Graduates: how to ace your first day at work

Sep 5, 2018

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Advance

There’s no doubt about it: starting your first graduate job after university can be daunting.

Even if you are the most laid-back, confident new employee out there, going into a new work environment where you have to learn everything from scratch can be tough.

 But:

You are not alone! Everyone started somewhere and everyone will have been worried ahead of their first day. And in that spirit, here are some of Advance’s top tips for not just surviving your first day at work, but acing it. 

Get the basics right

Having a good first day, and reducing the associated nerves, starts with some simple preparation. You’ll have plenty on your plate when you start a new job so save yourself additional headaches by making sure you have got everything ready that you can before the big day. 

Ahead of starting, make sure you have been in communication with your new employer to confirm key details: address of your workplace, transport links (or parking if you are driving), who to ask for when you arrive, when to arrive, and dress code. 

When you have the address, plan out your route to work and get an idea of how long it will take. If you have time and are feeling super keen, you could even do a ‘dry run’ commute to make sure you’re fully clued up on how to get there and have nothing to worry about on your first morning. 

Always leave more time than necessary for the journey to allow for the vagaries of public transport and traffic. Far better to be early than rushing against the clock and arriving sweaty and stressed. 

Make sure you are clear on what time to arrive on your first day. Often, this will be slightly different to your normal working hours (your new boss may want to get into the office ahead of you to ensure they’re ready for you), so pay attention to any differences between the usual start start time and the first day start. 

Also make sure you know who you need to ask for when you arrive. Depending on the size of the company they might be in the same office development as lots of other businesses, so seek guidance on whether you need to just say the name at reception or the name and the business you are going to be joining. 

Don’t forget to double check the office dress code. You do not want to arrive in a suit and tie if everyone else is in jeans and a t-shirt, equally you certainly don’t want to look too casual in a very formal environment. Have your outfit ready the night before. Rooting around your washing bin at 7am trying to find the jumper you wanted to wear is not all that fun. 

As well as your outfit, have a bag ready with a bottle of water, pen and paper. All three are likely to be available at the office but it never hurts to have a back up and you definitely do not want to be caught short without anything to make notes on when someone is explaining something important. 

Finally, send an email to your new employer a day or two before you start. Express your excitement at starting and take the chance to state all the details back to them to confirm everyone is on the same page. “Dear Sarah, Just a quick note to say I’m really looking forward to starting at 10am on Thursday…” 

Don’t get downbeat when it’s not the most fun you’ve ever had

You’re excited about starting your new graduate job. Great! You should be. This is the start of, what will hopefully be, a long and successful career. 

However: 

First days in any job are often boring. It’s just an unavoidable fact that starting a new job comes with lots of admin and it is important to get this sorted ahead of properly getting into your new role. 

As such, do NOT get downbeat it if at the end of day one (or even week one) you’re not running the company and employee of the month. 

Starting a new role is notoriously slow as you get set up on the company systems, learn how things function, complete health and safety, and your team get used to having a new junior person on board. 

It is also important to remember that your new colleagues and boss(es) only have a limited idea of your ability to learn things and perform. They liked you enough to give you the job, sure, but they’ve not seen you actually work. They may, therefore, start things off slowly to ensure you’re not overwhelmed and then begin to ramp things up once you have demonstrated your competencies. 

None of this reflects the fact you have taken the wrong job, it doesn’t reflect badly on you, it’s just how the vast majority of jobs start. Given it a few weeks and you’ll be flying. 

Socialise

Being good at your new job is important. OK, very important. But so is getting on with your new team. 

Even if you love your work, things can drag if you don’t get on well with your colleagues. Making a good first impression and being keen to get to know people goes a long way to cementing positive relationships. 

Getting introduced to a lot of new people in a short space of time is a recipe for forgetting and mixing up names. Don’t panic if you didn’t catch someone’s name first time round, just apologise next time you see them and ask if you could get their name again. Everyone’s been there! It is also useful to jot down names in a notepad when you can to help with the process, perhaps in the same order where people sit. 

With any luck, your new workmates will ask you to join them for lunch. Say yes! Even if you’re feeling a bit shy or you’ve brought a packed lunch and they’re going out, take the opportunity to get to know them a little bit better in a less stuffy environment than the office. 

Similarly, if people pop to the kitchen or outside to grab a coffee, try and do the same. It’s a good chance to chat to people and learn more about your co-workers. 

If you bump into people you haven’t been introduced to, don’t be afraid to say hi. Clearly if your company is 500+ strong you don’t need to say hello to everyone (that would be a tad strange) but it’s always good to be positive. 

Prepare an elevator pitch

Given you will be meeting a lot of people in a short space of time (and you will likely be wanting to impress them), it is a good idea to prepare a quick precis on yourself.

Your colleagues will want to know similar things so rather than feeling like you are having to repeat yourself, approach it as a sort of elevator pitch. 

Include things like where you went to university, what you studied, why you chose to work in this particular field, why this company, and what your long term goals are. If you can arrange those areas into a vaguely coherent narrative you will undoubtedly come across well! Try to include some personal information too (hobbies, favourite football team, recent holidays - usual small talk), as it never hurts to connect on a level beyond just professional. 

And do not forget to make similar enquiries of those people who ask you. As a younger member of the team you do not have to find out all of their aspirations but finding things in common, like universities or social activities, is a route to quick integration. 

Gauge the landscape

If you are going into a new work environment for the first time, it may take some time to get to grips with the unwritten rules of the office. 

It is, however, important to try and pick up on workplace norms so that you can work more effectively and slot into the team more easily. 

This could be simple non-work things like offering everyone a tea when you go to make one (always a good move!), or it could be more important aspects like knowing when it is appropriate to speak up in a meeting and when it is better to just listen. 

Decision-making processes can be different from organisation to organisation and from department to department. Some might be done fairly democratically with everyone getting a say as to how things should go (in which case it is good to give your opinion), while some might be decided by one person (and you should only chip in if directly asked). 

Know who you report to

This might sound a little daft, particularly if you are starting work at a company with a clear, unambiguous structure, but make sure you know on your first day who it is you need to report directly to. 

It may be that this is just your boss, it may be a more senior person in your team who has been charged with training you up, it might just be anyone in your department. Whatever the set up, ensure you know. 

You will undoubtedly have questions you need to ask and you do not want to spend your time bothering the wrong person. 

Similarly you will probably have to let someone know when you have finished a piece of work and need some more - you do not want to be sat twiddling your thumbs and waiting for something to happen. 

It is also useful to know who you can ask if it is OK to go and take lunch or finish for the day. Obviously do not be desperate to do this, but it is not unusual for it to be fine for you to leave but no-one has remembered to mention to you. And you don’t want to slink off without knowing if it is OK! 

Ultimately, starting a new graduate job is hugely exciting and just reward for three or four years of hard work at university. You want to make it the best possible experience and hopefully with thee tips you will be ready to ace your first day at work.

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