From Classroom to Career: How to Start Your First Job the Right Way

From Classroom to Career: How to Start Your First Job the Right Way

What you do during your first few weeks on the job can help determine the course of your career

Accepting your first job after college or university is an unbelievable relief. You’ve done it: all your hard work over the years has been leading up to this. You can finally start using what you’ve learned and get paid for it. But really, your work isn’t over—it’s just beginning. And being strategic during your first few weeks at work can help determine your success not just at this job, but throughout your career. Here’s how to make the most out of the first few weeks at your first job:

Start before your first day. Once you have accepted a job offer and worked with human resources or your manager to determine a start date, don’t wait until that morning to think any more about it. No, you shouldn’t be working for free. But there are some things you can do to show initiative and make your first days go more smoothly:

  • Reach out. If you’re going into an industry where your new colleagues use LinkedIn, find your manager and teammates and connect with them. It will show them you’re excited to start and provide them with some background information on who you are.
  • Know what you’re going to wear. Whether you’ll need to wear a special uniform or just look put-together, make sure you know what you’re going to wear on your first day. It should be clean, fit well, and be comfortable enough that you’re not messing with any part of your outfit all day long. And make sure your shoes are comfortable!
  • Start onboarding. See if there is any paperwork or any other HR, insurance, or policy information you can start looking over or signing before your first day. If not, make sure you have all the identification and documentation they’ll need to validate your employment.

Get there on time. Build in a bit of extra time for traveling to work during your first few weeks, just like you would for an interview. It’s never a good idea to be late, but in the early days of a new job, it can make an especially negative impression. This could mean setting your alarm a bit earlier, pre-making breakfasts the weekend before you start, laying out all your clothes so they’re easy to grab, allowing more time for traffic or public transportation mishaps, or arranging for earlier childcare.

Look the part. Just like not all interviews require a suit and tie, not all jobs require a button-down shirt and shined shoes. But no matter what you’ll wear at work or what policies your employer has regarding dress code, facial hair, and visible tattoos, you should spend some time on your appearance before your first day. You absolutely must be showered and smelling nice (which doesn’t mean heavy perfume or cologne) with brushed teeth and clean hands. You might also want to get a haircut, trim your beard, get a manicure, or repair any clothing or accessories that’s in disrepair.

Introduce yourself . . . to everyone. Get ready to shake a lot of hands. Over the first few weeks on the job, though, you should introduce yourself to anyone and everyone you meet. No matter their title, level, or responsibilities, they are worth your time. No, you won’t remember everyone’s names or job titles right away—but they might remember yours and taking the initiative to be friendly and get to know people will be worth it.

Ask smart questions. Asking questions, whether you’re new on the job or not, doesn’t make you look stupid. In fact, it can make you look curious, intelligent, and helpful. According to, “Research has shown that new employees perform better when they ask more questions. By asking your leaders and peers for new information, you’ll get up to speed quickly.”

But it is important to use your resources as well. Instead of just asking your boss how to do a task, tell her the steps you’ve taken to try to figure out how to do it on your own, and ask who you should contact for training on the subject. This problem-solving approach will impress your managers and help you make connections around the office.

Be approachable. Prefer to zone out behind a computer with your noise-cancelling headphones on? You’ll get there . . . but not just yet. During the first few weeks and months at a new job, it’s important that people feel like they are getting to know you. That means no headphones, participating in office activities, suggesting lunches out occasionally. When people feel like they can talk to you, they’ll start involving you more quickly.

Find a friend. Making a friend at work is about more than just having a lunch buddy. It can be incredibly helpful to have someone to ask when you have questions that aren’t about your specific job responsibilities. Like where to find more pens, who to contact if a toilet overflows, or whether employees dress up for Halloween. These kinds of things are important for you to be comfortable at the office and do your job well, but not necessarily worth bothering your supervisors over.

Get to know who’s who—but don’t gossip. Don’t contribute to gossip, at least. It actually isn’t a bad idea to listen to office rumor mill rumblings. Sure, it might sound petty, but in most settings, it can be incredibly useful to have an idea of which employees don’t get along, which employees will stick up for each other no matter what, and what kinds of things have gotten your coworkers in hot water in the past. But especially this early in the game, it is not your responsibility to repeat anything you’ve heard, or to take what you hear too seriously.

Jump in and help . . . strategically. You’re learning. Even if you were top of your class and know the skills required to do your job backward and forward, putting what you know into practice looks different in every situation. But you were also hired for a reason. No, you won’t be able to take large projects start-to-finish at the beginning. But if you’re sitting in a meeting and hear discussion around a task that you know you could do well, offer to take it on. Your colleagues will likely be thrilled, and it will be a great opportunity for you to start getting your hands dirty—literally or figuratively, depending on your job.

Set expectations. You may have touched on this during your interview, but once you start getting settled into a role, it’s important to sit down with your boss and understand what he expects out of you as an employee. These expectations might be immediate, like getting to work at a certain time or setting your email signature, or longer-term, like setting and accomplishing certain goals before year-end.

Ask for feedback. At the end of your first week, you can stop by your supervisor’s office and ask, informally, for feedback on how things have been going: Is there anything you should be doing differently? What should you expect next week? Your boss will likely appreciate the open communication and the opportunity to bring up something that may not have been worth a formal meeting.

Keep a positive attitude. Inevitably, at some point during your first few weeks at a new job, you will feel like something is going wrong. Maybe you’ll make a mistake or have trouble picking up on a process, or you’ll be late or your family will complain about how often you’re away from home now. But be kind to yourself. In most instances, the stress of a new job can make these things seem like a much bigger deal than they are. Give it a bit longer to see if the situation resolves itself. If not, talk to your manager about what can be done to fix how you’re feeling.

Enjoy yourself. Your first job (or any job you find yourself in from now through retirement, for that matter) might not be perfect. Few things in life are. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in them. You’ll learn new skills, learn how to work with different types of people, improve your time management skills and communication style, and figure out what it is you really want from your career. So relax, make the most of every opportunity, and have fun when you can. Congratulations on your new job!

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