The first day on a new job is a lot like the first day of school. You have to find the bathrooms and the cafeteria, get all your supplies, meet new people, and maybe do some work.
Many new college graduates say that the first day of work is the hardest, because they don’t know what to expect. Will I be forced to regurgitate everything I learned in Marketing 101? Will my boss be a tyrant? Will I be late and forever labeled a slacker?
That first day can seem overwhelming, but knowing some basic workplace rules will help you survive.
You may be in a "probationary" period for the first few months of a new job, and watched more closely than other employees. Be ready to work – and learn – on day one. You have a degree, but are starting at the bottom, and have a lot to learn. Accept that, and look at every assignment as an opportunity to learn something.
And about that degree: You may have been hired without validation of your credentials, but many managers will provide a summary of a new hire’s skills and experience to their departments. If anything you claimed isn’t true, it could spell disaster.
"It said ‘functionally fluent in Japanese’ on my résumé," says Kevin Donlin, founder of Guaranteed Résumés, a consulting firm. "On my first day, I was approached by a woman speaking Japanese. Fortunately, everything on my résumé was truthful, and we struck up a conversation, impressing my boss."
Beyond having to prove yourself, you’ll encounter office politics. Someone may immediately try to be your best friend. Be polite, but not overly friendly.
That person may be on the outs with the boss, trying to curry favor by "helping" the new person, and thus insincere. Or, they could be an office pariah, and associating yourself too early on may keep you from developing other beneficial relationships. Let relationships develop over time.
By the end of the first day, you should:
- Be able to find the bathroom, break room, supplies, the photocopier and fax
- Know your contact numbers
- Know the names and roles of your co-workers
- Know your responsibilities and major projects
- Carry a note pad to jot down important information.
So, now that you’re here, do you have any questions? You should have lots of them!
Ask the human resources office about insurance plan options and costs; pay schedule; 401(k) plans; vacation, holiday and sick days; and how to call in late or sick.
Ask co-workers about the corporate culture. When do they take lunch? Out or at their desks? Where are the good delis and dry cleaners? Watch to see if they work quietly or chat across cubicles.
When you meet with your boss, ask about your job responsibilities and projects. Ask about upcoming deadlines, the chain of command, and where you can get information and help, and how you should give updates. Get contact information for any key outside vendors and clients you’ll be working with.
With all of the meetings and things to learn, your first day will pass quickly, and you’ll likely go home feeling like you accomplished nothing. But you only have to do the first day once. You’ll soon ease into a routine, and start building the career you worked towards for four long years.
Kristen Gustafson is the author of GRADUATE! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital, 2002). She lives in Bangor, Maine.
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