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Let's say your college days are slowly fading into the background. The corporate world seems scary, yet inviting. Along with independence and money comes the fear of swimming in unchartered waters. A new way of life, different daily routine, new and more formal relationships, different dress codes, the necessity to perform, politics -- these are just some of the things on your mind.

Hopefully, this article will demystify this strange world to some extent. Here are a few tips that may help you cope better:

Manage your expectations
When you join a company, you are full of enthusiasm and have a burning desire to prove yourself. However, be prepared to do low-key tasks in the first few months (in some cases, years) of your stint with the organisation. Jaya, 25, who works for a BPO as a Team Leader, had a tough time accepting the fact that she just did repetitive data processing in the first few months of her job. "I almost contemplated quitting, but stuck on and grew in the organisation," she says.

Some of the highest levels of decision-makers in the corporate world are those who started in the front ranks. In fact, one of the leading corporations in India almost has a policy of exposing the management trainees it hires to the ruthlessness of the market before they rise up the corporate ladder. The perspective you develop at the bottom of the ladder is very valuable as you climb up. This is because when you do become an armchair manager; you know how things are actually implemented in the real world.

Your unwritten job description: Learn
Be a sponge. Learn. Learn. Learn. And then, learn some more. Expand your perspective quickly beyond what your role is. How does the business work? Where is the money coming from? What does the customer want? What are the different types of customers? What are their biggest concerns? What is the biggest concern of your boss? What kind of activities does your boss do? What skills do your successful seniors show consistently? How would you look at your role if you were the boss or the boss's boss? How does the business look from your boss' perspective? How does it look from the CEO's perspective?

Time and again, that those who show tremendous growth in short spans of time are performers who have a hunger to learn, and an ability to look at the bigger picture. Develop these two traits consciously. Write down what you learn every day. Understand the business from different perspectives. If you are not learning something new, you are just repeating what you did yesterday. Work experience is so called because it is just that. Experience. If your experience is the same, in the end you might end up asking yourself, "Do I have four years of experience or do I have one year of experience repeated four times?"

Politics at work
Let's face it -- it exists. As you become more acclimatised to your work environment, you will slowly discover soft forces at work. These forces operate beyond the world of performance metrics, targets and numbers. They often take shape in the cafeteria or informal parties, but their effects can be observed at work. A brush with dirty office politics might scar your perception of the corporate world, and probably even life. Ramesh*, 25, who now works for a leading BPO, was fired from his first job because he was caught in a battle of egos between the HR Head and Operations Manager. When Ramesh missed his targets narrowly, the OM used the opportunity to point out that HR was not doing effective training. HR responded by saying the candidate was "un-trainable." It resulted in Ramesh losing his job.

The best strategy to deal with office politics is, first of all, to accept that it exists. Acknowledge that it is ultimately human beings who work in organisations and human beings sometimes have the tendency to make judgments and respond to interpersonal preferences. So, there is no need to bang our heads on the ground and claim how unfair the universe is, if we find ourselves at the receiving end of it.

Over a period of time, you will develop your own style of dealing with office politics. It will be somewhere between being a na�ve saint who gets trodden upon and a backstabbing gossip monger. However, you might also want to have a clean image and remain apolitical. You should work at developing a reputation for professionalism. This can be achieved by being consistent, authentic and positive.

Some quick suggestions:

*Do not speak ill of a person when he or she is not present in the room.
*Do praise a person when he or she is not present in the room.
*Let conversations be about tasks or work, rather than about people.
*Cultivate good relationships with people, not with designations. You will be surprised to know what the informal centres of influence are in your organisation.
*Do a good job.
*Listen to people -- everybody knows this, almost nobody does this well.

Be sensitive of your environment
There are thousands of cultural subtleties and interpersonal dynamics that exist in your organisation. It will help immensely if you sensitise yourself to it. Some things like how you address your superiors -- in most BPO and IT companies, you address supervisors by first names; in old economy companies, you call them Sir or Ma'am -- will be very obvious, but there are also other unwritten rules that make a difference in the way you are perceived. Here are some examples:

Your boss: Some are very approachable and willing to hold your hand, others might perceive consistent clearing of doubts as a sign of incompetence. Find out what your boss' style is.
Power equations: Become aware of the ones that exist at work. Find out about existing troubled relationships, especially between seniors. It will help you avoid becoming a casualty in an ego-battle between them.
Humour: Another important thing to take note of. One inappropriate joke and you might mar your reputation in a way that will be tough to redress.
Gender equations: Notice the kind of interaction between the genders in your workplace as well to gauge what is acceptable and what is not. What was okay at college might be interpreted as sexual harassment at work. Is getting into a relationship at work a good idea? Ponder that question before you proceed.
e-mail: A brand new form of communication used widely in most organisations. There are unwritten e-mail rules at every office. Find out who should get copies of which e-mails. There is no reason why you should use a BCC (blind carbon-copy) option at work. Do not delete any e-mail you send or receive. One golden rule to avoid making e-mail mistakes is this: Never, never, send e-mail while you are still angry. e-mail makes it extremely easy to respond impulsively. Also, we tend to say over e-mail what we would probably never say to a person's face. At the same time, what you write in an e-mail is a written record of your communication. It is preserved, forever. No matter how 'right' you feel you are. Never send e-mail while still emotional about a situation.
Keep these insights in mind as you take your first steps into the corporate world. You will be a pro in no time. All the best!
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