how to start your new job properly

How you handle your first few weeks on a job can set the tone for your entire stay at your new employer. Here’s how to start it off right.

1. You’ll probably be overwhelmed by all the new information, but don’t freak out about it. In my experience, you can only retain one-third to one-half of the information that’s thrown at you during your first day on a job. This is normal. Eventually it’ll all make sense.

2. Listen more than you talk. The first week is about you assembling a framework of understanding for how your new company works. Hold off on suggesting changes until you get to know the environment and employees and how and why they do things.

3. Know that some managers are better at training people than others. If your manager seems haphazard in her approach, don’t be shy about asking for what you need. It’s fine to ask things like: “What things should I be focusing on this first week?” Or, “What can I read to get a better understanding of ___?” Or, “Are there samples of how this has been done in the past that I can look at?”

4. Find out what your manager wants you to accomplish in your first month. What are the big projects you should be focusing on immediately, and what can wait?

5. Pay attention to the culture. Observe how others act and you’ll absorb a ton of information about cultural expectations. Are people compulsively on time for meetings? Do they take a real lunch or eat at their desks? What hours do most people work? Is there a lot of chitchat during the day, or do people stay focused on their work? Do people primarily use email to communicate or talk in person?

6. Don’t get drawn into office politics. Eventually you might not have a choice, but until you have the lay of the land (which generally takes months), don’t risk being associated with the office complainers or gossips. Stay positive, don’t solicit gossip, and be nice to everyone.

7. Don’t turn down offers of help. Even if you don’t think you need the help, accept assistance anyway. If nothing else, you’ll begin forming bonds, but you’ll also probably gain useful information. Keep in mind that you don’t know what you might not know!

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. bingo dauber*

    And when you ask for help, don’t bitch about computer systems that your co-workers cannot change! I’m not in IT, this computer system was here before I was hired and will be here long after I’m gone, and I certainly don’t have the importance to go to my director and demand they change the system because I find it difficult. It is what is is, and I will get short-tempered with you, new employee, if you constantly complain about this to me because it is something that I cannot fix.

    1. Ivy*

      “I will get short-tempered with you, new employee”

      Hahahaha… for some reason I think you’ve had personal experience with this particular situation :P

    2. Jamie*

      Good tip – although I would add don’t go to IT about it either.

      I’m more than willing to address issues with the system, but a brand new employee complaining about the ERP isn’t going to make us rush out and sink another 100K and a year of company wide training just because you liked the one at your last company better.

      As you are being trained keep a list of things you have questions about and we’ll be happy to show you how to get what you need out of the system.

      1. KellyK*

        Good point! It’s probably worth keeping track of problems with the system or things that your previous system handled better, so that *if and when* a new system is being considered, you can offer constructive feedback. And if nothing else, elaborating your “I hate this new system!!” griping into specific, professional, and constructive descriptions of problems can fulfill the need to gripe without annoying your coworkers, even if the opportunity to break that feedback out never presents itself.

        It’s good to keep in mind that any company system is used by people in different roles for vastly different things. Our new timesheet system, for example, is annoying in several ways that the previous one wasn’t, but it has much better reporting tools. The extra 30 seconds it might take me to record my hours or the occasional need to fix hours because it doesn’t color-code weekends or previously approved time off doesn’t really compare to the corporate office employees having easy access to useful data that they didn’t before.

        1. Jamie*

          “It’s good to keep in mind that any company system is used by people in different roles for vastly different things. ”

          Yes – and this is a point I wish everyone understood even when it comes to using it, not just evaluating it.

          Even if there is a shortcut to doing something in one module, and you seem to get the same results, doesn’t mean it didn’t screw something up down the line. I.e. it’s easier to cut a quick check than run an AP batch – hey the vendor still gets their money, so what’s the difference? Difference is that payables doesn’t get relieved this way and the accounting department will either have a series of aneurysms or quit in the face of anarchy.

          I’m a big proponent of teaching not just the specific transactions, but how the data flows through the system globally when training people because I think when you have this information you’re less likely to assume your transactions exist in a vacuum. Biggest pet peeve when I’m training someone is the question, “Do I really need to know this?” Trust me, I don’t add content because I love the training process…yes you need to know it or I wouldn’t cover it.

          1. Malissa*

            “Do I really need to know this?” Trust me, I don’t add content because I love the training process…yes you need to know it or I wouldn’t cover it.

            I love this! Also when I tell you to write down something, do it. For the exact same reasons.

  2. Jamie*

    This advice is great – and in addition there is a lot a company can do to make this easier for new hires as well:

    1. Introduce them. I don’t know why this is so often neglected, but it is. Make sure new hires meet the people they will interact with and fill them in on who does what. I can’t tell you how many times I have had strangers wander into my office looking for the IT to tell me they need a computer. Which leads us to #2.

    2. Let HR, IT, and other relevant departments know someone will be starting. It sends such a good message to the new hire if on their first day people aren’t scrambling to set up their workstation or find their paperwork. It’s irritating to be told after someone has started that they need a computer and to be entered into the system immediately – and the new hires sometimes pick up on that irritation (even though it’s not directed that them) and that’s not fair.

    3. Give them an org chart. It’s really important to get a feel for not only who does what, but who is in charge of what.

    4. First day offer to take them (or buy) lunch, but back off if they prefer to go it alone. I have always had the person training me take me to lunch, and while it’s a nice gesture the first couple of days are the times when I most desperately need a little break to be alone. New jobs = tons of new people and some of us do better if we can recharge for a half hour or so on lunch.

    1. KellyK*

      Introduce them. I don’t know why this is so often neglected, but it is. Make sure new hires meet the people they will interact with and fill them in on who does what.

      Absolutely! I think this should include both the people they will interact with in the course of their duties and the people they will interact with just by virtue of proximity. (If you’re on totally separate projects from the person two offices over, you may never *work* together, but it’s nice to know who the heck they are.)

      I also think that if you miss someone you meant to introduce them to, it’s nice to let that person know so they can introduce themselves. Not obligatory, but nice.

      1. Catherine*

        Yes, and be consistent about your introductions – one of our admin assistants will send an email to everyone in the office introducing a new employee for some, but not others. It’s kind of weird because it seems arbitrary whom she picks, and the ones who do get the email, everyone knows to stop by and say hello, but the ones who don’t, feel left out.

    2. Anonymous*

      “2. Let HR, IT, and other relevant departments know someone will be starting.”

      Ugh, YES! As an HR person, it is SO frustrating when managers just show up at my office with a new hire and are all, “Is this a good time for orientation?” I really try my best not to take it out on the employee, but I think it really reflects poorly on the manager from the new hire’s eyes, and makes me look unorganized as I scramble to get everything together with NO notice. Oh, how I LOVE managers who do things by the book and don’t just “wing it.”

      And on the other side of things, I HATE when I start a new job and I don’t even have a computer, or when you have one, but you do not have a username and password to it, and do not have access to any of the programs you need access to. OBVIOUSLY IT was not tipped off on my arrival… until I walked into the office on my first day and you thought “I guess my new hire probably needs a computer… and an e-mail address… and orientation….”

      1. cf*

        A colleague and I started on the same day, reporting to different bosses. We both had a computer, but my boss had programmed my computer’s screen saver to read, “Welcome CF!” His boss had done nothing. That was 15 years ago and I still remember.

      2. Jaci*

        I just finished my 2nd full week of work and I don’t have a computer or a desk or even a spot where I can drop my lunch bag.

        I’ve spent 80 hours of my life “observing” my coworker because I have no where else to sit and no ability to do work. I *need* a computer. I know they created this position for me, but they had over a month to get ready!

        I keep telling myself they are the idiots who are paying me to just sit there, but it’s getting old real quick. I find myself taking lots of bathroom breaks just to give my coworker a break from having me stare at her.

  3. lostandfoundling*

    I just got a great job offer 15 minutes ago, so I’m excited to put this all to work in my new position!

    If anybody else has additional advice for the newbie (as opposed to the hiring manager), I’d love to hear it.

      1. lostandfoundling*

        Thanks! And to add to the chorus — I consulted your blog every step of the way! My future boss’ boss told me my cover letter was the best she’d ever read. : )

          1. V*

            My cover letters have also been complimented in interviews, even when I didn’t get the job (and when I did!) Yay Alison!

    1. Marie*

      Congrats, lostandfoundling! I’m starting a new job next week, and I haven’t been The New Person in a looong time, so I find this post very timely! Thanks, Alison!

      Another tip I’d add (which I know has been mentioned somewhere on this blog previously): Write stuff down! Take notes when you’re being trained, and don’t be shy about asking your trainer for a pen and paper if they haven’t supplied them. If your trainer does supply pen and paper, then USE THEM. It shows you’re engaged and will be a helpful resource for you later!

  4. Lee*

    I just started a new job this week as well (and thanks in part to Alison’s awesome advice!). Things have been a bit overwhelming, but my boss and co-workers have been great about introducing me to people and getting me acclimated. It is an awesome company and they really made me feel welcome.

  5. Lisa J*

    Congratulations to all starting a new job! I’m starting a new one on the 10th, thanks in part to Alison’s amazing advice (especially about owning your interview and making sure you get the fit right). This post couldn’t have come at a better time.

    My biggest concern is finding the right wardrobe for the first day. In my current job, and all the ones prior, I had uniforms. Before that, I was in school. This is my first non-retail job. When I interviewed I noticed most people were in jeans, but I feel like I need something a step up, at least during my first week. More than jeans, less than business casual. Guess I’ll be hitting the mall next week.

  6. simple simon*

    Wondering if this advice changes at all if someone is entering a mangement position. How do you deal with your first meeting with the staff you will supervise?

  7. Lily*

    Regarding retention of 1/3 to 1/2 of the information given to you, please don’t think that you are the exception to the rule and YOU can remember everything important. Show that you appreciate the time of the people explaining things by taking notes. Ask questions if you need to.

    I think I’m pretty patient when I repeat it to you the 2nd or 3rd time, so I really don’t want to hear, “you didn’t tell me!” when I know that I did!

    If the details are written down, please consult the documentation before consulting me. If I have written down the details, I probably consult it myself when I am doing the task, so I will probably miss some details if I just tell you what I remember. So, please don’t get offended if I refer you to the documentation. I really don’t want to read it aloud to you!

    I’d like to add an 8th way to start off right. Expect that you will make mistakes and follow AAM’s advice about them, because concealing mistakes and even fixing them yourself (when you have no idea what the consequences are) is a waste of my time and yours while pointing out a mistake shows me that you are thinking about what you are doing and suggestions about how to fix it show that you are thinking about how your work fits into the grand scheme of things.

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