1. Be on timeAll too often students enter the class late without apology. When I ask them about it they say "I'm only a few minutes late," or "At least I came!" These are all well and good, but I've also heard from former students who were surprised that employers did not accept these lame excuses. You can show up late every day and still get into class and pass. If you show up late for work regularly, you will be fired. I had a student who was 10 minutes late every day because the bus only ran once every hour near his home. An employer would expect you to get that earlier bus. In fact, that's an opportunity to show up early and impress your boss, not a reason to be late every day.
2. Listen to instructionsFirst I tell the whole class what to do. Then each person who was not listening asks "What am I supposed to do?" In a workplace situation, that's like telling the boss "I don't know what my job is." Although it's true that instructions can sometimes be complicated and asking for clarification is better than doing a job incorrectly, paying attention the first time is the best way.
3. Stay on taskWhen you are given a job to do, do it! People get fired every day for playing games, texting, or going on Facebook while on the job. Low level (starting) employees are often monitored through video surveillance and computer monitoring. Do not assume that because you can't see your supervisor, they can't see you. I spend half my time in the classroom reminding people to get back on task. If you haven't learned to self-regulate your attention by the time you finish school, then you are in for a rude awakening.
4. Take breaks at appropriate timesThis is similar to the item above, but it means eat during lunch and coffee breaks. It means think ahead. If you skip breakfast, you will be hungry well before lunch. Believe it or not, I have students who want to leave class to go to buy food and they say "But I'm hungry!" And yes, I understand that they are hungry, but if I were an employer, I'd say "Go, but don't come back." This doesn't mean you might not keep a PowerBar in your desk drawer for a quick protein break in the middle of the afternoon, but you would never leave a job to go and buy food.
5. Do more than the minimumOne of my mantras in teaching is "Do the minimum; get the minimum." If you can only meet the minimum criteria, then you get a "C". But in the workplace, you want to move ahead, you want to get a raise, and you want to be considered for a promotion. Always ask yourself "How can this work be better?" Arrive early, stay late, and look for ways to improve your work and your working environment. In school all you get is an "A"; in the workplace you get recognition, money, and job security. And that doesn't mean sucking up. Even in a unionized environment, it might not be allowed to do things outside your job description, but you can help your workmates, be reliable, and take responsibility for making sure a good job is accomplished.
Updated April 2, 2014.