Since you first applied for this job, you have been building up to this day. You went through a (perhaps grueling) interview and screening process, you negotiated your salary and terms, you received an offer and signed a contract. Finally, the first day at work has arrived.
Like the first day of school, your first day in a new job can be exciting, intimidating, and nerve wracking. The same jitters, fears, hopes and plans that accompanied us all through our school years seem to reawaken on the day we are set to begin a new job.
Thankfully though, some things will have changed. Hopefully your coworkers will (for the most part) be thoughtful and mature adults who have moved past cliques and popularity contests; you will be appreciated for your specific skill set and not expected to fit a cookie cutter mold; and (with any luck) your manager will have the job because of talent and skill, and not simply because they have been there forever.
The people you will meet
We naturally tend to think about how we will feel and act on our first day; however it would be a mistake not to give some thought to the people you will see on that first day, and what your addition to the team might mean for them.
Your employer has gone out on a limb. S/he has chosen you over other candidates, and will probably want to feel reassured that s/he made a good choice. You can help your manager by expressing your appreciation for giving you this opportunity, by showing your professional abilities both to your manager and to your coworkers, and by doing your best to make the people around you comfortable.
Your coworkers may have mixed feelings about you. You are an unknown commodity, and they may have hopes for you as well as fears that you may upset the social balance, outshine them, or cause them more work. So be sure to be down to earth, friendly, and if you can, show them that you are both professionally capable and have no plans to overshadow anyone. You can do this by being open yourself, and by asking your coworkers for their take on professional issues, demonstrating that you are both a team player and able to do your own work independently and well.
Coworkers, colleagues, superiors and more junior employees may reach out to you in a friendly way on your first day; be sure to respond in kind, no matter who is reaching out. An invitation to have lunch together, small talk around the coffee corner, or just a welcoming smile are all attempts at starting the relationship on a positive note. From your end, introducing yourself first and sharing who you are with your colleagues will go a long way towards starting off on the right foot. Your reactions to friendly overtures will be noticed not only by the person making them, but also by everyone around you.
Set up your space
Starting a new job can make you feel off balance, lonely, and insecure. Setting up your workspace in way that makes you feel comfortable can help you find your equilibrium on that first day. It’s a good idea to bring a few things from home that will give you a warm feeling of comfort: a favorite coffee mug, a framed photograph of someone you love, or a few of your favorite few professional books can help create a space that feels right for you.
There are other advantages to setting up your work space with a personal flair from day one. It expresses confidence that you are there to stay; it’s a way to share yourself with your colleagues (“Are those your kids in the picture? Adorable!”); and it’s a way to display self confidence without being threatening to others.
Your new workplace is a complete unknown. You cannot be expected to know everything about your job, the social norms, and the way things are done on your first day, so don’t try to pretend you know all about it. Instead, use the opportunity to ask your manager, colleagues and coworkers. It’s a good way to break the ice, and you will end up being a more efficient employee than if you tried to either guess or figure things out on your own.
While it is a good idea to give the impression that you are committed to the team, and are not afraid to get your hands dirty, your boundaries may be tested from day one. It’s important to have inner clarity about your professional boundaries, so that you will naturally respond to boundary challenges in a professional and yet firm manner.
Boundary challenges can include requests that you take on tasks that are not in your field and are the job of a more junior employee, or expectations that you will be available after work hours to complete urgent or last minute tasks. If you have agreed to take on such tasks as part of your contract, or if the requests seem to you to be only occasional or at great need, there is room for flexibility. However if you feel that your boundaries are being tested and you know what your boundaries are, it is wise to make them clear in a friendly and professional manner right from the start.
Enjoy the adventure
First day jitters can have the adverse effect of lowering our energy and enthusiasm. Remember why you wanted this job, and savor the excitement of a new beginning. There is a lot to learn, new challenges to face, and new opportunities for professional development. Take a minute to appreciate and experience the adventure of a fresh start.