Graduating? Ten Habits to Cultivate

Trivial, practical, and profound tips as you become a 'real' adult.

Posted Apr 22, 2014

Although students graduating from college have been adults for years, somehow, graduating magically transforms them into 'real' adults who are expected to act differently.  Some soon-to-be graduating students and I were kicking around thoughts this afternoon on new expectations.Ten things to think about:  trivial, practical, and profound . . 

Drop the eye roll.  Rolling your eyes in response to something someone else says communicates disdain and disrespect.  In his observations studies of marriage, John Gottman found it to be one of the very best predictors that newlyweds would divorce within the next six years.  The eye roll peaks in adolescence.  Most people grow out of it.  Yet a surprising number of students continue to roll their eyes at adults in authority (e.g., parents and professors).  Stop it!  Right now.  It's a terrible habit.  It will annoy your parents - who you may well be living with again soon.  It will piss off your friends and romantic partners.  It will get you fired.  You're an adult.  This is a habit you want to break now.  

Get a permenant, professional e-mail address.  If you are graduating from college, the e-mail you have used will probably disappear in a few months.  Even if it doesn't, it will not feel right using it come January.  You probably have other e-mail accounts you use with friends, but they may not have names you'd like to put on a resume. (Bunnyfuzz, Crackwhore and Dragonbuster are all student addresses whose origins I've wondered about but just didn't want to know.)  It's time to find a mail service that will remain stable for several years and claim a Plain.Jane address to put on your resume.  Who knows?  You may drop off a resume this month and a year later they may decide you are the perfect person for that job.  You want to make sure they can find you.

Search the web for your name and your image.  If images are up there you don't want an employer to see, take them down.  Facebook and GooglePlus both have decent features for making personal images personal.  Learn how to use them.  And remember - just because you've never posted a picture of yourself doesn't mean no one else has.

Take your smartphone seriously.  Smartphones are great resources.  

  • Keep your resume and a list of your references on it.  You may run into someone who has a job open - on knows someone who does - and you want to be able to shoot them a copy right away.  Dropbox and other cloud storage services allow you to keep your resume in any format.  (BTW - most word processing programs save a revision history of your document.  You don't want a potential employer to see all the changes you made.  Always send them pdfs.  More consistent formatting.  Less opportunity for them to see your boo boos.)
  • Stock  your phone with apps that will let you jot down job-hunting ideas or track the calls you're making. Out shopping and see an ad posted or an article that gives you ideas for your job hunt or a new way to polish your resume?  Use your camera to store the information for later.  
  • Look at your phone with fresh eyes.  Does your phone case and screensaver convey a professional image or does it scream 'student'?  Your phone is an accessory you'll use constantly.  Make it convey the part of you that is most appropriate for your new life.  I'm not going to tell you not to text or check your phone while talking to anyone who might be interested in employing you.  You know that, right?
  • Take notes on all business contactsYou can use your address book or another app to do so.  If someone interviewed you, write down their name.  You want to be able to call back, write a thank you note, or recognize them when they call again.  There are many apps made for salesmen tracking business contacts.  They will record contact info, contact dates, status, etc.  Find one and use it.
  • Keep your phone charged.  You can't answer and return important calls if it's not.

Learn to answer a phone and end the call politely.  We use our phones so much, we often don't think about how we present ourselves on them.  If a potential employer wants to interview you, they're going to call.  

  • When you apply for a job, enter the firm's name and number in your address book.  That way when they call, their name will show up and you'll answer appropriately.  And once you talk to someone, put their name in the address book so it will come up when they call back too.  Most phones allow you to look at recent calls and add it to your address book.  Do that for each and every business contact.
  • Check your recorded message.  Listen to what people hear when they call your phone and you don't answer.  Is it appropriate?  If not, change it.
  • Practice answering the phone.  Phones now are made to text on and play with apps.  They aren't great for talking into.  Practice.  Many of us kind of move the phone up near our mouths and mumble out 'hello' before we're really ready.  The person calling doens't know who they're talking to - especially if there's background noise.  Develop a standard greeting that will work for any professional contact.  I often begin: "Hello.  Nancy Darling."  It's not original, but by the time I'm finished saying it, I'm speaking clearly, they can hear me, and they know who they're talking to.  "Hello, how can I help you?"  is another traditional starter.  Practice until you find one you like and can say consistently.
  • Learn to end a call properly.  Perhaps because we text so often, many young adults forget to say 'Thank you' or 'Goodbye' at the end of a call.  Think of and practice appropriate closings.
  • Learn how to talk without dropping the call.  Since I got my newest phone case, I constantly touch my cheek to my phone and accidentally hang up.  Don't do that.  Bad for interviews.  Practice talking so that doesn't happen.  (You may be less clumsy than I am.)
  • Do you need earbuds with a mic?  You want to be able to answer an important call whereever you are.  But you also want them to hear you clearly and you obviously want to hear them.  You may want to have earbuds with a mic handy so you can increase call privacy as well as clarity.  Practice with a friend to make sure you have a good sound.

Repeat what people tell you.  One consistently excellent habit my students who have been in the military have is that they repeat back instructions when we finish talking.  We've chatted, ideas were floated about what to do next.  When the meeting or call is finished, they repeat back what they are to do next and what I will do next.  That way we are both clear on next steps and we each have a chance to clarify misunderstandings.  I feel listened to. They sound competent and confident.  A very professional way of ending a call or an interview and a good habit to get into.

Learn to write a letter - or an e-mail.  You are going to be writing dozens of letters, cover letters, and e-mails in the next months.  That will continue for the rest of your life.  It's time to learn to do it right.  Standard block form.  Appropriate greetings.  Don't start a business email with Hi, my name is . . . Google it.  There are lots of good sites.  Probably some of them are on your school's Career Office webpage.  The more letters you write, the better you will get at it.  Develop a standard way of doing it and a collection of good stock letters you can draw on (the internet can help).  You might even think about improving your penmanship.  Sometimes you have to write things by hand too - and thank you notes go a long way.

Review table manners.  A surprising number of interviews and meetings with professional contacts involve sharing meals - or at least coffee.  Don't flunk lunch. Many schools offer brief refreshers in table manners.  It may sound snobby (okay, it IS snobby), but you will be judged on how you hold your fork, how you use a spoon, how you cut your meat, and where you put your teaspoon after you stir your coffee.   PLEASE don't stir cofee with your knife.  There are lots of good sites (here is one).

I'll leave most etiquette to sites devoted to that topic.  A few simple tips that are easy to forget  . . . 

  • Put your napkin on your lap.
  • Don't take out your phone.  Ever.  Okay, if you have a really good reason to do so, look at the person you're talking to, tell them why you're going to use your phone and ask permission, THEN take it out.  It should be a good reason like "Do you mind if I double check my reference's telephone number?"  (I cannot tell you how many students have made bad impressions by texting under the table.) 
  • Don't talk with your mouth full.  Or slurp.
  • Don't start eating until everyone has been served and your host picks up his or her fork or spoon.  An exception to this is if you are a woman eating with much older men who have been gently raised.  They may wait to eat until you pick up your utensil. If food has been on the table, no one is eating, and they seem to be looking at you, pick up your fork and see what happens.  
  • Say 'thank you' every time your server stops by the table.

Express gratitudeDon't be embarrassed to say 'thank you' or express your appreciation.  Professors, fellow students, people who are giving you advice, people who are interviewing you.  Your parents, who are putting you up.  Your friends who are putting up with you.  A thank you never goes amiss.  

In fact, wriitng thank you notes for graduation presents is a wonderful way to begin your new life as well as a nice way of making the giftgiver think you were worth the effort they made.  And yes, send the note even if you've already said 'thank you' in person.  It will feel good.

Be polite and respectful to secretaries, staff, and support workers.  The world is full of people who work hard to make things happen.  Be nice to them, they are seldom appreciated as much as they should be or told how valuable their work is.  It will make them feel good.  Frankly, it will make you feel good - feeling gratitude and appreciation promote happiness and well-being.  Pragmatically, they are important.  They sort letters, put through calls, and take messages.  They can choose to provide you with information that can make your life easier.  If you're lucky, you may soon have a job and treating your fellow employees with respect and appreciation is a habit you should foster in yourself.  You will appreciate it when others treat you with respect.  Return the favor.

Get out of bed at a reasonable hour.  Finally, after you take that well-deserved sleep catchup after graduation, get out of bed at a reasonable hour.  As a student, 10:00 may seem early and 9:00 obscene.  Most people who work have been up for hours by then.  Coordinating your schedule with the rest of the working world will make contacting others easier, will buy you more hours of daylight, and will make it easier to coordinate your schedule with that of your housemates or family.  Wouldn't it be embarassing if an interviewer called at 9 on the dot and you were still in a muzzy sleep state?  

Congratulations and welcome to the rest of your life!

Other pieces for college grads . . . 






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