The first day at your new job may be among the most memorable — and perhaps stressful — of your career.
“Most of us remember our first days at every job because of the heightened pressure to impress,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.” “But you can reduce your anxiety by being as meticulous in planning your first day as you were in securing your new position.”
David Parnell, a legal consultant, communication coach, and author, says it’s easy, even tempting, to passively ride along with the “human resources tour that usually sets off the first day of employment.” There will be forms to fill out, videos to watch, people to meet, “and generally speaking, no real position-specific responsibilities,” he says. “But taking a passive versus proactive response would be a mistake. The first day sets the tone for the rest of your career with those who you’ll be interacting with.”
Here are 21 things you should do on the first day of your new job:
1. Prepare and ask questions. Mark Strong, a life, career, and executive coach based in New York, says although you should spend much of your first day listening, you can and should ask questions when necessary. “Generally, you’re trying to demonstrate your curiosity and desire to learn,” he says.
Taylor says it’s a good idea to prepare by writing down both practical and general questions about how you can be most successful in the role. “By now you have enough background on the company to integrate more in-depth questions at your orientation meetings,” she says. “Have a list of questions handy for managers you think you might meet. Make sure you also have a contact in HR in case you have very basic inquiries before you start or on your first day.”
2. Prepare an elevator pitch. Get ready to give a 30-second explainer of who you are and where you were before, as many new colleagues will likely ask about your previous place of employment, Taylor says. Be prepared to also describe what you’ll be doing in this new position, since there may be people who have a vague understanding of your role or simply want to strike up a conversation.
3. Show up early, but enter the building on time. Get there at least 15 minutes early, suggests Teri Hockett, chief executive of What’s For Work?, a career site for women. “If you haven’t done the commute before, practice it a couple of times during rush hour a week before so that you’re at least somewhat prepared for the unknown.” But wait at a nearby coffee shop until the time your new boss or HR asked you to arrive.
4. Figure out the social landscape. Two of the more important factors in succeeding at a job are to not only get along with your co-workers, but also to associate with the right ones, Parnell explains. “In any sizeable work environment you will find cliques, and some mesh better with management than others. If you want to eventually move up in the ranks with your new employer, you’ll need to associate with the right crowd.”
He says it’s also essential that you begin to determine the office politics on day one. “Power is an interesting, quite important, and sometimes elusive thing in the work environment,” he says. “Certainly it is vital to understand the articulated positional hierarchy in your organization — who answers to who. This should be as easy as reading your co-worker’s titles. However, because power can manifest in so many different ways, it is imperative to understand who actually answers to who.”
5. Relax. While you’re being strategic, also remember to relax on your first day so that you can optimize your productivity. “Make sure you’re well rested, prepared, and have every reason to be on time. This is a visible milestone, and you want to be at your best,” Taylor says.
6. Smile. “It may have taken awhile to reach this point, after searching, interviewing, and landing the job, so don’t forget to be happy and enjoy the moment,” Hockett says.
Strong agrees, saying: “We all know that first impressions matter. Smile when you meet new people, and shake their hands. Introduce yourself to everyone, and make it clear how happy and eager you are to be there. Your co-workers will remember.”
7. Look and play the part. When in doubt, take the conservative approach in how you dress and what you say and do. Be as professional as you were in the interview process.
Hockett suggests you determine the dress code in advance so that you don’t look out of place on your first day. “This is important because sometimes the way we dress can turn people off to approaching us, or it sends the wrong message.” Ideally, you want to blend in and make others and yourself comfortable. If you’re not sure what the dress code is, call the HR department and ask.
8. Don’t be shy. Say “Hi” and introduce yourself to everyone you can.
9. Talk to as many people as possible. One of the most invaluable insights you can get in the beginning is how the department operates from the perspective of your peers. If you establish that you’re friendly and approachable early on, you will start on the right foot in establishing trust.
10. Befriend at least one colleague. Go a step further and try to make a friend on Day 1. “Beyond generally talking to peers and getting the lay of the land, it’s always a good to connect with a fellow team member or two on your first day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes,” says Taylor. “Beginning a new job can be stressful at any level, and this practice can be very grounding, accelerating your ability to get up to speed faster in a foreign atmosphere.”
Let your colleague(s) know that you’re available to lend a helping hand. A little goodwill goes a long way. The positive energy and team spirit you exude will be contagious, and the best time to share that is early on, versus later, when you need people.
11. Don’t try too hard. The urge to impress can take you off-track, so remember that you’re already hired — you don’t have to wow your new colleagues, Taylor says. It’s every new employee’s dream to hear that people noted how brilliant and personable they are, or how they seem to “get” the company so quickly. But that can be a lot of wasted energy; you’ll impress naturally — and more so once you understand the ropes.
12. Don’t turn down lunch. “If you’re offered to go have lunch with your new boss and coworkers, go,” Hockett says. “It’s important to show that you’re ready to mingle with your new team — so save the packed lunch for another day.”
13. Listen and observe. The best thing anyone can do in the first few days of a new job is “listen, listen, and listen,” Strong says. “It’s not time to have a strong opinion. Be friendly, meet people, smile, and listen.”
This is a prime opportunity to hear about the goals your boss and others have for the company, the department, and top projects. It’s your chance to grasp the big picture, as well as the priorities. “Be prepared to take lots of notes,” Taylor suggests.
14. Project high energy. You will be observed more in your early days from an external standpoint, Taylor says. Your attitude and work ethic are most visible now, as no one has had a chance to evaluate your work skills just yet. Everyone wants to work with enthusiastic, upbeat people — so let them know that this is exactly what they can expect.
15. Learn the professional rules. On your first day, your employer will have a description of your responsibilities — either written or verbal. This is what you should do to be successful at your job. “With that being said, there is usually a gap between what you should do, and what actually happens,” Parnell says. “This is important because while you shouldn’t neglect any articulated duties, there may be more that are implicitly expected of you. It is usually best to find this out sooner rather than later.”
16. Put your cell phone on silent. You need to be 100% present at work, especially on the first day.
17. Show interest in everyone, and the company. You’ll likely be introduced to many people, and while they may make the first attempt to learn a little about you, make an effort to find out about them and their role. It’s not just flattering, it will help you do your job better, Taylor says.
18. Pay attention to your body language. Your body language makes up the majority of your communication in the workplace. Assess what you’re communicating to better understand how others may perceive you, and make any necessary adjustments.
19. Be available to your boss. “This might sound obvious at face value, but on your first day of work, you’ll likely be pulled in a thousand directions,” says Taylor. You want to make sure you’re accessible to your new boss first and foremost on your this day, despite all the administrative distractions.
“This is an important first impression you don’t want to discount,” she adds. “Companies are not always as organized as they’d like when onboarding staff. You can easily get caught up with an HR professional, various managers or coworkers — or with a special assignment that keeps you from being available to the person who matters most.” On your first day of work, check in with your manager throughout the day.
20. Be yourself. “Think of ways to be relaxed and project yourself as who you are,” Taylor says. “It’s stressful to try to be someone else, so why bother? You want some consistency in who you are on day one and day 31. If you have the jitters, pretend you’re meeting people at a business mixer or in the comfort of your own home, and that these are all friends getting to know each other. That’s not far from the truth; you’ll be working closely with them and enjoy building the relationship, so why not start now?”
21. Leave with a good attitude. The last thing to remember is that while the first day at a new job is very important, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go flawlessly. “You might look back on your performance on day one and second-guess yourself,” Taylor says. “Yes, you should prepare and try to do your best, but remember that if you try to accomplish too much, you may get overwhelmed. Know that there’s always tomorrow.”