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Posted at 02:35 PM ET, 05/28/2012

Don’t wear sweats to work, don’t use text-speak and take off those headphones

College students imagine their post-graduation jobs will be magical. Working for a company with a fun atmosphere, landing a fat paycheck, and leaving at 3 p.m. for a beer with the boss sounds heavenly.

Reality check: Businesses hire graduates to actually do work. Whether you’ve been on the receiving end of a new grad’s disappointment or the disappointed party yourself, it’s hard to combat these images.

Wake-up call for students

As the director of The University of Missouri’s Entrepreneurship Alliance, I firmly believe in the value youths can provide small businesses. However, not all new graduates treat these opportunities intelligently.

The most common complaint I hear from graduates entering the workforce is that it isn’t what they expected. They studied fantastic cultures that their company is too busy to care about and they acquired managerial skills they aren’t using. But these situations can be prevented during the interview process.

Students must remember that they’re interviewing the company at the same time they’re being interviewed themselves. They should take the opportunity to ask questions to determine how well they’ll fit in, and they shouldn’t take a job simply because it’s the “best offer.” If you won’t be happy where the job takes you in the next two to five years, it’s not the best offer.

New graduates often feel overwhelmed in their new positions. This is a lose-lose situation, as small businesses rely heavily on new employees’ energy and expertise in order to grow. This problem stems from the fact that most students treat their part-time jobs while in school as means to an end, rather than a chance to gain practical experience that will pay off later.

While internships and entry-level positions may not pay off in terms of money, they can certainly provide skills and value-added stories to pull out at your “big-kid” job interviews. Graduates need to take ownership of their jobs and see the big picture. Learn how your job impacts your customer, the company and the business model.

Employers aren’t too thrilled, either

While new graduates are often surprised by the real world, their bosses are in for a rude awakening, too. Employers’ most common disappointments generally concern graduates’ weak communication skills and professionalism. Today’s college students tend to communicate via informal texts, whereas the workforce communicates in full sentences.

Students need to understand that not all generations speak the same language, either. Be conscientious and ensure you’re speaking to your audience. People your grandparents’ age will be working alongside you, and they’ll have invaluable insights — but you both have to be understood.

Professionalism extends beyond communication, and employers also quibble over recent graduates’ attire. Guest executives visit my classes so students can hear it straight from professionals: Don’t wear sweats to work, and take your headphones off. Don’t act like your time is more important than others’ time.

Solve your own problem

My parents said, “You’ve got two ears and one mouth — they should be used in that proportion.” Nowhere is this more important than at work, as building relationships is the smartest thing you can do to adjust. Here are some pointers:

●When you identify a problem, bring a solution.

●Don’t play blame games. Explain what happened and move on.

●Keep your commitments.

●Share credit.

●Say “thank you.”

●Learn from others’ experiences — you don’t have to touch the stove yourself to know it’s hot.

While your first post-college job may not be a fairy tale, it doesn’t have to be ugly. Strive to provide value to your company by being a curious, conscientious employee. In the end, the one who will gain the most value is you.

Greg Bier is a professor of management at the University of Missouri, where he leads the newly formed Entrepreneurship Alliance in the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business. He is also a partner with Entrepreneur MO. Twitter: @gregbier

By Greg Bier  |  02:35 PM ET, 05/28/2012

 
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