Bullish: How To Nail The First Day At A New Job

This week, let’s take a look at a question I’m sure many of us can relate to:

Jen, I just found your Bullish columns this week and am trying to pace myself as I go through the archives, love, love, love. I have a question that might be of help to other readers, not sure.

This week I’m going to be starting a new job, in a professional office/hospitality setting. What are the best ways I can make a great first impression? I think when I start jobs I’m so focused on learning, not spilling coffee on my crotch, remembering names, etc. that I forget to put on a good “show” for them, and I don’t think I make a memorable entry. Except for the time I clogged a toilet in the bathroom within the first hour of my first day (yes that happened). Bribes of fresh baked goodies? Outfits? Print up and hand out Bullish articles my first day? Any tips on landing in their good graces from the get go is appreciated!


Oh, do I have tips!

You know, I find that a lot of career writing is overly focused on “The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Other People Made” – like getting drunk before noon and using the company’s servers to email everyone a pornographic racist joke-virus that spreads potentially-lethal peanut dust – so that we can all feel superior that at least we’re not that dumb.


But what are competent, intelligent people actually supposed to do? You know, to do better than neutral?

So, I ran through my contact list and polled a bunch of managers about what they want from their new hires. (I wrote in Bullish: What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 18 about how “networking” when you’re young often just means making normal – smart – friends and then just waiting ten years until they become really powerful.)

Let’s hear first from The Lady Blog Editor (we have quite a few of these over here), who advises that on your first day you should:

Come in with a list of things you’d like to accomplish. At least with us, it would be great if they had a list of, say, five articles they’d like to write. I’d like them to ask for my input on it, but I really, really admire anyone who is enough of a self-starter and goes in to a new situation with a plan rather than just waiting for directions.


Check! Last time I had a “real job,” as a Director of Marketing, I was hired specifically for my list of ideas I would implement on my own pretty much without anybody’s help. Very few people want to hire a puppy dog to follow them around all day and wait for explicit instructions. There are no jobs for those people anymore.

Have a list of good ideas in your back pocket. Then, hold on to them until you’ve felt out the situation, lest you step on anyone’s toes. For instance, at my Director of Marketing job, some of my ideas were regarded as new and exciting (let’s have mixers all over the country and appoint volunteer organizers report about them on our site!), and some of them (let’s completely redesign the website!) would have caused major interoffice battles and hurt feelings.

Next, let’s hear from Impressive Senior Executive-Man Who Works For One of Those Corporations Denoted By Two Dudes’ Last Names:

The number one way to reassure the boss on day one: write down every task you are given to do in a notebook. Write the tasks down as they are given to you and in full view of the boss. This isn’t a fancy restaurant where we are impressed with your memory. I want to see everything put down on paper and crossed off when complete. That way we both know that communication was clear and the employee knows what they have to do.


Yes, sir! You know, I once looked up Senior Executive-Man after not having seen him in a couple of years, and suggested we go to lunch. We did! It was fun, and he was insightful (and direct!), as always. As we were splitting the check, he said, “Great, what do you want?”

I said, “What? I don’t need anything.”

He said something like, “No, surely you want something from me. There’s nothing wrong with that. I help you, you help me. We don’t have to beat around the bush about it.”


Again, networking often just involves making actual friends, and then chilling for a few years.

Next, from Tech Guy Who Suggests We Fake It:

Be on time or early. Ask intelligent questions. Act like you’re interested in the job even if you aren’t. Ask your new coworkers about themselves. Pretend you’re interested in the answers. Avoid humor and controversial topics (sex, politics, religion, operating systems) until you get a feel for the place’s culture. Don’t bullshit; if you don’t know something, say “I don’t know”. This is also a dealbreaker for me in interviews.


Nice. I wrote here about the value of saying “I don’t know,” although I was writing more about people in positions of expertise trying to make life run smoothly.

On a first day of work, “I don’t know” should in many cases be followed up with something like, “Would you like me to find that out now, or put it on the bottom of the list?”

I find that people who have worked for me have sometimes misinterpreted my suggestion that I might want them to find out something as a reason to spend half a workday researching it and writing up a report. Sussing out a boss’s priorities can take some work. (As I wrote about in this column on delegating, I’m pretty bad at delegating).

And, from Tech Guy Who Loves Teamwork:

I’m going to define “first day” to mean the first day you meet the team you will be working with, which might seem long after going through whatever company training and form-filling they have lined up for you.

The basic problem to get past is that any new person doesn’t know how to do the things they need to do yet, and usually its easier for the existing group of people to do things themselves than train the new person. Hopefully, someone will realize that they need to just work on integrating the new person into their workflow even though it takes time, but if that doesn’t happen, the new person needs to try to insert themselves into it. Here are my suggestions:

1. If you see something happen twice, volunteer to do it next time you see it happening. (Someone will stop you if you might cause a disaster, so volunteering is usually safe.)

2. If you see someone do something that you feel you understand 70%, ask a question about it. This lets them still do their job while you get to learn something.

3. If your team isn’t integrating with you well, tell the nominal leader that you are concerned that you aren’t doing well. This will likely make them realize that they aren’t doing their job.

Bonus: Go out to lunch with someone where you work. You can save by brown-bagging later on.


Insert yourself into the workflow! That sounds a little bit sexual. But thanks, Tech Guy, for some suggestions I never would have thought of.


And finally, from The Nonprofit Fundraising Executive:

I would say several things, the first probably being the most important:

1) Show up a few minutes early to work in the morning and then come to my door a few minutes after 5pm and ask if there is anything else that they can do that day. (This assumes that they are exempt and not hourly.)

2) Certainly meet, if not slightly exceed, the expected dress code for the office. I would assume that they would have checked this with me in advance of their first day (I am actually required by our HR department to confirm it with the employee in a pre-first-day phone conversation.) Dressing with the same level of professionalism as in their interview is probably good.

3) Do not be shy about asking for specific answers to questions related to benefits, vacation, office hours, meal or personal breaks, personal phone calls or computer use, etc. Again, in my current position I am expected to go over all of these with new hires, but in cases where that doesn’t happen, the new employee should be sure to ask these questions during their orientation meeting.

4) Ask me if I prefer to answer questions as they come up via email, chat, phone or in person, or if it works better to plan for a meeting towards the end of the day to sit down and answer all questions at one time. Be respectful of the supervisor’s other time commitments, but also don’t be afraid to ask legitimate questions that stand in the way of moving forward with the day’s work. Any good manager should have planned time into a new hire’s first day to deal with this, but again, checking to see how the boss plans to interact is good.

5) Do what is asked from a work perspective, even if it doesn’t appear to make sense or be a good use of their time. The new hire may not understand the larger implications of seemingly minute or basic tasks, or how these things might fit into the broader scope of the office’s work flow.


On the dress code side, I’d add that (in addition to the fact that leggings are not pants and many styles of booties look like enormous sex-hooves to people over 30) women will generally notice your clothes more than men will, and that various studies have shown that women are more judgmental about what you wear. So, err on the side of formality, as above, but without standing out too much.

I love #4, above. Personally, I despise phones. As I commented in this week’s Bullish Life: A Day In The Life of Bullish (Caffeine, Pinstripe, and A Lack of Time-Wasting Bullshit, no one gets to ring a bell when they want to talk to me. Were I sitting in an office, I would still attempt to avoid phone calls as much as possible, but would definitely also judge a young person who tried to IM me as though we were teenagers talking about who’s going to be at a cute boy’s party.

A good rule for IM: only use abbreviations that the boss also uses. Also, correct capitalization is a sign of respect. If the boss writes, “i need this by noon,” an appropriate response is “No problem!” (not “n/p” or “ok”).

The Executive’s last point – do what you’re told, because you don’t have a grasp of the big picture – is both excellent advice, and, to me, a reason to ultimately attempt to extract yourself from the 9-to-5 workplace. Here’s a Bullish archive for plenty more on entrepreneurship, multiple income streams, and career design.

But all things in due time. Life is long! Here’s to a good launch.

originally published on The Grindstone

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