As of June 2010, there were 14.6 million unemployed adults in America, representing some 9.5 percent of the work force [source: BLS]. In this ultra-tight employment market, you're darn lucky to get your resume read, let alone land a job. But if by some miracle you get your foot in the door, try not to immediately put it in your mouth.
The first day at a new job is critical for making the right impression. After all, no office needs another toxic co-worker: the know-it-all, the gossip hound, the death breath guy and the "hey, look at my underwear" lady. Instead, you want to ooze dependability, preparedness, politeness, good grooming and above all, normality.
Here are our top 10 tips for a successful first day on a new job, starting with something you should try to do away from your desk: sleep.
Get Two Weeks of Sleep Before the Big Day
Your mom was right when she told you to get a good night's sleep before your first day of work. You want to be sharp, clear-eyed and preferably awake while you meet dozens of new people, process loads of critical information, choose your network password and figure out the quickest route to the restroom.
But what mom didn't know was that one good night of sleep won't make up for three months (or more) of late nights and afternoon naps. You need to re-train your body to keep regular "working" hours. Experts say this requires two weeks of going to sleep at a reasonable time and waking up unreasonably early [source: Vogt]. Stick to this regimen, and soon your internal clock will jibe with the alarm clock -- give or take three smacks of the snooze button.
Test Drive Your Route Beforehand
Whether you drive, bike, bus or walk to your new job, it's smart to test drive the route before that first important day [source: Huhman]. Google Maps doesn't have a "rush hour" button that will automatically double the time of your daily commute. Plus, traffic is a lousy excuse for being late, since the rest of the office had to battle the same gridlock but still managed to make it in before 9:37. If you take public transportation, have your train/bus arrival and departure times, as well as any transfers you need to make, down pat well before your first day. Do you have to drive to the train or bus station? Master that route as well. Have a back-up plan handy, just in case.
Once you know exactly how long it takes from your door to your desk during rush hour, tack on an extra 10 minutes for good measure. It never hurts to be early for your first day.
Brown Bag It
Every office has its own lunch culture. Only a lucky few cubicle slaves still get a leisurely lunch hour. The more common lunch ritual is of the e-mailing-with-one-hand-while-jamming-a-tuna-salad-sandwich-down-your-throat-with-the-other variety. If you're unsure of the lunch scene at the new job, better to brown bag it than get stuck with a vending machine lunch of peanut butter crackers and Mountain Dew. You may end up having lunch with the boss on your first day, but that's no guarantee -- and you may end your first day at work hungry.
Either way, start your day with a hearty breakfast. You'll need more than your usual coffee and Cap'n Crunch to sustain you through hours of orientation and hand-shaking.
Do Your Homework
A surefire way to impress your boss on the first day is to show up with a clear understanding of what the company does. Thanks to the Internet, this is a cinch. Read your company's Web site, its clients' Web sites and any recent news articles about them [source: Vogt]. You can even set up an e-mail alert through Google News to notify you when stories hit the press about your employer or your industry in general [source: Weiss]. You don't have to spout out all this info at will, but it will keep you from saying something stupid in front of the higher-ups.
If your boss is an impressive figure, read up on him or her, too. But don't be creepy about it and throw odd facts back at them: "Hey, how are your two children named Michael and Anna, ages seven and five?" Now you're a stalker. Know the line -- and toe it carefully.
Hit the Mall
Even at the most dressed-down workplaces, there is a line between office casual and college bum. It's time to put away your ironic T-shirts, hoodies and flip-flops and invest in some clothes that say, "I'm not the pizza guy."
Every office has its own definition of appropriate dress. Pay attention to what other people are wearing when you go in for an interview. If you don't remember, you can call the human resources representative at your company and get his or her opinion. You certainly don't want to appear too casual, but you can overdo it the other way as well. You don't want to hear, "Hey, who's the guy in the tux?"
Ladies should avoid wearing anything too revealing or sexy. Dress to flatter, not titillate. Unfortunately, this kind of thing does make a difference: There have been actual studies that show that women who dress provocatively at work are less likely to receive raises and promotions [Source: Lorenz].
The first day is a whirlwind of introductions and meetings. You'll meet four different people named Dan, receive a phonebook-sized packet of information about your healthcare plan and be walked through the simple 30-step process for clearing a paper jam in the copy machine.
Take notes; you'll thank yourself later. If you're a whiz with your handheld, jot notes electronically. Otherwise, invest in a small notebook that you can stick in your pocket and pull out when your cubicle mates start explaining where all the good burrito joints are. Names and positions are probably the most important notes to take. People like to think they're memorable enough for you to remember their name, so indulge them.
Don't Be Yourself... Yet
The key word for your first day at work is restraint. If you're a naturally bubbly hyper-energetic type, tone it down a notch [source: Grobart]. You don't want to scare people. Likewise, if your default gear is low and slow, have an extra cup of coffee and practice your best fake smile.
Ease into your sense of humor as well. Even if everyone else is cracking jokes before the meeting starts, don't join the fray just yet. You're the new guy, which means you don't know which lines not to cross, particularly when your boss is involved [source: Sahadi].
And whatever you do, never act like an assignment or task is beneath you [source: Weiss]. If they have you making copies all day or updating the Outlook calendar, don't whine. Once you pay your dues, people will see your potential and let you tackle the more interesting stuff.
If You Don't Know, Ask
There's no such thing as a dumb question. All right, that's a lie, but the dumbest thing you can do on your first day is to screw up an assignment because you didn't fully understand the directions [source: Sahadi].
If your boss puts you on a task, try to get all of the details straight during that first meeting. You won't look stupid -- just attentive and thorough. If you're in the middle of the assignment and something still doesn't make sense, pop your head in the office and clear it up. Again, you look sincere, not slow. If you pop your head in every five minutes, though, you'll get annoying. Get it down as quickly as possible.
Here's a question that's music to a manager's ears: "Can I help you with anything?" If you suddenly find yourself without work on that first day, don't start updating your Facebook page. Actively seek out something helpful to do, either for your boss or your co-workers. You might even get a lunch invitation out of it.
Shut Up and Listen
Sometimes your first day of work also serves as a declaration. Perhaps your boss hired you to make changes to the existing work culture or bring a fresh perspective and new ideas. Unfortunately, offices can be terribly insular places that resist change and deeply distrust outsiders. So even if you have the best ideas in the world -- even if the higher-ups brought you on board specifically to shake things up -- keep them to yourself on the first day.
The best way to win people's trust is simply by listening to them [source: Vogt]. Show respect for their opinions and seek feedback on your ideas before presenting them as the new reality [source: CareerBuilder]. When in doubt, bring doughnuts.
Get on the Same Page
Managers aren't mind-readers and neither are you. Clear communication is essential to a successful working relationship.
If you feel comfortable -- particularly if you already have a few years of work experience under your belt -- request a one-on-one meeting with your direct supervisor to talk about communication and managerial style. Some managers like to be informed of everything: client contacts, project updates, problems that arise. Others take a more hands-off approach, preferring that you only bother them with the big news.
By understanding your boss's communication expectations and management style, you'll avoid some of the bumpy learning opportunities during the first weeks of a new job and jump straight into a smooth and productive relationship.
For more information about work life and office etiquette, look at the links on the next page.
How to Create an Action Plan for a New Job
More Great Links
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employment Situation Summary." July 2, 2010.http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
- CareerBuilder.com. "18 Ways to Impress a New Employer"http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-514-The-Workplace-18-Ways-to-Impress-a-New-Employer/
- Grobart, Sam. "Allow me to introduce myself (properly)." Money. December 27, 2006http://money.cnn.com/2006/12/27/magazines/moneymag/newguy.moneymag/index.htm
- Huhman, Heather. "Preparing for your first day of work." Examiner.com. January 27, 2010http://www.examiner.com/x-828-Entry-Level-Careers-Examiner~y2009m1d27-Preparing-for-your-first-day-of-work
- Lorenz, Kate. CareerBuilder.com. "Too Much Skin: 10 Taboos for Office Attire"http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-666-The-Workplace-Too-Much-Skin-10-Taboos-for-Office-Attire/?ArticleID=666&cbRecursionCnt=1&cbsid=a5687050c2fc4bb1a90e185253b8b8c3-331380489-wf-6
- Sahadi, Jeanne. "The get-started guide to making it." CNN Money. August 24, 2006http://money.cnn.com/2006/08/23/commentary/sahadi/index.htm
- Vogt, Peter. "Have a Great First Day." Monster.com.http://career-advice.monster.com/in-the-office/starting-a-new-job/have-a-great-first-day/article.aspx
- Weiss, Tara. "How to Behave at Your First Job." Forbes.com.http://hotjobs.yahoo.com/career-articles-how_to_behave_at_your_first_job-1337