It’s your first day on the job and you’ve got anywhere from seven seconds to four minutes to convince co-workers and management that you are a great hire, according to Diane Decker, Victoria Hoevemeyer and Marianne Rowe-Dimas, authors of First-Job Survival Guide (JIST, 2006).
Within a span of minutes, you’re subject to all kinds of assumptions about your economic status, self-assurance, credibility, educational level, and more. And even if you get those first few minutes right, you’re about to spend several days under the watchful eyes of co-workers and management who are feeling you out to determine your worth in their workplace.
"The first impression others have of you is especially important because although it takes very little time to make, a first impression is lasting. It is unlikely that you will get a chance to undo the damage of a botched first impression," warn the Survival Guide authors.
As the "new guy" in the workplace, it can be tempting to shrug off your first few days on the job, believing you’ll be excused or sympathized with for being unfamiliar with company culture and your employer’s expectations. Yet, like any other day on the job, you need to be on your toes, because there are a handful of mistakes – however minor they may seem – that are surefire ways to sour the early impressions people have of you as a professional.
Dress to UNimpress.
Deciding what to wear to work during the first week can be especially challenging when you’re unfamiliar with company culture. However, a fashion faux-pas can be avoided as long as you steer clear of workplace no-nos, such as visible tattoos, piercings, unusually styled or colored hair, and any clothing that is too colorful, short, low-cut, tight, baggy or wrinkled.
Still confused as to what’s appropriate for your particular work environment? Most employers give new hires an employee manual that outlines appropriate and inappropriate attire. If you don’t have access to an employee manual prior to your first day, contact the organization’s human resources department for guidance.
How can you tarnish someone’s impression of you before ever setting foot in the workplace? Simply show up late for work. Arriving to work on time – even a few minutes early – is a basic expectation that many new employees take lightly. To ensure you arrive on time and reduce the chance of unexpected surprises on your commute, drive one or two test runs to work, allowing extra time for rush-hour traffic, emergencies or weather that might delay you.
Fail to research your employer.
Sure, you researched your employer prior to your interview, but chances are you’ll need to learn even more to make a smooth and speedy transition from ‘the new guy’ to a trusted member of the team. Study orientation materials to learn about your employer’s vision, mission, values, history, and what makes your employer different from competitors. Other sources of information include the organization’s website, financial statements, annual reports, and acquaintances who may have worked there or know people who have.
Make no effort to learn colleagues’ names.
No one expects you to walk out the door on your first day knowing the first and last names of every single co-worker. However, people respond more favorably to those who remember and use their names, which is why you’ll want to make an effort to remember the people you’re introduced to throughout your first few days on the job. A handy trick is to associate a person’s name with someone or something you know will jog your memory.
Use inappropriate language.
Although you may not think twice about saying a particular word while chatting with friends or family, your use of it in the workplace may offend co-workers, clients or management. In your first days on the job, the last thing you’ll want to do is offend others with language that can be easily prevented by choosing your words carefully. In addition to swearing, slang usage, like saying something "sucks," "bites" or "blows," should be avoided while in the workplace.
Abuse your cell phone.
Cell phones have become such a natural part of our life that we often take them for granted, using them while shopping, in the car, or in restaurants. They’ve even invaded the workplace, so it’s important to know when your cell phone becomes a nuisance. If you must use your cell phone, use it briefly and go somewhere private. If you are in a meeting or at a business luncheon, put your phone on vibrate or turn it off. If you must bring your cell phone to meetings, explain to those in the meeting that you are leaving your phone on and why you must have it with you.
Bumble through orientation.
Many new employees pay inadequate attention to early phases of training and orientation because it is dull, overwhelming, or appears so basic they decide it’s a waste of time. Not only does this create the perception that you are lackadaisical about your new responsibilities, you also miss out on opportunities to ask questions that will give you an advantage during your first few days on the job.
Be prepared with your Social Security number and a photo ID, and expect to fill out tax and insurance forms. If you have questions about the forms, ask for clarification or see if you can take them home to review along with any additional materials that may help explain them.
Making a conscious effort to present yourself as favorably as possible typically pays off. "If your co-workers are favorably impressed the first time they meet you, that impression will have a positive effect on how they view you in the future. In order to keep that positive impression going, however, you need to be consistent on a daily basis," advise authors Decker, Hoevemeyer and Rowe-Dimas.
"Remember that you are being judged on a daily basis by everyone you come in contact with, including your co-workers, managers and clients. You can make those judgments work in your favor by managing the impression others have of you."