Friday, March 22, 2013

Advice for someone new to the workplace?

I recently got a question about how newly hired people, fresh from academia, should act in the workplace, specifically address clothing and work hours. 

Regarding clothing, I've really adhered to "business casual", i.e. no jeans, khaki pants and a button-down shirt for my wear. That's the extent of my knowledge. 

As for hours, I like arriving earlier than my coworkers and leaving about the same time, but that has to do with enjoying sitting at my desk when no one else is around. Introvert much? 

Readers, what say you? 


  1. At my first job, clothing: "smartish" pants, shirt and tie (this was the early 90s at GSK in the UK). Time: arrive 10 minutes before the boss and leave 10 minutes after.
    Now (large corporate WV USA): Jeans and a casual top (T-shirt with slogans is a definite no). Arrive at 7AM leave at 4PM. I too enjoy sitting at my desk (catching up on blogs, the economist and the NYT) before anyone else gets in.

  2. I'm not perhaps as senior as some readers, but I've worked for small biotech, medium biotech, a CRO, and a startup.

    By far, the CRO had the most lax dress code. Jeans and T-shirts de rigeur, flexible work schedule due to multiple employees' young children.
    The small biotech was the most rigorous, probably because we had magnetic ID cards to enter lab, which they could use to track work hours (and did). Dress code there was khakis / long-sleeve button-downs for men, dark pants and business tops for women. We all started early and finished late, usually 7:30AM to past 6PM.

    In my current position, dress depends on whom you're supposed to meet. For "business" days, it's more formal than for "lab" days.

  3. Can someone please explain what "business casual" is for women? Details regarding clothing material and fit would also be really helpful. Also, I believe different parts of the country have different dress standards, the East Coast being more formal than the West Coast.

    if you're starting out, how do you know how people dress or what time they arrive/leave (other than stalking them the week before)?

    1. OSN - I subscribe to "Never worry that you're overdressed." I mean that it's better to arrive in a formal suit and be told it's unnecessary that to arrive in a T-shirt and be told to dress better.

      For women in biotech, I've seen everything from jeans and T-shirt up through formal, tailored clothing. Most are fairly conservative early on: dark colors, tailored, no low necklines or high skirts. For lab-based positions, safety is paramount, so no long braids / hair (unless tied back), close-toed shoes, long pants or skirt, and nothing that can get caught in machinery.

    2. For women it's basically slacks with a nice top. Most women with lab responsibilities don't wear skirts. Closed-toe shoes as well. There are many women that wear jeans and a t-shirt as well. I'm wearing jeans right now.

      Usually the women managers wear stuff a little more dressy, like adding a blazer or even pantsuits (and some wear dresses or skirts but not often).

      Generally, no low cut blouses or tank tops.

    3. For the first couple of weeks, slacks and a nice top. Ann Taylor and the nicer Gap stuff is fine, if you can find Ann Taylor Loft for cheap that works for most. Talbot's also very acceptable but I think a bit more pricey.

      Assume "regular business hours" are 8 - 5+ or thereabouts the first couple of weeks, and get there early. Then when you know how flexible the schedule is and you have settled into a couple of projects, you can ask about scheduling. At Big Pharma, my boss didn't give a hoot as long as I showed up for meetings and got the work done, Startup was more flexible but I ended up putting in mad hours regardless (they didn't care *when* the crazy hours happened, only that they did happen), Medium Pharma I'm considered Essential Personnel so I pretty much live here.

      My favorite work outfit is actually nice (clean, dark blue, not at all ripped) jeans, a retro Victorian-looking steampunk-y blouse, Frye boots and a J Jill blazer or a drapey cardigan (shut up, I borrowed it from your mom).

      Oh yeah, very important for women: Hair either short or TIED UP. Not long/loose. Ever. No excuses, I have hip-length hair and it is up in a bun every day, it takes 10 seconds to do with hairsticks or those Ficcare clips, put it UP. Makeup pretty minimal in general--most women everywhere in pharma are either bare-faced or don't use much more than tinted moisturizer/powder and maybe a little eyeliner and mascara. Full makeup will get you the side-eye from female colleagues and some guys too as it is Not Normal.

  4. I always ask these questions of the hiring manager before I start. Business casual is a good default, but honestly makes very little sense if you're trudging away at a hood all day long. I've been fortunate that every place I've worked has agreed and I've been able to wear jeans and a button up to work. Of course, in some places that IS considered nice.

  5. I am curious what the dress code in most pharma companies is. I have worked for both a big pharma company and a startup and jeans were fine at both places. T-shirts were fine too as long as they didn't have slogans.

  6. I've worked at big pharma on the east coast, most people wear khakis and button down shirt/polo/other shirt with a collar, but some people were more casual and nobody seemed to mind. I typically work 8- to 9-hour days, occasionally a little longer if there's a deadline or other issue, and that's standard for most of my colleagues, but I suspect this varies based on company culture.

  7. My advice is to err on the side of overdressing early on, and watch what everyone else is doing. Every place I've worked has been some form of business casual, but I've seen enough variation in workplace cultures that it's impossible to write a standard set of rules.

    If the place is overheated in winter, don't be afraid to wear a short-sleeved golf shirt in January, with a coat to keep you warm until you get in. I've run into that problem at a former workplace - people dressed inappropriately for the weather moaned about being cold, so they cranked the heat up and all the people dressed appropriately for winter cooked.

  8. Early on, always dress up. Better to dress up and people tell you that you're overdressed than to dress down and have people think you're a slob. I have seen both of these happen in my workplace. One gentleman for the first two weeks of his employment showed up in a full suit and tie (Culture is definitely more casual than this). Meanwhile, a lady showed up in jeans and a T-shirt every day for the first two weeks. Now, they're both good at their job, but I can tell you one is much more preferred in the eyes of their managers than the other. I'll let you guess which one.

    That said, at my job I started every day with business casual attire, and as time has gone on given my position doing labwork (and the general dress of everyone else in my group) I've adopted the "Snappy casual" look. Jeans are OK, but they have to be nice jeans, no holes, dark wash, clean. Always a nice top. If it's a day with a meeting with someone external to the group, or management, back to business casual minimum, with business professional preferred. And I'm STILL the best dressed member of my group.

    Best advice I've ever gotten though - dress for the job you want, not the job that you have.

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