Ask LH: What's Expected Of Me On The First Day Of A New Job?

I just got a job, and I'm very excited — and nervous. I don't want to screw up as soon as I get started. What's expected of me? How can I make a good impression? What do I need to know on day one? Thanks, Job Newb

Images by Austin Light, Digital Storm (Shutterstock), tableatny, Hector Alejandro and Adam Dachis.

Dear JN,

First of all, congratulations on the new job. I have some good news about day one: nobody's expecting too much from you. I solicited the opinions of many bosses and the general consensus was that a new employee should show up on time, ready to learn. Put your worries aside. Expectations on day one are very low. You're new, after all.

That said, day one creates first impressions that can last. You're going to experience the company for the first time and meet many colleagues. One day isn't going to make or break your reputation at a company, but how you handle yourself over those initial months matters. There are a few things you'll want to keep in mind as you're settling in to your new place of work.

Pace Yourself

Whether it's because of all the excitement or the desire to make an incredible first impression, many people start a new job sprinting out of the starting gates. You may deliver impressive work in the first few weeks or months, but eventually you're going to run short of breath and burn out. By working incredibly hard when you start, you're setting the bar so high you'll only be able to maintain that level of work for a finite amount of time. Your work will ultimately slip below the expectation you set for your boss and your company and you'll seem less capable than when you started.

You need to pace yourself when you start a new job. No company expects perfection on day one (and if they do you're working at a place that's out of touch with reality). No one, no matter how experienced, can pick up a new role on day one and work as if they've been there for years. It takes time to adjust, understand the company, and learn the responsibilities of the new role you have there. If you try too hard too fast, you won't be able to keep up and you're more likely to make stupid mistakes early on. Take it slow when you start. Doing so sets the bar at a reasonable level, allowing you to grow and better your work as time goes on. Ultimately, this is more impressive than a sprinter who can't keep his or her speed.

Ask Questions and Keep an Open Mind

Many people enter a job thinking that knowing everything makes them incredibly valuable. Most of the time, it makes you annoying. Bosses and managers don't look for employees to join a team and attempt to make the team see things their way. Bosses and managers want smart workers who adapt to the team, integrate themselves, and bring an open mind with their new ideas. One such manager, Quinn Conklin, explains:

It really depends on the position you are hiring for. First week or two I am looking for someone willing to learn. If they are experienced that means learning how the job is done here not telling everyone how they did it somewhere else. If inexperienced I want them willing to ask questions.

Another, Erik Anderson, agrees:

I work in government so the first week(s) are filled with getting admin stuff done, but that aside, I look for someone who is willing and eager to learn. I hope the person has a good level of self-awareness and recognises that they have strengths to bring to the table, but needs to learn how to apply those strengths to the new work environment they're in.

You may be smart, but it's better to appear open minded. Nobody's expecting an amazing contribution on day one. Instead, come with an open mind, listen, and ask questions. This way you'll learn what's expected of you, rather than worry about meeting expectations you don't even know about.

Make Mistakes Early On

Being new means you get to screw up. Many people worry they'll make a bad impression by doing so, but as a new employee you're bound to make mistakes — everybody does. One of the worst things you can do is try to hide that mistake. If you're caught, you look sneaky, and it also shows that you made no attempt to learn from it. Bosses and managers don't mind mistakes if you use them to grow and become better. This shows character, not a lack of capability, as manager Aaron Mosher points out:

Be honest. If you made a mistake, admit it. If the job wasn't what you were expecting, talk with me. I work in retail and a lot of our new employees are afraid of making the managers and other staff angry. They try to cover their mistakes, but it's just better to be honest and up front about it.

When you make a mistake, admit to it. Ask what you could've done better. Don't be discouraged by the occasional error, especially when you're new. If you treat your mistakes as a learning experience, you'll earn the respect of your manager. Just be sure to actually learn and grow, otherwise you'll just be honest and well-intentioned. Those aren't bad qualities, but they'll only take you so far.

Don't Be An Idiot

If you want to avoid getting fired early on you need to avoid obviously stupid choices. Most companies will not fire you unless you make many, repeated errors and don't learn from them. What mistakes will get you canned? Let's hear from the bosses.

Aaron Mosher:

They would have to be pretty big mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but improper cash handling, extremely poor customer service, lying to a member of management.

Stephanie Dean:

Any sort of gross misconduct, including abusing his access to privileged info/accounts/etc, leaking confidential information, or insubordination. Aside from what's in the typical employment contract, a measurable lack of respect for the company or our customers would make me kick them to the kerb.

Anthony Alongi:

People who prefer a job that pays them to show up and pretend to work won't make it past the first day. People who lack the basic skill and common sense to follow simple instructions and answer simple questions won't make it past the first week. People who don't care enough about their life or their career, who don't care about building a profitable book of business for themselves, who are generally not interested in self-development, who lack the basic ambition to strive to advance their position in life, who blame others for their failure and unhappiness, who flatter, fawn and only say what they think you want to hear won't make it past the first month. These are huge mistakes that so many people make not just in their work ethic, but in life itself.

Sonya Schweitzer:

Repeated mistakes - after repeatedly bringing it to their attention. Tardiness. Rudeness and disrespect, lying, cheating, or stealing.

To sum it all up, you'll (most likely) remain employed so long as you do the following:

  • Show up on time.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Be honest.
  • Remain open-minded.
  • Have ambition.
  • Care about the quality of your work, even if you aren't at the job of your dreams.

Again, congratulations on the new job and best of luck on your first day!

Cheers Lifehacker

Special thanks to all the bosses and managers who wrote in to share their expertise, as well as those who joined the discussion on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. I couldn't include everyone in the post, but all the input helped improve this article.

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.


Comments

    Pro-tip: If you don't know something, say you don't know something.

    You're new.. you're not supposed to know everything.. and just because you did things a certain way in the last job doesn't mean you're going to be doing it that way in the new job.

    Last edited 24/10/12 10:10 am

    Be nice, keep your ears open and mouth shut except to ask questions, don't offer opinions unless asked until you have enough info to offer informed ones.

    Make friends with the receptionist, office manager, and the people in the mail room as they usually know lots of stuff that managers may not.

    Don't assume the people with the highfalutin' titles necessarily have all the influence and power, or that the lower level staff can't make your life difficult if you p!ss them off unnecessarily.

      This for sure! And having a good relationship with the IT team will make your life easier too.

    If you make a mistake. DONT HIDE IT. Mistakes can be fixed early. Later on they become expensive and damaging to client relationships to fix.

    AND THEY WILL BE FOUND. MURPHY'S LAW SAYS THEY WILL COME BACK TO BITE YOU

    Also have a professional home email on CV's. I hate emailing someone at [email protected] Yes I know this is article is assuming you already got the job, but it shows you THINK and care about impressions you make

    Get the dress code right!

    Nothing will make your peers more uncomfortable than being too over- or under-dressed compared to them. If in doubt though, err on the side of over-dressed

    One that goes a long way is: Be polite. It doesnt matter if you've been in the job one hour or one decade, you need to ensure your manners are always in tact. There is absolutely no excuse for being plain rude, arrogant, and a down right dickhead or bitch to your co-workers or subordinates. However this basic rule of manners is lost on many, especially those who have been in an organisation for a long time (usually more than 2 years).

    A few years ago I worked a 2nd job in retail on weekends - one new girl "accidentally" gave about $400 more in change to several customers on her first weekend (the only 2 days she worked) - ie. Customer bought $30 item with $50 note - was given $70 change - or bought $15 item with $20 note (got $35 change).

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