What Nobody Tells You About Starting Work

Written by Mark Rowland Thursday 02 January 2020
The workplace is a potential socio-political minefield. Here’s the knowledge that no careers advisor will ever give you

The workplace: it can take some getting used to. There’s a huge cultural shift involved in the transition from studying to working. Nobody really prepares you for the hurdles and pitfalls you’ll face in the working world. Here are some of the secrets of success that you’ll never hear in a career seminar:

The ‘watercooler’ is a Thing – but Sometimes, It’s the Toilet

The ‘watercooler’ is more of a state of mind than an actual watercooler. The staff kitchen, the printer and yes, even the toilets, can be gathering points for people to discuss the important cultural and societal issues of the day, as well as exchange useful nuggets about the real trends and forces in your organisation.

Involvement in these conversations can play a big part in the amount of influence you will have within your organisation. Bonding with the Managing Director about the writing on Game of Thrones, who on The Apprentice is the least worst or even laughing at Baby Yoda memes can – when combined with a conscientious attitude and a strong work ethic – open up new opportunities for you.

Take time to locate the ‘watercoolers’ in your workplace and work out who shares your interests. Try out new cultural experiences as well, but don’t try to fake enjoyment – Karen in accounts will see right through you. Then you’ll be in trouble.

Biscuits Can ‘buy’ Influence

Much like cigarettes are used as prison currency, biscuits can do much to ingratiate you with your colleagues and establish you as ‘part of the team’. Make sure the biscuit quality matches the status quo – bringing Rich Tea into a Hobnob team will result in ostracisation. Similarly, while M&S double chocolate chip cookies will be welcomed with open arms at least initially, it can cause resentment among those who find their Digestives neglected in favour of something more adventurous.

Do not, under any circumstances, bring in Party Rings.

Meetings Sometimes Have No Point, but Everyone Pretends They Do

Good meetings can be incredibly productive and expose you to different points of view and approaches that you wouldn’t have considered before. Unfortunately, many achieve very little and seem to have little purpose. It’s best not to point this out in the meeting itself, and certainly not to the meeting’s organiser.

Your best bet when trying to address the pointless meetings is to subtly bring in new ideas to help it evolve from a time sap to an ideas win. You will come across as incredibly enthusiastic, and you’re not ruining the illusion. That said, some meetings are beyond saving – all you can do is endure them.

Whenever You Do Anything Other Than Your Job, Someone Will Inevitably Appear Behind You

If you need to speak to a superior about something but they’re usually quite elusive, simply open Instagram. The law of the workplace states that they’ll immediately appear behind you, as if conjured from a lamp. Why this phenomenon occurs has never been discovered, but we believe the scientists at CERN are looking into it.

Looking for more ways to prepare for the world of work? Read our ultimate guide to email etiquette to make sure you’re reading the unwritten code.


Join CMI’s Future Leaders community to network with like-minded individuals, share experiences and get advice:

For any questions or queries please contact: or

Mark Rowland

Mark Rowland

Mark Rowland is a senior writer. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also overseen the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications.