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How To Stand Out On Your First Day Of A New Job

Of course you should take it seriously, but you don’t have to worry about proving yourself on day one.

How To Stand Out On Your First Day Of A New Job
[Photo: Andrew Neel/Unsplash]

Starting a new job is a day you’ll remember, and you want your boss and coworkers to remember you, too. While it sounds counterintuitive, the best way to make a great a first impression is to relax, says Keith Rollag, professor of management at Babson College and author of What to Do When You’re New.

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“It’s normal to feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety in any new situation, especially the first day on a new job,” he says. “You don’t have to prove yourself on the first day. No one expects you to be productive on day one.”

Trying to relax doesn’t mean you should be ambivalent; take the day seriously, says Liz Wessel, cofounder and CEO of WayUp, an organization that connects early career professionals with employers. After graduating from college, Wessel’s first job was at Google. “I wanted to be focused on doing the best I could,” she recalls. “Google is a massive company, and they had a thorough training set up for us. I felt it was important to come in with ears wide open, taking it in and absorbing what I could.”

“Pre-living” your first day is a good way to prepare, says Rollag. “Think about what might happen,” he says. “Set up your game plan. This tends to reduce anxiety and makes you more comfortable.”

From what to wear to what to bring, here are eight things to do on your first day to make a good impression:

Dress Up A Little

Don’t Google the dress code of your new employer, says Wessel. “Things change,” she says. While you can ask the person who hired you or someone in human resources who provided you with details on your first day, there is no such thing as dressing too businesslike. There is a thing as being too informal, says Wessel.

“If they say ‘no tie,’ bring a tie in your pocket. If they say jeans and T-shirt are good, wear a button-down shirt over it,” she says. “You can always take it off once you get there and see what everyone else is wearing.”

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Get There Early

Arrive 15 minutes before your start time, says Wessel. “You might need to fill out a lot of paperwork, and if you work for a large company that does group onboarding, there might be a lot of people arriving at the same time,” she says. “You don’t want to be late because you were standing in a line.”

Don’t arrive too early, though. “You don’t want to show up to find that no one is there yet,” says Wessel. “Your manager will feel bad if you get there before they do. Ten to 15 minutes early is good, but don’t be more than that.”

Leverage Your Newness

The great thing about being new is you have license to introduce yourself and ask questions, says Rollag. “Take advantage of it,” he says. “Saying, ‘I’m new here’ can be powerful because it triggers a helping response in others. It opens a lot of doors; most people are hardwired to be welcoming.”

Instead of hunkering down to learn the computer system and read materials, for example, walk around and get to know as many people as can. “Success will be more determined by relationships you make versus how much you read on your first day,” says Rollag.

Find A Buddy

If the company doesn’t assign one to you, find a buddy or informal mentor. The person should be more related to the company and less related to your job, such as a peer or someone who is one step above you and was in your in job recently, says Wessel.

“You want someone you can go to and ask questions,” she says. “Maybe you missed where the closest bathroom is, and you don’t feel comfortable asking your manager.”

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Prepare Questions

This forces you to think about what you want to learn about the company or your role, says Rollag. “Don’t hand the list to your new boss or walk into your first meeting and start going down the list,” he says. “It’s best used as a way to think about the things you want to learn. Bring up questions as they seem appropriate.”

But don’t ask too many questions, adds Wessel. “There’s a solid chance that they’ll say to you, ‘You’re going to have that answered during onboarding,'” she says. Wait until your onboarding is over.

Bring A Notebook

Always bring a notebook with a pen, but leave your personal devices at home. “They might have strict rules about technology, and larger companies will provide you with a laptop,” says Wessel. “Always bring a notebook and a pen so you can take a lot of notes. You shouldn’t be typing; you don’t want your first impression to be that you’re hidden behind a computer screen.”

When you can, write down everything you learn, including names, adds Rollag. “You will end up meeting a lot of people, and remembering names is a challenge,” he says. “When you write things down, you’ll always have that at your beck and call. If you forget, though, don’t be embarrassed. Nobody expects you to learn everybody’s name on the first day. If you do, though, you’ll create a great impression.”

But Leave These Things at Home

Don’t come prepared to decorate your office; a lot of companies have open floor seating, and some have employees sharing desks, says Wessel. “Wait one to two weeks before you begin to personalize your desk,” she says. “You don’t want to be the only one showing up with flowers and frames. You might stick out for the wrong reasons the first week.”

Decorating your office right away could send a poor signal, adds Rollag. “It says you care more about your office than you do the people in the office,” he says.

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Also, don’t bring your lunch; it’s your best opportunity to meet other people, says Wessel. “Even if it’s expensive, use lunch as a time to make those first connections,” she says. “Meet others who are new, or your team or manager.”

Lunch on the first day can be a critical time, agrees Rollag. “This is the best way to build relationships,” he says. “You can ask questions in ways that might not feel as appropriate in meetings. It’s time to build your network.”

Leave The Past Behind You

It’s tempting to try to make a good impression by sharing your resume, but that’s not a good idea, says Wessel. “Make sure you’re not bringing up what you’ve seen or done in the past,” she says. “Your past experience is not as relevant as you think it may be. Don’t come in with an attitude that you know it all.”

Just be yourself, says Rollag. “The best way to make a good first impression is not try to impress at all,” he says.

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