Surviving the office jungle

It takes more than just qualifications to succeed in today's workplace, writes Meg Carter

Dealing with office politics can prove a headache to even the most experienced managers. Small wonder, then, if new recruits - in particular first-time jobbers - can sometimes buckle under the strain. Knowing what information to communicate and how to best present yourself and your achievements can be as important as many practical qualifications.

A major stumbling block is many new recruits' lack of understanding of how a working environment actually works, according to Roly Cockman, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. "This is a gap identified by many employers," he says.

"All are testing incoming graduates more on the basis of their competency, asking just how well they will be able to do their job." Most graduates consider preparation for employment as part of their university education, Mr Cockman adds. "We believe, however, a greater emphasis is needed on developing actual job skills."

In spite of this, he adds, there are "pockets of good practice" in a growing number of colleges. At City University, for example, a programme of activities mixes self-marketing skills with general awareness of the job market.

"It starts from the obvious things, like preparation for CVs and job applications, and runs right through to how best to put yourself across in a work environment," City University careers adviser Dagmar Burnett- Godfrey explains. "We also run assessment workshops and re-enact hypothetical workplace situations."

It's about encouraging people to consider the consequences and demands of their actions and attitudes in the workplace, she adds. "It's a major change from college working where one more usually works as an individual.

"They must choose their first employer carefully, because that decision can effect their entire working life - shaping self-confidence, assertiveness, defensive and self-promotional skills," she says. "It's no longer enough to be technically skilful and knowledgeable - how you handle corporate politics and negotiating tactics are becoming just as important."

Jane, a 31-year-old arts graduate, went straight from university into the head office of an international TV company. "They thought it might be nice to have a graduate recruit," she explains. "In fact, they didn't know what to do with me. And worse: I didn't get on with my boss." The head office was tightly run by a domineering chief executive - there was a clear feeling of "everyone watching their backs", she says. "The whole experience shattered my confidence. I just didn't know how to cope." Jane quit after six months.

Understanding the nature of a given work environment is a good first step towards successfully working within a difficult corporate culture. "In certain situations, this can be vital," says Andrew Kakabadse, professor of international management development at Cranfield School of Management.

"Some office cultures are developmental - if you want to do it, do it. Others, however, are very much more divisive." Trying to understand the context is a critical first step, he says: "What are the hidden rules of the game; how do people in that organisation make relationships; what sort of relationships are they?"

Neither economic climate nor type of business are significant factors affecting the degree of politics to be found in a company culture, Prof Kakabadse claims. More relevant is size. "The bigger the organisation, the more likely it is because of blurred lines," he says. "Also, there are many more politics in decentralised, down-sized organisations. Because there are less clear guidelines and career structures, people are constantly in a position of renegotiation - of salary and role."

Another tip for success is keeping a cool and calm head. "Remember, politics is also a way of communicating in a negative environment - it's not necessarily personal. Handling it requires a great deal of maturity," he explains. There is, however, some cause for comfort. "Usually, people do have the skills to cope," Prof Kakabadse says. "But often, they find the situation distasteful and opt out altogether. Keeping an open mind is the best course of action. Otherwise, you could end up a casualty."

Skills required are often those already used at home, with friends or family: how to communicate, how to withhold information until a better time, recognising who really calls the shots and ensuring they are aware of your performance and your achievements. Forewarned, it seems, is forearmed

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing software co...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate / Digital Account Exe...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to join...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager / Graduate Trainee

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Key Sales Account Manager/Graduate Trainee i...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas