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Adjusting to a New Job

Congratulations! You are starting a new job. This is exciting, and you should look on it as a new adventure in the book of life. However, for many people, starting a new job can cause anxiety. That’s perfectly understandable. After all, starting a new job means new co-workers, new office policies and procedures, a new environment and probably new software and/or equipment. But don’t underestimate the power of being new. Don’t let the minutiae of all the new details bog you down. This is a great opportunity, and you can take advantage of it to really stand out if you follow just a little practical advice.

Manage Expectations

The day you accept the offer is the day you should start preparing for your new job. There are several steps involved here. The first is to accept that transitions are hard. You need to start managing your expectations for both leaving your old job and starting your new one. Be prepared for a little bit of emotional let down as you make the adjustment. Change is hard. Whether this is your first job or a new one, this will be a big adjustment for you. The location is different, the hours may be longer or shorter, and the atmosphere will almost certainly be different. You need to prepare yourself for the adjustment, and manage your expectations.

In terms of a send-off or a welcome wagon, don’t expect a fanfare. Very often, former employers and colleagues don’t make leaving easy, nor do new employers and new colleagues make starting easy. You need to be your own best friend here and keep a positive attitude. They probably won’t throw you a party when you leave your old job, and they certainly won’t throw you one at your new job. That doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome, of course, but just be realistic, manage your expectations, and don’t read too much into the welcome wagon, or lack thereof. Assume that you are wanted (they wouldn’t have hired you otherwise), but don’t expect a cake.

Prepare for the First Day, and For Continued Success

You want to make a great impression at your new job. And there are three tried and true ways to do this: dress the part, be prepared and get there on time. First, dress for success. If you interviewed at the firm and toured the workplace, you should have some idea of what the dress code is (and if you haven’t you should definitely ask before your start). Pay attention to how people are dressed during your interview.

By now, every person should know what is appropriate and inappropriate in the workplace, but the most important factor here is that you match the culture and needs of the organization. For some jobs, the dress code is obvious: you may wear a uniform, for example. But for other firms you will have to figure it out. If there is an employee manual with a dress code policy, read it. Remember that industries vary. Bankers dress differently than TV producers. Teachers may or may not be able to wear jeans. Account managers may have to wear nylons if they wear skirts. These are things you must find out before you start. Pay close attention to the finer points of the dress code, and assess the average level of dressiness. And if there is a dress code policy in the employee manual, read it. Find out:

  • Do women wear tights or hose? High heels? Skirts, suits or slacks?
  • Do men wear playful or conservative ties? 
  • Does anyone ever wear sneakers or casual loafers?
  • Do employees wear tailored, formal pants or standard-fare chinos?
  • Who wears jeans? T-shirts?
  • Don’t spend the day texting or phoning friends. No personal stuff of any kind!
  • Don’t get caught updating your Facebook page on your first day.
  • Don’t smoke in front of anyone.
  • Don’t leave, even for a latte run. And certainly don’t leave early, unless someone is dying.
  • The walls have ears, so don’t talk about your new job or your new boss in anything but the most glowing of terms. Similarly, don’t badmouth your former employer or place of work.
  • Don’t flirt. Period.
  • Don’t put in for vacation time. Unless you’ve pre-negotiated a vacation up front, I’d wait six months to even ask.

The best course of action is to spend the first week or two a little bit overdressed or matched with the most formally dressed person you see in the office. Then, once you understand the dress code and dress within it, you will be able to integrate your own sense of individual style within that aesthetic. And by waiting to bring your unique sensibility to your office attire, you’ll be sure not to inadvertently rub others the wrong way or give the impression that you don’t care or don’t take your new job seriously.

Second, prepare ahead of time for the big morning. The night before your first day, you should plan what you are going to wear and get out everything you need for the new job, including any badges, parking passes, forms, your lunch, snacks, thermos, etc. You do not want to be scrambling for these things in the morning. In fact, you want to be bright eyed and bushy-tailed on day one, so go to bed early. And triple check that you have set the alarm. The last thing you want to do is yawn, slump or look baggy-eyed. And no drinking the night before. The last thing you want is to look drained or, God forbid, smell like booze.

Third, be on time. Better yet, be early. To do this you need to be clear as a bell about your transportation and how long it takes to get there. If you drive, you should have the route mapped out and your departure timed so that you will get there ten minutes early. If you take public transportation, same thing. Figure it out ahead of time. You should also find out where you need to be, to whom you need to report, or which office you should start in. You should get any special instructions ahead of time. The worst thing you can do is be late to your first day on the job.

A few other tips: Be courteous and respectful with everyone you meet on the way in, especially parking attendants, receptionists and security guards. These people are your colleagues, too, and should be treated with respect. They can always help you if, say, you get lost or need help or have questions. Plus, you never know who they know, so be respectful and kind.

Remember, you want to make a positive impression and be on your toes. So dress the part, be well rested, be prepared and be on time. Trust me, this means a lot.

The First Day, and Beyond

So, you are at the new job. Now comes the hard part: the actual work. What are the expectations they have for you? The first thing to do is meet with your new boss or supervisor as soon as possible to review your job responsibilities and find out exactly what is expected of you. You want to really take the time to clarify his/her expectations, needs, and wants. It is critical that you learn and understand your role in the organization. Don’t rely simply on that 60-minute interview for your marching orders. On the first day, you should meet with them to establish goals and define your objectives. Your objectives, goals and responsibilities may evolve as you settle in, but starting right away will give you direction when you most need it.

Now, don’t be surprised if there is a little disorganization/disorientation on the first day, or if you don’t feel altogether welcome. Most employers don’t really do a great job of onboarding people, which means orienting them to the new workplace, its ebbs and flows, or what they will be doing on a daily basis. So lower your expectations a bit.

On the other hand, their expectations may be very high, expecting you to jump right in, so find out what they expect. This really depends on the level or position for which you were hired. Expectations for leaders are very different than expectations for receptionists. It is a lot easier to jump right in answering phones than it is to lead a team of people you’ve just met. This is why the first step is so important – find out what they want you to do right away.

Remember another thing: you were hired for your expertise and experience (or talent and potential, or some combination thereof). They liked what they saw and so they brought you on board. But remember that you need to learn your new firm’s way of doing things. You need to respect the culture of the new organization. So, observing and asking questions is the best course of action right out of the gate. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, In fact, it would be a little suspicious if you didn’t. Try to make a list of all of your questions so that you can get the most out of other people’s time. And take notes! Asking people the same questions over and over can be really annoying.

And don’t stress out. Easier said than done. You probably feel like all eyes are on you, and you’re probably right. There are lots of simple stress reduction techniques you can use. First find out where the bathroom is. This is obvious, but don’t be afraid to use it! Take mini breaks throughout the day, and try deep breathing or repeating your mantra to yourself, or visualize yourself succeeding. Whatever helps. Also, if there is a mentoring program, take advantage of it. This is a great way to learn the ropes, the culture and smooth your transition.

Socializing With Your New Colleagues

Your new colleagues may or may not be receptive to you, but you certainly have to be receptive to them. Work is a social environment and to be successful, no matter what your position is, you must take the time to get to know your new colleagues. Here’s how. First, don’t be a know-it-all. Don’t talk too much. Instead, listen. It’s not all about you – make it all about them and the new workplace. Ask questions. Be curious. Introduce yourself. Find out about them. Find out what is going on in the organization. Resist the urge to make it all about yourself. Being the new guy is the perfect time to show deference and respect and to listen and absorb all that they have to say. 

Lunch is an important break in the day, and an excellent opportunity to connect with new colleagues. But you’ll have to play the lunch thing by ear until you find out what the lunch culture of the organization is: Do people leave? Do they get an hour? Do they eat at their desks? Is there a cafeteria? Do they eat together in the break room? Chances are, on your first day, someone will guide you in the right direction. Your new boss or your new colleagues may want to take you to lunch. Or not. Lunch may be an informal grab-a-sandwich-in-the-break room sort of thing. (And this is why it was smart to bring a lunch or some snacks, in case the office turns out to be the sort of place where no one leaves for lunch.) If there is a lunchroom that people use, go there, ask if you may join some people and introduce yourself. Whatever you do, don’t make outside plans to have lunch with friends. Stick around your new office. Go with the flow and use lunch as the great opportunity it is.

Last But Not Least

So you’ve prepared yourself, dressed for success and are having a great day. There are just a few other do’s and don’ts for you new job:

It is OK to start networking immediately. You should absolutely attend any office happy hours, parties, and other social events, accept invitations for lunch, dinner, seminars, events, etc. But remember, if you go out for cocktails after work or attend an event with colleagues, have only one drink. No exceptions. And no shots.

Stay positive! One of the things that make it difficult to adjust to a new job is negativity. If you assume that people don’t like you or you automatically make judgments about things at the office that you aren’t going to like then you’re going to find it difficult to approach the job with a positive attitude. Try to focus on the things that you like so far about the work and stay away from anyone that is saying negative things on the job.


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