The first day at your first job is much like the start of high school or college—you again feel like a little fish in a big pond. And again you need to be ready to make a good first impression, especially since what people first think of you matters more than you might think. Starting off on the right foot with your peers and superiors will get your career off on the right track and mean wonders for your future at a company.
But what exactly should you be doing on your first day? After filling out administrative paperwork, it can be tough and overwhelming to know where to start. To help you prepare for this next big step, we asked experts to share their advice on how to make the most of your first day on the job.
[Want more career advice? Check out our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]
1. Smile and be professional.
“A smile goes a long way toward building good will,” says Steve Langerud, director of global development at the Maharishi University of Management. A genuine smile will show you’re excited to be at the company.
New employees should also be mindful of social cues from co-workers, says Mary Rigali, director of career services at Post University. Respond to their tone and body language and adjust your mannerisms accordingly. She adds, “Maintaining a friendly demeanor and always greeting new co-workers with a smile—or introduction, if you have not met them yet—will help get you noticed.”
Also, “make sure you avoid abbreviations in your written communication that are commonly used in text messages,” says Rigali. This means capitalizing your I’s and using proper punctuation.
2. Arrive early and leave late.
Being on time to work is expected. Arriving a bit earlier than your co-workers is recommended if you want to make a strong impression. To help get you to work on time, “know your commute route and how long it will take you to get to the office,” says Bethany Lindsey, director of academic and student affairs at Pinchot University.
If you happen to beat the traffic and arrive even earlier than you had anticipated, “sit out the extra time in the parking lot or in an area away from the business’ front door if you’re more than 10 minutes early,” says Kilinyaa Cothran, director of student affairs at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. “Also be sure to be one of the last people to leave on that first day. You’ll be able to get a better feel for the office culture.”
3. Dress appropriately for the job.
“Overdress on the first day [and] look like you are serious about working,” says Langerud. This will show that you care about representing a positive image of your new company.
In terms of what attire is appropriate, if you previously had an on-site interview, “you’ve hopefully taken note of what people in a similar position are wearing. If not, ask your manager what is appropriate,” Lindsey advises. When in doubt, “it is better to overdress the first two weeks and then adjust your wardrobe as needed.”
4. Be confident when introducing yourself.
Taking the initiative to introduce yourself to everyone you meet will not only leave a good impression, it will boost your confidence as well. “First impressions are important, and this will be a big day to meet many of your closest co-workers,” Cothran says.
Nirav Mehta, associate director of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says, “It is critical to shake as many hands as possible. Offer a genuine smile, and spark dialogue with co-workers. Let others know that you are available to help and that you are looking forward to collaborating with them.” He adds, “This type of relationship building goes a long way, and it will reap dividends throughout your career by widening your network.”
Rigali says “taking the initiative to become ingrained in the company’s culture from the get-go will help show that you are committed to being a team player.”
But probably the most helpful advice on making a good first impression, Lindsey says, is to remember to be yourself. “The first day can be a bit nerve-wracking. Everyone has a first day at a new office, and you will make it through!”
5. Come prepared to talk about the company.
“Be prepared to have an intelligent conversation about the company,” especially with your new boss, says Mike Gough, professor of business administration at MidAmerica Nazarene University. After all, you may have been hired in part because you took the time to learn about the company before your interview, so make sure to brush up on certain talking points—the company’s goals, values, products and competitors—before your first day.
Of course, you won’t be expected to know all the company jargon just yet. Cothran recommends “keeping open ears and an active notebook to write down [new] information.”
6. Listen and ask questions.
It’s perfectly acceptable to feel unsure about your role and about the company’s processes at first. “Everyone has had a first day and everyone needs help. It will make you human to be humble and ask for [assistance],” Gough says.
Rigali adds more sage advice: “Listen to your new manager and take notes so you can refer back to them later. If you are not clear on what he or she is asking, ask questions until you are clear. You can also do a portion of what you are asked and then present it to your manager, asking, ‘Is this what you were looking for?’”
You aren’t expected to have every process memorized on your first day, which is why it’s beneficial to “listen to any feedback you get and then make adjustments based on that feedback,” Rigali says. “Your goal is to demonstrate that you can quickly get up to speed and make real-time adjustments to your work based on your manager’s expectations.”
7. Focus on and achieve some small wins.
“On the first day of work, you are not expected to solve the company’s most complex problems,” says Mehta. “Instead, the key is to focus on something small, something that you can perhaps complete and deliver with a strong performance. It could be enhancing a memorandum; it could be making more robust the logic in a spreadsheet; or it could be creating one extra PowerPoint slide to bring together the main points of the presentation’s story.”
Keep in mind that “a small win on your first day will boost your confidence and it will earn the respect of your colleagues,” Mehta adds.
“If given a task, ask for deadlines,” says Lindsey. “You want to know what exactly is expected of you for your work projects, and your supervisor will appreciate your interest.”
8. Send thank-you emails to those that helped you throughout the day.
Similar to how you would follow up after an interview, showing your appreciation of other people’s efforts to welcome you will end your day on a high note. Some people “may have helped you with your technology needs, while others may have done something as simple as showing you the location of the washroom,” says Mehta. “Be sure to recognize everyone for their help by sending a personal thank-you email to those that made your day a little bit extra special. This is something that often is not done on the first day by many new hires, but it’s something that is greatly appreciated by those on the receiving end!”
Kilinyaa Cothran is the director of professional student affairs at St. Louis College of Pharmacy. She is in charge of the College’s numerous public outreach efforts preparing students for their first post-graduate jobs.
Dr. Mike Gough is a professor of business administration at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, KS. He has more than 20 years of experience teaching and advising college students on career goals and plans.
Steve Langerud serves as the deputy director of global development at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, IA. He is also a workplace consultant with Steve Langerud & Associates, LLC.
Bethany Lindsey, MA, has worked in education for more than ten years. She is currently the director of academic and student affairs at Pinchot University. One of her passions is helping students align their personal goals with their career.
Nirav Mehta is the associate director at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He is passionate about helping all students realize their dreams.
Dr. Mary Rigali, PMP, serves as the director of career services at Post University in Waterbury, CT. She works with traditional and non-traditional working-adult students to prepare them for their careers in today’s changing job market.
Image of business people shaking hands courtesy of Shutterstock.