First day on the job, chalk board with the words How to survive

How to survive and thrive on your first day at work?

In this line of work, I see and write many advice articles for all those who are on the hunt for a new job. Things like How to Ace an Interview, what to wear for an interview, how to get a consultant to notice you, how to write the ultimate CV and so on.

These are all of course necessary when you are job hunting and I love to read and write them but the one thing that seems to be overlooked quite often is in fact that hands down scariest day in anyone’s working life. No, I am not talking about the day that you really, really, screw up and everyone finds out, but actually the first day on the job. Come to think of it the screw up day, is pretty bad too.... hmmm perhaps I will write about that one next. 

The first day at a new job is like no other, it brings pressure from every possible angle and seems to trigger every shred of self-doubt you have ever harboured while simultaneously drawing out all of the personalities you wish you had.  It’s; a bizarre and confusing situation that can very quickly lead you down a mysterious rabbit hole of weirdness that leaves you behaving like someone that not even your mother would recognise. 

While building up to day one on any job, we seem to think that it is most important to carefully consider which side of our personality we are going to lead with, you only get one chance to make a first impression after all and the scene you set on day one could potentially stick with you for the whole time you are in that role and company.

It is with this mindset that we start to examine our options. We can choose from one of our existing personalities (this would be the advised option) or we can seize this moment and opt to reinvent ourselves.  

Oh yes, as hopeless idealists, as many of us are, reinventing is always the most exciting consideration!

Your first option is to become the cheeky chappie. Who doesn’t want to be the bubbly one of the office for once, the one who is always game for a laugh, the life and soul who is great at making friends, is invited everywhere and always gets birthday presents? 

After a short time imagining yourself flawlessly portraying this role you realise the bubbly option is perhaps not for you, it is after all a hard one to maintain for any length of time, especially when you are not naturally bubbly.

What happens when you are just too tired to keep it up? Eventually, the facade slips, and you end up taking your tired sulky attitude to work with you. More than one crappy day in a row and you are suddenly faced with concerned colleagues saying, ‘you don’t seem yourself’ and being offered workplace counselling that you have to go along with, so no one finds out the truth, that you were just born crabby and crabby will always be your default personality no matter how hard you try.

It is after this realisation that this option is usually then discarded and is swiftly followed by considering the next best approach. The impossible standard of perfect presentation. 

Pristine make up, flawless outfits, highly polished shoes and a handbag to die for. That is until you remember, you went with that option on your previous, first day and by lunchtime you found yourself in the bathroom scrubbing off the makeup that was looking alarmingly orange under the harsh office lighting, studying the label on your handbag that your new colleague Sandra had very helpfully pointed out is spelled incorrectly, bringing its authenticity into question, and desperately trying to put clear nail varnish on your tights to stop the ankle to knee ladder from growing any bigger. 

For you gentlemen I feel for you on this one, your options are a little more limited, do you go for designer stubble or smooth and sleek? Do you add the cuff links and tie bar or go for hipster trainers and a blazer? It’s a mine field for all involved.

It is at this point, out of pure desperation, that you start thinking a little more creatively, you move outside of your comfort zone and start to consider a complete reinvention instead. You start to flip through the personas you always wished you had and you realise that this is your chance to be seen as an intellectual literary genius who speaks slowly in a considered and intelligent manner at all times. 

You could pocket a polka dot handkerchief and always carry a well-thumbed copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace with you or, for additional literary streetcred, perhaps you could memorise sections of Ulysses to drop innocently into conversations. Yes, this is your chance! 

You picture this one for a little while longer than the last, you start to imagine being referred to as ‘clever’ and ‘interesting’ which seems particularly appealing. But then a little voice starts to speak words of doubt in your ear. It says that knowing your luck your boss will be an avid reader or a real ‘intellectual’ and will insist on discussing the books in fine detail. You may be able to dodge it for a while drawing fragments of memories from your GCSE English literature class but eventually people will come to realise that the books are nothing more than a shameless prop, an accessory of sorts to set the personality scene. 

Oh, that could go so badly, and is it really worth risking being found out as a wannabe, or even worse as a pretender? It would bring your integrity into question, not just your personality. Hastily discarding that option, you are back to square one dreading your first day and questioning your obvious and ultimately boring normality. 

So, what are we to do? What is the best way to navigate the first day on the job? Well never fear, I have got your back. I asked a handful of people for their very best first day top tips which do upon reflection seem a whole lot better than reinvention ever did;

1. Appearance: Try to get a peek at the dress code when you sit your interview and then go for similar but understated on day one. Set your own bar pretty low, not too low mind you but presentable and tidy. This leaves you enough room for a day where you spruce up a little more and bask in the warmth of those “wow you look great” comments when you need a little pick-me-up. This is all about the long game. 

2. Check out the competition, ahem, I mean your colleagues: Watch and listen on day one, see who everyone is, see which ones brought out the personality big guns and are still trying to maintain them and which ones would be your saviour in a crisis.

3. Hang in there: Don’t be the first to leave, and avoid questions like when lunch is, when is my break, when can I go home.... believe me it is those questions that people remember you asked, most probably because they were also checking out how long it is before they can go for a tea break. For a newbie these kinds of questions, no matter how innocent, can give the impression of a lacking work ethic. 

4. Take note: Always have a notebook with you on day one. This is the day when you will be given log in details, codes to the toilets, important numbers to remember along with a ton of names. Write it all down, this is your bible, you can guarantee that in the hustle that is a first day most of this information will go clear out of your head the minute you step out of the doors at the end of your shift. Asking for the toilet code while you hop from one foot to the other desperately trying not to pee is not ideal for a second day on the job.

5. Be Switzerland: Do not get involved in existing workplace politics, never express an opinion and certainly avoid aligning on any one side. Remember there are always three sides to every story, his, hers and then the truth. If you are anything like me you will say exactly what you are thinking without a filter, offend absolutely everyone enough that they all reconcile their previous differences and you find yourself the new target of workplace warfare.

That's it! Day one really can be that simple. So, to all of you embarking on your first day, I wish you the very best of luck. Be wary of re-inventions and if you do try the literary genius personality don’t worry, no one can memorise Ulysses anyway.  

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