Here are some statements about people’s first days or weeks in a new job:
My first week was a blur.
I hope I made the right impression…
I had so much to take in that I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.
They had a language of their own. I spent so much time worrying about what their jargon meant that I fear I missed some pretty important information.
I was late for my first day – it was horrible!
I’m still not really sure where I fit into the organisation.
Do you recognise any of these from your own experience? If so (and I hope it’s not all of them!) you’re only human.
A beginning is an important and a sensitive time. Your early experiences in a new job can shape your perception of your employer and your team, not to mention their perception of you. The impressions you form and give at this time may take a while to shake off, so it’s vitally important to get a good start.
This doesn’t just mean creating a good impression, although that’s important. It also means ensuring you start your new job with a clear head, ready and open to learn, receptive to new people and influences while remaining confident of yourself, and able to lay the foundations for a successful tenure.
Not everything about your first day or week will be within your control. Some employers provide an excellent on-boarding experience, such as induction days (or even weeks) for new starters. Some have no formal process at all. But it doesn’t matter – there are still plenty of things about your start that you can control – so here’s a quick rundown.
I’ll get the obvious one out the way first and won’t dwell on it. If you can’t get the dress code right by the time you start your new job, there may be consequences!
You’ll definitely arrive well on time for your first day, because by the time you begin your job, you’ll have worked out the route and done some dry-runs, in rush hour if at all possible, to be absolutely sure you can arrive on time, every day. Won’t you?
Ever been to a training session, meeting or seminar where someone asks a question and you’re hugely relieved because you wanted to ask the same question, but were too embarrassed? Most people have. My advice for anyone starting a new job is – be that person who asks the question. Often. Whenever you need to. There are no stupid questions when you’re new. And learn the language, too. There will always be jargon particular to your skillset, but you probably know it already. Even so, your new employer may have systems or in-house processes that have acronyms unfamiliar to you. Furthermore, most employers have their own verbal shorthand, a unique internal dialect (sometimes very subtle) that allows people with the same set of experiences to save time and complication when communicating with one another. (Actually, that’s really all that jargon is anyway). If you feel awkward doing this now, you’ll feel worse if you leave it months before you ask. So when you hear a new buzzword or acronym – find out what it means.
In the past I’ve always been secretly horrified when people turn up for their first day on a new job with no notebook or pen. If you’ve already established that you’ll be given materials to help you make notes, that’s fine. But if it was me, I’d probably still bring my own survival kit to my first day – notepad, pens, lunch, cash and phone (switched off and in my bag of course). To turn up empty-handed can come across as a bit presumptuous, and you’ll certainly want to make notes, not least for all those questions you’ll be asking!
Begin before you begin
You can lay down some groundwork before day one of your job. If you did your homework or asked the right questions during your interview, you might have already found out quite a lot about your employer beyond what it does: its customers, challenges and the purpose of your role. If not, now’s the time to do some wider research. If you were really on the ball, when you received an offer you might even have asked whether there’s some specific preparation you can do before you start, so that you can hit the ground running. If you didn’t and there’s still time, seize the initiative - contact your boss and find out.
Be rested and refreshed (if you can)
Of course you won’t go out on a jolly the night before your first day. But there’s more you can do to ensure you’re in tip-top form for your first week. It seems obvious – or perhaps trivial – but making sure all you’ve got your lunches and outfits planned, a full tank of petrol and all your “life laundry” sorted ahead of your first week means you can approach your new job in a state of relative calm, with a clear head and no trivial distractions to worry about.
Make your job your priority
I’m a firm believer in work/life balance and I think it’s important to make time for the things that matter to you outside of work. But you should aim to impress in your new role, and that might mean putting in a few extra hours or showing willing when others don’t. It doesn’t mean working long hours for the sake of it, but is more a question of showing you can be flexible and aren’t a clock-watcher.
Get the inside track
How does your boss like to work? What’s their management style? How can you work best with your colleagues? If you had a predecessor, what did they do well? Were there any responsibilities or tasks that didn’t get enough focus? What does good or great look like in your role? How would you define the working culture? What’s the social media policy for the business? Do they have standardised copy for their employees to use on their LinkedIn profile? All these are things it pays to know.
Admit to your nerves or concerns
Provided you do it in the right way, it’s okay to share your nerves about your role. For example, if you’ll be required to use technology you have never used before, or perform a specific task for the first time in your career, it’s useful to point out that you’re looking forward to it but haven’t done it before, and ask for guidance so that you can do it well. This is not a sign of weakness but of a positive attitude and a mind that wants to grow. Unless of course these tasks are essential to your role and you blagged in your interview that you’re an expert in them, in which case you’re on your own!
Leave your personal life at the door…within reason
Clearly, you don’t want to get to the end of your first week in a new job with a reputation as the person who whinges about their private life. But you should still be yourself, and it’s good to establish your identity straight away, which means being authentic. If invited to discuss details about your life, you should of course do so – keeping it sensible, and within boundaries.
Don’t badmouth previous employers
As with interviews, you should try to find the positives even in negative or painful experiences. So if asked about your previous role, keep it professional, look for the positives and leave out the bit about the year you endured when your old boss was replaced by someone who made your life hell.
Identify your professional and personal goals
Take some time to review and understand the purpose and goals of your role, but also to identify where you might need to put in a bit of extra work to learn a new skill or understand another department better.
Use your support network
Exciting it may be, but change is demanding and draining. Even though you’ll be prioritising your job in those first few weeks, you’ll need some quality time with the people who support you best in life: friends, a partner, family or whoever. If nothing else, it’s fun to share the excitement of good news. But regardless of how lovely your new team is, you might feel a little lonely until you get your feet under the table. So keep your nearest and dearest around you.
I hope this helps! Feel free to share your own tips for new starters.
- Helen Floor