a co-worker isn’t able to do their job, revenue is lost, etc. Students need to learn that trying to hide a mistake in the office often has a major ripple effect.

    3. Clever username goes here*

      +100000 this.

      Making mistakes is terrifying, but owning up to your mistakes will earn you respect AND usually the chance to learn something/redeem yourself another day. Trying to hide or fix a serious error will always bite you in the butt.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      “Owning up to mistakes.
      Reflecting on what went wrong, what went right and what you’d do differently in future.”

      These two are essentials.

      In my field, if you haven’t brought down production, you aren’t really doing anything – there is enough trial and error in it that it is inevitable.

      What is most important is how you handle it – how you troubleshoot it, what you did to fix it. Then, how to prevent it from happening again. If you hide it or just shrug and blame someone else, you won’t get far.

      Own your mistakes, learn from them, and then learn from other people’s mistakes too.

  18. ElizabethJane*

    And for real – don’t put skills on your resume if you just heard about a system once. I’m a senior analyst working to be an actual Data Scientist. I interview people regularly who have SQL on their resume and are shocked when I ask them to describe how they’ve used it, or their experience with it. Seeing something once doesn’t make it a qualification.

    1. Kiwiii*

      This, but also the opposite. We basically want familiarity with and/or the ability to quickly pick up on xml, and it’s like, yes, I do think formatting html for your theme on MySpace or Ao3 counted and I care about it. Because you’ll be easier to teach than someone who hasn’t done that.

    2. Jazzy P*

      New commenter, long time reader! Question for you- I recently graduated (very late, it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do) and I majored and minored in tech-related fields. I list SQL on my resume because 2 courses required for my major were SQL and a little MySQL. As for SQL, I learned how to create ERDs, assign PK and FKs, drop and create tables, insert data into tables, and some simple querying. Would you consider this enough as a new grad to be able to include SQL? I do not list MySQL for the reasons you listed above, I barely had to use it and could not speak to it in any kind of basic or semi-coherent fashion. Am I grasping at straws here? I am honestly wondering as I am currently navigating the applying/interviewing minefield! Many thanks!

      1. Sam*

        I’d recommed getting reasonably comfortable with joins and then you’re good. I’m a software designer and they’re hugely important. A lot of the time you’ll be working with an existing database and queries are 90% of what’s needed. (I got this job with just one SQL class under my belt, though.)

        1. Jazzy P*

          Thanks Sam! I did learn joins but I wouldn’t say I am super or even reasonably comfortable (have to Google to remember how!). Good advice, I appreciate the feedback and I’ll be revisiting joins so I don’t sound like a complete newbie (just a newbie :)

        2. Plant*

          Yeah, just want to reiterate joins. Understanding how a table structure joins together is the most fundamental thing when working in a SQL database.

      2. ElizabethJane*

        I think you’re good. I usually say something like “Are you familiar with joins?” or “Give me an example of when you used SQL” or “We use a data platform that uses SQL to query, are you comfortable with that” and people answer with “Oh well we went over it once in my class but I haven’t used it for 2 years”. THEN DON’T PUT IT ON YOUR RESUME!

    3. curious*

      I work in a field where there are lot of programs and niche areas. If I apply for a job that requires something I am vaguely familiar with, I have on the bottom of my resume a “proficient in” and “knowledge of” section…. but again that depends what I am applying to, resume format…

      1. Jazzy P*

        I like this idea! Obviously I tailor my resume and cover letters to the job and my strengths but highlighting what I am confident in and that which I have a passing knowledge in would help both recruiters and myself assess job fit.

        1. curious*

          I also feel that putting knowledge of opens the lines of communication to discuss during interview. I also don’t make either profiecient in or knowledge of main sections of my resume – just a line for each

          1. Jazzy P*

            I just rewrote my resume and did it mostly this way. Thanks for the feedback! This entire thread is really awesome for new grads. I am not new to the workplace and know the norms, just curious about how to market myself without overselling.

  19. Sivina*

    -Being on time.
    -Not taking everything personally or emotionally.
    -Treating others with respect requires more than simply not being actively rude.
    -Teamwork is not optional. Most corporate work is a group project made up of individual components. True individual work is rare.
    -Just because you are super-smart, experienced, etc. doesn’t mean you don’t start at the bottom.

    1. 2 Cents*

      To your last point: doesn’t mean you know it all or someone isn’t smarter/better than you. (I say this as a reformed know it all lol).

      Also, adding:
      —work can be really boring.

      1. Sivina*

        Work is boring! That’s why they pay you!

        If it was super-fun time, it wouldn’t be work.

        I have a personal bugaboo about the “pursue your passion” line of faux-philosophy that rears its head now and again. The majority of humans now alive and the majority of humans who ever lived are fortunate if we can feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves and our loved-ones. Personal satisfaction is the outlier.

        I don’t want to do the “younger generation” bashing one sees to often and I don’t think it’s limited to the young. I’ve seen it far too often in privileged Boomers as well. This whole “work needs to be satisfying or else” mentality really, really irks me.

        1. Jesse D*

          > I’ve seen it far too often in privileged Boomers as well. This whole “work needs to be satisfying or else” mentality really, really irks me.

          I think where this comes from, at least in some cases, is that any job that you perform well in for a good amount of time is BOUND to become satisfying, even if it’s not something you’re passionate about, or even something you intended to do for a living. So you sort of rewrite your personal narrative to make that hard-earned satisfaction a requirement, rather than an inevitable consequence of becoming competent at skills over time.

        2. Ms. Pessimistic*

          Ummm are you me???

          I hate the word passion (I also work in admissions at a Medical School and of course every wannabe doctor is just SO PASSIONATE about helping people!). But, as a millenial, that word is thrown around too much and the whole “You must find your passion”.

          1. You don’t need to derive all your passion for life from work.
          2. Work sucks sometimes, not every part of your job can be great. That is why they pay you. I repeat this way too often to my peers and people younger than me.

          Anyway, I appreciate you.

        3. Perbie*

          I think it’s a balance; life is too precious to spend on doing something miserable (and survival is usually not dependent on doing something miserable, either). But yes, it’s fine to just work to live rather than live to work, it’s often more important to make a living than to love your job, and most colleges in the usa are woefully oblivious on how to help guide students to a good career

      2. LunaLena*

        Completely agree that work can be really boring, even when you love your job! I work in a “fun” industry – arts-related, so everyone assumes I “sit around drawing pretty pictures all day” (actual thing I’ve been told several times) – and I am doing exactly what I want at a place I really love and believe in and in the field I wanted to be in, with good pay and great benefits. In fact it’s the closest thing to a dream job that could possibly exist. And even then I sometimes find the work tedious and boring! Any job is going to have a component that’s not very fun – it’s just that I don’t mind slogging through them if it means I get paid to do the parts I DO love.

        I’d add to that – don’t expect your office to be like The Office or Parks and Rec or any other sitcom or movie. People always complain that Friends is unrealistic because we hardly ever see the characters working, but maybe we don’t because those parts of their fictional lives are damn boring.

    2. Mimi Me*

      I’d add on to your last one – a college degree doesn’t automatically jump you to the head of the promotion line. I only have an associates degree but over 16 years in my field – fairly common where I work . I’ve had more than one college grad with less than a years experience complain that they haven’t rocketed up through the company faster than those without degrees.

      1. MsMaryMary*

        And that it takes time to master a role and get promoted to another! In school students have new classes every semester where they become relatively proficient on a topic, and each year or so they get “promoted” to more advanced classes. In the professional world, it’s usually a couple of years before someone gets promoted to another role, and it takes years of hard work to move into senior or management positions. My first manager told me that they expected it to take 18-24 months before recent grads were proficient in their role. It blew my mind, but she was absolutely right.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Yeah, most jobs are minimum 12mo for the basics, 24mo to be *good* at it. In college, you spend 80% of your time learning and 20% producing, but in professional work, you’re lucky to get more than 10% of your time for learning, after the first month.

      2. Sivina*

        Agreed. I’d add that people of all ages need to understand that what the company wants from you in a role is not necessarily what you want from them.

        You may think you are qualified to do Job X, but company may want you to do Job Y for it’s own reasons.

        You can see your own situation a lot more clearly than anyone else’s.

  20. 2 Cents*

    Don’t expect your workplace to provide you with friends. By that, I mean you can be friendly with coworkers and have warm relationships with them, but don’t expect them to hang out with you, chat off hours or other things. I mean, it can happen, but people have their own lives outside work. This was hard for me when I got my first job because school = finding/making friends. The work places I’ve been in have all been friendly, but only the most dysfunctional one confused “coworker” with “we’re all family!!!”

    1. triplehiccup*

      YES. And to mete out your loyalty accordingly, and keep up your non-work activities and relationships that make life meaningful.

    2. Mickey Q*

      In addition, I’m not your mom. I don’t really care about your personal problems. I might be sympathetic and listen but don’t expect me to solve anything for you.

    3. Katrinka*

      Also you don’t have to like everyone that you work with, but you do have to be able to work with them. Mortimer may be a jerk, but he’s also the person who knows the most about teapot shipping.

  21. BridgeNerdess*

    OP, you’re an amazing professor!

    How to ask good questions. More specifically, that BEFORE you go and ask someone, you have thought about the problem, tried one or two possible solutions, and have an idea of what you should do next and why. Half the time, they’ll be able to figure it out, the other half will lead to a much more productive conversation and better learning instead of just following instructions. Obviously this isn’t appropriate for “how to use the printer” or things like that, but more towards finding project specific solutions.

  22. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Short list:
    1. Understanding writing for business communications.
    2. Learning when to call v. talk in-person v. write an email, and how those approaches land.
    3. Your manager is not going to negotiate with you about your duties the way you would argue about extra credit or your grade. You should not go over their head or try to demonstrate you’re right unless they’ve done something illegal or seriously unethical.
    4. You have to demonstrate competence at the job you have before you can advance to a different position.
    5. Principles of being a “good citizen” in the context of your coworkers.
    6. Your coworkers are not your college friends. Do not party with them or share stories about your exploits or questionable behavior with them.
    7. You can be authentic and live your truth and still be savvy about when to speak up (or not) on political issues.
    8. Your manager is not your mom or your therapist.
    9. In the beginning of a job, it’s more important to observe and ask careful questions than to prove you are smart or deserve to be there.
    10. Deadlines are real. Build in time to review your work product, and never send in a first draft.

    1. voyager1*

      Going to disagree with 7. You really need to know your workplace AND have some standing to say something. I work on a team now where 2 folks are dyed in the wool Bernie types, 2 are hardcore Dems and me a former Hillary volunteer. Our boss however is all Republican and blue lives matter and build the wall and LEOs etc etc. To be fair boss is married to a police officer.

      Boss has no idea how we reports feel and we keep it that way because of the power dynamic.

    2. voyager1*

      Well either the blog ate my comment or it went to moderation. But I disagree with your point 7. One needs to take into account power dynamics and the general feel of the workplace before speaking up. Also having some standing helps too.

      If the 1st comment posts then helpfully it will provide more context, to why I feel this way.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Yeah, you (voyager1) are being savvy, and hopefully you specifically don’t feel that you’re compromising your authenticity with it.

    3. Mrs_helm*

      Adding to #4: you have to demonstrate competence consistently over long periods of time. Rarely, if ever, should you be saying “I’ve been here 3 months/6 months/ 1 yr, so I deserve…” Workplaces don’t work on the semester system; I think younger people are accustomed to getting feedback, changes, and leveling up quickly because that is how school moved.

    4. OP*

      Point 5: good citizen is one of the areas where I’m jealous of my K-12 friends and colleagues, because they have dozens of hours a week to build a classroom community and I have four hours a week if I’m lucky. (I’m in awe of K-12 teachers rather than jealous most of the time because working with children is Not For Me, Thank You). My students regularly tell me they don’t speak up or don’t ask questions because they don’t know anyone and are afraid of looking stupid. They also don’t try to get to know anyone, nor do they have the sense of “the community requires x even if it’s not my favorite, so here goes”. I don’t think they all need to be friends, but they all need to be able to work together within the context of what “work together” means in a class, and they struggle immensely with that.

      I’ve had colleagues suggest improv games and and “airing of feelings”, and while I trust that they’ve had good results from such things, it’s more…emotionally open? than I want to be. I care about my students, I want them to be emotionally well, we all usually bring more than just our professional selves wherever we go, but also I cannot be their therapist or parent.

      Upshot: suggestions on building a trusting, “civically-minded” classroom culture without going full therapy? It doesn’t help at all that I get them for 15 weeks, we don’t have the longevity of a workplace or K-12 classroom.

      1. Anon for this*

        This is just based on having been a student — I have no training or expertise in pedagogy — but I kind of think that caring about your students and wanting them to be emotionally well, especially at the college level, involves a respect for their privacy. So I think you’re exactly right to be skeptical that having students air their feelings will be useful. I think back on the college professors I’ve had who *do* want to be your therapist or parent or Mr. Miyagi, and I have basically nothing positive to say about those people.

        I had to take a course in marketing for my business degree. I’m not interested in marketing at all, but I powered through it, and now whenever I encounter those terms and concepts in the future, I’ll be able to deal with them because I know what they are. If a class gives you knowledge and tools, that’s a success. Not everyone is going to be emotionally invested, and that’s OK.

        1. OP*

          I’m fairly private by nature, so I’m in total agreement. My students tend to disclose all kinds of things to me anyways, even when I repeatedly say things like “Your personal life is none of my business, I don’t think you are a bad student or blithely skipping class, so let’s focus on how we can get you back on track after these three missed assignments.” “Well, I’ve been having a really hard semester with [specific medical/mental health/family emergency issue]” No, please don’t.

          I’m glad my students trust me enough to tell me these things, but the last thing I want to do is encourage more feelings. I wonder if I should take them on a field trip to the counseling center (or bring a counselor in) early on, so when I say “it sounds like it would be helpful for you to talk to someone trained in that,” they’ll already be familiar.

  23. JBPL*

    When I work with newer grads, I tend to have to spend time explaining “hills to die on” which is something that gets discussed in various formats here often. You have a certain amount of capital to spend on workplace issues- do you really want to spend it on fighting about closed-toe shoes? Or do you want to use it to stand up for a major philosophical issue like privacy? Making those informed choices (or recognizing that they’re choices) takes practice for some people.

    1. SuddenlySeymour*


      I try to explain this to my employees (new grads in a first professional position/current college students in an academic setting, at a school that “values every voice”) – by comparing it loosely how supply and demand drives revenue. The more you talk/the more things you comment on, especially early on, the less people are going to pay attention and the longer it will take you to accrue capital. It isn’t like a school conversation, you aren’t getting points for speaking on every godforsaken thing, especially when you don’t have experience with said thing.

      Save your commentary. Comment thoughtfully on a few things. You’ll listen and learn more, faster, without irritating your colleagues.

  24. Code Monkey*

    I’m a new grad. I would’ve loved to know about professional norms- what topics to keep quiet about, how to dress, how to talk to your superiors, and how to ask for help.

    Also would’ve really loved resources on how to be trans in the workplace. I keep helping people online who think they need to put their legal name on their resume, even if they don’t go by that name and it doesn’t match their gender. Also mental health stuff- like, what do I do if I’m too anxious to go to work? How do I call in?

    Specific questions my partner and I have been debating. Is having a hickey unprofessional? Is talking about being queer classified as political talk? How late can you be before you have to apologize profusely? Is talking about specific neurodivergences (like face-blindness) unprofessional, and will people hold it against you if you can’t remember their face?

    1. ElizabethJane*

      For your debates with your partner:

      Yes but it shouldn’t be
      Depends on the workplace
      No but there are easier ways to say it.

      And to elaborate:

      To me a hickey is a window into someone’s sex life. There’s really only one way you get them and I don’t need to know that you were doing that yesterday or this morning. I love a good makeout session, hickeys and all, but it’s not that hard to make sure you keep them lower on the body/chest/where they can be easily covered by clothing.

      Anything involving sexuality may be seen as a political statement even though it shouldn’t be. I’d say know your workplace and adjust accordingly. I’d love to answer this one with “No, it’s absolutely not political” but sadly the whole world doesn’t agree with me. In my particular office it would be fine but we’re all liberal hippies and mostly don’t care. A more conservative office might.

      Lateness is going to depend on the culture. I can show up any time really and nobody is going to care. Most days I’m in at 8:15. It’s 10:15 now and I’m still in pajamas (working from home). I might go to the office at noon and nobody will care. But for the purposes of this I’d say you’re referring to a job with set start times. And that you have a track record of being on time most of the time. Anything under 3 minutes I wouldn’t acknowledge. In the under 10 minute range a quick “Sorry I’m late – bad traffic today” should do it. If it’s more than 10 minutes you presumably would have called ahead anyway. I don’t actually think apologizing profusely should be a thing. We’re adults. Say sorry once, make sure it doesn’t happen again, move on and get to work.

      For the neurodivergences – it really depends. This is going to be one of those where to me it’s like medical information. I don’t know that I want to know. Maybe a “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m REALLY bad at faces” and then if it comes up again “Yeah, it’s called face-blindness, but I am trying”. But I don’t want to know the details any more than I want to know the medical details of a non neuro condition.

      1. OtterB*

        IMO apologizing profusely applies when you’ve seriously inconvenienced a colleague – they can’t go off shift because you’re late, or they had to cover something for you because you were unexpectedly not there.

      2. Close Bracket*

        I wonder which neurodivergences you have. Telling people a trait you have without telling them there is a neurodivergence behind it gets a “You should just be different!” response. Telling someone you have trouble with time management without disclosing that it’s ADD gets a “You should learn some time management tips!” response. Sometimes even disclosing that it’s ADD still gets the “You should learn some time management tips!” Being bad with faces has huge stigma attached for some reason (that whole, “I might forget a name but I never forget a face” thing — remembering faces is praiseworthy), and lots of face blind people have been called stupid for not recognizing faces. Naming a medical condition helps make the point that no, I can’t just learn some tips to get better at faces. If you are uncomfortable with having medical conditions named, that’s a thing for you to work on, not a reason to advocate that people keep medical conditions that affect how they interact with you private.

        1. Code Monkey*

          Yeah, that would be the reason I’d bring it up- so that people would know that it’s how my brain works, and no amount of practice will help. (I can’t even recognize my own face in pictures.)

          I’ve got other neurodivergences that I know not to bring up. Like, revealing that I have autism is an awful idea. And there’d be no reason to talk about having synesthesia.

          1. Fikly*

            Fellow autistic with face-blindness! I can’t even recognize my own face.

            I have actually found it helpful, in some jobs, to specifically say that face-blindness is a neurological thing, because a lot of people will hear “I’m bad with faces” and think “well, you’re just not trying,” rather than “my brain simply will not do this.”

            Now, I don’t disclose this in jobs where my inability to recognize faces doesn’t cause problems, but it has helped in the past. My current job is remote, so on the rare occasions I see my coworkers in person, it’s easily explained by the fact that I only see their faces every couple of months.

            It’s sort of like how someone says they’re gluten free, and people think it’s just a personal choice, but if you say Celiac, or allergy, they are more likely to realize there is an actual medical basis and you do not have a choice about it.

            1. Code Monkey*

              Neat! Yeah, my current job is remote and it’s amazing for me. I can recognize everyone by voice on conference calls, I can save my interpersonal energy for after work activities, most of my conversations are through IM and I don’t have to struggle with auditory processing, and my cats are at home with me.

        2. ElizabethJane*

          I guess I should say for me personally “I’m bad with faces” is good enough. I have my quirks where I promise I’ve tried options A through Z and nothing works, that’s just how I am, and it irritates me when people suggest 15 things that I’ve tried and don’t work. So when someone says “I’m bad at X” I just accept their word that they’ve tried and they aren’t looking for me to tell them how to not be bad at it.

          But I also know that lots of other people aren’t good at that sort of thing, so for me I don’t need a full medical explanation.

          It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with named medical information, it’s that I make a point to take adults at their word and I don’t need to have a full medical discussion. For me “Sorry I’m bad at faces” is the same as “Sorry I was a few minutes late to the meeting, had to run to the restroom”. I don’t need to know “I have IBS” because I trust that if you say you had to go to the bathroom right then you really did. If I’m managing someone and their medical issue is impacting performance then I might want to know but for a peer I’m just going to assume you’ve got it handled.

          1. ElizabethJane*

            and in case it’s not clear, I’m not equating an actual medical diagnosis/neurodivergence with a “quirk” in any way, I know it’s more than that. I’m just saying that I manage my life to the best of my ability and I trust that other adults are doing the same, regardless of reason.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        I’m going to disagree on the sexuality a little bit. Talking about your own long(ish)-term relationships that are LGBTQx is not political in healthy workplaces, it’s personal. Talking about the challenges that LBGTQx people face in society, at work, etc is political.

        Don’t talk about hookups tho, that’s not good for work no matter the sexualities involved.

        1. ElizabethJane*

          Oh for sure, but that’s where I’m saying know your workplace. I’m a cis/hetero/white woman so if I say “My name is is Elizabeth, my husband’s name is James” that’s not at all political but in a particularly shitty workplace saying “My name is Elizabeth and my spouse is Megan” is going to be political, even though it definitely shouldn’t be (we all know that there are members of society who find the mere existence of non-hetero people to be “shoving their lifestyle down everyone’s throats”. So that’s where the “know your workplace” thing comes in.

          I mean I’d love to say just find a job that isn’t filled with shitty people but that’s also not realistic all of the time. I’d love for all people to be able to talk about their spouses and wedding planning and whatever else with the same ease that I can talk about my mainstream relationship without it being A Thing, but I also know that’s not the world we live in, yet.

      4. Mr. Shark*

        I agree with this part of ElizabethJane:
        I’d say know your workplace and adjust accordingly.

        Hickey is the exception. I agree that it’s basically TMI and definitely sexual related. I mean, you could probably write it off as something else, but in general in a professional setting you would want to hide that if possible.

        The other trans/nuerodivergence, I’d say you don’t have to hide it (of course not!), but you don’t have to be vocal about it. Treat it as just a matter of fact rather than a political viewpoint or something that needs to be broadcast. In most cases, people won’t care, as long as you are good at your job.

    2. Nonny Maus*

      I’m not a new grad (not a grad at all, really–but that’s another topic) and I agree with All of These.

    3. Grayson*

      Hi! Transmasculine enby with a contracting job who works primarily in Department of Defense and Department of Justice circles chiming in here.

      Partner questions:

      Visible, yes. Actually having one, no.
      Personal opinion: 15 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on your rapport with your boss.
      No. Explaining how your neuro atypical existence complicates your life can be helpful context to frame interactions with you for your new coworkers. You can get by with the basics, and demure any questions that make you uncomfortable.

    4. Donkey Hotey*

      Chiming in:

      Hickey having? No. Hickey displaying? Yes. That’s what turtlenecks are for.
      Queer = political? Talking about your partner? No. Pride day? Judge by your office. Voting on queer issues? Yes.
      Late? Varies by office. For me, under 15 minutes is NBD. 15-30, I poke my head it to my supervisor with an apology and an explanation. Over 30, I call.
      Neuro-divergence? There are ways to explain it without going into that level of detail.

      Good luck!

      1. Close Bracket*

        I wouldn’t call naming a neurodivergence any particular level of detail, and more than naming any other medical condition a level of detail. Telling someone you are face blind is not any different from telling someone you have diabetes. You are just naming a condition that you have.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          yeah, but this commentariat leans pretty heavily into not disclosing any condition / diagnoses until it’s concretely useful for the other people to know (eg, ‘I might have a seizure, here’s how to deal’). There’s been a lot of examples of how disclosure has gone badly for people. Some counter examples of it going well, but the risk seems unnecessarily high if you can use other terms.

    5. Kiwiii*

      For your questions:

      Yes, if people can see it.
      Depends on your workplace
      Depends on your workplace
      Depends on your workplace

      Re: 2 and 3)
      My current workplace is incredibly liberal (I am honestly surprised it exists in my city) and as such a good portion of my coworkers (and managers) are queer. Mentioning partners or queer events wouldn’t be political at all, here, though they might have been at my last (left in general, but much more polished) workplace. Anything heavier than that, unless it’s in a specific like one-off conversation, is probably not super work appropriate, though.

      As long as you’re not missing meetings, most reasonable places won’t care if you’re late (though I would think even at this job if I were going to be an hour late or more, I’d tell my manager probably), but this is really really different from workplace to workplace, so asking a trusted coworker (or three) how they perceive this will really help for context.

      1. scanon*

        Re lateness, a flexible work schedule policy does not necessarily mean you can show up whenever you feel like it. This is particularly true when you have a job where you are collaborating with others in any way (so most jobs). People still need to know when they can reach you in a consistent way. This may not look obvious to new grads, but most people still keep a schedule in time-flexible workplaces, it just might not be the same schedule as the person next to them.

    6. Close Bracket*

      Is talking about specific neurodivergences (like face-blindness) unprofessional,

      lol, it makes people uncomfortable, as you may have gathered from the responses to you, and some people mistake their discomfort at your neurodivergence with unprofessionalism on your part. So, choose carefully how you disclose. When it comes up, I openly tell people that I am mildly face blind and might go into detail about what that means. Sometimes people respond with, “Me too!”

      and will people hold it against you if you can’t remember their face?

      Yes, and no one will ever mention it to you directly, they will either silently seethe and judge you internally or complain about you to others. I said that when it comes up I am open, but it almost never comes up. You really can’t win with this one.

    7. Marie*

      On neurodivergence and other issues that can make you seem rude/broken in a professional environment. They’re fine to mention in the context of asking for a reasonable accommodation.

      I’ve worked with a couple visually impaired or hearing impaired folks at my current job. When they mention their issues AND how we can help them out in a non-confrontational way it was great. One blind manager needed us to say our names when we joined a call and before we spoke, at least until he learned our voices. I also gave him a bit of a pass on rudeness since he couldn’t see facial expressions. My current manager has significant hearing loss and once he shared that with us I was able to ensure that anything critical that happened in meetings was recorded in the notes and/or sent via email afterwards to avoid confusion.

      For face-blindness I’d avoid the “I’m bad at faces” thing since everyone says that. My friends with face-blindness would likely not recognize their own husband if he changed his hair. Instead I’d approach your boss privately and say something like, “I want to let you know that I have face-blindness (I’d actually use the official name and say also known as face blindness). I’m doing X, Y, and Z to help me learn and remember who everyone is but out of context I’m pretty likely to not recognize folks. It can help me if people do A, B, C (talk first, not take it personally, whatever works for you). Can I send a quick note to the team or say a few sentences in the team meeting. I want to be successful here and I think this would be prevent people thinking I’m horribly rude.”

      If you go the email route you can include a link to one of those websites that tries to simulate faceblindness using celebrities. I have the opposite problem. I can pick out folks I met at a party 20 years ago with ease. But I don’t remember their names, where I know them from, etc. A dear friend of mine is face blind and we’ve talked a lot about how she has to use context clues and voices to figure out who people are.

      1. Code Monkey*

        Thank you, that’s very helpful. Right now, I mostly work remotely for this and other reasons. I only come in for team meetings, and I can recognize everyone on my immediate team by voice/physical characteristics (having a diverse team is life-saving). For everyone else, I try to come off as friendly, but I know that I seem rude. It’s hard to form relationships when you have no idea who people are, or if you’ve met them before.

        Should I still approach it with my boss if it’s not causing work-related issues? I communicate via text and video chat, where it’s not a problem.

    8. I'm A Little Teapot*

      My answers:

      Is having a hickey unprofessional? – If I can see it, yes.
      Is talking about being queer classified as political talk? – Not political so much as TMI/I don’t want to hear about your romantic/sex life. But it depends on the workplace, ymmv so pay attention.
      How late can you be before you have to apologize profusely? – Depends, on the workplace and your level in relation to the other people. In general though, you should always apologize for being late.
      Is talking about specific neurodivergences (like face-blindness) unprofessional, – I’ve never had it come up in a professional environment. That sort of topic for me would be non-work related chit chat, so if you’re at lunch? Sure. When you’re supposed to be working? Nope.
      and will people hold it against you if you can’t remember their face? – Eh, depends. Some people, yes. Some people, no. If you’re generally a jerk about it, that’s a problem. But if you’re doing your best and are otherwise polite and friendly, etc – you’re probably ok.

      1. I'm A Little Teapot*

        And if you’re asking about this stuff because you have face blindness, agree with Marie above.

    9. Beth*

      will people hold it against you if you can’t remember their face?
      Some will, some won’t, and it will depend on how you handle it. It is up to you to handle it: it’s your condition, dealing with it is your problem, and the fact that it’s a neurodivergence doesn’t change that or make it the responsibility of anyone other than yourself.

      I don’t have face blindness, but I have a truly terrible memory for names and faces — if I see a person only a few times a year, I am NOT going to be able to remember them. This is compounded by the apparent fact that I seem to be way more memorable to others than they are to me, so they’ll remember my name and greet me with familiarity, and I’ll be utterly clueless about them.

      So I do my damnedest not to let people know. I check the meeting schedule at work to find out the names of clients who are coming in. I wait for someone else to address them by name. I ask for a business card “for my own records”. In social situations, I quietly ask my spouse, who is never judgemental about this, “Help me — what’s the name of the woman in the blue sweater?” Or I have a cheerful and warm conversation without actually using the person’s name or letting on that I can’t remember who they are or why they know me.

      And guess what? Most of the time, nobody notices. People tend to be focused on their own goals and interests, and if you act as if there’s no problem, they won’t assume that there is one.

      People want to know that they matter. Remembering faces and names is a common signal that You Matter, and not remembering them is easily taken as a signal that You Do Not Matter. But it’s just a signal. There are much more effective signals: being a good listener is possibly the best signal of all.

    10. BigRedGum*

      I just have to answer the hickey part. I’ve seen Subway employees with hickeys and that is wildly unprofessional and downright childish. We are adults, hide your weirdness. If someone in our office came in with a hickey (and we’re pretty laid back) we would have a lot to say. My boss would not be mad, but she would be annoyed at the poor decision making skills on display.

      Being late depends on where you work. We can be up to 30 min late before we even have to call or text to let someone know. Some places will not be flexible about being 1 min late. In my office, we have ample sick and vaca time, and if you need to use if for mental health, do it. Just get your work done when you are there. But again, not everyone is like us (which i think is lame! haha)

      Mostly, don’t talk about religion or politics and you’ll be fine.

      We’ve had some student employees interpret the business casual dress code as “that cute dress i wore to the bar” and that’s definitely not okay. Male, female or other, probably avoid spaghetti straps, clothes that have back or stomach cut outs, pants with cut outs, and make sure than when you are walking, no one behind you gets an awkward view if your skirt or dress is short.

  25. Weird Wombat*

    Many people will say this but… how to write a resume – we once received a resume that was SEVEN pages long and it was NOT a CV/the position she applied for was not an academic or research position. (We were a non-profit.) I wished someone would tell her that she didn’t have to list every position she had and that every position didn’t need ten bullet points each.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      We actually did so much of this at Arizona State – they have an amazing business program and the first thing you do is write your resume and draft a sample cover letter.

      Other things people have mentioned – the grammar, how to dress appropriately, professional communications, when to use various forms of communications, active listening, nonverbal cues, getting it in writing, that taking a management class will not get you into management, that you cannot say whatever you think just because it is in your brain, that there is no white knight coming to and you have to solve problems yourself, etc. It was so helpful.

      I wish there had been classes on buying a house and doing your own taxes – even though that’s not tied to your job. It would still be helpful.

  26. R*

    That they are not the fount of all wisdom. No, experience isn’t everything, but recent graduates need to consider that concept that experience may actually, sometimes, add value.

  27. ElizabethJane*

    And just a general coming in with 500 “new ideas to improve things”. There’s probably a reason a company hasn’t implemented those ideas and the reason isn’t that they aren’t smart enough to think of them. New grads shouldn’t be afraid to make suggestions, but they should get a feel for the company before telling the CEO they know what it will take to grow sales by 50%.

    1. Jonah*

      THIS. I’ve worked with plenty of interns and new grads who think that they’ve arrived just in time to save the business from certain disaster, and they’re always shocked when their Exciting New Ideas are poorly received because they don’t have the background info or industry experience to understand why those things are out of the question.

  28. PugLife*

    Active listening! It’s one thing to sit on your phone during class. It’s another to do so during a meeting. And learning those skills – head nodding, verbal cues – is important.

    That and professional email norms.

    1. Silicon Valley Girl*

      Seconded! It can also be taught as ‘interviewing’ because you have to listen carefully & for comprehension. It’s very useful in many professions, & this is definitely a skill that can be taught.

    2. OP*

      Do you have suggestions about a technology policy that would help encourage such things? I’ve done everything from a total ban on phones to “use technology how you want”, without finding anything I really like. I have far better things to do with my time than police their texting, but I watch so many of them unable to ignore a notification, no matter what else is going on. It seems like something that has to come from within. At the same time, technology is designed to keep our attention, and it’s an area where I think they’ll have problems elsewhere in their lives.

  29. Hedda*

    I wish my college would have made internships MANDATORY in order to graduate. Internships were always encouraged, but were ultimately optional for all students. I noticed right away when I showed up to my first job that I had a A LOT to learn. A lot that probably would have been learned if I would have had a damn internship or two!

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Agreed: Unless the school is prepared to offer a work-study or stipend, or screens for paid internships, this should not be mandatory. I worked during my summers. At normal jobs. For money I needed to pay for my books, etc., once I got back to campus.

      2. College Career Counselor*

        You are correct–not everyone can do an internship. Some colleges have funds to assist students with unpaid internships. But, at the very least, colleges should encourage (if not outright require) some kind of experiential activity (research, internship, fieldwork, volunteer service, co-curricular activity, etc. ) that complements the student’s education, ideally with a reflection component that enables the student to identify and articulate what they’ve gained from said activity.

      3. Summertime*

        Stuff You Should Know has a great podcast episode about internships and how the unpaid ones are opportunities that can only be taken by those with the means to not earn money for a summer.

        I’m all for mandatory work-study with stipend!

      4. Urdnot Bakara*

        Also agreed. One of my majors required an internship, 14 hours a week, on top of full-time coursework. Most available were unpaid, including the one I ended up getting. It was a valuable experience, to be sure, but it was also an extreme hardship for someone who was already working their way through school and now had less time for their paying job (where I also had the opportunity to learn some professional norms).

      5. Princesa Zelda*

        I’m working full-time and going to school; if an internship was required, I don’t think I’d ever graduate. There’s simply not enough time in the day.

        1. Donkey Hotey*

          That was me too. I specifically changed majors because of the unpaid extra time required outside of class. I’m all for interning, and I’m all for eating regularly and sleeping indoors.

      6. Mid*

        My school offers some that are the same as a class. You go one day a week, for a four hour block, which is the same time commitment as any other class would be. You get credit for it as a class too, no hoops to jump through. And the intern employers are monitored to ensure they don’t have the interns outside of their appointed hours.

        That’s what I’m okay with. It would be better if all internships paid. But having an internship class seems like a tolerable alternative.

      7. Avasarala*

        Honestly even paid ones–I don’t know if in principle students should have to work before they work. I think it’s OK to concentrate on school if you have a full courseload. I’d rather students do something to their interest–acapella, theater, community organizing, volunteering, learning to cook and live on their own, learn about tarot from their roommate, experimenting with being different people.

      8. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

        Yeah. I did both internships and part time jobs in college, and I actually think the customer service jobs were more valuable experience than the internships.

    1. texpat*

      Some colleges and universities (and majors within others) do require work experience–Northeastern springs to mind, as well as Bennington College, which both set aside time for students to work full-time. They also provide resources to ensure that students are able to find short-term, full-time work, and that students are funded for the work (I remember I was an unpaid internship one spring at the same time as a Northeastern student who was being paid by the university, because the nonprofit didn’t have the funds). Doing the work experiences outside of normal semester time allowed students to take positions far from campus, which was great for a school like Bennington, which is in the middle of nowhere in Vermont. All in all this seems like a great model to me.

      My issue with some internship requirements is that without some kind of compensation (at least for transportation), unpaid internships can be very challenging for students whose parents can’t or won’t support their children financially. During the school year, for instance, can be difficult for students to work an internship at the same time as a part-time job, because internships require more hours sitting in a chair than regular classes. And university efforts to make unpaid internships work for students without funds don’t always line up with reality: as an example, at my university, the career center offered competitive funding for summer internships–but you had to already have accepted the internship by the time you applied, which made the funding opportunity completely useless to me, since 1) the deadline to apply was before many summer internships hired, and 2) I couldn’t afford to take an unpaid internship if I didn’t get the funding in the end. I saw a friend shell out hundreds and hundreds of dollars one semester for public transportation to and from an internship that was required for their major (the university now reimburses for this, but didn’t a few years ago)–I have no idea how they paid for that and groceries at the same time on a work-study wage of $11/hr, maximum 20 hrs/wk.

    2. beanie gee*

      Regardless of internships, I wish colleges prepared students better for the fields they might work in. Internships can be a great way to get to know the industry and what the work will be, but I feel like we underprepare students by not tying what they are learning to how it might be used in an actual job.

      1. Quill*

        A lot of fields of study end up having nothing to do with the industries that require them, because industry can be so regionally or product dependent.

        My lab work in college prepared me for a lot basics of lab work, but when it comes to instrumentation, in my area the industries are so specific that they care more about experience with the precise instrument if you go into QC than if you have any college at all.

        1. Fikly*

          To a point, yes.

          There are far too many masters and phd programs for very specific industries that have very little to do with the actual job, because they prepare you to pass the license or board requirements, and those, in turn, have very little to do with actually performing the work.

      2. Avasarala*

        What fields might they work in? How should the history department prepare someone for work as a data analyst? How should the English department prepare someone for work as an executive assistant? How should philosophy prepare someone to work in HR? I think career counseling is definitely needed but I don’t know how colleges could do this.

    3. Phoenix Programmer*

      I did internships and still ended up a bull on tge professional norma China cabinet.

      You are suffering a bit from grass is greener complex.

    4. ACDC*

      My school required an internship in order to graduate and it definitely made a difference in my post-college job prospects. I agree that it was a great thing and I think a lot of the students valued from it. With that being said, my internship was paid so I didn’t have the same struggles as someone who had an unpaid internship (i.e. my spouse who went to the same school and would work nights and then do his unpaid internship during the day)

    5. Quill*

      Unless all internships pay a living wage that will support you in an area local to them, you can’t mandate internships. It makes graduation inaccessable to people for economic, location, and ability reasons. (Also the school should not make *you* find the internships, for precisely these reasons: you get internships often on the basis of connections instead of just applying to three dozen programs.)

    6. My Brain Is Exploding*

      I feel like internships can be good, but how about just regular job experience? I worked during HS and college and so did my kids. Surprising how many people don’t! That helped one of the kids get their first job after college: the job they had in college was completely different, but the new job saw that they got good grades in school while working and also had a good reference from their part-time job.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, I think just getting a service industry job would be good. Some people graduate college having never held any job which is insane to me. You’ll gain some valuable knowledge.

    7. BigRedGum*

      I did a paid internship (not getting paid wasn’t even an option. I had to work full time and I am a single parent, plus school was full time) and it did help me a lot. Paid internships should be more of a thing!

  30. Squeeble*

    Your boss will have different expectations for you than your professors did.

    They likely won’t be too interested in the process you went through to complete a task or solve a problem, they just want it to be done well. Brevity and efficiency are your friends!

  31. MML*

    As someone that graduated a few years ago, one thing I feel that I’ve had to “un-learn” from academics to a career setting is long-windedness, both verbally and written.

    I know this is a big pet peeve of many (including Allison’s!) and can hold you back professionally – but I think many academic norms center around adding more “fluff” than necessary. Think page requirements on reports, the need to over-explain you’re thinking process when providing an answer, etc.

    In a career setting, many professionals tend to want things direct and to-the-point, but in school you’re taught that the longer the paper or speech = better.

    I understand this process to a degree as this is required to ensure students are actually absorbing the material – but from personal experience its been tough to un-learn and regroup in my career, and I wish it was something they put more of an emphasis on for upperclassmen preparing to graduate.

    1. Marissa*

      Yes! And that clarity is better than variety, unless you’re a novelist. You don’t need to switch up your phrasing, and in fact doing so can create confusion.

      I also see a lot of people (of all ages) who struggle with vague references. I quickly had this habit knocked out of me by an impatient boss who would always ask “who do you mean by ‘they’?” “what do you mean by ‘that’?” every time I made a vague reference. It helped keep us on the same page and has helped me avoid many potential misunderstandings with employees now that I am in the position to have to keep pressing for clarity.

    2. Dagny*

      When I was a student, I usually went well over the word limit, and then would cut back my essay or paper to be within the limit. This ensured that my paper wasn’t padded with fluff, and it also forced me to make very concise arguments.

      This helps in the business world.

    3. juliebulie*

      Funny thing, we’d always be given a target page range for our papers, say 8 to 12 pages, and I would always come up just a page or two shy.
      And then I’d get a good grade on it anyway and not be penalized. Not once. As long as I held to the topic and included all the stuff I was supposed to, at the necessary depth, it was fine. And I’m sure the teacher/prof was just as happy not to have to read a couple of extra pages of hot air.

  32. Jennifer*

    This won’t apply to every college student, but for some I wish they’d learn more about interacting with people of different races, cultures, religions, etc. Sometimes kids move to big diverse cities after college and make ill informed comments.

    I’d encourage them to educate themselves and read books by diverse authors and stay informed about things going on in vulnerable communities. Get out of the bubble.

    1. Campfire Raccoon*

      JEEZ yes. And learning how to take direction/criticism/instruction from someone from the opposite gender. Sometimes this is cultural, but it can get a newbie fired lickity split.

    2. Quirky Analyst*

      I really like your comment, so important. My adaptation to a diverse student body thankfully happened in university. I came from an elementary and high school that were almost 100% Caucasian (Italian, Eastern European, Anglosaxon), due to the neighborhoods they were in. My undergrad, and grad school, were very diverse and thank goodness, because people in my industry (engineering) are very diverse too. Life-wise and work-wise I would be waaaay worse off if the student body in my university was not diverse.
      Agree that students entering the work force, should absolutely gain exposure to and learn about people of different races, cultures, religions, etc so that offhand comments don’t alienate others.

    3. CheeryO*

      Oh my goodness, yes. My American pluralism gen ed class was legitimately life-changing, having grown up in a small town that was 99.9% white.

    4. Oliver*

      Hard agree! Even if they can, at the very least, get experience working with people of different backgrounds, ages, or values it could help! At my current job we’ve had interns who really didn’t get how to talk to people whom they wouldn’t otherwise be friends with.

    5. ACDC*

      Definitely agree. A lot of the student body at my school was very sheltered and very white. I knew many people who metaphorically fell on their faces after graduating because they weren’t in that protected bubble anymore and didn’t know how to adapt to the real world being so different (in a good way) to what they were used to from the past several years.

    6. Amy Sly*

      May I also put in a word for dealing with age diversity? This was something that drove me nuts at my shoe store. I get that pre-college, you may never have had a friend more than a year older or younger. In college, you probably still didn’t have many friends outside a five year or so age range. Outside of college though, you must be able to deal with people of all ages and abilities, which means skills like looking at someone’s face while you’re talking to them and speaking clearly are necessary. You aren’t going to sell many comfort shoes to half-deaf ladies if you direct your voice away from their ears and mumble.

      1. Jennifer*

        Wow. I don’t get how you can live 22 years on the planet and never interact with an older person. Grandparents? Teachers? Professors?

        1. Amy Sly*

          If I had to guess — and I should note that I did NOT get to know them because they generally quit/were fired after a couple weeks, so this is based on socio-economic trends of the area — I would say it was a combination of broken families (if your father is absent, his parents are likely absent as well and so you have half the potential grandparents), the lower life expectancies associated with poverty, and a public education system full of twenty-something newly minted teachers who leave as soon as they can find something outside of the unaccredited/barely accredited school district. I imagine they had occasionally dealt with an older person, but not often enough or in such a context to force them to learn how to do so beyond uncomfortable small talk.

        2. iiii*

          It’s not so much that I never interacted with an older person, it’s more that the older people I interacted with in my youth were either my relatives, shop clerks and wait staff and such, or teachers and other professionals whose job was to care about my welfare. It was a bit of a shock to walk out into the real world and deal with people who were paying me to cater to them.

  33. SleepySally*

    It’s not class, everything is not a discussion/debate. I cannot get you an extension because you asked nicely at the last minute. It’s good to stick up for yourself and set boundaries, I don’t want to make it sound like you can’t discuss anything, but at the end of the day I’m your boss, and if I tell you something needs to be done a certain way, it needs to be done that way, especially when you’re new.

    Not every office is the same so it’s important to get an idea of the culture and norms in an office before making requests.

    I once had a new employee request time off on his first day… for the same day. It was not a great look, and he got off to a bad start.

    1. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

      Yes. The Devil has enough advocates. If you have a real business case for doing something differently, that might be a worthwhile discussion. But no arguing for the sake of arguing please!

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        “The Devil has enough advocates.”

        I once stopped someone by saying, “Hell is already full of lawyers. They don’t need another.”

  34. MousePrincess*

    Phone etiquette! We hardly ever actually call anyone in our personal lives, but so much of office work is calling people. It took me so long to get comfortable with (graduated in 2013).

    1. Bacon Pancakes*

      90% of the other people in my office (my STATE AGENCY OFFICE) will not pick up the phone when it rings. If our Office Admin is out only my boss or I will answer. Drives me NUTS

    2. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

      Voicemail etiquette as well. Leave your full name. Tell me what you want. Leave your phone number! People get used to caller ID picking up, but I don’t get a specific line at my job on the ID, I get the general switchboard number. I also support a learning management system as part of my job. TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT. Don’t just say “I have an LMS question.” Say, “I’m trying to set up a teapot quiz, but it won’t let me upload the pictures of the various teapot handles.” It helps me help you when I know what the f you want and have to play phone tag. If it’s a common question, I might even be able to send you a guide right then and avoid playing phone tag altogether.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Also, speak slowly enough for me to write things down. I get a lot of emails where people race through their phone number. I shouldn’t have to listen to your voice mail 10 times just to figure out your phone number.

        And pronounce your name clearly.

      2. CheeryO*

        Also… CHECK your voicemail! I have a couple younger coworkers who simply do not check their voicemail. They think that if it’s important enough, the person will follow up with an email or will call back later. I get where it’s coming from – I pretty much ignore my voicemails in my personal life, since they’re all scam messages or robo-calls confirming doctor’s appointments, but they’re definitely still a thing in business culture.

    3. Urdnot Bakara*

      Yes! To be fair to new grads, though, this is not just a new grad thing. The majority of our clientele are older individuals with established business careers and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to deal with extremely rude callers, received really unhelpful voicemails, etc.

    4. Galahad*

      Answer your work phone with something more than “Hello”… or even … silence?

      Don’t make your caller play “guess who”. Very inefficient and slightly rude.

      “Hello.. this is Galahad” or “Hi, Denise here!” is short and fine. This tells the caller if they have reached the right person without guessing, and that they likely reached an office number, not a personal phone. Add in the company name if you get a lot of customer / client / public callers you haven’t met personally before.

    5. Drago Cucina*

      A very late reply to this, but…
      1. Have your voicemail set-up so I can leave a message. It’s very frustrating when someone has applied for a job and I cannot leave a message about setting up an interview. I understand not answering unknown numbers, but I still have to reach the applicant.
      2. Check your email for the same reasons.

  35. Rex Manning*

    This is a little different than the rest of the answers here, but I work in academia and I see this a lot from our students so I feel compelled to at least mention it.

    When you make a commitment, stick to it. And if you don’t, understand that you’re fully responsible for the repercussions. A lot of our students will make appointments and then not show up. Sometimes they send messages (oh, I overslept!) and sometimes they completely ghost. Then they get upset when they miss out on an opportunity, or they suffer consequences from whatever it was they missed.

    Unfortunately, a lot of the students that I work with seem to think that it’s okay that this happens every once in a while, but really, it’s not something you can do as an adult in the workplace. You can’t just not show up to a meeting with your boss, or not finish a project that you committed to because you overslept. That behavior will get you fired or keep you from being promoted, and it’ll be an uphill battle all the way. Follow through.

    1. Kiri*

      Yeah, this is a real thing. I supervise student workers in an academic library – it can be tough because they get the message with their work study jobs that school comes before work – that if they were up until dawn studying for a test, or if they have a last-minute meeting with a professor, it’s ok to miss their shift. In my opinion, this is exactly how it should be – their work study is to support them in their academic career, not vice-versa. But you’re absolutely right that this isn’t going to fly after college, and they could get the wrong idea about the working world from this.

      So, OP – that work study jobs may have different expectations than post-college jobs will?

    2. ouchie*

      Someone please teach them that “I’m going to work from home today” (when not previously arranged with supervisor, or not severe-weather-related) is not a thing that should be done lightly.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        And the corollary “If you are sick, stay home, even if you need to work from home! Let your boss know, but don’t play Typhoid Mary!”

        I have lost count of how many illnesses I have come down with solely because of workplace exposure. “Oh, I had that just a few days ago…” should never need to be said at work, IMO.

    3. TiffanyAching*

      Ooh, I can definitely see that having repercussions. In school, you can make the calculated decision that skipping X project or Y meeting isn’t going to damage your grade much, so you can choose not to do it. At work, not so much!

    4. beanie gee*

      You are so right! I could be overstating, but I get the sense that a lot of people coming out of college lately don’t really get that they can be fired.

      We had to have a hard conversation with an intern who had some performance issues and he seemed floored that it was possible his internship might end early if the issues continued.

  36. Pidgeot*

    How to approach an ambiguous problem and figure out what you need to learn in order to solve it. Too many new grads come in with the mindset that they learned X, Y, and Z at their school and that their job will be how to apply learnings X, Y, Z to do any task assigned to them, whereas in reality X Y Z is just context for them approaching future problems in the workspace.

    1. CheeryO*

      Yes, this is huge. We had a senior capstone project that pretty much required the same skills that my current job requires – cooperation with “stakeholders” (data that we could request from the professor, if we knew what we needed), researching standards, regulations, and case studies, and a whole lot of Google-fu. People HATED it, since we were given very little direction, and it seemed like a lot was being expected of us. Tears were shed. We didn’t end up being graded that harshly; it was mostly about the experience, which was incredibly helpful, in retrospect. (That instructor was also one of the few who had decades of experience in the industry, and not just in academia. Coincidence? I think not.)

      1. OP*

        Many of my students (particularly my very successful ones) really panic when we have open-ended projects. Even when I tell them “we’re working together to make x thing happen, it may take several iterations but we’ll get there and your grade is not threatened”, they desperately want a step-by-step manual. Is it the kind of thing that (some, maybe most) will only appreciate after the fact, and I should just resign myself to pushback in the moment? I keep hoping I can come up with the “right” way to explain open-ended projects so that they’ll see the benefits and not panic over a (false) threat to their grade.

    2. Atlantian*

      Adding on to this, the difference between theory and the real, practical world. And, in industries where both exist simultaneously, the difference between academia and corporate norms. In my previous industry we were plagued by recent graduates at both the bachelor’s and master’s level who thought the work would be exactly like the reports/studies/papers/classes described and were shocked to find out that it was very different for budget/time constraints/any number of other issues that make for-profit corporate work different from the idealized version presented in class and the research.

  37. EnfysNest*

    Employment law – at least the basics. Pretty much everything I know about exempt vs non-exempt, the legal definition of hostile work environment, FMLA, etc. are all just from reading this blog – none of that was ever addressed in any of my formal education classes.

    I’ve had some friends recently going through some shady stuff at work (working as baristas with set hours and other conditions that should clearly have made them non-expempt employees, but they were labelled and paid as independent contractors), and they had no idea that any of it was wrong until I told them what I’d read here. And even then, they still didn’t quite believe how much of an issue it was until it came tax time and they realized how far off things were from what they’d expected.

    1. NGA*

      1000%. Having worked in higher ed, I know it doesn’t always feel like the university has students’ back, but university admin has a much more significant protective and supportive role of a student than the American legal system has for workers. I know I have made different choices as I learn and understand more both what my rights are and what are just things I need to advocate for from a values or value-add perspective because there’s no legal backing to require it.

  38. Pretty Fly for a WiFi*

    How to fill out the usual forms: W4, I-9, an application (and why you can’t leave the experience portion blank and write “see resume”), etc. Even though the W4 and I-9 forms come with instructions, nobody reads them, then I have to explain it all. But what I have to explain the most is how health insurance works: copays, coinsurance, deductibles, and so on. One new employee decided to not sign up at all rather than READ the benefits booklet that explained these things. If they’re exposed to them early on, then they won’t be scared of the jargon (hopefully).

    1. E*

      Absolutely! I grew up in a family where my parents were self- employees, no health insurance. My brother never signed up for health insurance at his first full time employer, and a couple years in he had a major health issue. Learning curve that should not have happened!

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep. My spouse and I were both raised by family business owners with no (or very sporadic) health insurance. There is definitely a lot to keep in mind, and it’s easy to miss something expensive. My spouse got a recommendation from his primary care doctor years ago, and he didn’t realize HE needed to check to see if they were a participating provider on our plan – he assumed the doctor would not recommend someone who wasn’t. A thousand-plus-dollar bill later, we won’t be making that mistake again. It is so bureaucratic and unintuitive!

    2. Mojo021*

      OMG YES!!!! I work in human resources and I can’t count the number of times I was told they will bring the new hire paperwork home for their mom to fill out….. or the guy who looked at his license to see what color his eyes were when completing a background check form….. still not sure how I kept a straight face.

        1. SLR*

          Well no, but I know what color they are b/c they’re mine. Don’t you know offhand what color your hair is? Same idea.

          1. Blue Anne*

            Honestly, if you’d asked me six months ago, I wouldn’t have been totally sure what my natural hair color was, since I’d been dyeing my hair for so long. (Stopped recently, turns out I’ve got a lovely mid-brown with a cool gray streak developing.) Still not sure what color my eyes are. People have told me blue and green – which apparently means that they’re actually gray and very affected by the lighting in the room, so I put gray on my license, but I’ve got no clue really, I don’t spend a lot of time gazing into my own eyes in the mirror.

            I’m also a competent adult. So it seems like an odd thing to compare to bringing forms home for mom to fill out or to not be able to keep a straight face about. Cruddy attitude for an HR person.

    3. AnonyLawyer*

      There are more than 200 ways to mess up an I-9 — some of the errors can be fixed, but some of them actually cannot be. It is absolutely amazing to me how many people cannot complete them correctly — not just the employees, but HR, to be honest! We have entire legal practices dedicated to teaching clients how to do them properly and timely, what can be fixed vs what cannot, auditing, etc. Companies can incur massive fines if ICE reviews their I-9s and finds issues, especially substantive issues. All companies are going to have some I-9 problems, but they can be reduced if HR is properly trained. (So many HR people think they’ve been properly trained, but they are NOT!!!)

      1. BigRedGum*

        True. I’ve been at my current job more than 3 years, and a few weeks ago I got an email telling me I need to go to HR and write “NA” in one space. I still haven’t done that, but I guess I should.

  39. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    Appropriate tone and language in email! I have the pleasure of encountering a lot of dissatisfied people in the course of my work. The ones who get the best outcomes are the ones who make reasonable requests of the organization (not demands), who demonstrate respect and avoid being accusatory, who demonstrate some flexibility (acknowledging that their request may take some time or may be responded to in a slightly different way than they anticipated). I think it’s useful to know that even in truly adversarial encounters, demonstrating a baseline level of respect and good faith is always helpful. I think as a faculty member you might have opportunities to teach these skills when students are challenging a grade or seeking some sort of policy exemption (like an ADA accommodation).

      1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        hooray! My former coworker and I (in a university legal office) used to laugh every time Hudson University was featured on SVU and it became our mantra along with “Don’t do what Hudson U. would do!”

  40. BRR*

    Writing (and I say that as someone who isn’t good at it!). An easy one for writing is length. In school I feel like students often stretch to hit a minimum length. Longer does not equal better (if anything I’d say shorter is better). O Other than length, I’d say an effort to clearly communicating thoughts both in the language used and how information is grouped. I’ve had several coworkers where it basically gives me a headache with how an email can jump around.

  41. Chili*

    That it’s okay to advocate for yourself and proactively ask for accommodations/help/feedback/etc. The current education system really values the non-squeaky wheels– those who don’t need to ask for help, people who “just get it” or are very self-reliant. This feedback is usually reinforced even further amongst women and people of color. That is flipped on its head in the workplace and top-performing students don’t realize silently grinding isn’t actually as appreciated in this setting.
    How to do this in the education system is a little harder, but I would make sure to encourage students to ask for help, don’t immediately shoot down suggestions for changes to the system, make sure you make a point to mention that most systems in society can be changed, emphasize at the beginning of classes that you reward creative approaches to problems.

    1. Chili*

      I acknowledge this is also tricky to teach because a lot of people with privilege already feel empowered to do this stuff and come into the workplace and take this too far.

      1. Intern Wrangler*

        This is interesting, because I was getting ready to post my own, which is pretty much the exact opposite: that what new grads need to learn is that the workplace is not all about them, and they need a little less “empowerment” and a lot more self-control – in other words to STOP SQUEAKING and do what they were hired to do. What I’m seeing is young employees who have learned in academia that if you don’t get the grade or the extension or whatever you want from your professor, you follow it up the chain of command until someone overrules your prof and you get what you want. That’s not appropriate in the work world: if you don’t like what your manager gives you to do, tough shit do it anyway. Don’t take it to somebody in a bigger office and plead your case – they don’t want to hear it and shouldn’t have to. Also understand that you’re not likely to get promoted within the length of a semester. The job you were hired for is actually the job we expect you to do for as long as you choose to stay here – it’s not a one-month trial after which you’ll be running the freakin’ company.

        1. Chili*

          I’ve definitely experienced this too! As with all advice there is people it is not intended for. As a woman of color in a primarily white and male field, though, I definitely see a lot of other underrepresented people falling into the silent rolling trap that I did and want to tell them they don’t have to. I feel like there needs to be a training about judicious squeaking in the workplace that helps those who don’t squeak enough and also tells the squeakiest that they need to pipe down.

        2. Oliver*

          I think both perspectives are right in their own way. I’ve definitely have interns not understand that they can’t get their way. I’ve also had ones who didn’t know that it was ok to ask for clarification or help with a project, or who when encountering common snags (like “where is the file I need to do this?”) just wouldn’t raise them. But I think you can encourage and reward basic self-advocacy while not always catering to everyone’s individual whims.

          1. Chili*

            Yes! I definitely was the latter type. It took too long that people do value resourcefulness, but they also don’t expect you to be a wizard. And bosses aren’t perfect and will sometimes give you too little information and it’s alright to ask for more instead of doing 6 versions of the task they asked you to do so you can give them the variant it turns out they wanted (a real thing I was doing).

    2. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      And related to my comment above, it really helps to have strong communication skills when you do this. Don’t pursue change by automatically taking an adversarial stance, but rather approach those in a position to make changes with a collaborative approach first. Don’t jump to a sit-in at the first sign of trouble, seek to start a conversation, ask questions, and actually listen. Assume that people in the position to make changes also want to do the right thing, and may have information that you do not.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      +1 The failure mode of clever is asshole.

      — someone who has had multiple bosses tell her to not sass when customers / clients are around

    2. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Or venting.
      –says the person who just took the younger staff out to the kitchen and talked him down after he got a very rude email from a manager. Including how he should react and address it.

  42. S-Mart*

    Engineering bias here, not sure how applicable it is outside my field:

    There is no one right answer. There are a bunch of wrong answers, but there are probably a number of ‘right enough’ answers, all with pros and cons.

    You’re not expected to be able to solve everything yourself – or even within your team/group. Different roles have different expertise and insight that can help. Most new engineers are self-starting enough to ask for advise from other engineers. Few think to involve manufacturing, quality, or marketing (for examples).

    Sometimes you need to tell your boss if you have too much work – or too little.

    My number 1 is wishing they came out able to create or evaluate the quality of a drawing. Most can read one, but have no idea whether it’s complete or good. This is probably too specific for your purposes, but it’s the biggest training roadblock.

    Sometimes what you want/need in a solution isn’t possible (either with the resources available to you/your company, or at all).

    The problem you’re given isn’t always the one you should solve. By this I mean sometimes you’ll be pointed to a solution that fixes a symptom of a problem, but the better answer is to solve/eliminate the root cause problem.

    1. Summertime*

      Hello S-Mart! Fellow engineer here! I’m only a couple years out of school, and I can say everything you mentioned was something I had to acquire on the job. In school, you never question whether the information given to you in a homework problem is accurate. But it’s often the case that documentation is outdated in real life. I personally wanted to ask why, why, why and that’s how I arrived to discover that if there is information, you should verify it.

      I think a lot of what you mentioned can be overcome relatively quickly if you have a young professional who is inquisitive enough and willing to understand their own limitations in coming up with solutions. I think this can be said of any young professional in any field.

      I’m still learning and will always will be so this really resonated with me!

      1. CheeryO*

        The “questioning the assumptions” thing is a great point, which I was reminded of as I was studying for a professional exam recently and got a chance to see things through the lens of academia again. Sooo many laughably unrealistic assumptions, especially “negligible” parameters that are actually anything but in reality.

    2. Dan*

      I’m a data analyst/modeler more than anything, and wrt the “no one right answer” thing, I’d say that’s the difference between undergrad and grad school. I’ve long said that undergrad is about learning how to get the answer in the back of the book, and in grad school, you learn there’s no one right answer.

  43. Neon*

    I work in engineering and fundamental technology development, and would like recent grads to know that it’s OK to say “I don’t know”.

    It’s expected that a person will to not have a ready answer to a complicated problem or difficult question, and “I’m not sure about that, but will do X, Y, and Z to find out” is often an appropriate response. To a large extent the employer is paying you to figure out the X, Y, and Z required to get the desired information; because nobody knows the answer to the question.

    I think the “false problem” approach of school, where the goal is to re-create the correct answer that the instructor already knows, gives many recent students the impression that saying “I don’t know” makes you look dumb or unprepared. This is incorrect, as smart people are often the ones who are most aware and vocal about the limits of their own knowledge.

    Sure, you can’t do this all the time or for simple things that it *is* your job to know offhand; and you need to actually execute the plan you come up with to get an answer. But don’t say things that are inconsistent with your actual knowledge just to avoid having to admit that it’s not perfect.

    1. Neon*

      As for how a college professor could actually promote this mindset, perhaps mentioning in class that *you* don’t know the answer to a thorny question and then figuring it out with the assistance of the students would help?

      Make it a class project: “Today we’ll all work on this thing that has Dr. Smartypants stumped.”

      Very often professors seem hesitant to admit their own limitations, maybe out of concern that it would undermine their authority or credibility with their students. I submit that this isn’t always the best approach, and that the students could lean a lot from watching an expert struggle.

      When I was an undergrad I would have found it tremendously valuable to see one of my legitimately Very Smart People professors grapple with a real problem in real-time; and see that even experienced people with an excellent understanding of the material sometimes wind up going down blind alleys or having to revise their fundamental understanding of the situation.

      1. blackcat*

        So this is complicated as an instructor! I agree it’s super important, but I’ve also had colleagues who work hard to do this and get SLAMMED on student evaluations. The common thread is that students will assume that if their female or POC instructor doesn’t know something, that they’re an idiot who shouldn’t be teaching the class. It’s much less risky for older white male instructors.

        But, yes, one of my favorite moments of teaching a large lecture class was when I was TOTALLY baffled by something. It was great! I figured it out before the students, but we had a really genuine discussion about Why on earth did that move that way. But a situation was presented to me, I said “huh” really loudly, and my class laughed so hard. I threw it back at them, “Does someone want to take a stab at why I’m confused? What’s weird?” It was such a lovely discussion, showing them the process of “Huh, this is weird.” -> “This is WHY that’s weird, and this is my expectation for what should have happened.” -> “What are the assumptions underlying that expectation?” -> “Which of those assumptions fails here?” -> “What is the actual explanation for what I’m seeing?”

        That process is really independent of field, and something that isn’t well taught because it’s risky and hard for instructors. I am a pretty confident instructor with a lot of experience, and there was a junior faculty member in the room observing me. Afterwards he was like “What on earth do you do when a student throws a curve ball like that?” And it’s HARD. So hard. And harder for non-white men to build a classroom culture where students will engage with the process rather than simply thinking “Why am I here if my professor doesn’t have all the answers?”

        It is very hard to convey to students that my job as their instructor is much more about teaching them how to think and problem solve, rather than teaching them any particular content. They very much want to be evaluated on the correctness of their answer, rather than the quality of reasoning that got them there.

        1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

          Yes! This is why I always, every semester, taught a segment in English titled “What Do You Do When You Run into a German Word with No Idea What it Means?” (spoiler: the answer is not to stop reading or just skip it.) I always ended it with a note that these techniques are useful for all reading comprehension, and are a really good idea to review in a test situation where lack of comprehension can have consequences, even if you’re reading in your native language.
          Anything we can do to encourage people to slow down, think, and look at context when presented with the unknown will stand them in good stead at work.

    2. Chris*

      Learning to say “I don’t know” (and variations like “I don’t know but I can find out”, “I don’t know, but Jane is much more familiar with that than I am”, and “I don’t know and this is how much it would cost to find out”) has been one of the more valuable skills that I’ve developed since graduating college.

    3. TechWorker*


      Would also add that it’s okay not to know things and to need the right expertise! In academia there’s (certainly at undergrad anyway, but I imagine at higher levels too) a big emphasis on going through the whole process yourself and being the one to do *everything*. Especially for new folks – but even for not – there comes a time when it is quickest to ask for help or get an answer from someone else rather than stew on the problem yourself and waste days of work. The team is judged by its output, not by whether one person tried really hard and solved the problem all by themselves.

      (I’ve also run up against new grads who are very very bright and sailed through uni and then floundered a bit because they’re not used to finding things ‘hard’ and literally don’t know how to process it emotionally – but that’s pretty specific to the type of grads we hire…)

      1. J*

        Absolutely. So many smart young people go through school finding everything easy and getting straight A’s. The school always gives you the right answer, or teaches you the prescribed process, and all the student has to do is apply or regurgitate the lesson. And there’s only one ‘right’ solution. Everything else is ‘wrong.’

        Then they get to their jobs and encounter a time when the solution is not obvious, or there is no single ‘right’ answer, and they fall apart. Some of them have literally never failed at anything. They don’t automatically know the ‘right’ answer, and they can’t deal it.

        And I’d submit that there are a lot of things (TV, movies, video games, etc) that encourage this by dividing the world into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ with nothing in between. There are so many TV shows that get off on abusing people with the idea that failure = stupid = worthless that it reinforces the idea that a person has to be naturally great at everything or else they are worthless. It’s horrible.

    4. Fikly*

      Relatedly, I do not trust a doctor until they tell me they don’t know something.

      Because far too many will make up an answer when they don’t know the answer.

      1. Flora*

        Best medical experience ever: when the doctor tried on a couple of diagnoses, asked me clarifying questions, and then was like, *hold up a finger* BRB, and then returned with a reference book and we sat together and decided what seemed most likely. (and this was right). Doc was visibly worried I was going to be an asshole about this, but no. If my choices are doctor “knows” everything and doctor gets right answer, I am absolutely going for the second one.

  44. Zona the Great*

    How to work in a group that you were assigned to and cannot change. There’s a difference between someone not pulling their weight in a group project in school and the actual implications of this when it is a peer colleague that you may or may not like or even know.

    1. NGA*

      I think group projects are such a missed opportunity to practice crucial life skills. Teachers/professors often just kind of assume that the students already have or will develop by necessity the skills to set a collective vision/goals for the project, break up the work, delegate, assign and track, and continuously evaluate, and give feedback to peers. It would have been so great to have been purposefully taught some of these things!

      1. Quill*

        No, when these things happen in school (especially during the mandatory k-12 years) what people learn is how to parasitize the people who care the most about actually getting the project done. We need a better setup for teaching it than randomly assigned group projects (and ESPECIALLY not ones that will require students to go to each other’s houses… I have so many horror stories from me and from aquaintances who turned up for a group project only to be screamed at by uninformed parents, attacked by aggressive pets, allergic to pets / smoke / some other thing in the house…)

        1. Brogrammer*

          Word. I’ve got plenty of memories in school of going to the teacher with some variation on “Wakeen is flat out refusing to do any work. I tried talking to him about it and he laughed in my face and called me a nerd. Can I expel him from my group?” and being told no, I can’t do that.

          In a functional workplace, there are plenty of ways to address a coworker not doing what’s needed.

  45. The Bad Guy*

    I for one think college does a pretty good job of making employees adaptable. If you’re seeing that employees aren’t very good at excel right out of college, maybe your company should create a curriculum for new employees on excel during the ramp up period. I genuinely believe that the primary skill taught in college is learning how to learn your subject. We as employers and managers need to adapt ourselves to take advantage of that because your local college isn’t going to start a rigorous excel curriculum just because you complain about your newest hire from there.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      I think it’s more about how new employees are presenting it. We have 4 new grads on a rotational program. Every single one of them said they are “great” at Excel. None of them know basic hot keys (CTRL + C, CTRL + V for example), they don’t know vlookups, and they don’t know pivot tables. I’d be a lot less frustrated with them if they just said they don’t know.

      I actually don’t think that college needs to teach Excel per se (I learned about a year into my first job) – but I do think they need to do a demonstration of what it can do so students realize how much they don’t know.

      1. TechWorker*

        Wait, they don’t know Ctrl+c and ctrl+v – have they ever used windows..?! Or a computer…? Lol

      2. Public policy anon*

        It seems to me there are strong incentives for recent grads to exaggerate what they know, though. Most entry-level jobs require a long list of knowledge and experience that few if any recent grads will have, so they do have to embellish and exaggerate their knowledge and accomplishments to have any chance of getting an interview.

        This leads to a situation where if you *don’t* exaggerate your skills and knowledge on your resume, it gets thrown in the trash immediately.

      3. techRando*

        Agreed on this, heavily. Colleges should sit students down and explain “No, you aren’t an expert in [software] just because you are minimally proficient in it.”

        (Spare me from new grad “git” experts)

      4. Robots*

        “I do think they need to do a demonstration of what it can do so students realize how much they don’t know.”

        That’s such a good point.

    2. Fikly*

      I don’t think colleges do teach you how to learn your subject. They teach you how to memorize your subject and regurgitate it on a test or paper.

    3. Avasarala*

      I agree. I think all these things people are complaining about should be taught by company new grad training programs (here is our dress code, here is the level of formality you should use with higher-ups, here is how much we want you to question our policies, here is how you should call in sick and leave voicemails) or family (how to be a responsible person, how to deal with stress/priorities, how to work with diverse people).

      1. ElizabethJane*

        I guess I sort of agree, but the dress code… I once had to explain to someone that wearing faded sweatpants and a 10 sizes too large tshirt with Garfield (the cat) and “Give me the f—ing (not censored) lasagna” was not work appropriate, even though it was casual Friday.

        I’m thinking things like “If a company says ‘casual Fridays’ they typically mean nice jeans instead of dress pants, but still wear a blouse or button down shirt” or even something like “Wear business casual for your first few casual Fridays to observe how the rest of the company dresses before you participate yourself” because there are people who just don’t get it.

  46. Lora*

    -Ethics, ethics and more ethics. How to stand firm when your boss asks you to do something sketchy, the difference between sketchy and illegal, how to refuse to do a sketchy thing or an illegal thing in a way that won’t get you actually fired, when to decide to leave.

    -Time is money. The one thing that grad students and new postdocs REALLY don’t understand is that their time is more valuable than materials. Materials are cheap, missing out on the next round of funding because you didn’t hit the milestones you promised investors is very, very expensive indeed.

    1. Lora*

      oh, thought of another – the Edward Tufte class on data presentation. There used to be multiple classes, now I think they only offer one, but data presentation is critical.

  47. Just Elle*

    I know this isn’t precisely related to workplaces, but the single most valuable class I had in all of college was a 1 credit class on how to interview. And not those terrible advice ones. But peer reviewing resumes to death, mock interviews, they even brought in people from the fashion department with advice on dressing and a hostage negotiator to talk about salary negotiation.

    Our school SLAYED career fairs.
    And then I moved to another school that didn’t have a robust class like this and it was… downright embarrassing.

    Oh, and how to do your taxes. And apply for a mortgage. And do a cost benefit analysis on a car loan. And what a credit score is. And why 401ks matter and which options to pick. And why you should contribute to your HSA.

    1. E*

      Financial wisdom is definitely not given enough time in college or even high school. Learning how to balance a check book is great, except when you also need to learn how to save for an emergency fund or annual tax bill. Knowing how to not get into debt up to your eyeballs would also be helpful.

    2. Another worker bee*

      Financial literacy stuff is important, but I disagree with the “I never learned anything useful like how to do taxes” comment (which is the most common lament about every high school / post secondary education). Filing taxes is ridiculously easy when you are young, single, and own no property (as we all are starting out) and all you have to know how to do is FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS (and, you know, basic arithmetic). Which I learned in school, in spades.

      Credit score gaming for mortgages and investment vs. saving vs debt pay down, etc, absolutely – there should be more of this.

    3. juliebulie*

      A lot of that stuff really needs to be taught in high school, because it is general stuff that people need to know even if they don’t go to college.

      I am stunned and alarmed by my oldest niece’s ignorance about taxes, finance, washing red garments separately, etc., but they don’t teach that stuff in school, her parents barely know much about it themselves (they have someone do their taxes), and now that I think of it, I’m not even sure how I learned about it. (Except for the thing about washing reds separately. I learned the same way almost everyone else knows.)

      Basic life stuff, like sewing a button, fixing a flat tire, etc. High school. They should already know it when they get to college.

  48. kittymommy*

    Respect the process and respect the chain of command (at least until you have more experience with it). Sure sometimes it might work to go outside of these parameters, but a new grad is a lot less likely to know when those are than when they are not. We have a guy who, while very nice, thinks that his great (and sometimes not so great) ideas can just be brought straight to the big bosses and it’s totally cool to skip over 4 levels of seniority to do so. Um no. One of the reasons you run those ideas by those levels is because the idea, while good, actually has to go through certain stages so it can legally happen.

  49. MsMaryMary*

    Edit how many details you tell your coworkers about your personal life. Your coworkers are less likely to be impressed by how wasted you got on Saturday, or how you ditched an unfortunate Tinder date. No one wants to hear the details of your on again, off again, girlfriend from high school. You don’t want to be known as a party person or dramatic dater. You want to be known as the go to person to proofread a report of the Excel guru.

    1. Quill*

      Oh my god, I worked with another labtech who spent our entire time talking about how wasted she got (nearly every other night) with her cousins, then her dating life, and it was… so uncomfortable. Especially since she tried to include me and startled me into coming out to her because there was just… not another answer.

  50. AnotherAlison*

    Lots of good comments here, so what I would add is this:

    Learn that there is a lot you don’t know about the working world, and understand that you’ll need to learn it.

    That’s a part of life. Someone cannot tell you everything. You have to learn a lot by observing and trying things. “Well, no one told me. . .” doesn’t go very far. FIO.

  51. Just Elle*

    I know this one is very specific, but I think the entire mechanical engineering curriculum needs an overhaul. 75% of engineering grads use 0% of the pen-and-paper-math-style classes that make up almost all of our curriculum.
    I barely passed my engineering classes because calculus is just not my skill set. But I excel as an engineer because I can translate technical babble into normal people speak and no one else seems to be able to.
    Sure, there are MIT grads out there who do really, really hard math stuff. But the majority of state school grads etc actually end up doing a much more high-level problem-solving role.

    And yet almost all of us need proficiency in (not just one select brand!) CAD packages, an understanding of ISO / quality regulations, Lean / six sigma, problem solving, an ability to manage projects and use Microsoft Project, and a basic knowledge of cost-benefit analysis. Oh, and how to communicate effectively.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Hmm. Are you familiar with ABET accreditation? I honestly think my alma mater has appropriately evolved their ME program to meet workforce needs and maintain their accreditation.

      The ME career is also very diverse, and I would not agree that the things you listed are the most important for people in my line of work. Given the limited flexibility of an engineering curriculum, I’m pretty satisfied with what they’re doing at the universities. My university also has certain courses that are required of ALL students, so once you hit those and the engineering requirements, you can’t really add anything else.

      CAD packages. In my opinion, learn one. From one, you can learn many if your job requires it. I have engineering technicians who do this for me and haven’t done any CAD myself since I was about 5 years out.

      ISO/Quality – a fundamental understanding of quality and awareness of ISO, sure. Unless you are the quality person at your company, you’ll just follow the quality program that is in place.

      Lean/six sigma – again, principles and awareness only. Six sigma belts were a big thing when I started my job in 2000, but I don’t hear much about this in my industry now days.

      Project management will be learned on the job as you spend your early technical years ON projects, and you can pursue the education later, too. We don’t have room in our ME curriculum for a PM class, but my school incorporates this into freshman design classes and capstone project classes, and the grads I work with at my job seem to get the concept of working on projects quite well.

      MS Project can be learned on the job. If someone offers an engineering management course, focus on the principles of scheduling, not the software package. My projects are scheduled in Primavera by a scheduler, but as a PM, it’s important that I understand what is going on behind the scenes in the software.

      Cost benefit analysis – I am fairly certain engineering economics is required by ABET. Not a standalone class, but the topic must be covered in the curriculum.

      I do agree with the importance of communication, but my school definitely offers this experience. I think it’s on the students to not delegate the report writing to the woman in the group if they want to improve this skill.

      1. Just Elle*

        Yes – I went to two ABET schools. One a top 50 for Industrial Engineering. One a ~300 state school for Mechanical Engineering. Both in the last 10 years.
        The higher level school did teach me a lot more about these broader topics, but that’s also a big part of the Industrial Engineering track.
        The lower level school focused so severely on statics/fluids/materials/controls etc paper problem solving and it just simply did not make sense for the kinds of jobs the graduates would be doing – they all ended up being more of a manufacturing support role than researchers for fancy new technology.
        Sure, its ‘required’ to learn all of those things… but why? Why not save that for a masters program once you know what area you’d like to specialize in, and make ME undergrad a more truly gen-ed track that prepares people to be good cross-functional professionals?

        I get your point on all of these – obviously with any track coming out of such a broad degree field, you can and should refine your skills moving forward. But there is something to be said for learning the basics ‘the right way’ in school. In my experience, people who pick up things like project management ‘on the job’ also pick up a lot of really bad habits.

        Quality, lean/six sigma, cost benefit analysis… all of these are for a baseline understanding of logical problem solving and data-driven decisions. I’m not saying make them experts, but let them know these methods exist! Plus, I find a lot of manufacturing engineers at my job don’t appreciate that better quality = better throughput, so I’m hoping classes would help make that link for them. I don’t want or expect anyone coming out of school to have a black belt, because it is something you need to refine and practice in the real world and it’s not always applicable. But I’d argue six sigma can be applied to more functional areas than, say, numeric control.

        I specifically bring up CAD packages because I too thought ‘if you know one you know them all’ and then I ended up at a company that uses NX, which is in no way translatable from the Solidworks/AutoCAD world. And there are many specifically CAD-related skills that almost every entry level engineer will need for their first few years of grunt work. IMO the 3 credit class isn’t even close to enough to learn GOOD modeling practices. Our company now has an entire job function for translating designers’ garbage model into something usable by our manufacturers, and that seems crazy to me. (No, they aren’t modelers, my company fired all of those because ‘engineers should just do it’).

        Communication to me means more than just writing a report. Its about ’emotional intelligence’ and positively influencing people… something sorely missed by most ‘typical’ engineer types.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I would just go about the same goal the opposite way, which is what I see most MEs do now. Of course, I really liked the ME undergrad work as it was taught 20+ years ago and would be happy to work prescribed problems by hand out of a thermo book all day long instead of doing my real job. If you make the BS degree more general and job skills oriented, you’ve got an ME Technology 4-year degree, and you aren’t eligible for licensure, which is required in my field. You would cap out at an ME 4 (of 6) at my company, even though no one really needs all the calculus-based coursework for our job. I don’t think you would ever get support of engineers to change the licensing requirements, although others who aren’t engineers are already working to “destroy” those.

          In my field, MEs go get MBAs or EMan degrees, which help with a lot of what you’re saying is needed. I have an ME degree from a current top 100 program, a dime-a-dozen MBA, a PMP, and I get by just fine! When I’ve needed training, my job has provided it. I definitely see your point, but I guess I’m just satisfied with the status quo.

          1. Just Elle*

            Maybe my real issue is that 90% of the jobs hiring engineers actually want managers or business minded people with some level of technical / mechanical reasoning ability. I would have no problem going the other way, if any of those skills were applicable to my job. But ultimately I felt like it was a lot of unnecessary suffering just to prove I was good at suffering (and for me, thermo textbook questions were suffering. Ok that’s a lie, I liked thermo, but my God did I hate controls). And then the business side of things was a mix of culture shock, learning the hard way, and self teaching. Because you need those skills right away, and most people hold off on mba until they have 5 years experience.
            If you learned deeper technical skills in grad school, then only people who actually needed that deeper dive understanding would be required to take them.

    2. blackcat*

      If you can get access to this (behind a paywall), there’s a good description of how the accreditation process for engineering schools has shifted engineering education (and Boeing’s role in it). I’d say what you experienced is no longer typical.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I can’t read it, but I wish I could. I have a weird interest in the topic, and I sit on a departmental advisory board for ME. I’ve been on the board for about 8 years and they had a board with industry advisers back when I was a student. When I started on the board, they looked for industry input into how they educate students, but now they seem to focus more on trying to build joint research corridors/develop tech hubs and seeing how industry can provide funding for joint research (a shift away from providing funding for industry-related capstones, which may just be because that program is now well-established).

  52. Jellyfish*

    Public speaking and presentation take more than one compulsory speech class to master. Classes where I had to do professional-style briefings on a specific topic proved useful to me. Many workplace presentations are not formal speeches, and they require their own skill set.

    I’d second email etiquette too. The emails I get from current students tend to be waaaaay too formal (which I find endearing) or else informal to the point of being incoherent. To be fair, the grad students are better about this, so my limited sample size suggests they do get better with this skill as they go.

    Also, it’d benefit the students if the career centers were honest about employment prospects. This may or may not be something to incorporate into specific classes, but a lot of schools overhype their degrees. The job market is competitive, most places don’t pay new grads particularly well, and having that diploma is not enough to guarantee upward mobility. Academia as a whole needs to be more honest about that.

    1. Just Elle*

      I agree with this. It’s not just about being able to stand behind a podium and talk. A more debate-centric class where you sit around a table and discuss an idea is a much better replication of how the real world works most of the time.

      And I second employment prospects. A 300th ranked state engineering degree is just not going to get you a job at NASA, I’m sorry, but so so many of my friends wasted their entire senior year being rejected from places like that and assuming they were ‘too good’ for the local small companies coming out to career fairs actively looking for our graduates.

    2. The Tin Man*

      Oh man I was 100% the student who was wayyy too formal with his e-mails to professors and the like. I look back and shake my head at younger me, before I realized that conversational and concise communication is good communication in almost all cases.

    3. OP*

      I’m right there with you on the endearingly formal emails. I give my students fill-in-the-blank templates about how to email me (and tell them they can probably use it in most situations, they’re all pretty straightforward “Hello Name, I’m ill today and won’t be at Place/Event. I have [delegated/submitted/pushed back] Thing and I plan to be Place by Date” types) and I still get “Dear Professor OP, I sincerely regret to inform you that I awoke with symptoms of influenza…” (real email I got today, in fact).

      1. CRM*

        OMG that last line is almost exactly how I worded an email to my boss when I had to call out sick in my first “real-world” job after college. I even included details about my visit to the doctor!! I’m cringing so hard just thinking about it.

  53. ashie*

    A lot of entry-level people don’t realize that the boss is not the enemy! Gossiping and complaining doesn’t do anything positive for the company, the employee, or anyone else.

  54. MicroManagered*

    Distinguishing appropriate and inappropriate reasons to leave/miss work, and if you leave/miss work, you have to tell someone in charge.

    I am thinking specifically of a student employee who left work one day because she was upset about not getting into the sorority she pledged. She’d been crying, so she just left for the day without telling anyone. We had to explain to her that leaving work without saying anything to anyone is like, something you can only do in a true emergency, and even then you have to tell someone you left in a timely manner. Also that, sometimes you have to pull it together and get through work even though something upsetting happened in your personal life, etc.

    1. cheese please*

      saying “Sorry I was late this morning, I overslept / missed my alarm. It won’t happen again!” is a good white lie vs “Sorry I was late this morning. You see last night my friends and I went out to this bar which turned into 3 other bars because it was my buddy’s birthday and then it took like 20 minutes to get an Uber from that place because it was so far out from downtown so I didn’t get home until 3am and needed time to recover this morning”

    2. Dan*

      Depends on the job. I can do these things at my job, and nobody will notice or care. I can take “personal time” (our combined PTO bucket) for any reason I want, and I don’t even have to explain it. I can peace out early if I’m having a bad day, and nobody cares.

      1. Beatrice*

        But is that true of entry-level employees at your workplace? I’m 17 years post grad and I have a ton of flexibility like that now, but I definitely didn’t have that in my first few years in the work force, and entry-level roles where I work now would not, either.

        1. Dan*

          Yes. The median employee here is “experienced” and everybody gets treated as an adult. The entry level employees enjoy the same “flexibility perks” as everybody else. The entry level folks get their hands held in terms of actual work product supervision, but their comings-and-goings aren’t micromanaged.

  55. MaureenSmith*

    Interesting question! It already sounds like you are going above and beyond most professors. I’d suggest adding 2 topics to the mix:
    – Personal and professional boundaries and friendships, especially how they differ.
    – Observing the workplace culture to fit in, and red flags for when to get out. There are a lot of examples on AAM.

    I went through engineering, but am now in management. The best skill I took away from university is troubleshooting. Define the problem, the variables, try different solutions, and be willing to admit when I’m wrong.

    1. OP*

      That personal/professional boundaries one has me thinking. Is it just a matter of naming something? Because my students did an excellent job yesterday at retelling a story to different audiences and then guessing what other groups’ audiences were – they edited incredibly well, in ways their classmates all recognized. At the same time, I regularly watch them mix up personal and professional boundaries.

      1. juliebulie*

        That exercise sounds brilliant!

        I am not sure how to clarify the boundaries thing. I think for most people it gets much clearer once the actual stakes of your life are different, and once you’ve had the chance to see what the consequences are when other people run afoul of the boundaries.

        Perhaps it would help if they all imagined they were Bruce Wayne at a fancy party, having to socialize but not risk divulging pretty much anything personal (“I was hanging up my tights the other night in the batcave when… uh… I mean…”), and also resisting the urge to punch people in the face.

        But not so much Bruce Wayne that they think Alfred is going to clean up after them.

  56. J—.*

    How to advocate for themselves in a work setting.

    In school assignments, workload, deadlines, etc. are, for the most part, non-negotiable. Students trust that the feasibility of expectations have been thought through for them. At work, however, bosses will have incomplete information, unrealistic assessments, bad ideas, or even the company’s and not your interests at heart. Learning how to „manage up” and not just defer because you are subordinate is a vital skill I wish I had learned about a lot sooner.

    This extends beyond the day-to-day and includes wage negotiations (+1 to the mention of unions above), setting boundaries, knowing when to find a new position, and just generally understanding that a job is a capitalist money based relationship, not your whole life.

    1. Serin*

      Yes, this was what I was coming to say. I’ve known so many people — not all of them newcomers to the workplace! — who fail to do this in various ways:

      – Assume that nothing is negotiable, the boss has all the power and they have none, and it won’t do any good to say anything.
      – Take the attitude that the boss/the company is doing them a favor by “giving” them a job.
      – Come into every negotiation with an attitude that’s either weirdly servile or weirdly hostile.
      – Make their case for something by describing how much they waaant it rather than by explaining any benefits it might have for the company.
      – Don’t feel that they can ask questions about why a decision was made, what concerns it was meant to deal with, whether there might be other ways of dealing with those concerns.

      As I write that list, I think a lot of it might be because many people start their working life in retail, and you do sometimes get retail managers who have an attitude of “I’ll schedule you for two hours every Saturday morning for the rest of your life if I want to, and if you complain, there are three hundred people lining up for your job, peon.”

    2. Owler*

      Also, don’t assume someone else will notice your work and advocate for you! The quiet mouse may just keep working away to the benefit of others.
      Learn how to self-assess. Keep track of your own successes (and weaknesses) and make a routine of recording it (monthly?). It will help at review time to have your own feedback. And learn to advocate for yourself!

  57. littlelizard*

    I’m a new grad, and my main bone to pick with not being prepared for Real Life is that we had some courses at my school that taught very specific, very job-relevant skills for my field, but A) these weren’t in the required ‘core’ for my major, so if you didn’t know they were important (as I didn’t for a couple years there), you might choose not to take them, and B) because they weren’t an expected-for-everyone-in-the-field course requirement, they were offered once in a blue moon and were always full.

    So essentially: there were 2 courses that would have been, all by themselves, more important to finding a job than everything else I took combined, but I only knew they were important because of my own research, and they were always full when offered (or, once, not full but during a time that was not compatible with literally anything else I could have taken). Whether or not your major gives you the Most Important Skills for someone in that field shouldn’t be this much of a student’s own choice, and if it is, it should be a choice that is easier to follow through on. If there’s something in the department that is very, very job-relevant, it should be emphasized a lot to students if not required, and offered as often as possible (like, almost basic-math-requirements often).

  58. Alexaplay*

    Know how to gracefully handle constructive criticism. I am amazed that true coaching on many aspects of performance or office norms tend to be met with immediate defensiveness or worse a complete emotional shutdown. Of course there are toxic work environments where managers are abusive but broadly speaking most people managers of new graduates know who they are dealing with an want to mentor them so they succeed. Giving constructive feedback and suggesting better actions for next time does not automatically make your boss a “jerk” or “mean” or any other emotionally driven thing.

    Also, understand that your manager and above have a better sense of what career progression looks like for your role than you do at the start. Express interest in learning and developing skills. Be curious and engaged in the industry. Focus on what you can do to contribute in your role today… not a timeline by which you want to be in someone else’s shoes and what boxes you must check to get there. That mindset really limits you in many ways. Career aspirations and goals are great but building a good foundation is key.

  59. cheese please*

    From personal pet peeves of mine:
    – Dress well! While not all jobs require business or even business casual attire, wrinkled shirts or stained paints look bad in any office setting and just make one look like “I keep all my clothes in a pile on the floor and don’t know how to do laundry”. This is more of a life skill than a skill you can teach in college but it’s important that what you wear reflects properly on the level of respect you have for the job. You can even ask HR before you start what is standard and acceptable work wear.

    – Be mindful of office layouts. You may think your desk is private because there are walls in your cubicle but sound travels easily. Keep conversations at a reasonable level and for crying out loud find a private place (conference room, your car, remote stairwell) whenever possible to discuss personal matters. It’s uncomfortable to coworkers and/or managers to hear you discussing financial matters or your upcoming dermatologist visit for that mole on your leg at your desk.

    – Teach time and project management. Sure students have to juggle lots of school work but professional environments are different. Trello and OneNote can be great resources for keeping multiple to-do lists running. But also skills in how to clarify priorities with a manager and manage self-imposed deadlines.

    1. Just Elle*

      I actually had a how-to-interview class in style that required us to dress professionally. It seemed like a huge burden at the type (financially speaking) but it was great to get occasionally pulled aside by the (very kind and genuine) teacher for a reality check on the appropriate skirt length or yes-we-can-all-see-that-wrinkle.

    2. 1234*

      Wrinkled shirts and stained pants look bad in (almost!) any job setting. Some exceptions include construction, cleaning, gardening, etc. where getting dirty is expected.

      I have a friend who’s clothes are always pressed and ironed. Every single time. No matter how busy he is, he finds time to iron them. There’s literally not one wrinkle on him ever. I mentioned it to him once and he said “Presentation is important. It’s how you had to be to go on auditions, if you want the role.” Friend used to be an actor/model.

  60. hbc*

    Is it possible to teach the importance of context, nuance, and balance? I feel like that’s an area where a lot of *people* (not just new grads) have problems, whether it’s the person who’s regularly late fuming that everyone didn’t get scolded on a bad weather day or the person who takes “you can eat at your desk” as permission to set out a four course meal and microwave fish.

    1. OP*

      If only I could write the One True Lesson Plan on that! I certainly make mistakes with nuance, context, and balance, we’re all works in progress, but some of my students already Get It and some really don’t. I ask the ones who get it where they learned, and they have a hard time articulating it.

  61. YoungTen*

    First of all, I want to thank OP for being a caring instructor. It’s admirable how much you truly care. I think having a general expectation of students to work with all personality types. Sometimes it seems the new graduates have a lot of book knowledge but no people skills.

    1. Just Elle*

      Yes, op, I wish you were my professor in college!

      My senior design class, we all had to take Meyers Briggs tests and they purposely paired us with other people with conflicting results. It was…. Absolute hell. But I did learn one or two lessons about appreciating people for their strengths and avoiding tripping in their weaknesses.

  62. Ginger*

    – Reputation and how you present yourself matters.
    – Be on time to meetings
    – Follow through with tasks on time and if you won’t complete it on time, communicate that and give an estimate of when and why
    – Present yourself professionally in meetings, be actively listening. Put your phone on silent and turn the screen down so it doesn’t distract.
    – Quality over quantity in regards to participation in meetings. Speaking just to speak isn’t valuable. Contributing in a meaningful way is far more important.
    – Observe the office norms when it comes to dress. Start a bit more conservative before you know what is considered acceptable. Look to your manager for guidance on this.
    – Jokes in most offices are fine. But keep the politics, race, religion, anything racy comments for at home. Even if you see/hear others talking in that way.
    – If senior colleagues drink too much or act inappropriately it does NOT mean it is ok for the a junior colleague to do the same.
    – Your reputation is everything. Once damaged, it is hard to recover.

    1. triplehiccup*

      +100 on reputation and how early it starts accruing and how long it can last. I know my high school students struggled to understand how small the world can be.