Being new is never easy. The first day at a new job tends to be one where you’re stumbling between projects and people, asking where the bathroom is, and treading as lightly as possible so as not to immediately destroy the possibility of being liked or taken seriously in your new office. We all want to be liked, and we all want to be good at our jobs – and on our first day of work, neither one of these things is certain yet.
Part of the reason first days are so hard is because you and your new team have no context for each other; you don’t know how they work or what they’re like, and they know even less about you.
So the first day is your first opportunity to begin to build that context, and you have the power to make it good from the start, if you are prepared. You can work better together once you begin to understand each other, so you want to do as much as possible to make that first interaction smooth and positive.
In an effort to the “first day at new job” process just a little bit less stressful, we’ve created a checklist of things to do to help you conquer the many elements of a good first impression at work.
Most of us want to hit the ground running on the first day, but many of us end up rushing blindly throughout the day, confused and disorganized. How can you knock your new team’s socks off with your calm, organized demeanor? By being prepared.
Find out some basics in advance. If you can, email the hiring manager before your first day (a few days before, ideally) and ask if there’s anything you need to know for your first day.
Good topics to cover: getting to the building or getting inside on the first day. Is there employee parking? Where should you go when you arrive – will someone meet you, or should you check in at reception? Is there any equipment or work you’ll need to bring? Will you be going into any meetings you should prepare for?
First days are full of surprises, so the more you can minimize unnecessary ones, the more smoothly your day will go.
Get the office phone number. It’s a good idea to put contact information for the office (or building reception staff) into your phone in advance. Many offices require a badge or key to enter, and you most likely won’t have one on your first day. If you have to call to have someone to let you in, it will be much easier if you already have the number in your phone.
Think about what you need to know. Whatever your new role, spend some time in the days before thinking about what kinds of knowledge you’ll need to bring. The more prepared you are, the better first impression you’ll make, because you’ll be speaking the same language as your peers and demonstrating to them that you take the job seriously enough to know your stuff on Day One.
Spend some time reading up on the industry or company history that will help you speak confidently and knowledgeably with your new coworkers right away.
Clothing and appearance
Knowing what to wear on your first day of work is where a lot of people get hung up; it feels minor, but your clothes send an immediate, loud message about who you are and so it matters that you be decisive and smart about what you wear on Day One.
Humans are visual creatures; we have evolved to use sight as a way to quickly assess danger around us. As such, we make quick first impressions of people based on how they look – including what clothes they wear – as well as the state of their hair, face, etc.
So how can you make the best possible visual impression on your first day? Follow a few basic rules:
Find out the expected level of dress for your company. When you interviewed, you likely got a peek at what most people around the office were wearing. If you didn’t, try looking online to see what people at the company typically wear. If they have a website or Facebook page, they may have shared candid shots from around the office that you can study.
In general, you want to match or slightly exceed the level of formality that’s expected in the office. Especially on your first day, dressing to meet their level demonstrates a basic understanding of social norms, which is an important quick-read clue that you are someone who will fit in. It is subtle, but makes an impact on the first day, when people know very little else about you other than what they can see.
Don’t wear something brand new or uncomfortable. On your first day, you have no idea what you’ll be doing. You could be sitting in meetings all day, or you could be climbing underneath your new desk to plug in your phone. It’s a good idea to wear something you already know is versatile and comfortable, so you don’t have to be distracted by itching tags or ripped seams when there are much more important things going on.
Do wear something that makes you feel great. We all have clothes that make us feel confident and radiant, whether it’s a whole outfit or just a favorite pair of shoes. Make sure you pick something that gives you a little oomph. It is so easy to feel lost and awkward on the first day, so fight back by wearing something that gives you confidence.
Do basic maintenance on teeth, hair, hands, etc. These are all little things that add up to a lot in a first impression – remember, people assess you quickly based on small clues, even if you think they are minor. So brush your teeth, and if you drink coffee on the way to the office, have a mint before entering (and don’t chew gum to freshen your breath – you don’t want to be chewing through all your introductions).
Keep your hair brushed and in a style that won’t require a ton of your attention throughout the day. Make sure your hands are dry and clean when you walk through the door; you’ll likely be doing a lot of handshaking on the first day,
It goes without saying that you don’t want to be late for your first day; however, when you are stressed or nervous, it’s easy for schedules to slip away. Nobody wants to come into the office late, or show up disheveled and disorganized from rushing in at the last minute. Here’s how you can make sure you arrive on time and stress-free, so you make the best entrance possible:
Wake up early. Wake up earlier than you think you’ll need, even in a worst case scenario situation. That is, if you think the longest it will take you to shower and get dressed is one hour, block out at least an hour and a half for that. Plan for things to take too long.
Leave the house early. If you think it will take you 20 minutes to drive to the office, plan for 40 minutes. Give yourself padding to account for the hiccups that always occur on first days.
After all, you’re going somewhere you’ve likely only been to once or twice before! What if you can’t find parking and have to walk 10 minutes? What if your bus is late? Give yourself tons of time so that you don’t add to the stress or nerves you’ll already have.
Pause before you enter the building. Another benefit of leaving yourself a little time to get to the office is that you can take a moment to collect yourself before walking inside for the first time as an employee. Take a breath; remember why you were excited to take this job. Smile and remind yourself why you deserve to be there – then open the door and walk in!
As we mentioned earlier, first impressions are all about subtle visual clues. This means body language is especially important in first meetings, so here are some of our best tips for making sure your posture and stance send the right message.
Stand tall. It’s common for us to kind of shrink when we feel nervous, so make an effort to stand up straight and exude confidence when you first meet people. It will put you on an even playing field and set the tone that you deserve to be there.
Make eye contact. Eye contact is one of the ways that we connect to new people, so it is crucial for making a good first impression. If people can’t catch your gaze, they’ll feel something is off about you – whether or not that is the case – so make an effort to look people in the eye when you shake hands and make introductions.
Smile and keep your posture open. Don’t cross your arms when talking to people; it closes you off, and has the opposite effect of building initial connections. Similarly, make an effort to smile at people when you first meet.
If someone approaches you while you’re sitting at your desk, stand up to greet them so you are meeting on the same level. Put down any work you have in your hands so you demonstrate that you are giving them your full attention.
Put away fidget triggers. Many of us play with our phone, pick at our fingernails, play with our hair, and do any number of other things unconsciously when we are bored or nervous. These things don’t seem like much to us, but they can make other people feel like you are more distracted or nervous than you may really be, so make an effort to reduce these behaviors.
Keep your phone in your purse or pocket, and try to keep your hands still. The more calm you appear, the more smooth your initial interactions will be.
Conversations and conduct
On your first day of work, you get tired fast. You are taking in so much new information and tend to be so keyed up for so many hours in a row, that you can easily lose touch with how you are conducting yourself around all these new people.
Making a good first impression is all about being intentional, but when you are tired and overwhelmed, you start to just react rather than be decisive about your communication.
Here are a few strategies for making sure that you are still making a good impression, even if you don’t have the time or energy to focus deeply on every conversation you have.
Carry a notebook and write things down. With all the work information you’re taking in during a first day, conversations you have with coworkers can tend to slip in one ear and out the other.
But whereas you may be feeling frazzled and unfocused, the other person is simply having a normal conversation with a new coworker, and so expects that you are listening to them as closely as they are to you. To make sure you follow up on any important questions or points that come up in your conversations, jot down a few notes on your conversation to make sure you can revisit it later and close the loop on anything that needs it.
Try to give everyone some of your time. Again, when you are feeling frazzled, you may get frustrated or overwhelmed by people stopping by your desk to say hello. However, remember that they are just trying to be friendly and that giving them some of your time now is one of the best ways to make a good first impression, even if it means you don’t get your computer set up right away.
If you are really in a rush, make conversation for a few minutes and then explain that you have to rush back to _____ but that you really appreciated them stopping by, and you hope to chat with them again soon. Most people will be understanding and leave you be, but you will have already made them feel connected and positive towards you since you took the time to get to know them first before jumping back to work.
Don’t be too self-deprecating or unwilling to accept help. Not knowing how to do anything is one of the worst parts about a first day, and we all react to it differently. Some of us shut down and refuse to accept help, since we are embarrassed about needing so much of it; other people make jokes at their own expense in an effort to brush of bashfulness about being new.
However, in almost every case it is better to just accept help and say “thank you”. People want to help you, and so reacting politely is the most effective way to make a good impression. They help you, and you give them a warm, appreciative feeling for doing so.
Trying to make it more complicated than by joking or avoiding help that will only tend to rub people the wrong way, even if your intention is to make things easier for them. You don’t want to give people a reason to think you are rude or not serious about the job, especially first thing.
Better to create simple positive reactions than ones that could be read the wrong way.
Keep it positive. All of your interactions on the first day should skew positive; this means, rather than saying, “My first meeting was so overwhelming; there was so much I didn’t know” you should instead try “My first meeting was so interesting; there is so much I am looking forward to learning about this team”.
Even though the first version of that sentence wasn’t overtly negative, it still sends a kind of defeated, negative message. And that’s something you want to avoid when making first impressions. You want to convey to people that you are happy to be there, not that you are having doubts or that you don’t like it or think you don’t belong.
If you’re not sure you can do that instinctively, pick out a few positive things you can say in advance. If the office has a great view, for example, make that your backup conversation plan. That way, you won’t accidentally head down a negative path that can make new team members think you’ve got a bad attitude when you don’t.