Work etiquette – our guide to starting on placement

The leap from student life to office life can be daunting, with so many unwritten office rules how can you be sure you’re on the right track?  Hopefully our etiquette guide can help you through the first few weeks and help you stay on the right side of your colleagues and, more importantly, your boss.

Ask questions

If you’re unsure of anything, ask! You’re new, nobody expects you to know it all and it’s always better to ask and learn than to do something wrong.

Before you even start work there might be things you need to find out;

  • where should you go on your first day, what time should you arrive and who should you report to?
  • If you’re driving – is parking available and do you need a parking permit? You don’t want to be forever remembered as the person who parked in the boss’ space on your 1st day!
  • If you’re a caffeine-fiend do you need to bring your own mug & coffee/tea? Then there’s the milk question…is it provided? Is there a kitty? So much to learn!

In most cases you’ll get an induction.  This will cover the core office rules, Health and Safety etc. but if anything’s not clear or you’re not shown where the toilet is ask!

Learn from observing

Watch and listen to others, you’ll learn a lot.  You can quickly pick up great stock phrases and glean the company style – useful for dealing with customers or answering the telephone, especially if you’re picking up a call that’s not yours.

If your induction doesn’t include some work shadowing ask to shadow colleagues whilst they’re meeting clients; your colleagues will be keen to get you involved so don’t miss an opportunity.

E-mail etiquette

This is probably another area where you’ll learn through observation but there are some key dos and don’ts you can follow:


  • include an opener; ‘dear’, ‘hi’, ‘name’
  • use full sentences, clear grammar and put your spell checker on (Outlook, File, Options, Mail: always check spelling before sending)
  • if you say you’ve attached something remember to attach it (I’m really good at sending e-mails without attachments!)
  • add the company’s auto signature if there is one


  • use all capitals, it can come across as aggressive
  • use text abbreviations
  • reply if you’re angry, annoyed or upset by something (e-mails can be easily misconstrued, you don’t want to regret something once you’ve pressed send)

Mobile phone etiquette

If the rules on mobile phone use in the office aren’t clear ask a colleague. In some offices using your phone whilst at work will be frowned upon, in others it will be accepted (but always use it in moderation).

It’s always safer to err on the side of caution, if you’re unsure then you can probably survive the working day without your mobile but if you know you’re going to need to deal with an urgent call (perhaps your placement tutor’s trying to arrange a visit) make your line manager aware in advance.

Internet use and social media

Many offices will have an IT policy, if yours does read it! This is where you’ll find out if  it’s OK to use the internet or work e-mails for personal use.  If your work place doesn’t permit it then obey the rules, find a nearby lunch spot with free Wi-Fi instead of risking a disciplinary.  Even if personal e-mails and web use are permitted use them in moderation (you are at work after all!).


When you first start a job your boss may not want to overwhelm you but sometimes the workload can be a little light and having too little to do can really make the days drag. You probably won’t expect to find that you’ve not got enough to do but in the first few weeks, as you find your feet, you might find that you’re learning rather than doing.  If you are getting through your work and tasks quickly don’t be afraid to ask for more work (appearing keen is much better than appearing to be slow).  If it’s a quiet time of year (which for many the summer can be) spend your time proactively researching the company and use your time to plan for the future; update reports, presentations and databases as before too long you’ll find the days aren’t long enough and you’ll be wishing for those quiet days!

On the flip-side if you find you workload’s too much speak to someone.  Nobody is expecting you to work 7am-11pm, everybody needs a good work-life balance.  If you’re finding there just aren’t enough hours in the day speak up before it becomes a problem. Manage your time and manage the expectations of those around you – if you’re working on a critical assignment make it clear you might not meet a conflicting deadline but don’t wait until the deadline has passed to say you were struggling.

Offices aren’t scary places and 3 months into your placement you’ll know all the rules (written & unwritten), you’ll be confidently answering your colleagues’ phones and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about…just don’t forget to tell the incoming placement student everything you’ve learnt.


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