Ten Tips for Successfully Starting a New Job

Starting a new job is a unique experience. On one hand there’s the excitement about a new routine, meeting new people and establishing yourself in your new position. It’s almost like the first day at school — you’re in charge of how you foster your image and it gives you the opportunity to try new things and to build new habits. It’s also an incredibly nerve-wracking experience (again like the first day of school). Will your new supervisor and coworkers like you? Is your job going to be a good fit for you? Will you fit in with your agency’s culture? The list of uncertainties goes on and on.

Over the course of my career I’ve worked in a few agencies which entailed experiencing the full-spectrum of excitement and anxiety several times with each new position. I’ve learned how to navigate through the uncertainty to arrive at the other side as a successful, productive worker. During that time I’ve also recruited, hired and trained dozens (and dozens) of new employees. Helping to guide new staff through training and teaching them how to provide excellent service delivery has allowed me to note the highlights and pitfalls of starting a new job. Let’s be honest here too — I’ve started enough jobs in my time to make some real mistakes too. Below are some of the most important things to do (and not do) when you start a new job

  1. Get the Basic Details Before Your First Day

There is some basic information that you’re going to need to be successful for your first day. You’re going to want to know what the dress code is, where to park and what documents to bring. These questions should be asked prior to your first day either via phone or email with your new supervisor or HR representative. Many jobs require you to bring a few copies of identification, school degrees and completed forms such as credentialing documentation.

You definitely want to make sure that you start off on the right foot by coming prepared. I’ve seen people ejected from orientation for failing to bringing the required forms. I’ve also seen people misunderstand the term “business casual” and arrive for their first day in ripped jeans and a tank top only to be sent home to change. By getting the basic details prior to your first day, you set yourself up for success by being prepared and demonstrating that you can follow instructions. Trust me — supervisors adore these things!

2. Bring In Tasty Treats to Share

I’m a firm believer in the power of baked goods. Food is a connection and sharing it with others builds a sense of trust and togetherness. Be a hero by bringing in a box of donuts or pastries for your new coworkers or step it up a notch with something you baked at home. There are a number of benefits of baking for others including stress relief and creating a sense of well-being. And let’s get real for a second — home baked doesn’t have to mean from scratch. Enjoy the thrill of living a little white lie with “homemade” brownies and muffins that came out of the box. They’re just as good and people will genuinely appreciate your efforts.

3. Be Friendly but Not Too Open

Of course you want to be nice to everyone you meet. It’s important to develop rapport and build relationships with your supervisor and coworkers. However be guarded about what you share about yourself. Talking about your favorite shows, movies and basics about you are perfectly fine topics however it’s important to veer away from personal information. My personal rule — and the rule I’ve given my staff over the years — has been: if you wouldn’t display it on your desk, don’t bring it up. It’s no secret that I’m married, have read every Stephen King novel and feel that my dogs are my children, but I keep my personal life well, personal, especially as it relates to my physical and mental health. Coming out of the gate by sharing intimate information about yourself can make others question your professional judgement and possibly be judgmental about you behind your back, which leads me too…

4. Do Not Gossip

I’m not ashamed to admit it — I adore good gossip. Dishing, spilling the T, ki-king — I love it all. However, the workplace as a newcomer is not the place to get your fix. It comes off as unprofessional and can seriously affect relationships with others in the workplace. You don’t know who you could offend or who’s friends with who. The last thing that you want is that gossip coming back at you. Several years ago when I started a my last job, I complained a lot about the person who had the job before me. She left a challenging workload that I was responsible for fixing. I complained to my new colleagues about it. Little did I know was that she still worked at my agency and was told everything I said word for word. She confronted me about it in our shared kitchenette and I was shocked and embarrassed beyond words. I didn’t realize that she was still an employee there and I certainly didn’t think that my grumbling would come back at me but it did. Until you really get an understanding of your workplace dynamics, you probably aren’t aware of friendships and alliances that lay under the surface. Suffice it to say, I learned my lesson pretty uncomfortably.

5. Ask the Right Questions

It’s super important to ask questions as you begin your job training. You need to get clarification about roles and expectations and raising your hand to ask is the perfect way to do that. It also signals to your supervisor that you’re listening and that’s exactly what they want from a new employee. Starting a new job is hard and there’s a lot of information overload — management and trainers don’t expect you to understand everything right on your first try. If you stay quiet and don’t ask any questions you may give off the impression that you’re not paying attention — or even worse — have zoned out! Each time I’ve tried a new employee I always go back to the cliche adage that ‘the only wrong question is the one that hasn’t been asked.’ That’s mostly true, but some queries give the wrong impression.

6. Don’t Ask Every Question

So what’s the deal? After everything I just said about the importance of asking questions, why am I now negating that with this tip?! Questions serve different purposes. While it’s important to ask questions about the position and job functions, some questions that might come up may actually be camouflaged anxieties — I call them the What-If-I-Don’ts. “What if I don’t meet productivity?,” “What if I come in late,” “What if I don’t return a phone call,” “What if I miss that meeting.” It’s absolutely normal to be nervous about meeting job expectations and making mistakes, but asking these questions aloud gives the impression that you either don’t want to make the effort or that you are going to be an underachiever. Supervisors and trainers get concerned about who they really hired when these questions are asked in the first days.

Also try to avoid questions about time wasters and company resources. Asking about using personal email, social media and streaming services like Netflix and YouTube tells your new boss that you plan on using company time to watch videos and scroll through Facebook. Needless to say, that is seriously frowned upon unless you’re working for those companies.

7. Keep Politics to Yourself

Your political beliefs are none of anyone’s business at work. Unless you’re working for a politician, the workplace is not a place to discuss them. You don’t know who you might offend and you simply cannot make assumptions about party affiliation based on where you work or who you work with. I’ve had new staff make blanketed statements about the current political climate that I needed to shut down immediately. Like sharing private information about yourself, getting political in a non-political environment will make people question your professionalism and may make them uncomfortable.

8. Write Things Down

Another way to demonstrate that you’re an eager employee (and to help yourself out later) is to take notes during training and your first days. I can honestly say that it warms my heart when I’ve seen a new staff come prepared for training and supervision with their own pad, pencil or laptop (depending on their generation) to take notes on things discussed. It sends the message that you’re not only listening but that you’re valuing what is being reviewed. Later, you can refer back to what was written down so you don’t need to barrage your new supervisor with tons of extra questions. I honestly get nervous when I see a new employee sitting and nodding during training. I certainly know that they won’t be able to remember everything that we’re reviewing and often wonder if they’re even listening. That’s not the impression that you want to make. Do everyone a favor and take notes!

9. Conduct Yourself Professionally

Most of the items listed above are good advice about how to comport yourself in a new work environment, however there’s more to being a successful new employee than just being nice and asking questions. Demonstrate that you are a professional by staying off your personal phone during work hours. Keep personal calls and messages to a minimum. If you absolutely do need to take a call, take it in a private space and limit your time. Socializing with new coworkers is expected but to a limited degree. I’ve been shocked at what I’ve seen over the years as a supervisor — thirty minute conversations with a family member on a company phone in front of my office, new staff taking duckface selfies at their desk and employees going MIA while they take extended coffee and lunch breaks. Remember that you’re getting paid to provide a service and that service should be the main focus while you begin and your new job.

10. Dress for Success

I’m a firm believer in theory of “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” If you’re not required to wear a uniform, there’s usually some flexibility with company dress code. Personally, I feel at my professional best when I wear a blazer or pant suit. It makes me feel good, I feel more productive and it demonstrates that I’m a serious employee who’s focused on job roles. You’d be surprised of the far-reaching benefits of dressing well for work! Find out what makes you feel good (as long as it jives with your dress code) and wear more of it. Always make sure that your clothing is clean and pressed and that it fits well. Avoid revealing clothes at all times, ripped jeans and shirts that have catch-phrases or sayings on them. The workplace is not the right place to show off your cute Urban Outfitters ironic tees. When you feel and look your best, you will perform at your best too and that’s what being an employee is all about!



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Non-profit worker. Mental health advocate. Champion of work-life balance. Random thought generator. Charmingly neurotic.