Some tips for young people as they move into world of work

Dear Joan:
My son is 18 and plans on working again this summer. He worked last summer as a waiter and was very bored with his job. My husband and I tried to impress upon him the importance of doing a good job, no matter if he likes his job or not. He says he doesn't care about part-time jobs because they aren't in the field he's interested in. We know the importance of a good work ethic. We are both managers who hire people in our respective fields. We have seen a deterioration in young people's attitudes and work habits. Can you address one of your columns to young people who need to hear it from someone other than mom and dad?

I've been hearing from a lot of employers who share the same concerns you do. Here are some rules of the road for young people venturing out into the world of work.

Show up on time. When you don't come to work on time, you send a bad signal about your sense of responsibility and dependability. It tells the employer, "I can't manage my time well enough, and I don't care enough, to get to work on time."

Be reliable and don't miss work. When you commit to a job, you are agreeing to perform certain duties, within a specific timeframe. They have chosen you over other people who also applied for your job. When you accept a position, you're expected to show up to do it. One of the biggest complaints I hear from business owners is that sometimes young people aren't reliable. When you skipped school, you only hurt yourself. When you skip work, you hurt everyone who is depending on you to do your share.

Ask a lot of questions. Contrary to what many young people think, you are expected to ask questions. You don't look stupid. In fact, you look smart because intelligent people realize they don't know everything about a new job. Your employer will be impressed if you are confident enough to question, and you care enough to ask.

Be careful about joining a clique. In some workplaces, there are little camps of employees, much like you experienced in high school. Sometimes there is a ring leader who is angry with management and wants to recruit new employees into his or her group of malcontents. You are wise to keep a little distance at first, so you can size up the situation. Just like in high school, your best bet is to be friendly with everyone and avoid belonging to only one group.

Always do more than is expected of you. No matter if you're doing clerical work or construction work, there is always a way to be a star. Think ahead and anticipate problems. Try to come up with fresh ways of doing things that cut down on time and improve the quality of your work. If you build a reputation for having a great work ethic, you will see your pay go up rapidly, you'll get more responsibility faster, and you will be able to get the best jobs.

Use your job to learn about your likes and dislikes. Most young people don't know enough about the world of work to know what they want to do when they grow up (as a matter of fact, neither do many adults). No matter what job you do, pay attention to the parts that interest you. For instance, you may not be crazy about waiting tables, but you may discover you have a talent for building rapport quickly, a necessary skill in many jobs, such as sales.

Stay alert, you may meet your next employer. Once you are in a job, your performance is on display for other potential employers. When I worked as a waitress, the businessmen from next door used to stop in for breakfast. Before long, the owner asked if I'd like to apply for a job in his company. With good employees in such short supply, a smart move is to use each job to get a better one. This can also work within the same company. If your employer likes your work, he or she will probably find more responsibilities, more pay, and more hours for you, if you want them. And if it's a summer job, they may offer you a lot more money to come back next year.

Explore the field. If you get a job in a field you enjoy, take some steps to do a little research. Ask your manager what kind of training you would need for a job in this field, and where to get it. Talk to people who have specialties in your area of interest and ask them what they like and dislike about their jobs. Once your manager knows you better, ask him or her for advice and guidance about your career interests.

Be respectful of your manager and co-workers. Be polite and responsive when people ask you to do things. Nobody likes to work with a co-worker who has a chip on their shoulder. It will hurt your job performance and come back to haunt you when you want a reference.

Dress as though you take your job seriously. Even if the job is a part-time position that you don't plan on keeping for long, you owe it to your employer to look appropriate while you're there. Employers understand that you may not have a large, professional wardrobe, but they do expect you to wear clean clothes that are not extreme. I've been waited on by a server whose shirt was so grimy I lost my appetite. In another case, a young woman had on a white shirt that was so wrinkled she looked like she had just fallen out of bed. They looked bad. Period. Part of the deal when you're being paid to work is to show up looking the part.

Most companies have dress codes that prohibit logo t-shirts, bare midriffs, jeans, tennis shoes and other clothes that aren't appropriate for the job. When you accept a position, be sure to ask what is expected. And once you start working, pay attention to what other people are wearing. If you must wear a uniform, keep it clean.

Nose rings don't cut it. Pierced eyebrows and tongues, purple hair, black fingernails, and a variety of other signature looks don't work either. What you do on your time is your business, but tame it down for work, particularly if you are working with customers.

Each job you hold is like a building block. Everything you learn and all the people you meet today will have an impact on your future. These blocks lay the foundation for the worker you will become and the success you will have in your career. Don’t blow it off.
It counts.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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