Professional development

Workplace environments come with all sorts of expectations and relationships. Managing these well means learning how to accomplish your employer’s goals while pursuing your own professional path. These resources can help you adapt to life in the workplace and grow as a professional.

Succeeding in the workplace

What to do on your first day

Congratulations! You’ve accepted a job offer and are ready to start work. These tips can help make your first day a success.

  • Arrive a few minutes early: This will show your employer that you’re excited to start working. Plan for delays— you don’t want to get caught in traffic on your first day.
  • Know what to wear: Make sure you know the dress code and dress appropriately. It's a good idea to lay your clothes out the night before. This is the first time you’ll meet many of your colleagues and you want to make a good impression. If you’re not sure what to wear, contact your employer in advance to ask about appropriate dress.
  • Bring basic supplies: It’s a good plan to bring a pen and notepad, or any other basic supplies that might be required on the job. Better to be prepared!
  • Be polite: You’ll probably be introduced to many different people on your first day. Be professional and polite, smile, and don’t worry if you can’t remember everyone’s name right away. This will come with time.
  • Take notes: You'll absorb a lot of new information on your first day. When in doubt, take notes to make sure you don’t forget any important information from your new colleagues and supervisor.
  • Find out where you fit in: Most organizations have an organizational chart that shows how the organization is structured. Ask your supervisor for a copy. This chart will help you figure out the different levels within the organization and where you fit.
  • Complete an orientation: Your supervisor will probably include some type of orientation on your first day. This might include an introduction to the physical workplace, an overview of hours and expectations, details about health and safety procedures and more. Some employers provide a formal orientation, while others have a more casual system.

TIP: If your workplace doesn't provide an orientation, you can use our Learn about your new workplace checklist to review the essentials. If you don’t know the answers, ask your new supervisor or co-workers.

TIP: Download our What to do on your first day resource if you'd like this information in PDF.

TIP: You can also check our our Make a good impression resource.

Work well with others

  • Respect others: We all have different ways of communicating, thinking and solving problems—it's important to accept personality differences. Be considerate, polite and even-tempered with everyone in your workplace. 
  • Learn the culture: Observe and learn the workplace culture to be professional in the workplace. Some workplaces are more formal than others.
  • Get involved at work: Make a point to get to know everyone in your department. Volunteer for groups, committees and teams, and offer to make presentations at meetings or functions.
  • Participate in social workplace activities and events: Getting involved shows that you care about your workplace and will help you get to know your coworkers. Remember your professional conduct during these activities and avoid drinking to excess and any overbearing behaviour. 
  • Find mentors: No one succeeds in their career without help. You will be surprised at how others are willing to support your success if you use their limited time wisely.
  • Keep your personal life separate: Avoid inappropriate or personal discussion topics—keep the story of your bad date, your wild weekend party, or your religious or political arguments to yourself. If you're having a personal or health problem, seek help outside the office before it impacts your work (see equity and diversity resources)
  • In a conflict, be direct but polite: Discuss work problems with the person concerned first. Not only is this the best way to solve the issue, it shows respect for your colleagues. 
  • Avoid gossip: Gossiping about others is unprofessional and hurtful. Do not discuss problems you have with a coworker or superior with other coworkers—especially through work email, where it can be seen or accidentally sent to the wrong person (hurtful and embarrassing for everyone). 
  • Feeling unhappy? Identify the problem: Is it a coworker, manager, working conditions, workload or all of these? Most conflicts are two-sided. Ask a neutral person you trust for objective feedback. If you can’t solve the problem yourself, get help from mentors, career professionals, counsellors, books, websites or training courses to find solutions. Solve little problems before they become big ones. 

Demonstrate strong work habits

  • Be on time: Always call your supervisor if you’re going to be late. Follow office policies for illness.
  • Respect office policies around computer use, workplace scents or allergies, etc.
  • Communicate regularly with your supervisor: A regular check-in or email is a great time to discuss work priorities and projects.
  • Seek clarification if needed: It's important to know expectations, timelines and priorities (especially if you’re unsure about how to proceed on a project)
  • Keep track of your accomplishments: Let others know when you have successfully solved a problem for a client, improved a system or received a commendation. Ways to do this include emailing occasional updates to your supervisor, checking in at regular meetings or telling a short story to a teammate. Be brief and stick to the facts (don't brag!). Make sure to keep copies of any relevant materials or jot down notes to add your successes to your portfolio!
  • Re-evaluate your goals on a regular basis: Share them with your supervisor. A history of setting and meeting goals will make a strong case for you as a team member to keep and promote.
  • Polish your skills: Take advantage of in-house training, professional development courses or adult education classes offered at your workplace to expand your skills.
  • Take pride in your work and your appearance: Keep your work and workplace tidy. Get enough sleep, healthy food and exercise and ensure you’re well groomed with neat, clean clothing.
  • Look for ways to help: Ask yourself (and your supervisor) what the company, manager and team need most. Ask for extra projects if you have time (a sure way to impress!)
  • Stay flexible: New responsibilities are often added to a position you are already doing. Showing you can handle new tasks increases your value as an employee and gives you a chance to cross-train and build new skills.
  • Consult your supervisor if you’re overwhelmed with your workload: A regular check-in meeting is a good time to discuss this—make sure to bring it up as soon as possible if you're worried your workload won't allow you to meet an upcoming deadline.

TIP: Download our Make a good impression resource if you'd like this information to go.

Etiquette and communication

Email etiquette

Texting and emailing are very different - especially when it comes to work! Use these tips to make a good impression.

Email communication tips

  • Always include a meaningful subject line so the receiver knows what your email is about (and can find it again!)
  • Be brief and to the point. Use bulleted or numbered lists if possible, especially when asking questions.
  • Include your full name in the “From” box. Don’t assume that the person you’re writing to knows whom your message is coming from.
  • Use proper capitalization. (ALL CAPS is shouting!)
  • Avoid using the “Reply all” button—this can overload all participants with messages and can be very annoying. Use the regular “Reply” button to respond only to the sender, unless specific others need to be included.
  • Respect confidentiality. Don't share a message if you're unsure if the receiver would want you to.
  • Avoid unprofessional “text speak” (such as “LOL” or b/c) or long/confusing acronyms (spell it out the first time unless it's a very familiar acronym).
  • Use proper spelling and punctuation. Think of an email like a short letter rather than as a text message.

Download: Email etiquette

Effective email example

Date: July 3, 2013
From: student@company.com
To: supervisor@company.com
Re: RFP package for Garry Oak project

Hi Supervisor,

I was pulling together the proposal and had a few questions:

  • Should we include our estimated staffing costs separately or work that into the overall project cost?
  • How many staff hours did you suggest we allocate at the last meeting?
  • What’s the timeframe for getting the first draft back to you for review?

Thank you!

Student

Ineffective email example

Date: July 3, 2013
From: student@company.com
To: supervisor@company.com
CC: director@company.com, person@company.com, somebody@company.com, everybody@company.com …
Re:

Hey Supervisor, What was I supposed to be doing on that RFP thing from last meeting? I forgot to take notes on if you wanted me 2 hand it in today and if staff are supposed to have their time on it and what was the name of that guy at the meeting?

S

Phone etiquette

  • Answer your phone within a few rings. 
  • Ask your employer if you should use a scripted greeting (e.g., “Thank you for calling Business X. You’ve reached Jane Doe in the ABC Department. How can I help you?”). 
  • Request permission before placing a client or colleague on hold ("Can I just place you on hold for a moment while I look into that?"). 
  • Speak clearly and use professional language.
  • Slow down your speech and choose simple language when speaking with clients who speak English as a second language (avoid the urge to speak louder).
  • Make sure to record important details when taking messages.
  • When dealing with a difficult client or colleague, use a calm tone of voice and listen to the person’s concerns. They are probably frustrated and just want to feel heard.
  • Never disconnect a call if you accidentally dial the wrong number.
  • Ask your supervisor if you should use a scripted voicemail message when you are away from your desk.

TIP: Download our Phone etiquette resource to take this information to go.

Cubicle etiquette

When you work in a cubicle, it's important to be respectful of your fellow cubicle mates. Here are a few tips to make the most of your shared workspace.

TIP: Download our Cubicle etiquette resource to take this information to go.

Privacy

  • Try not to startle someone working in a cubicle. Announce yourself at their doorway or lightly knock on the wall. 
  • Never read someone’s computer screen or comment on conversations you’ve overheard. Resist answering a question you overheard asked in the cube next to you! 
  • Be respectful of your coworkers’ workspace. Just because there’s no door doesn’t mean you can help yourself to their paper clips. 
  • Post a sign or flag at your cubicle entrance to signal when you can be interrupted. 
  • Don’t loiter outside someone’s cubicle if the person is on a phone call. Come back at another time. 
  • Keep your personal belongings within your cubicle, not draped over the cubicle walls.

Phones (noise)

  • Try to pick up your phone after one or two rings. Set the ringer volume at a low level. 
  • Limit the use of speakerphones. If you must use one, keep the volume as low as possible. Use a meeting room for conference calls. 
  • Watch your volume when talking on the phone. 
  • When you leave your cubicle, turn your phone ringer off and let it go to voicemail or forward your phone number to your new location. 
  • Never leave your cell phone behind in your cubicle without first turning it off or to vibrate. 
  • With personal or sensitive calls, be aware that your neighbours can hear your end of the conversation.

Talking

  • Use your inside “library voice”. 
  • Don’t talk through cubicle walls or congregate outside someone’s cubicle. For impromptu meetings, go to a conference room or break room. 
  • Don’t bring clients to your cubicle to meet with them. Go to an office or conference room. 
  • Don’t yell across the cubicles. Get up and move to the other person’s location.

General noise

  • Use email or instant messaging to communicate silently with your coworkers. 
  • Play music only with headphones.
  • Set your computer volume to a low level and turn off screensaver sound effects. 
  • Eat quietly. Avoid gum-popping, humming, slurping and pen-tapping.

Scents

  • Don’t eat hot food at your desk. Food odours can bother your hungry or nauseous neighbours. 
  • Avoid perfume and cologne. Your neighbours may have allergies or chemical sensititivies. 
  • Be aware of personal odours and minimize their effects on others (this includes clothing, shoe, body odours, dental hygiene and food odours). 
  • Keep your shoes on at your desk.

Skype and videoconference etiquette

  • Before using Skype or other videoconferencing software to call a colleague or client, send a note to set up a time.
  • Introduce yourself when adding a new contact (a simple “Hi John, this is Jane Doe from the ABC department” will suffice) 
  • Avoid using IM slang in your communications, especially when contacting your supervisors (use your judgment— if your supervisor tends to use IM slang, then it may be appropriate). 
  • If your contact doesn’t reply immediately to your chat communication, continue to work on other tasks until they respond (don’t send continual reminders).
  • Skype is not appropriate for sharing large files; instead, compress them and send via email, or post them to cloud software or your company’s FTP site.

TIP: Download our Skype and videoconference etiquette resource to take this information to go.

Communicating in a culturally diverse workplace

Culture is a set of learned attitudes, behaviours and experiences that make up a way of life. Although you’ll share your organization’s work culture with your colleagues, it’s unlikely that you’ll all share the same personal culture. Different people will have different communication styles and etiquette. Here are some areas where there are common differences in cultural style.

  • Courtesy: Greeting styles may differ (especially with those of different rank), as do ways of discussing problems or conflicts.
  • Arguments: In some cultures, arguing in an impersonal manner is the norm; in others, arguments tend to be emotional. 
  • Assertiveness: Different cultures have different levels of acceptable assertiveness. One culture may be quite reserved, while another may be more forward. 
  • Candor: Some cultures value “telling it like it is”, while others value preserving harmony. 
  • Simplicity: Some cultures present information in simple, straightforward language, while others take longer to convey information.

These are just a few examples of cultural difference. There is no “one way” of doing things, so don’t jump to conclusions or create conflict because a colleague approaches a problem in a different way. By recognizing that there are different styles, you’ll take a big step toward effective communication.

TIP: Check out GoinGlobal for cultural information for many different countries and cultural backgrounds.

TIP: Download our Communicating in a culturally diverse workplace resource to take this information to go.

Etiquette in the Canadian workplace (for international students)

If you're an international student, Canadian workplace culture may be different than what you are used to at home.

Here are a few sample work scenarios you may run into in Canada:

Scenario in Canada Appropriate behaviour
You’ve been invited to a meeting or appointment. Arrive on time or a couple of minutes early. If you’re going to be late, call and let your coworker know.
Your coworker has invited you to a lunch or dinner meeting. Wait for your host to start talking about business. Rely on his or her agenda but come prepared to discuss relevant projects or tasks.
Your coworker is annoying you. Be respectful. You never know when you might have to work closely with this person.
Your coworker is being disrespectful. When appropriate, address the issue with your co-worker first. Talk to your supervisor if the person continues to be disrespectful.
Your stop by someone's office to speak with him, but he is on the phone. Come back later, or leave a note on the person’s door or desk. Don’t stand in the doorway and wait for him to finish his phone call.
You are on the phone when another person stops by your office. If you want privacy for your phone call, tell the person that you will be a few minutes and will come and find them when you are finished. Otherwise, you can nod and gesture towards a seat in your office and they will sit down and wait for you to finish your call.
You’re working on a project at home and you need office supplies. Don’t take office supplies from work, even if others do. This is considered stealing.
You’re talking with a coworker and he or she is standing very far away or very close to you. Be aware that different cultures have different expectations about personal space and body language.
You’ve just finished working on a project that involved lots of different people. Thank everyone who took part in the project, even if their input was minimal or limited to administrative tasks. A group email is a nice way to do this.

TIP: Download our Etiquette in the Canadian workplace resource to take this information to go.

Ongoing professional development

Manage your digital presence

  • Remember that everything you do online creates a digital footprint: Recruiters, supervisors and colleagues may conduct a digital reference check or look you up online.
  • Be aware of your digital footprint: Google-search your own name and/or create a Google alert of your own name to keep an eye on  what comes up.
  • Create a social media plan: For example, use LinkedIn for your professional presence, Facebook for personal use and a blended personal/professional Twitter.
  • Build a personal brand: Identify two or three of your strengths or passions and focus your public online presence on these themes. You can also set up a personal website or portfolio.
  • Manage your privacy settings: Control what personal information is available to potential employers. Untag yourself in photos (or remove the photos) if it’s not something you’d like employers to see.
  • Generate positive content: Be active on social media platforms and add your own content through group discussions, blogs, commenting or tweeting on appropriate topics or publishing content on your online portfolio or personal website. This will help your name rank higher in searches.

TIP: Come to our Using LinkedIn for Your Work Search workshop to learn more about mastering LinkedIn!

Stay connected within your field

  • Know who’s hiring in your field: Know your options and understand which skills, education and training employers find valuable.
  • Stay current with developments in your industry and sector. Read trade magazines and newsletters, talk to people in your field and keep an eye on the news.
  • Keep your résumé up-to-date: This is one of the easiest ways to keep yourself competitive and helps you see the skills you're developing and those you're missing or still want to work on.
  • Build a strong network: Join professional associations, Chambers of Commerce and other relevant groups in your industry. Make an effort to connect with and support others, and they’ll remember you when opportunities arise.

Join professional associations

Joining professional associations related to your field is a great way to meet contacts, keep up-to-date with happenings in your area or industry and hear about opportunities.

Choose your area of study below to see some examples.

TIP: For more associations, try a Google search, talk to a career educator, or visit Career CruisingJob Futures or Work Futures.

Anthropology

Art history

Biology

Biochemistry and microbiology

Business

Chemistry

Child and youth care

Earth and ocean sciences

Economics

Education

Engineering and computer science

English

Environmental studies

French

Geography

Germanic and Slavic studies

Greek and Roman studies

Health information science

History

Hispanic and Italian studies

Kinesiology

Latin American studies

Law

Linguistics

Mathematics and statistics

Medieval studies

Music

Nursing

Pacific and Asian studies

Philosphy

Physics and astronomy

Political science

Psychology

Public administration

Recreation and health education

Religious studies

Sociology

Social work

Theatre

Visual arts

Women's studies

Writing