Surviving your first day on the job

New scary, intimidating work environment, who dis?

Since the start of my post-university experience, I have started a new occupation four different times.

That’s four different roles, four different groups of co-workers, and four different nerve-racking first days.

I mean really think about it the idea behind your first day. You are about to thrust yourself into a room with strangers and begin to work in an unfamiliar environment collaboratively.

You have every right to be nervous; it’s completely justified.

My first days usually went something like waking up abnormally early so I could get a head start on panicking about the day, followed by a realization I had about eighteen unanswered questions. Should I dress casual or business attire? Where should I park? What door should I use? Should I get coffee beforehand or will there be coffee provided?

The list goes on and on with these concerns. Things you would usually never worry about, but because you are starting a career, you are ready to question positively everything.

Frankly though, to be nervous about getting something wrong on the first day is honestly worrying about the inevitable. You’re going to make mistakes and do things wrong, but guess what, you won’t be the first person to do so and you won’t be the last.

Every single one of your now, co-workers, have all gone through the exact same thing.

No one is immune to the first-day panic, but you can do a couple of things to make the day a hundred times more manageable.

Push yourself with people, really talk to them.

The age-old first-day experience will usually begin with your superior leading you around the office, meeting your co-workers.

For a good impression, remember it’s less about just turning on the charm and instead really just, making an effort.

When you meet everyone in your workplace, you will be put at the mercy of having a concise conversation with them. In that brief, maybe thirty-second conversation, what do you think goes over better?

A quick hello and an awkward pause? Or would a quick question about literally anything go a little better?

Probably the question right?

First impressions can be very uncomfortable affairs with nothing differentiating them. I get it, you’re scared not to overstep, but I would urge you to really dig deep to start quick conversations. All of the people you’re meeting know full well you have said hi to like, twenty people, so this introduction is a bit meaningless without something making it even slightly different for the rest.

That’s why you, the new person should ask a question. Again, about literally anything.

I kid you not, one time when meeting someone for the first time in my office I asked her if that was her favorite kind of paper, pointing to a stack on her desk. Like many ordinary people, she didn’t have a favorite type of paper, but she laughed anyway, and we had a small hypothetical convo about what other kinds of paper even existed.

And with that dumb comment, I made a quick fun impression.

You aren’t on a first date; you aren’t trying to impress anyone, you literally just want to have a quick, meaningful interaction. It shows your interested in not only them but the workplace in general.

A question shows that you are happy in making an effort.

Go out of your way to learn the workplace culture.

Understanding workplace culture is so influential to being happy where you work. Not only for your understanding but it also helps you identify significant boundaries, things that might not be substantial issues but are still factors your co-workers look out for.

The most important thing here is to get a good vibe for flexibility in hours, the impact of your position and the employee stakeholders who rely on you the most.

Essentially anything to help you more understand what work life is like during the day-to-day.

The best part about getting the pulse on your work’s culture is it’ll give you something to talk about with all of your not so intimidating co-workers. People love talking about their work and work culture because it embodies a lot of who they are, so I guarantee it’ll be a hot topic of discussion.

My one caveat to this advice is to do it in a mildly discreet fashion. I’m not saying it is a taboo thing to talk about, but there is a right and wrong way to ask about the work environment, especially on your first day.

If you walk up to a group of co-workers and blatantly say,

“So, does this place suck or what?”

My friend, you’re probably fucked.

No, simply ask what they like about the job, or why they do it? These are positive enforcing questions that lead to a positive response. You aren’t digging for dirt; you just want to be more excited about what you’re doing. If they have nothing positive to say then so be it, but you won’t be responsible for that response.

You’ll learn a lot about your work this way, and it’ll give you the upper hand when interacting with aspects of your job in the future.

Write down everything you possibly can.

When I started one of my internships, I had a notebook with me and wrote every single thing down that I viewed as information. Your first week will go by in a flurry, and it’ll be the most crucial week for information regarding your position.

At an old internship, my boss and I went for coffee a couple of months in.

(I would also like to throw in this was a woman I truly respected to be an actual genius in her field, so her comment meant a lot.)

Anyways, at coffee, she explicitly told me that day one she liked me because I was attentive, and showed interest past just the wage.

I’m not saying the notebook did it, but it guaranteed helped.

One of the most substantial things you can do on your first day is to show that you care about the role and the position. Your ethic didn’t stop at the interview, and you need to prove that. The best way to do this is to show you are receiving information, all of it.

The notebook helps but it’s important just to ask questions, thoughtful ones, helping you better understand what your role entails. Even if you think you know the answer you should ask, it explicitly shows you are there to receive information, and not make assumptions.

So throw a notebook in with your lunch on the first day, just don’t fill it with your coworker’s names or something creepy like that.

Above all, get comfortable.

This tip is the biggest thing you can do on your first day.

It’s the most important because, in contrast to everything else, this one is for you.

Yes it’s essential to make good impressions and yes it’s vital to show your investment in the organization, but none of that matters if you aren’t happy in your new job.

I mean really, this is your career, your 9–5 or whatever hours you work. I know when I started my roles I was so busy trying to impress other people, I forgot to build a foundation for myself.

How do you do this? Simple, identify your needs and find solutions. Find an ideal space you can work in your office, find a space you can be alone and a space you can be extroverted with people. Find the closest coffee shop, and learn your way around your building. Get a good morning routine, become friends with the first people you see every day and figure out grocery and gym routes on your way home.

Basically, do everything you can to make yourself feel like you belong.

A new career is always daunting, and always something that people dread going into. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take off the pressure by understanding that every single person has gone through the same nerves as you currently. They all made it through okay so why can’t you?

Day one complete? Celebrate! I mean really, you are no one day closer to not being the new person.

Writing optimistic unsolicited advice. Sign up for my monthly, unhinged, ramblings →

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store