The Office Survival Guide for people who probably shouldn’t be allowed in offices.

by Janelle Hanchett


So that 401K post got me thinking about my experience working in a law firm in Sacramento. It was an amazing job with uniquely interesting and good people doing seriously awesome work (natural resources conservation). I was proud when they hired me right out of college (as the receptionist), and I was proud to do other administrative work for them for almost 8 years.

However, since it was my first real job and they hired me at 23 years old, I did a bit of, um, “growing up” in that place.

Alright I was completely freaking clueless, though I thought I knew pretty much everything. I was like a walking law suit with a loud voice and questionable judgment.

But I knew it ALL.

I was 23. Duh. The Age of Omniscience.

Anyway I thought I’d share with you some of the most impressive lessons I learned at that firm, not in order of importance. So here we go.

The Office Survival Guide for people who probably shouldn’t be allowed in offices.

  1. Be nice to the receptionist. Receptionists are people too.
  2. You think the receptionist isn’t listening. The receptionist is listening. She knows pretty much everything about you and your mom and everybody else in the office, on account of everybody assuming she isn’t listening.
  3. Do not wear black bras under white blouses to work.
  4. Do not wear low-cut trousers and g-strings to work.
  5. “You cannot just say everything you think to the attorneys you work for.” (Yes, that is a direct quote.)
  6. Copy machines have top-loaders. (Wish I woulda known THAT little tidbit before I spent that summer internship in college making copies by hand, one by one. If I ever find the bastards who watched me do that all summer without telling me about the top-loader – I’ll kill ‘em.)
  7. The “reply-all” email feature can ruin your life.
  8. So can your potty mouth.
  9. On a related note, there is no sarcasm font.
  10. If you set up your cubicle in accordance with Feng Shui principles, you will not work more productively, but everybody will think it’s cool.
  11. Burning popcorn in the microwave will make it stink for the duration. Nothing will fix it ever. Buy a new one.
  12. The most annoying expressions in the world are: “At the end of the day;” “playing catch-up;” and “touch base.”
  13. Oh, and “paradigm shift.”
  14. You will cringe when you hear yourself saying these things but you will not be able to stop.
  15. Talking on the phone while chewing is not okay under any circumstances.
  16. There’s always somebody who knows more about whatever it is you think you know everything about. That person is in the room with you right now.
  17. Emergency drills are scary, much scarier than the ones in grammar school.
  18. {In the case of a real emergency, I would run full speed out of the building giving no thought or concern whatsoever to those around me.}
  19. “Lower your voice” is uniformly solid advice.
  20. Extreme pressure generally turns an ordinary project into an absolute disaster.
  21. If you are wondering at all if you should say something, you shouldn’t.
  22. The computer is not broken. You did something wrong. Re-start it. You’ll be fine.
  23. If you think the project is going to take a week, tell your boss it’ll take four.
  24. Even if you have no idea who or why a person is calling you, but they claim to be “returning your call,” assume they are correct and roll with it.
  25. Some people walk around with paper on their heads and do other such silly things. You cannot do these things. People already think you’re weird.
  26. Take notes as if your life depended on it, even if the note contains: “10/10/07: George told me about his trip to Madagascar, detailed incident with monkey.”
  27. Don’t skip.
  28. People frown on skipping in the workplace.
  29. Also ballet moves. Total no-go.
  30. You will become the woman who shows everybody pictures of her kids and talks about them too much. You will. Because you miss them.
  31. Accept that you will never become completely professional. Aim instead for “professional enough to not get fired.”

It ain’t glamorous, but it works for some of us…

Happy Cubicle Day! (It’s not actually cubicle day. But it is in my head.)

  • Kateri Von Steal

    I call my cubicle a COFFICE…. One because it feels like a coffin.
    Two because it’s enclosed so it’s like an office.
    Three because Coffice makes me laugh.

  • kstohl

    hey you just gave away the secret of the IT department!! i hope no one else realizes that almost always you just need to turn it off and turn it back on again because i need to continue to have a job 🙂

  • Alissa

    May I add, “Gotta keep everyone happy!” to annoying expressions? Also, #20 and #22 apply directly to the receptionist at my office; who happens to not only be a person, but a witch as well. Loved this post!

  • Jennifer

    OMG. I think you may have inspired me to write a post on this note.

    My favorite quotes in our office were, “We wish her luck in her future endeavors” and “Let’s think outside of the box.” If I ever say those things without a hint of sarcasm you may stab me.

  • Emily @ Southerners in SoCal

    You had me cracking up with this list. I too was once a just passably professional receptionist 😉

  • eringirl

    I’m going to print AND laminate this (for my office, obviously)

  • deejpay

    I love this: aim for “be professional enough to not get fired.” Thanks!

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