According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 153 million people in the United States were part of the civilian workforce in July 2010 [source: Bureau of Labor and Statistics]. With that many workers out there, it's no wonder that there are thousands of people starting new jobs on any given day. If you're about to start your first full-time job, or if you're just looking for something new, you're among those thousands who are gathering information, sending out résumés and getting prepared for the first day in a new workplace.
As you research and prepare for the big day, you may ask for advice from friends, family and mentors. These folks are often glad to help, recounting their experiences and insisting that you take their most valuable pieces of advice to heart. But how do you know if it's applicable for you and your job?
First, consider the source. The workforce is changing as quickly as culture and technology, so some of your parents' advice may be outdated. Plus, each industry is unique in what employers expect, so advice about being a software engineer is probably not valuable coming from a restaurant owner or bank executive.
If you've considered the source a reliable one, the next thing to do is to separate fact from fiction. There's a lot of misinformation out there, and even the most well-meaning advisor may not know he's leading you astray. To help you get started, this article covers 10 common workplace myths you should know as you apply for jobs and before you get started that first day.
Blanketing the Town with Your Résumé Will Get You a Job
If you're anxious to enter the workforce, or if you're just looking for that new opportunity, the most essential tool in your kit is your resume. Recruiters use resumes to find qualified people for particular jobs, and employers use resumes to filter out the candidates they want to interview. So, the more résumés you send out, the better, right?
Not really, no.
Like any good tool, a résumé is best if it's of good quality and custom-fitted to the job. Start by honing in on the jobs you're really interested in, and take time to shape your résumé so it features your qualifications for those jobs. Be sure to use terminology specific to the job you want, and make doubly sure you have correct grammar and spelling throughout. Of course, don't forget to add a professional cover letter written specifically for each employer to whom you're sending your résumé. The extra attention could mean the difference between the interview and the trash.
Since it's difficult to get noticed by résumé alone, more people are using networking to find jobs. This author and her colleagues had greater success getting an interview when they had a personal connection who could put in a good recommendation. Web sites like LinkedIn can help you organize those connections over time so you have them when you need them. Plus, some people are finding success looking for a job on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook [source: Kiviat].
You Must Be a Union Member to Work in Certain Professions
In the United States, individuals often come together to fight for a common cause. Throughout the country's history, perhaps no such groups have been more rewarded for their persistence than labor unions. Some specific industries that are well-known for their labor unions are teachers, miners, steelworkers, auto workers and actors. So, you must join the union if you're going to work in certain professions, right?
Actually, no, though you may be pressured to do so in certain states.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) passed in 1938 granted employees the right to choose whether or not to take part in union activities. Despite the NLRA, unions in the 28 states without an additional right-to-work law can pressure employers to hire or fire employees that don't pay union dues [sources: Hunter, NRTW].
You're likely to be persuaded to join a labor union for its benefits. A union's Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) with employers often mean higher salaries, better benefits, and more job security for those who pay membership dues to the union [source: AFL-CIO]. However, one reason you might not want to join a union is that by doing so you lose your ability to negotiate your individual salary and benefits. Plus, if the union is on strike, your employer is free to replace you permanently in order to continue operating, which could mean lost wages for you and your family [source: Hunter].
Employers Who Provide Benefits Are Always Offering a Better Deal
If you've done any job searching in the last two decades, you've seen employers who offer benefits that go beyond just paying you for the work you're doing. Such benefits might include stock options, paid vacation time, health insurance and employer contributions to retirement savings. So, employers who offer more benefits are always a better deal, right?
Not always. You have to look at the bottom line.
Though benefits were originally a way to convince existing employees to stick around for a while, today's employers primarily offer benefits to make a new job look more attractive. One of the reasons for this shift is to make up for offering lower salaries. Benefits like health insurance can be expensive for employers, though, which means the employer could cut back or eliminate certain benefits to further trim costs. [source: Salisbury]
When you're comparing two job offers side-by-side, the only way to accurately compare compensation is to factor in the value you'll get from each the benefits offered. This is easy for things like insurance, which have clear costs associated with them. For example, if the employer provides health coverage which would otherwise cost you about $300 per month, or $3,600 per year, you can add that number to your salary to get a more accurate picture of your compensation. Some benefits go beyond a monetary value, though. If you're a parent, for instance, you might appreciate flexible work hours that give you more time to spend with your kids.
Willingness to Stick Around Will Be Rewarded
Loyalty to your friends or your favorite sports team means that you're willing to stick with them in good times and bad. In fiction, a loyal hero is often rewarded with money and fame. Since loyalty is such a valued trait, you'll surely be rewarded for your loyalty to your employer, right?
Loyalty in the workplace is an old concept that has all but died out in the United States. For your parents or grandparents, retiring with the same company after 20 to 30 years and collecting a pension was considered admirable. In those times, a long résumé with lots of job hopping was a sign that you couldn't hold on to a job. Plus, raises and promotions were often a reward for loyalty and hard work.
Today, though, long-time pensions are increasingly underfunded, and raises are few and far between when a worker is willing stick around without them [source: Bunkley, Hilzenrath]. People in industries like information technology are considered stagnant if they've stayed in one job for too long. For those people, the only way to get ahead or to be admired is to move up or move out every few years. Moving up sometimes means moving out, too, as employers often find more benefit from hiring executives that can bring fresh perspectives from outside the company [source: McKenzie].
Severance Is Mandatory
Severance is some amount of money or other benefits you can receive if you're laid off from your job. The amount of severance you can receive varies based on your employer. The primary purpose of severance is to help you bridge the gap until you can get a new job. So, if you're laid off, your employer has to provide you with severance, right?
Severance is a benefit your employer can provide, but there's no legal obligation to provide it. If severance benefits were part of your employee agreement or contract, you may be entitled to receive those benefits. However, be sure to read the fine print in your contract. Your employer may have specified a maximum amount you can receive. Also, the contract may outline conditions under which your employer isn't obligated to pay any severance, such as if you're fired or if the employer has declared bankruptcy. [source: FindLaw]
Another note about severance is that it may not be on your last paycheck. For instance, the law may allow you a few days to file a wrongful termination lawsuit, which might eliminate your ability to claim your severance benefits. This author experienced this in early 2009 when a mandatory 10-day wait for severance was just long enough to miss a pay cycle, resulting in almost a month before she received those benefits. Have some money saved up so that you're prepared for situations like this, even if you have a good severance agreement.
Your Employer Doesn't Suffer If You Steal Things
The money your employer spends to set up an office or storefront is an essential expenditure to make sure you can be productive at your job. An employer may spend hundreds, if not thousands, per employee per year to provide the space, equipment and services required to be productive. Since it's all there for your benefit, it's not going to hurt your employer if you steal some of it, right?
Actually, it could.
In hopes of keeping morale high and conveying a sense of trust, your employer may look the other way if small things are missing. However, businesses do experience losses. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimates that U.S. organizations lose 7 percent of their annual revenues to fraud. [source: ACFE]
You don't have to be stealing on a large scale to make a difference, and employers are starting to notice that even the smallest theft to prevent it from graduating into much bigger acts of stealing. Your employer might create an environment that makes stealing more difficult, such as keeping equipment and supplies available only if you sign them out. To enforce this, it could also have a no-tolerance policy for all theft that results in you being fired rather than given a second chance if you're caught. [source: Edmunds]
The bottom line is that if you take something from your employer that wasn't clearly provided to you as compensation, you're stealing, and it could land you out of a job and, possibly, in jail.
You Can Rely on Unemployment Insurance if You're Laid Off
Unemployment insurance (UI) is a government program that provides financial assistance to you when you don't have a job and you're actively seeking one. Like severance mentioned earlier, UI is designed to help you bridge the gap financially while you look for work. So, you can rely on collecting unemployment insurance to keep your budget on track, right?
Possibly, but chances are you'll need to make some other changes, too.
Laws are different in each U.S. state for how you qualify to receive UI and how much you can receive. Typically, this is some percentage of the average amount you've made over the last five quarters of work, disbursed over a certain number of weeks [source: U.S. Dept. of Labor]. You can also file for extensions if you can prove you've been unable to find employment and haven't turned down any offers.
Remember that UI is just insurance, not an income replacement. If you're living paycheck-to-paycheck, and you don't have much in savings, you'll have to trim your budget to make up for the drop in income. If you have school loans, you might apply for forbearance so you don't have to pay for a few months. Plus, collateral-secured loans like a car loan may have a limited-use option to move one of your payments to the end of the term. Other things you can cut back on are entertainment and dining out.
If You Come to Work Sick, Your Dedication Will Be Praised
If you're like the average employee, you're most productive when you're at your peak health. Still, a little progress is often better than no progress. So, if you can prove that cold or flu isn't getting you down, your boss will be glad you did, right?
When you work around other people, your health affects everyone. If one of your co-workers is sick, you probably won't want to be around him much or to touch the same things he's touching. Even if his illness is not contagious, it could still be distracting to hear him constantly coughing, blowing his nose or sneezing.
Your employers don't want something "going around the office," either. If employees are sick or distracted by others who are sick, productivity falls and the quality of work suffers. Sometimes no work is better than substandard work, especially in jobs that require careful attention to detail and little room for error (like surgeons or air traffic controllers).
Sometimes it's injury rather than illness that can impact your job. For example, if you have a broken arm in a cast, you probably can't type well, and if you have a knee injury, you can't walk freely around a busy shop. If temporary immobility is the only thing stopping you from being productive, talk to your employer about other ways you can contribute while you're healing, such as working from home or catching up on paperwork.
Your Boss Doesn't Read Your Facebook Page
If you're in a shared workspace for your job, such as an office or shop, you'll probably meet at least a dozen people you'll interact with there on a day-to-day basis. Many will become your friends, and you may add them to your social networks on the Internet. But your boss doesn't care about your social networking, right?
Actually, they might, and it could cost you your job.
If you use Facebook, Twitter or other social networking Web sites, you may be one of millions who use it to share stories about day-to-day events. This might include expressing your thoughts about your job, your coworkers or even your customers. There is an increasing number of people, though, who are getting in trouble for what they've said about work through these mediums. For example, in early 2009, a man who was just offered a job at Cisco had the offer rescinded after he tweeted about "hating the work" [sources: Popkin]. In May 2010, a waitress in Charlotte, N.C., lost her job over something she said on Facebook about a frustrating customer [source: Frazier].
Besides being cautious about what you say while you have a job, also make cleaning up your social networks a part of preparing for new job searches. It's easy for a potential employer to enter your name or e-mail address in Google and find your blogs or social networking sites. Be sure those sources are free of material that might discourage a potential employer from hiring you.
Your Boss Will Notice if You Work Hard
As with loyalty mentioned earlier in this article, we grow up to believe that the harder we work, the greater our rewards. We praise historical heroes who put in everything they had, even against the odds. Such dedication doesn't just take time, it takes the time and skill to go beyond your responsibilities. This can get you noticed by the boss and help you get a raise, right?
Not always, and it may set you up for unintended opposite results.
For many employers, the only things that go noticed are the things that aren't working right. If sales are slow or the Internet is down, management notices. If you're productive and doing your job, though, your employer may take it for granted.
This means that if you constantly "work hard," your employer may not notice you're working above your average productivity. Instead, your boss may come to expect that's actually your average productivity. Consequently, when you're unable to sustain that above-average performance, your employer will notice the drop in your productivity.
Rather than pushing yourself to your limits where you might burn out, aim for a steady, sustainable pace. Meet your goals and deadlines, but don't promise beyond what you can deliver. With your pace established, carefully pick moments when you can go above and beyond and really have a chance get noticed for the effort.
On the next page, you'll find many more resources to help you to separate fact from myth when it comes to the workplace.
How to Create an Action Plan for a New Job
- Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). "ACFE Report Estimate Organizations Worldwide Lose 5 Percent of Revenues to Fraud." June 2, 2010. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.acfe.com/about/press-release.asp?copy=06-02-2010
- Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). "ACFE Report Provides Insights on Occupational Fraud in the U.S." June 24, 2010. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.acfe.com/about/press-release.asp?copy=06-24-2010
- Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). "Profiling a White Collar Criminal." Sept. 10, 2008. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.acfe.com/about/press-release.asp?copy=09-11-2008
- American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). "Why You Need a Union." (Aug. 23, 2010)http://www.aflcio.org/joinaunion/why/
- Bunkley, Nick. "Automaker Pensions Underfunded by $17 Billion." The New York Times. April 6, 2010. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/business/07cars.html?_r=1
- Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. "Economic Situation Summary." Aug. 6, 2010. (Aug. 23, 2010)http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
- Edmunds, Gladys. "Take steps, and quick ones, to stop employee theft." USA Today. Jan. 18, 2005. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.usatoday.com/money/smallbusiness/columnist/edmunds/2005-01-18-edmunds2_x.htm
- FindLaw. "Severance Pay and Benefits Considerations." (Aug. 25, 2010)http://employment.findlaw.com/employment/employment-employee-job-loss/employment-employee-job-loss-severance.html
- Frazier, Eric. "Facebook post costs waitress her job." The Charlotte Observer. May 17, 2010. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/05/17/1440447/facebook-post-costs-waitress-her.html
- Hilzenrath, David S. "2008 Leaves Pensions Underfunded." The Washington Post. Jan. 8, 2009. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/07/AR2009010701387.html
- Kiviat, Barbara. "Using Twitter and Facebook to Find a Job." Time. June 8, 2009. (Aug. 23, 2010)http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1903083,00.html
- McKenzie, Meredyth. "Staffing: Hire or promote?" Smart Business Atlanta. January 2010. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.sbnonline.com/Local/Article/18811/66/202/Hire_or_promote.aspx
- National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc. "Right to Work States." (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.nrtw.org/rtws.htm
- Popkin, Helen A.S. "Twitter gets you fired in 140 characters or less." MSNBC. March 23, 2009. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29796962/
- Salisbury, Dallas L., editor. "Do employers/employees still need employee benefits?" Employee Benefit Research Institute. 1998. (Aug. 23, 2010)http://www.ebri.org/pdf/publications/books/need_emp_benefits.pdf
- U.S. Department of Labor. "State Unemployment Insurance Benefits." (Aug. 23, 2010)http://workforcesecurity.doleta.gov/unemploy/uifactsheet.asp