New Grads: Adopt Appropriate Workplace Language

Congratulations. You are stepping out of the world of higher education and into the professional sphere. You have worked hard, and you are ready for this.   

Professional life gives you a whole new opportunity to learn about your field and about yourself.

And with it comes a refined lexicon. Learning professional language is a challenge on par with learning to speak the language of your professors.

While your peers at the university were likely similar to you in terms of their age and experience, your colleagues at your new job will likely include a much wider age range. You may find yourself working alongside some other new grads, but you may also be working with colleagues who are older than you. Some may even be your parents’ age.

So you want to make sure that your language makes you sound like the mature professional you are, ready to forge productive relationships in your new professional environment. Don’t worry. This will quickly become second nature to you.

Keep it Clean   

Using curse words or vulgar language is outside the norm for workplace culture. So in preparation, pay attention to the words that you regularly use. Edit language that is inappropriate for the office. This means swearing, rude or vulgar language.

Some workplaces may become very busy, and when that happens the colorful language may begin to fly. But this is something you have to be very careful about. While you may hear your colleagues bending this rule, use caution and don’t assume it is okay for an entry level professional to follow suit. As T.S. Eliot famously remarked, “It’s not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them.” There will come a time when you will know what you can get away with it. But give yourself plenty of lead time to learn the culture before you take any risks.


Certain words are never appropriate. Derogatory or sexual language is not tolerated in the workplace. Words that aim to mock or devalue individuals or groups of people are not acceptable. In the professional world, this kind of language is not just frowned upon, it can lead to termination.

Like, Watch your use of Filler Words

Mine is “like.” I still say it a lot, but not as much as I used to. I remember trying to weed it out of my lexicon when I was starting a new job in an international professional environment that adhered to traditional professional customs.  

Using filler words can make you sound immature. So pay attention to filler words you use. It’s OK to pause when you speak. Take notes, and prepare remarks you make so that you don’t get nervous and pepper your pauses with fillers. You don’t always have to use this strategy, but it may give you some early successes, and that will help boost your confidence, which will help you to acclimate to your new environment.


Most professional cultures I’ve been involved with use a slew of acronyms for everything from report titles to meeting locations. It will take some time to learn these site-specific terms, but in six months you will be slinging them like a pro.

Keep in mind, though, that your colleagues may not be versed in the acronyms that you regularly use; for example, YOLO, OMG, IDK, BRB, etc. I know it doesn’t seem fair that they can use their acronyms while you have to keep yours on the back burner. But keep in mind that for many of your colleagues, these are not common knowledge.

Best of luck in your new job.