Succeeding From Day 1

You need a plan for the start of a new job, writes Saundra Loffredo.

March 5, 2018
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Congratulations! You’ve been successful and landed a good job. I’m sure that process was filled with many tasks and lots of persistence, plus a fair amount of anxiety. Getting that job offer is a great milestone. It is, however, only your first milestone. This job will hopefully be a good fit for you and end in multiple years of success.

The same skills that you applied in your job search -- planning, organization, persistence, common sense and ethics -- are also required every day at work. Let’s explore a strong plan to make that first job a good experience for you and your employer. Just like successful job interviews start before the actual interview, a successful first day begins before the calendar turns to that day.

Here are some suggestions regarding how to strategically prepare to start on your first day.

Location and timing. Be clear regarding when and where you are to report on your first day. You may be required to attend an orientation before you arrive at your normal work location. The orientation may be in a different building than your office and could start at a different time than your normal workday will start. Make sure you know when and where to report on day one. If your new employer has multiple buildings, be sure to get a complex map before you arrive.

Weather. You never know what the weather will bring from day to day. If you live in an area that routinely gets snow or heavy rains, you will need to plan extra time to get to work. Get in the habit of checking weather forecasts in your area the night before work and when you wake up. A storm pattern can change dramatically in eight hours. What was forecasted to be minor snow showers last night could turn into four inches of heavy, wet snow by the time you get up. That can add additional time to your commute.

Public transportation. Find the time to do a test run to work during the hours you will be commuting. If you are taking public transportation, take your route at least once so you start getting comfortable with pickups, stops, transfers and drop-offs. Even if you are familiar with public transportation, a new route may require adjustments to your normal process.

Driving to work. If you are driving, a test drive will give you an idea of the common areas of traffic congestion and how long it will take you to get where you are going during your typical commute time. Your drive will become more comfortable if you consistently take the same route in your first month. Constantly changing routes, while providing a more interesting drive, is probably best done after you can drive your first route without directions.

Parking. Parking your car might consist of a free spot in the company parking lot, a paid slot that you will have to find in a 10-story parking ramp or trying to find a good location on a street near your building. Very large organizations may assign you to a specific parking location. Research your options before your first day. If you have to pay for parking, be sure to know whether you need to purchase a parking pass ahead of time or you can pay a daily rate for the first few days. If street parking is your only option, investigate how crowded the local streets might get during the same time when you expect to arrive at work.

Once you know where you are going to park, allow time to get to your work location. If you have to navigate a large parking garage, be sure to add an extra 10 minutes or so to find an open parking space. If you will be parking on the street, add some time to find a spot that you can use without getting a ticket. Then add time to get to your actual work location. That could be a quick stroll across the street or a multiple-block walk. In any case, plan this bit of travel accordingly.

Appearance. Every organization has expectations regarding how you will dress during the workday. Some companies require full business attire, others modified business, some business casual, and others allow casual clothes. Occasionally the dress code in an organization will change based on day of the week or for special events. Fridays may be business casual, or corporate-branded attire may be required when specific visitors are present in the building. Your role in the organization may determine what you need to wear. If your job is management consulting, more formal attire is probably required. Lab employees will likely have a specific dress code based on safety needs.

Keep in mind that how you define one of these modes of dress may not be how your organization defines it. Be sure you get a clear picture of the dress code before your first day. If you are unsure about how you are expected to dress, you could ask your hiring manager prior to your first day. If you’re not comfortable doing that, err on the more formal side and wear full business attire. You can always switch to a different type of clothing for your second day.

Connect. Make a list of everyone you met during your interview process. Connect with each person on LinkedIn. Be sure your invitation to connect has a personal note about looking forward working together in the near future.

Review. Go back to your notes and the organization’s website to refresh yourself on what you learned during the interview process. Keep that list of people you met during the interview process with you. You may see them again on your first day and you’ll want to be prepared with their name.

Once your first day arrives, follow these guidelines to make that process smoother.

Take notes. Since very few of us were gifted with total recall, be sure to take notes about people, processes, reporting relationships, metrics and goals. Review your notes occasionally as the days unfold.

Be curious. Stay consistently engaged in everything you are exposed to at work. Ask questions beyond things you don’t understand. Ask about why a procedure is done and how the process was chosen. If you are given a response that seems odd, a good neutral response without judgment can be “That’s interesting.” You may be able to make better connections about the situation when you have a deeper understanding of the situation or process.

Be open. Your new co-workers are probably curious about you. Share what you are comfortable with about your background and interests. Try to avoid emotionally charged topics such as political preferences.

Learn the culture. Working groups develop their own culture over time. Some groups cluster around the coffeemaker on Monday mornings and share what they did over the weekend. Others have a traditional happy hour Friday gathering at the neighborhood bar. Departments may have a social norm of eating lunch in the break room and discussing their day. Learn what is common for your group and start to participate to become more acclimated to your new team.

Communicate. The preferred way of communication varies between departments and organizations. Observe whether your group prefers phone, desk visits, email, instant messages or texts. Start using your group's preferred communication style to begin to fit in.

Focus on the boss. Make an effort to learn about your boss quickly. Your job is to make sure your boss looks good. Have a good understanding of your goals and metrics so you can gain ground. Observe your supervisor’s interactions with others to better understand them. This can help you in the long run.

Ask for feedback. Find out what the performance feedback process is for your organization. There may be specific feedback milestones for new employees. If there are none, make it a point to meet with your supervisor after one month of employment. Ask for feedback regarding your performance. Consider asking:

  • “Is my work meeting your expectations?”
  • “What could I improve upon?”
  • “How well do you think things are going so far?”

Accept your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Errors are common as you are learning a new job. Accept your mistakes graciously and learn from what went wrong. Build upon this new information and integrate it into your work. Be open to constructive criticism and you will become a stronger contributor.

Be a lifelong learner. Typically a new job has a steep learning curve. As you are getting comfortable with your role, you will need to focus on learning new processes and systems. Get comfortable with your job but don’t get comfortable with your level of knowledge. Things are changing around you constantly, no matter what you do for a living. Continue to gain new skills, experiences and information about work-related concepts in addition to what is changing in the world around you. You’ll be a more interesting person in addition to a more valuable employee.

Adapting to a new job takes more time than you expect. Allow yourself six months to one year to truly learn the inner workings of your role and the organization. These strategies may help reduce this time frame somewhat, but more importantly, they can reduce the stress of starting that new job. Good luck and good work!


Saundra Loffredo is a certified professional career coach, president of Perfect for You Coaching LLC, adjunct instructor at Herzing University, former director of student and alumni affairs at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and a member of the Graduate Career Consortium -- an organization providing a national voice for graduate-level career and professional development leaders.


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