First day jitters
Starting a new job? These tips will help to ease the panic.
By Renee Beckman, CPA
Tomorrow morning, you’ll rise to the expectation of your first day at a new job—and you feel just like you did on the eve of your first day at school: sweaty palmed and apprehensive.
But, as your teachers told you again and again, preparation is everything. Think of your first day as an extension of the interview—which, by the way, you obviously aced—and you’ll have very little to worry about.
> Dress for success In her article, Your Image is You, management and organization development consultant Susan Heathfield explains that, “[M]ost people make decisions about a new acquaintance within the first thirty seconds to two minutes of interaction. This does not give you much time to make a good impression.” And, according to Kim Zoller, a consultant at Image Dynamics, 55 percent of a person’s perception of you is based on how you look.
In essence, appearances count. That said, there are no hard-and-fast rules about appropriate dress in today’s corporate world. The dress code is tailored to the environment, culture and, oftentimes, industry. While the lack of a rigid dress code is refreshing, it’s also a bit confusing for new hires. The last thing you want to do is arrive under- or over-dressed.
Zoller offers this advice: Men and women alike can play it safe by opting for a solid color, conservative suit, worn with a coordinating shirt and tie or blouse. Jewelry should be worn selectively, and aftershave or perfume sparingly. Bring a portfolio or briefcase for any work-related paperwork or background material you might want to carry with you.
Remember, dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Even in today’s increasingly casual work environment, your professional image will raise your visibility when promotions, lateral moves and choice assignments come up.
> Plan your day Good planning starts the night before. Pick out an outfit for your first day, and look over company materials as needed. Then sit down and unwind for a while, making sure you get to bed at a reasonable hour. You should wake up extra early the next morning, feeling refreshed and prepared to meet the challenges of the day.
With the unpredictability of traffic, especially in a large city like Chicago, it’s a good idea to double your normal commute time and add 15 to 30 minutes.
It’s better to have to kill time drinking your morning coffee than to turn up at the office flustered and fatigued.
Being late is inexcusable on your first day, regardless of the reasons. Just like the interview, you only have one shot at making a good first impression, and it will be a lasting one.
If you find yourself running late due to unforeseen circumstances, call your supervisor at least 15 minutes before you are expected to explain the situation. However, you have to have a very good reason for being late, and it has to be truthful. Once they’re clear on the situation, call as necessary to keep your new company informed of your estimated arrival time.
> Arrive prepared Arrive at the job with all the tools you might need for the day, including a portfolio, paper, pen and legal IDs. Invariably, whether the company is small or large, new employees will have a mountain of paperwork to fill out. More often than not, employers require two forms of ID as proof of citizenship.
Before you even enter the building, turn off any electronic devices, especially cell phones. Unlike a college campus, a ringing cell phone is considered extremely bad manners in a corporate setting, and it will affect your image.
At some point over the course of your first day, take the time to look over the employee handbook, and to familiarize yourself with office policies regarding Internet use, privacy, lunch hours, breaks and office conduct, etc. Knowing what you’re dealing with off the bat will help you avoid awkward or professionally embarrassing situations.
> Listen and learn For the first few weeks, it’s wise to watch, listen and learn to assess the corporate culture. Pay particular attention to how long people spend at lunch, the hours in a typical workday, and the preferred mode of inter-office communication, whether memo, email or face to face. In other words, pay attention to the company’s unwritten rules and adopt them as your own.
Regardless of the office norms, however, on day one arrive early, stay half an hour late and keep to the official lunch break parameters. You want your new employers to be confident of your seriousness about the job. Also, if you find that you have downtime, make constructive, professional use of it (like taking the time to read that employee handbook). Whatever you do, don’t read personal emails, talk on your cell phone or surf the Internet.
> Mind your conversation While you want to be open and friendly, and to forge long-term relationships with your colleagues, don’t divulge too much of a personal or casual nature, such as tales of your three-day drinking binge in your sophomore year, or the joke about the Irishman, Englishman and Scotsman. And don’t gossip, even if the people around you do. In short, steer clear of any topic of conversation that potentially could offend a colleague—and land you in hot water.
Being prepared, dressing for success, communicating appropriately and learning as much as you can as quickly as you can will help to calm your first-day nerves and dispel your insecurities.
In the immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” Imagine all your colleagues think like Ralph.
Renee Beckman, CPA, is a partner of ONPOINT Partners, Inc., a boutique financial recruiting firm, and a member of the ICPAS Student Task Force and recipient of the ICPAS 2006 Distinguished Service Award. Renee can be reached at 312.795.0475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.