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8 Things You Should Never Do at Work


Transitioning from the back of your lecture hall to your new cubicle isn’t easy! Now that you’re spending most of your day in the same work space, it can be tempting to make yourself comfortable and let some of your professional habits slide. Keep in mind, though, that everything you do is associated with your professional competency. Your new boss will hold you to standards you may not be used to, and adjusting to what’s appropriate could prove to be tricky. As you navigate your new workplace, keep in mind these eight things you should avoid doing at your desk so you can make a good impression!

1. Sending unprofessional emails

Just as you would take the time to proofread a resume before sending it in, make sure your emails are spell-checked and free of any emojis or text abbreviations. Fix any grammar mistakes before hitting send!

Tamara Peters, a career development specialist at Rutgers University Career Services, emphasizes paying attention to your office’s culture and how the employees communicate.

“Watch how other staff members are addressing each other, signing off, and when they usually send emails to each other,” Peters says. “If they’re getting up from their desks and calling or talking to their colleagues, do the same.”

In terms of email structure, keep in mind that being concise is key. You don’t want your boss reading through a long introduction before getting to your real question! The subject line of the email should be as specific as possible so that your boss knows what the issue is as she scrolls through her messages. Include “Urgent:” or “Important:” in the subject if there’s an emergency you need your supervisor to address, but make sure to use it sparingly!

2. Accidentally copying and pasting something embarrassing    

Multitasking online can be difficult! One wrong click can lead to embarrassing mistakes like putting personal information into a work document or clicking send before you’ve finished writing an email. Emily Miethner, founder of FindSpark, a career community for college students and grads, suggests creating different dashboards on Google Chrome. This will allow you to separate bookmarks, tabs and login information between work and personal accounts. If you have a Google account, it’s simple: Sign into Chrome, go to “Settings” on the toolbar and underneath “Users,” click “Add new user.”

“That way, there's less of a chance that you'll even go on a site that you shouldn't be on or log onto a personal profile,” Miethner says. “And seeing the different icons and bookmarks reminds you that you're at work.”

Preventing these problems is also as simple as not multitasking as much, which will result in better quality and proofreading.

3. Not keeping private information confidential   

You’re usually expected to keep company projects confidential, so be careful of whom you share information with, especially online! Keep work emails separate from personal emails and organize them in folders so you always have written word to back you up in case there’s a miscommunication. While it’s unlikely that you’ll run into any serious trouble, you’ll still look professional and show that you take your job seriously.

Miethner recommends bringing up questions about confidentiality when you first get your job contract so you know exactly what is and isn’t appropriate to share with others.

“A lot of interns will have paperwork that includes an NDA, or non-disclosure agreement, but usually they’ll be very broad,” she says. “It’s good to have a conversation early on about exactly what’s confidential and what’s not.” Even if bringing up such a serious topic seems intimidating, Miethner says your boss will likely be impressed that you’re smart and responsible enough to be careful.

If information does get leaked, Miethner suggests going to your boss immediately and being completely honest about everything that was leaked, even if it’s a difficult mistake to admit. That way, those with the power to fix the situation can take the necessary steps as soon as possible so there’s less trouble for you down the road.

4. Being too casual with your boss

Having an easygoing boss is definitely better than dealing with a horrible one, but you can run the same risk of making a bad impression.

“Halfway through my internship, I was on a friendly basis with the editors I reported to and developed a relationship where we joked a lot,” says Lindsey, a formal editorial intern. “However, because I had fallen into that habit, when I later reported to a new editor for an assignment, I accidentally acted buddy-buddy with her before judging her communication style. She reported to my supervisor that I had been unprofessional, and I was so embarrassed that I had acted disrespectful.”

Never forget that you're at work, so make sure you address your boss by her preferred title. Pay special attention if she asks you to call her by her first name since it will show that you’re aware and good at adapting to what’s appropriate. If your boss likes to ask about your weekend, always have an interesting but appropriate story prepared so that you’re not caught off-guard. Miethner says everyone wants to connect, and finding good topics to talk about is a matter of being an active listener.

“It’s important to do more listening than talking at the beginning,” Miethner says. “Take a step back and listen to other people’s conversations to get an idea of what’s appropriate.”

5. Checking your social media accounts 

Diana Martinez, a career coach in the tri-state area, says you should never be signed into a personal social media account when you’re on the job. While some marketing, media and entertainment companies are more lenient with their rules, Martinez recommends sticking by a personal rule to simply put away your phone and log out of your social media accounts unless there’s an emergency.

“It is important not to abuse these liberties,” Martinez says. “Focus on the task that is given to you, and if it includes social media, make sure that you are using departmental accounts, not your own.”

Martinez points out that if you’re focusing on work and looking for new opportunities to shine at your job, you shouldn’t have much time for leisure anyways. In this case, creating separate Google Chrome dashboards, as Miethner suggested, can go a long way in reducing the temptation to give yourself access to any social media accounts, since they won’t be in your tabs or bookmarks.

6. Leaving your documents disorganized

While digital technology has made it much easier to store information, the downside is that interns don’t always take the time to organize their Word documents as they would paper files. Heather R. Huhman, an experienced hiring manager and founder of Come Recommended, a public relations agency for job-seekers, suggests using Google Drive.

“Try to use different folders for your projects, meeting documents and information your boss gives you,” Huhman says. “It’s also a good idea to make sure you keep your documents organized on your desktop in folders that can be easily accessed by you or your supervisor.”

Google Drive is unique because its documents can be shared with other users who can all edit them at the same time. After logging in with your Google account, start by creating a folder labeled “Internship” to keep all your work documents in one place and separate from personal files. For subfolders, it’s best to experiment as you go. Try putting all your projects in one folder at first and then creating separate folders for the ones that require more tasks. If you work closely with other interns, it’s a good idea to start a document where everyone contributes notes about what they’re learning on the job to give one another tips. Huhman says it’s also crucial to keep in mind that you’re organizing for your boss, so use simple and specific labels that everyone can understand.

7. Sitting with bad posture  

It might seem like a minute detail, but slouching in your chair can give the impression that you came to work tired, unfocused and careless. Miethner suggests being more conscious of particular body language signals, such as putting your elbows on your desk or cupping your chin with your hand when you’re talking to someone, since doing so might suggest that you’re not interested in what the other person is saying. Using your hands more when you talk can help you get out of these habits of leaning on your hands and will also make you appear more animated and energetic.

“Changing your body language will help you bring positive energy to work, and it will also make you feel better,” Miethner says. Improving your self-awareness at work in general can also help reduce the number of filler words such as “like” and “um” in your work conversations, which Miethner says will make you seem more mature and professional.

8. Always sticking to your desk  

If you’ve followed all these rules about good behavior at your desk, then the last tip to keep in mind is that it’s also important to not be sitting at your desk the entire time! While your boss will certainly appreciate your quality work, Huhman says an intern should be aware of the opportunities that a company provides.

“If you’re given the opportunity to take a class or attend a company event as an intern, it’s absolutely necessary you take advantage of this chance,” she says.

Seek opportunities for growth whenever possible. For example, when Mary Garis, a freelance writer at ELLE.com, took a break to get a cupcake at a Cupcake ATM, she asked her boss if she could write about it. Mary’s article got published on ELLE.com, and she impressed her boss in the process.

Getting up from your desk and interacting with your boss and coworkers can be as simple as bringing up an idea or offering to do someone a favor, like getting coffee, because your enthusiasm will be remembered and rewarded down the road.

Many of these tips aren’t obvious to interns at first, so if you’ve made any of these mistakes, remember that it’s not the end of the world! Employers understand that you’re still learning, so it’s best to just own up to your actions and improve next time. Explain why you made the mistake without apologizing excessively, and show how you plan to fix the problem. If you take the right steps, you can turn every bad situation into a learning opportunity. 

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