No one wants to start a new job without knowing what to expect. And yet, that’s exactly what I did for my first job out of college. Having just moved 2,000 miles to a city where I knew no one, I felt disoriented as I stepped into that office. Not wanting to seem naive, I hadn’t asked many questions and showed up on my first day without proper preparation—clueless about dress code or even when I could take my lunch break.
To be clear, a company’s HR department should have a solid onboarding process in place, and managers should invest energy into making new hires feel welcome. But what if your company doesn’t yet have an HR department? Or what if your manager is less than forthcoming?
Thankfully, you can take steps on your own to ensure first-week success. I spoke with HR professionals, career coaches, and executives to get their best tips for new hires who want to start on the right foot.
But first, let’s look at why your early days on the job count so much.
Why Your First Week On The Job Is Crucial to Long-Term Success
First impressions: They only happen once and can last a lifetime. No pressure, right? But just how important are first impressions to the long-term success of your career? Let’s see what the research suggests about your initial period of a new job.
- The majority of executives give new hires less than three months to prove themselves. A 2016 Robert Half study found that 63% of CFOs allow a new employee less than three months to show their value—and 9% give them less than a month.
- 91% of employees would consider quitting a job within the first month. That's just one of the findings from a 2018 Robert Half study of 9,000 job seekers in 11 countries. Poor management, inconsistency between how a job was advertised and how it plays out in real life, failure to fit in with corporate culture, and a poor onboarding experience were all reasons found in the study that might send a new hire packing. So clearly, how you start a job has a huge impact on how things go long-term.
- Science suggests that first impressions are annoyingly persistent. According to a 2010 University of Western Ontario study, even if you later present yourself in ways that challenge a person’s first impression of you, their initial judgment tends to linger—especially within the same context in which they first met you.
“Imagine you have a new colleague at work and your impression of that person is not very favorable," says the study’s lead author, Bertram Gawronski. "A few weeks later, you meet your colleague at a party and you realize he is actually a very nice guy. Although you know your first impression was wrong, your gut response to your new colleague will be influenced by your new experience only in contexts that are similar to the party. However, your first impression will still dominate in all other contexts."
The good news? Even if you do start on the wrong foot (it happens!), if you continually challenge that initial experience in multiple different settings, your colleague may eventually change their mind about you.
10 Tips For Making The Best First Impression At Your New Job
Now that you know how crucial that initial period on the job is, let’s look at what HR professionals, career coaches, and executives have to say about conquering your first week at work.
How To Prepare For Your First Day At A Job
1. Research, Research, Research
So, you’ve accepted the offer and have some free time before your start date. Before your first day, experts recommend doing as much research about the company as possible, including checking out social media posts to get a feel for the office culture and appropriate attire.
“If the hiring manager didn’t provide you with a first-day checklist, reach out a few days prior and ask if there’s anything they’d like you to bring or prepare,” suggests Jon Hill, chairman and CEO of recruiting firm The Energists. “It can also help to get a copy of the employee handbook before your first day so you can review it and know what questions you have in advance.”
Depending on your role, it may also help to research your company’s competitors, test out any software you’ll be using on the job, and look up your colleagues’ LinkedIn profiles.
2. Make Contact With Your Manager
Your manager wants you to succeed—they helped choose you from the application pool, after all! Before day one, send them an email or a Slack message to check in with them.
“Ask about how people in the office generally dress for work (even when working from home!), whether there is anything specific that would be helpful for to know on your first day, if you’ll need to bring or prepare anything special with you that day, and what might be expected of you in your first week,” recommends Christa Juenger, VP of Strategy and Coaching Services at Intoo USA. “Demonstrating a desire to be proactive and prepared will make a great impression and show your employer that you want to have the best start possible and be effective from day one.”
3. Confirm Your Schedule
Don’t assume you know what time to show up or when your lunch break is. Even if it’s in the job description, there might be an important detail missing. That's what happened to Jack Zmudzinski, a Senior Associate at software development company Future Processing.
“I once started a job and turned up for the first day at 9 a.m. as per the job description. When I arrived, the whole team was already there finishing up with chatting over breakfast,” recalls Zmudzinski. “Nobody had thought to tell me that this was the routine, and I ended up feeling awkward.”
To avoid a mishap like this, ask about schedules and routines ahead of time. What time will you be expected to arrive? What time does everyone usually leave? When is your lunch break and for how long?
4. Do A Test Run Of Everything
If you’ll be working on-site, test your commute. If you’ll be working from home, test your internet connection, computer, software, and other equipment you’ll need for the job. Knowing that everything is working smoothly will help you relax for the big day.
5. Introduce Yourself To The Team Virtually
Your arrival on-site (or online) should never be a surprise to the rest of the company. Usually, HR or your boss will introduce you to the team before you start, but even if they don’t, take the initiative to do so yourself. Ask your boss if you can send a company-wide email or a Slack message to the main channel to let your team know who you are and what you do.
That way, when you walk into the office on the first day, your coworkers will already feel like they know you.
During Your First Week At A Job
6. Find A Buddy
Some workplaces have a policy where they set up every new hire with an onboarding buddy or mentor. But even if you aren’t so lucky, you can find one yourself. This is one place where your LinkedIn research will come in handy. It’ll help you identify potential work friends and what interests them so you can start a conversation.
Worried about having no one to eat lunch with? Instead of waiting for an invite, be the person who invites someone to lunch. It helps to be friendly to your coworkers from day one.
“You don’t have to gregariously go over to everyone’s desk, hug, and shake their hand on the first day, but don’t be a snob either,” says Paul French, managing director of Intrinsic Executive Search.
He recommends introducing yourself to your teammates and offering to treat them to lunch.
“Show that you are happy to be part of the team and that you are looking forward to building a great working relationship with everyone.”
If you’re on a remote team, you can even schedule virtual coffee chats with your new teammates to have one-on-one time with each person. This will go a long way in building rapport.
7. Practice Extra Self-Care
“You will most likely have the first-week jitters and some level of stress regardless of how much experience you have,” says career coach Lesli Smith. “Always go back to the basics of self-care when you’re stressed, such as sleep, hydration, and nutrition.”
Beyond that, Smith recommends anything that can help calm you, including meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, physical exercise, or simply making a list of things you’re grateful for.
8. Arrive Early
Showing up late during your first week at work is never a good signal. When planning your commute, try to be early enough to account for traffic jams, getting lost, and finding parking.
Zoë Morris, president of Frank Recruitment Group, recommends getting to your job 30 to 40 minutes earlier than you normally would.
“If there are delays getting there, then it should still leave you more than enough of a buffer to arrive on time without feeling panicked,” she explains. “And if there are no disasters, then it gives you a chance to go and grab a coffee and relax for half an hour before getting to work. It’s a win-win situation and puts you in the best possible position to avoid being late on your first day.”
9. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions
When you’re a new hire, it’s natural to want to appear capable and confident as a way to prove yourself. But don’t make the mistake of avoiding asking questions—especially if you’re remote.
“One thing people misunderstand about remote first impressions is confusing asking questions to clarify tasks with pestering or being in the way,” says Tony Giacobbe, HR leader at Amica Senior Lifestyles. “It is incredibly rare for a manager to get annoyed if an employee clarifies a task to perform it better.”
Giacobbe suggests pinging your manager on Slack and being specific and unobtrusive about your request. Something as simple as, “Can you spare two minutes to hop on a call about XYZ?” is fine.
And if you’re trying to strike up a conversation to get to know your coworkers, asking lots of questions is favorable. According to research from Harvard University, asking follow-up questions makes people like you more. A follow-up question is one in which you touch on a topic that your conversation partner already mentioned, typically immediately preceding your question.
A follow-up question might go something like this:
You: “So what do you do?”
Colleague: “I lead the content marketing team.”
You: “Oh, nice! I love reading the company blog. How do you come up with those article ideas?”
The worst type of question you can ask? A full switch. This is when you completely change the topic. An example of a full switch would be:
You: “So what do you do?”
Colleague: “I lead the content marketing team.”
You: “Cool. What are some of your hobbies?”
In the Harvard study, full-switch questions were rated by coders as being the least responsive because they change topics, signaling to your partner that you may not have been listening to what they were saying.
10. Meet With Your Manager One-On-One
Analyzing the early behaviors of about 3,000 new hires, Microsoft found that when new employees met with their manager one-on-one during their first week, they benefited in three ways:
- They had a larger internal network, which boosted feelings of belonging and increased their chances of staying longer.
- They had better meetings.
- They spent more time collaborating with their team than those who failed to have the one-on-one.
Taking the time to check in with your manager during your first week at work can pay dividends in the long run.
Parting Words: Relax, They Already Like You!
It’s been nearly a decade since my less-than-stellar start at my first job out of college. The good news? Even with all my missteps, my colleagues were forgiving and supportive of me. I even made work friends!
If you’re still losing sleep over your first week at work, perhaps you’ll take solace in this piece of advice from Kuldeep Andhare, a Manager and Solution Architect who frequently hires for his software consulting firm.
“Always remember they hired you because they liked you,” he says. “It was not just your talent and experience that they liked, but it was something more than that.”
Andhare touched on an insecurity we all tend to have: We assume people don’t like us much. A 2018 Harvard study found that, in all sorts of situations, people tend to underestimate just how much their conversation partner likes them and enjoys their company.
Feeling nervous before your start date is completely normal. Just remember that if this company didn’t wholeheartedly believe you were the right person, they wouldn’t have chosen you. Armed with these tips, you can prove that their decision was the right one.
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