The transition from turning up to lectures in outfits resembling pyjamas with a large coffee to get you through the two hours, to thinking about how to present yourself in a professional environment can be daunting. We get very comfortable in our student bubble and can afford to let some standards slip (I know you’re not changing your bed sheets weekly!), as long as we’re getting our work done. However, in the world of work, success in your career comes from more than just a good work ethic and it’s important to consider how others perceive you whilst making those all-important first impressions on your placement year.
During my placement, I was introduced to the idea of having a ‘personal brand’ and how important it is to maintain a good one. Seeing yourself as a brand you are advertising to your colleagues and line managers can be a good way of understanding how the way you dress, communicate and present yourself can shape people’s perceptions of you. It may be useful to have a think about how you want to build your brand in terms of your reputation and the lasting impression you have on people within the organisation.
A good place to start would be how you dress. It’s worth asking before you start your placement what the dress code is. I worked across different offices on my placement with one being traditional office attire and one being much more casual. It can make you feel more comfortable and confident if you know you’ve got this right, but if in doubt, go more formal to begin with and adjust accordingly –a blazer is a great way to smarten up an outfit.
Think about how your actions shape your personal brand also. Punctuality is extremely important and can be the difference between people seeing you as reliable or lazy. I would recommend always being 5-10 minutes early to work and meetings in order to make a good impression.
Understanding workplace etiquette can be trickier, but it is definitely worth taking note of customs and practices within the work environment. For instance, offering to make the team tea/coffee when you’re making one for yourself, taking on other people’s workloads when yours is light, staying an extra 10 minutes to complete the job rather than leaving bang on your finish time and leaving it to the rest of the team etc. You want to present yourself as a team player and a good fit within the organisation and adapting your behaviours accordingly will help you achieve this.
How you present your attitude will have a considerable influence on how people perceive you. Remaining positive, especially during stressful periods, will ensure that the team see you as mature and composed, which translates to good leadership qualities. Think of the swimming duck analogy- on the surface the duck looks calm and together, but underneath the surface she is paddling franticly to achieve the goal. It is important to ask for support when you need it but think about how you frame your questions in order to achieve efficiency and clarity. Asking ‘Could I shadow you for an hour to help me understand this specific process?’ is much more helpful than ‘please help me, I don’t understand anything’ and you come across more composed.
Managing the culture shock of going into a professional environment and working full time after two years of university is just one of the valuable learning experiences a placement provides. Have a think about how you want to present yourself in this new environment and use any resources you have (e.g. recruitment websites and company contacts) to get a bit of an understanding about the organisational culture to help you prepare.
Be positive, be confident, be your own ambassador, and good luck!
Written by Libby Jones, Final Year Student