The First Days

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. – St. Francis of Assisi

After a long run with my previous company, I am now once again the “newbie.” This was not an easy decision, but simply came down to it being the right time and opportunity. But that’s for another column. Now, I will focus on what it means to be the new kid on the block.

A lot of people compare starting a new job to starting a new school year. This is not a great comparison because you are one of many starting out the school year. There’s an orientation, other lost kids roaming the hallways, and many parents – including yours – anxiously waiting outside. Starting a new job is more like entering a foreign country on your own (as an American). Some countries are more welcoming and have people greet you at the airport, some may tolerate you as long as you keep to yourself, and others don’t want you there at all. You are the stranger entering environments where norms and culture exist and your job is to navigate through this newness by remembering it’s only new to you.

Here are my suggestions for navigating through your first days at a new job. If you’re planning to travel overseas, you can also use these tips:

  1. Dress properly. You may love jeans or Prada, but unless you’re working at Key Food or Vogue, these are probably not the best outfits to show up with on your first day. Even if the people you were interviewing with were wearing skinny jeans or Moschino when you met with them, I wouldn’t recommend it. Wear outfits that will not make you stick out one way or the other. People make a lot of assumptions about clothing and you just don’t want it to be a conversation piece (a.k.a. gossip). Once you get settled in, wear clothes that are appropriate to the environment and also fit your style.
  2. Don’t forget where you’re located. Sounds silly, but in large campuses, you can literally get lost or forget where you’re located. Write down your location (i.e., building, floor, section, etc.) and make sure you have someone’s number.
  3. Identify the essentials – kitchen, bathroom, supplies, IT, IDs, etc. Self-explanatory, but don’t wait too long, and don’t ask someone of the opposite sex where the bathroom is – they’ll have no clue.
  4. Hire a tour guide. Every office has one of these self-appointed people (you’ll identify them by their high-pitched, overly enthusiastic “Good morning” on a Monday morning) or it may be someone you’ll be working closely with. They can assist you with No. 3, and also walk you around to say hello to the million people whose names you will forget (see No. 5). These are your go-to confidantes. They’ve been there forever, know everything, and like to help new people. They’ll show you the ropes.
  5. Remember names. There really should be a company app for this. You’re going to meet a lot of new people very quickly and I recommend you have some way to keep up. It could be as simple as keeping a notepad with you to write down a name along with what department they work for.
  6. Do not expect everyone to speak your language. Your last place may have used jargon, short code, or acronyms that everyone understood. Your new place, not so much. The same goes for style of communication. Old place was informal, new place is formal or vice versa. You get the picture.
  7. Try not to compare, particularly if the comparison is negative. You’re instinctively going to be resistant to change. Accept it. It’s human nature. Others will instinctively want to defend the familiar. Bottom line: telling your new colleagues how great your last place was is just as compelling as telling your new boyfriend how great your last boyfriend was. That is, not compelling at all.
  8. Do not complain. Really, never. But especially not your first couple of days.
  9. Be open. There will be many moments your new job feels weird, outdated, corny, pompous, etc. Be accepting and open. They probably think the same of you.
  10. Get to know the people. If you do anything the first week(s), it should be this: get to know the people you will be spending 40+ hours with a week. Spend a great deal of time asking questions and listening. Culture is all about the people, and in the long run, the only thing that will matter.

All this and the real work hasn’t even begun. Good luck and happy travels!

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.