Any sports person will confirm that it takes hours of practice to become a highly skilled player (see BBC’s article: Can 10,000 Hours Of Practice Make You An Expert?) yet, unlike the almost 10,000 young apprentices in Switzerland as of Fall 2015 (Le Nouvelliste, 25.08.2015 p. 7 « Près de 10,000 apprentis en cours ») many students expect to walk out of school perfectly ready for the workplace without any real life office experience. While on the job training is certainly a great help, students should actually take into consideration how much a classroom situation can indeed be akin to a business situation and honing behavior in class can help students be better prepared for business situations.
Here are some specific areas that students can and should work on during their day to become a more professional person at a faster pace:
Dress To Impress
Being a student is often equated with freedom to dress as far down as down can go but, as Carol J. Carter points out « most employees have to dress in a professional way….the majority of professionals are required to dress for success, wear shoes and ‘look the part.’» Thinking of the classroom as a boardroom will help resist the desire to not get dressed at all or to dress as if heading for an evening out on the town. Think carefully about how you want to be perceived as a business person and dress the part!
Communicate Like A Business Person
Think carefully before you send your professor a text message or email; don’t write exactly as you think. Take the time to make your writing sound like a professional request, not like you are chatting with your mates on-line. Dr. Lisa Wade points out that students who are in contact with their professors, should correspond with them as colleagues, not friends, since it is important for students to build professional work relationships even before starting their jobs.
Be sure to address professors properly, don’t drop titles, especially when speaking to others about them; you never know when you will be overheard. Learning to speak respectfully of others on your business team is of great importance in the workplace as well.
Don’t forget the magic words of « please » and « thank you »; they will go a long way towards building a professional rapport that can lead to a supportive letter of recommendation to help open the door to a first job.
Be Responsible For Work That Is Delegated To You
Very few employees would allow a boss to explain an entire project without taking any notes and then ask their employer to send them a memo about it, yet many students will sit through the entire class or the assigning of homework and then ask if the teacher will post the notes or homework on the on-line classroom or Yammer. Convince your professor you are a serious student by being serious about what the professor is saying, in the same way you would on the job; take notes, ask questions, keep track of the conversation and participate with appropriate comments and contributions.
Think of homework as if it were a project at work. If your boss assigns you a job and sets a deadline for you turning it in, because she needs it to complete her report for the CEO, how happy do you think that she is going to be if you come in with 101 reasons why it isn’t done? So don’t be surprised if the professor is no less enthused when your work doesn’t come in on time. He will also be thrown off of his planned schedule by your tardy work. Be aware that the only difference between an « F » at school and an « F » at work is that at school the « F » is for « Fail » at work the « F » is for « Fired. »
Show Interest In What Is Happening Around You; Be An Active, Respectful Participant
There will be many business meetings which are far from interesting but full of important information necessary for both your future and the future of the company. Start learning now, in class, how to stay focused and absorb such information in the classroom; it will be of use in many bored (oops, I mean board;-) meetings to come!
The best benefit of being an active participant is it helps time pass more quickly, but be careful of another pitfall; don’t be a packer upper. No matter what other urgent matters may be waiting for you, your CEO expects your full attention until he or she has ended the meeting and so does the teacher. Can you imagine going to a job interview and watching the clock the whole time? Then, just as the interviewer asks a very important question, you start to pack your bag, because the time set for the interview is over? Chances are slim you will get that job and equally unlikely that your professor will appreciate such rude behavior either. To keep building a good relationship with your professor that will impact both your grade and your future recommendations or other networking through the teacher, don’t put away your belongings before the meeting has actually been declared over.
So, no matter if you are starting your student day by selecting your wardrobe, communicating inside or out of the classroom, or doing out of or in class work, take advantage of every minute of every hour as a chance to build up your 10,000 hours of professional business practice and gain an expert advantage as a result.
Author: Bethani Ann De Long Vehapi, Professor at Business School Lausanne