I recall spending several Sundays fretting about my first day with a new employer. The imposition of having to be in good shape and in good temper rules out spending your last hours of weekend freedom in the pub. It’s just you and your nerves for a company that Sunday evening. The cruel clock ticks away hours filled with inadequately diverting televisual entertainment and panic reading of the company handbook: this is usually the prelude to a night of fitful sleep. But don’t worry: there are a number of ways to ease the transition. It’s actually quite easy to make the next few days almost bearable. Here’s our guide to surviving, indeed flourishing, in the first week in a new job.
The journey to work
Make every effort to arrive on time on your first day. Set out in the certainty that you’ve allowed enough time for an unfamiliar journey. The night before you’re due to arrive at your new employer for the first time check that there are no scheduled road or rail closures that will add time to your journey. Repeat this check the next morning by listening to local radio or breakfast television. If it looks like there are likely to be serious delays, then get on the phone and hire a taxi. If your only experience of the route to work has been on the way to interviews in the mid-morning or afternoon, consider what difference travelling during the rush hour will make. If you overcompensate and arrive at the office with half an hour or more to spare, relax, this is the perfect opportunity to have a last coffee, bacon sandwich and cigarette before announcing your arrival.
Who’s your first point of contact?
Do you know who you’re supposed to ask for when you come face to face with an inscrutable receptionist? Are you certain how to pronounce their name? Are you absolutely sure it’s 9:30 at the North Entrance and not 9:00 at the West Gate? Confusion at this stage will set your nerves on edge.
Identification and Security
A lot of larger employers take security very seriously. Your first appointment upon arriving at your new job maybe with a security officer who will take your photograph and provide you with an identity or key card. Take a look at your confirmation of employment offer. Sometimes you will be asked to bring along a couple of passport-sized photos. Alternatively, they may have their own camera for taking mugshots, so it’s worth looking extra-presentable because that image of you on a Monday morning will haunt you for years. A few seconds of preparation could save hours of trouble later.
You’ll expect to be paid at the end of your first month in your new job. The personnel department of any firm will need your banking details if they are to flood your bank account with cash. Your account number and your bank’s sort code and address should be enough. If you haven’t memorised these details, remember to take a recent bank statement with you.
Your last employer should have provided you with a P45. It’s simply an account of the money you have earned, the tax you have paid and the amount you are expected to pay in the current tax year. Your employer will be grateful if you remember to hand it over early on in the proceedings. If you have never received one, or have mislaid the original, it will be difficult to get a new one. However, a sympathetic employer will accept written evidence from your previous job that contains all the necessary information
Make yourself at home
Most employers permit a bit of personalisation of your personal workspace – family photographs, bits of shrapnel, tonsils in formaldehyde, brass rubbings and so on. Some people find that they relax more quickly if surrounded by such personal memorabilia. I’ve never subscribed to this, I am somewhat detached and immune to sentiment, but thousands find they become hopelessly emotional wrecks without constant reminders of who they are. Gather together and pack your trinkets the night before.
A growing number of firms have taken it upon themselves to be the guardians of their employees’ personal morality. Other firms have a duty to ensure that their workers do not endanger public safety. Either way, if your metabolism has any pharmacological skeletons in the cupboard, your time in that new job could be very brief indeed. I know someone who started a new job in America shortly after leaving college. He found himself on the next plane home after failing a drug test demanded by his employer. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to supply a urine sample within your first few days. We’re not encouraging you to supply a false negative result, but it is important to be aware of what the procedure is likely to be and what the risks are and how you can reduce them.
Something to read
Unless you know that your new job requires you to hit the ground running, it’s probable that you’ll be left with nothing to do for at least some of the time in the early days. So, rather than throwing away that newspaper, you found on the train, secrete it somewhere about your person; have to hand a copy of the latest thinking in your professional field; or, just bring along a novel you’d like to finish. It’s not your fault there’s nothing to do, your boss should have sorted that out. Being visibly idle might stir somebody into giving you something to do.
An outgoing personality
Like waking up in hospital with amnesia, starting a new job is one of those rare situations where you’re obliged to meet many unfamiliar people, some of whom may hold the keys to your future well being and success. In these situations, it’s always best to present a positive and outgoing personality, for a few days at least. In some ways, your co-workers are clients – here, they are buying your personality. Check out our client meetings article part one for tips on how to charm your way through this trying period of meeting, greeting and small-talk.
A significant part of the charm is being aware of who someone is, how they see themselves, what they do and what they can do for you. You’re allowed to forget or mispronounce somebody’s name a couple of times, but they’ll cease to see the funny side after a couple of weeks. So, concentrate on associating names with faces and with roles in the company from the very start. After a short time, all these biographical details will become unconsciously associated with one another and you won’t even be aware that everything has fallen into place. Such is the miracle of the human memory.
Any organisation that is rich in information technology, expertise and investment will probably have an intranet: look for a who’s who page which puts names to faces and use it as an aide-memoire – this will accelerate the whole process significantly.
Delineate your responsibilities
Your duties and responsibilities should have been discussed in detail at your last interview. However, if you find yourself stooped over the photocopier for much of your first week and you’re certain that you did not apply for a photocopying job, have a few words with your boss before everyone takes advantage of you. Yes, you should be accommodating, charming and pleasant, but don’t let people mistake this kindness for weakness. If you feel that your time would be better spent doing something else, say so firmly and do so early.
Extract valuable information from your colleagues
When getting to know your workmates, ask what your new employer offers in the way of perks and benefits. Although grasping and selfish on the face of it, it is a valid field of enquiry and many people will enjoy conspiring with you. There may be special deals on gym membership, a subsidised bar and canteen and any number of extra-curricular activities. Discuss these with your new friends over lunch (don’t even think about going to lunch alone in your first few days, you might as well turn up in a Hessian sack with the word ‘PARIAH’ sewn into the back). Spend a few minutes looking at the company notice board, or the events section of the intranet.
Have an introduction prepared
Sooner or later, you’ll be asked to introduce yourself to the rest of your department. You want to sound spontaneous, but figure out in advance who you are, what you have done and what your responsibilities will be. No one is expecting great oratory or anecdotes that will have them chuckling until they draw their last breath: no, a few nuggets of information will do the trick. A hesitant and reticent mumble won’t win much confidence – stick your chest out and say your piece, field a few questions from the floor, then sit down.
The false sense of security
So, it’s the end of your first week and everyone is eager to take you down the pub, get you drunk and get to know you. Be careful not to let your guard down at this stage – you might think you know who’s who and what’s what, but saying too much will have unforeseen consequences. Do you really want to be labelled as The Raver, The Swinger, The Football Hooligan, The Special Constable, The Weekend Soldier, The Slapper or The God-botherer in your first week? Revelations about the more salacious or idiosyncratic facets of your personality should be avoided until you’re certain that you can trust whoever you are confiding in. Moaning about an ex-girlfriend, describing in dermatological detail a recurrent rash or offering to supply ‘whatever you need, mate’ could see the shutters going up or the axe coming down.
Above all, tread carefully, but at the same time, relax…