I’m moving from retail to an office job — how can I make it go smoothly?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

This week, I was offered a new job. I’ve accepted, and all being well I start in three weeks’ time. I’m fairly certain it’s an average entry-level office job, but I’m ecstatic because for the past six years, I’ve worked retail and my only other long-term work experience is from retail as well. This new position is a proper, grown-up, 9-5 office job — and I have no idea how to … do that.

For most of my working life, I’ve spent my days wearing a uniform and name badge, being told what to do and when, and having little to no control over which days and hours I work. This is the complete opposite to the position I’ve accepted.

I’m worried about all sorts of things: that I won’t be able to productively structure my time when left to my own devices, that my clothing will be “wrong” somehow, or that the company will turn around after a month and realize they’ve made a huge mistake in hiring me. I’m also concerned that I won’t fit in at all, whereas at the store I’m currently in, we all get along really well together. We’re actually friends inside and out of work, and I even met my partner here! I’m less concerned about my technical abilities or knowledge base, but of course I’m worried I’ll suddenly forget how to do everything ever.

Do you or your readers have any advice in making this transition go smoothly? Are there any common-but-not-obvious pitfalls in office-based jobs that I should be aware of? And do you have any advice on how to deal (or at least come to terms) with imposter syndrome?

Readers, please share your advice in the comment section.

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Make sure you keep your eyes and ears open, especially during the first few weeks. And think about what you see and hear. This is your time to adjust to general office culture and the specific culture of your new employer. And that can go to small things, (I remember from my first office job – business formal – that you just didn’t roll up your shirt sleeves).

    1. JSPA*

      Talk less, listen more. “Wait, what?” is a safe stalling response, if you’re 90% sure something is a joke (but maybe it is 100 percent serious, and it’s 100% bad news to confuse the two).

      You’re allowed to be a bit confused for the first few days! (And it’s so, so much better to get questions clarified while you’re new, than to play it cool until it’s been several weeks, and you’re still not sure what the frimfram is, that you’re supposed to report on, quarterly.)

      You know the magic interview question, about what it would take to really shine at a job? You can use that for tasks, too. “I’m assuming that the only right number of errors here is none, is that right? And where should I be, in terms of [speed or independence metric], by the end of my first week?”

      Proactive questions can help.

      Writing: chances are you may be given samples or a template. If not: “what tone am I going for / who’s our audience / is there a template you wanted me to follow, for continuity?”

      Numbers / number crunching: “are there any fields where the name of the field doesn’t match well with the raw data?”

      Basically, be seen to be keen to avoid needless mistakes (as opposed to petrified about eventually making a mistake–those are not the same thing).

      “New person dressed a bit more formally or informally than the norm” is not really a big deal. If you want to blend in, one rule I’ve heard is to avoid the “-est” things in your wardrobe, for the first few days. Longest, shortest, loosest, tightest, brightest, darkest. But you can also choose one thing that is “-est,” if it seems harmless to be visually remembered for that. “Chunkiest necklace,” for example. (Pick something that you won’t hate giving up, if it doesn’t really fit in.)

    2. Random Dice*

      But OP, please be aware that specific example is unlikely to apply to you. Business formal dress is pretty unusual these days, outside of certain industries.

      Most likely you’ll be in business casual, and so long as you focus on dressing and grooming yourself neatly and kind of a nice version of forgettable, as you figure out what your workplace norms are like… you’ll be fine.

      I recommend you look in Ask A Manager archives for recs about how to dress for whatever the dress code is (casual, business casual, business formal).

      Be aware that offices can be a bit more conservative in dress than retail, but you should be fine with a few pair of dark bottoms (trousers, knee length skirts if applicable, but not shorts) and nicer-than-tee tops (buttondown, blouse) in colors that you can mix and match. Have one coordinating dark not-a-hoodie warm layer (thin sweater or cardigan) if needed. Then watch how others dress, especially folks one or two levels up, for what’s seen as appropriate there.

      1. SpecialSpecialist*

        Also be aware that what’s ok for some teams your organization might not be good for other teams. In the same organization, I’ve worked on a team where it was never ok to wear jeans, a team were it was ok to wear jeans on certain occasions, and a team where it was perfectly acceptable to wear them every day. It all depended on who the boss was for that particular unit.

        So, just be careful to stick with what your own team does at first. Using the excuse of “well, the accounting team gets to wear bikinis on Fridays” doesn’t protect you if you work in Marketing and they wear parkas on Fridays.

        1. Gato Blanco*

          I agree that OP should look to their peers and immediate “chain of command” to decide what dress is appropriate. I have worked in 3 different areas in similar support/analyst roles of the same large org in the past 5 years. In the first role, everyone wore slacks, blouses/dress shirts + tie/cardigans, leather dress shoes. In the second role, black jeans, loafers, and a blouse was fine. In my current role, jeans, clean sneakers, and a non-hoodie sweater is expected and encouraged.

      2. Editor Emeritus*

        I also like nice crew neck tops, especially under cardigans. Those are really easy to accessorise.

      3. Kiwi*

        You can also ask your hiring manager! They’ll understand that you’re new to the workforce and there’s no shame in confirming their expectations so you can start on your best foot

        1. coffee*

          Yes! In fact I once contacted a new employee to our team to give them information (like, our office address) and they asked about the dress code. I was like “What a great question, good forethought to ask about it.”

      4. DJ Abbott*

        I looked high and low for a new cardigan and didn’t find one. They’re all made in this weird way-too-big way, which makes it impossible for a small person to find one that fits.
        So I wouldn’t count on being able to find a good cardigan. One thing that’s common around here is a denim jacket, so that might work for a casual or business casual. I’ve also been getting along with a button down shirt made of indoor/outdoor material that I wear as a jacket. And for winter, I got a couple of nice fleece jackets to wear instead of sweaters.
        So see what you can find, ideally after you’ve seen what your colleagues wear.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          In many places I’ve worked, any denim was forbidden, though sometimes I could fly under the radar with black denim jeans (never blue though).

  2. NYCRedhead*

    Best wishes on this exciting new change!

    I find that office work, especially in the beginning, is likely to have more down time than retail. So you might want to think about ways to use that time productively: trainings, manuals, even reading industry websites. It can be tempting to fill it with more personal-related tasks like surfing the net but your coworkers can likely tell and you don’t want to seem not diligent or focused.

    1. kjack*

      To add to this – if you find yourself with downtime, ask your supervisor if there’s something else you can work on or even if there’s someone you can shadow. Some of the time the answer may be no, but at least you look like you’re taking the initiative instead of just sitting there waiting for someone to give you something to do. If there isn’t anything else for you to work on, pay attention to what other folks do in their downtime and tailor what you do accordingly. Maybe you do work in an office where browsing the internet is both common and accepted when you’re not working on an immediate task, or maybe it’s better to pop to the kitchen and get a cup of coffee or something like that.

      I know from experience it will be hard getting out of the ‘if you have time to lean, you have time to clean’ mindset, but if you find yourself with downtime, do your best to enjoy it while you can! Office work ebbs and flows, and figuring out how best to structure your day is something that will come with time.

      1. Random Dice*


        If you don’t have work to do for a bit – say you submit a report and have to wait for others to edit or approve it – don’t be on Facebook or your phone.

        Instead, do training. Google things people mention in meetings. Ask if your company has a training portal. Check out YouTube videos on tips and tricks for how to use Microsoft tools (Word, Excel, etc). Sign up for free classes online about something related to your work (your manager or trusted colleagues can point you toward topics).

        Read the archives at Ask A Manager.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          In my first office job, I definitely did a lot of trainings during my downtime. It was definitely a place where I’d write a proposal or report, then wait until my supervisor read it and gave feedback. I could use Word and Excel and stuff fine, but it had a lot of functionality I didn’t know about. Nothing pretties up a spreadsheet like (meaningful!) conditional formatting. I don’t know about where you are, but I can access LinkedIn Learning for free through my public library.

        2. Caroline*

          I am full time remote and the urge to be lazy in these down time moments is… a lot!

          What I do is FIRST, read through documentation / my emails or something definitely productive, SECOND, take 5 mins to do something personal admin-like, but work-connected, like read through pension paperwork or fill in a form or something like that. THEN if there’s still time, I set a 10 min timer and FB merrily (on my own phone, not on work PC) and guilt-free!

      2. DJ Abbott*

        Before you turn to downtime activities, look around, review your notes, and see if there is anything you can work on, such as a back burner project. Doing as much work as you can will make a very good impression.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Good point. If you ask your colleagues if you can help them, it’ll probably reflect well on you.

    2. Over It*

      Thirding this. Also if your company doesn’t have an intensive, structured onboarding process—and the majority of companies do not—it may take several weeks to a couple months to reach a full workload, as becoming self-sufficient to manage your work takes time in any new job. This may not be universal, but it’s not abnormal, so don’t stress if everyone else seems way more busy than you at first. You’re not a slacker and you’ll get there in due time.

      1. CRM*

        THIS! I’m on month 3 of a new job at the mid-career professional level, and last week was the first time that I had enough work to fill an entire 40 hour week (and have the ability to do that work independently). With an entry level job it might take even more time. Give your best effort to whatever work you get assigned, and become comfortable with the downtime in-between. Don’t worry if it feels like you are doing less than your coworkers- that is perfectly normal.

        One suggestion for how to fill your spare time: Ask your manager/HR Partner/coworkers about what professional networks exist within your company. Many companies, even ones that are medium or small sized, will have affinity groups, learning and development classes/programs, and career development seminars. Now is a GREAT time to get involved in those programs. You will be able to think more broadly about your goals for the future at (or outside of) the company, and they are usually a great way to network and build relationships outside of your team, which will help you feel more integrated.

        1. Lyudie*

          My previous company even had an organization for new employees, even if you’d been here a year or more. I don’t know how common that is. I really like the idea of asking about internal groups.

        2. nobadcats*

          And another thing you can do, if you’re in the office, is look up and say, “Hi, what can I help you with?”

          I’m a fairly senior person in our now-remote office, but the eye contact and smile went a long mile for me. I had the space to say, “Hrm, okay, let me look at that and see if I can fit it into my schedule.” Always give yourself space and the questioner an easy out to say, “Oh, wait, actually, this should go to…” and you space to say the same back to them.

      2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        I always think I don’t feel “settled” into a job until a full year as past- getting the basics of the job, the office culture, see how the seasonal trends are, how the office handles absences and vacations, etc.

        1. Over It*

          In my personal experience it’s taken about six months vs a full year, but yeah this is an important thing to point out. Unless your job has an extremely limited scope of work, it will take at LEAST a few months to feel fully settled. That’s not talked about a lot, but it’s SO normal!

        2. GRA*

          This is what I tell all my new employees – it will take you a full year to really know your job. So as long as you work hard at what you can, show that you’re paying attention / grasping the skills needed for the position, there is not the expectation you’ll know everything right away!

          1. No Longer Looking*

            That sort of depends on your level. In accounting, 100% true. In data entry, you better be running at full speed within a week, and should know most of the oddities within a month.

            I’ll also note that a LOT of the answers for “what is an office like” will be more variable than “what is retail like” would be. While there are some similarities there is a LOT of variance over how vacation is handled, what dress code is acceptable, how busy you will be, and so forth, and often those vary by office, or by job title, or by manager/dept.

    3. Smithy*

      To add onto this, I also think that making asks of colleagues once a quarter for a 30 minute coffee is a good way to break up slower periods as well as blocks of monotonous work where you need a break to help focus. Whether it’s doing data entry or technical writing, those kinds of tasks can really benefit from not working straight through.

      Additionally, even if you work in an open office plan – if the office is quieter and without regular “staff going to lunch/happy hour” options – those coffees can be great ways to learn softer cultural parts and other questions related to the job. Questions around vacation time, styles of dress (i.e. open toed shoes/shorts in this particular office during the summer??), how annual evaluations work, etc. Those questions can come up over time and seem too small to necessarily ask in a 1 on 1 with your supervisor.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        My company has a “buddy system” for this very purpose. New hires get paired up with someone adjacent to their work (or in the same role if possible), but not senior to them. It makes folks more comfortable asking questions about office culture and whatnot. We can take our buddy out to coffee a couple of times in the first few months of their employment, which is a great opportunity to feel like you’re not being overheard in our open office.

        I would highly recommend the LW see if coworkers (who don’t manage them) want to get coffee or sit together at lunch and ask if they don’t mind the questions. One coworker and I used to take short walks outside when she was new and wanted to pick my brain.

    4. Ellen*

      But also… In most offices, don’t feel guilty about occasionally surfing the net. Your coworkers are probably doing it too. You don’t have to be productive every second of every day!

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        This was my culture shock going from a retail-type job to an office. The whole, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean,” was drilled into me and I was just so surprised that I didn’t have to find something performative to do every single second of my shift.

        As for structuring your day (especially with downtime), you don’t have to figure that out all in the first day, week, or even month. You will figure out the deadlines, your workflow, then fill in the effort needed to meet it. Your colleagues are expecting you to take longer and you’ll have a bit of leeway in the beginning. Use that time to breathe and observe. There is a lot to be said by just closing your mouth, opening your eyes and ears, and just learning the environment.

        Also befriend the lady (idk why, but for me it’s always been a woman) who supports your department (the one who knows the trick with the copier, who has a friend in accounting who will come through for people in a pinch, who can fast-track your late TPS report…). Having her in your corner will pay off so much.

        1. Merry*

          +1 for “befriend the support personnel.” Of course one should be cordial to everyone, but I’ve found luck in respectfully asking anyone in my own team if there are certain staffers where it’s valuable to be on their good side: specific executive assistants that support a leader I’d interact with frequently, or particular admins/finance staff that can cut an 11th hour check if you’re in their good favor. And yes, those staffers are typically very underappreciated for all they do.

          OP, best of luck with your role and new path!

        2. paxfelis*

          …. I think I’m one of those, and they’re going to be hurting when I go to my new job at the end of the month.

          Anyway, speaking as a person who knows people at work: be friendly. Get to know the IT people, the secretaries (who are more able and more likely to help than the people they’re secretaries for), whoever orders supplies, the workers in the cafeteria or the coffee shop, the janitorial and maintenance staff. Concentrate on the support structure, the ones who have to do what needs to be done. Be friendly, be willing to help them if you can, and they will be willing to help you.

          Try and learn from anyone you can. Take notes, or do whatever you do to help yourself remember. If you’re like I was, you’re going to be having major imposter syndrome and thinking that all you know is retail, so you don’t know anything here. WRONG OH SO WRONG. A lot of retail/customer service skills will transfer over, as well as a lot of work habits if you were any sort of good employee. It won’t be the same: it will probably be similar enough to be useful and get you brownie points.

          1. Corporate Goth*

            Seconding this, both parts. Know who to contact – being nice will go a long way in getting info you need.

            And some skills will absolutely transfer over, though possibly in an unexpected form. Don’t forget – they hired you. That means they saw something in you worth hiring. Good luck!

        3. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Not always; we had one nice gentleman who was the go-to for one certain department. If you wanted something signed by the big boss, being good to him was a very good idea (though he was actually that nice, so no real effort there).

      2. ecnaseener*

        I would say when you’re brand-new, play it safe on that and watch what others do. Establish yourself as a diligent worker before you start letting people see you taking an internet break at your desk (specifically at your desk makes a difference I think – visibly taking a break is fine, if you appear to be working until someone looks at your screen they might wonder how often that’s the case).
        When you’re new, getting to know your coworkers is probably a better use of downtime anyway.

        1. Random Dice*

          And keep your mouth shut about hot button topics:

          1) politics
          2) sex
          3) details of religion (“my house of worship had a kids fair this weekend” is fine if it feels safe to you, but stay away from”the sermon was so interesting, it was about…” or proselytizing or anything that could make someone of another faith feel uncomfortable)
          4) private body info (looking at you, former bosses and coworkers)
          5) Deep info about your life – keep it high level, have some go-to neutral topics (sports, cooking, gardening, etc) that you use for chit chat with folks as you feel each other out

          1. blabbity blah blah blah*

            Seconding this. I’ve experienced so many new (mostly young, but sometimes not) employees who want to verbal vomit their entire life story, dirty details about their last employer, food and dietary and related bodily issues stories, issues with their partner on their first day. I assume it’s because they’re nervous and aren’t sure what to talk about, so they fall into the trap of talking about everything.

            1. There You Are*

              Yeah, I worked retail for a decade or so before moving into white-collar work. Then, during the Great Recession, I took a retail job again after I finally got snagged in yet another round of layoffs.

              “Retail informal” is miles away from “Office informal”, in my experience. I would never in a million years share with my fellow corporate office workers the same stuff that I shared / talked about with my retail coworkers.

              It’s like the difference between hanging out with your S.O.’s older sibling or cousin vs having dinner with their parents / grandparents.

        2. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Also, if you do see someone goofing off and the boss is headed that way, a discreet warning will be very much appreciated, and they’ll know you weren’t hired to be a snitch.

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        Important to remember that few jobs (including retail, labor, etc) actually require constant work for the entire shift… because people just don’t do well with that. We need breaks, physically and mentally, in order to stay focused and productive. Management in many jobs might say they want constant productivity, but almost never get it because it’s an unreasonable demand people find ways around.

        They key difference is that in jobs like retail, food service, etc. the cues for when a break is acceptable are more external and more structured. The work is physically around you, it’s easy to see how much is left, you can see what your coworkers are/aren’t doing, and timelines are very short-term (“by the end of the day” is the longest you’ll usually have), all of which gives a lot of immediate feedback about whether some downtime is okay at any particular moment.

        In an office job, a lot of those cues are missing. Work may have long or unclear deadlines. You can’t tell what exactly your coworkers are doing at any given time. Feedback is rarely immediate. There may never be a point where you can look around and reasonably think “I’ve done everything I can do, there’s no work left.” This can make it tricky to tell what’s appropriate. Some people swing too hard towards slacking, but some people get anxious about taking ANY downtime at all… that’s a quick way to end up frustrated, stressed, and burned out.

    5. AngryOctopus*

      By the same token, don’t try to fill your 8 hours every second with WORK TASKS for fear that you’ll be seen as not dedicated if you don’t. You’ll see more norms as you spend more time in the office, but it’s fairly likely that you’re allowed to give yourself 15-20′ for a coffee break, to read a news story or make a quick phone call, etc. How you structure yourself will depend on how your company works time-wise and what deadlines you might have, but you may find it’s useful for you to get tasks X and Y done before lunch when you focus better (or after, as the case may be), or that you really really need a coffee break at 2 because your focus starts to wane, but that gives you the boost you need to complete Task A by 3:30 as required. It may take a month or two for you to work out how you do best and I hope your company is the kind that doesn’t care when you do what as long as it’s done on time. Best of luck in the new adventure!

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Breaks are so important and can be tricky to navigate in an office setting. In retail and service industries, breaks are usually built into the schedule (10 minute, 30 for lunch and so on) with who’s on said breaks being staggered so there’s coverage on the floor.

        Outside of possible lunch hours this most probably isn’t the case with office jobs. Definitely watch and learn the culture of what’s cool (normal to get a coffee, run an errand) and what isn’t (do not leave your phone unattended for a hour.)

    6. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      I also think that you should feel comfortable asking your manager and/or the people training you “hey, if I find I have some downtime, what things would you recommend I do with that time?” You may find out about back-burner projects, or other things you can work on when that downtime comes up.

      It can also help to use that time to reinforce the learning you are doing. Double check your work, make sure you feel you have a full understanding of processes. Don’t feel like you need to work as fast as possible unless you’ve been given hard deadlines with short turnaround times. Things always take longer when you are learning, and that is okay and expected in most workplaces.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        That is good, with my first real office job, I was tasked with filing in my downtime. It was productive, and by reading old files I got a good sense of the work that we did.

      2. Ophelia*

        Seconding this, and that when I was new to the office-workforce, I found it helpful to make myself a little schedule. Because I was generally left to my own devices about time management, it helped a LOT to really clearly map out “ok, what do I need to complete, when is it due, and what do I need to do to complete it?” This sort of basic planning task will also help you start to see where you have questions (particularly when the question “what do I need to do?” still feels unclear), and that can help you structure time with your manager around those questions.

    7. Aerin*

      As you get to know your coworkers, I would ask them how much downtime they tend to have in general, and also how they structure their days. That will give you a sense of the expectations and maybe some strategies you can use for determining how to approach your tasks.

    8. Cheezmouser*

      Another vote for this. When my husband moved from retail to entry-level office work, there was a fair amount of down time between busy times, since tasks came in batches. Most of his coworkers watched YouTube during down time. He did too, but he also used some of the down time to get to know people from other departments, chat about sports/TV shows, and this eventually turned into him asking them about their work and shadowing them. They were happy to show him because he was cool and he had built a friendly relationship with them first. He was able to advance out of the entry-level position fairly quickly by transitioning to another department.

      Bottom line: yes feel free to unwind during your down time, but also take advantage of it to meet people and learn new skills. This is what real networking looks like.

  3. Sarah McHone-Chase*

    I think I felt a lot of these same feelings when I started working a 9-5. To be fair, I never completely fit in anywhere, but I did find it really useful to just observe how others are–what are they wearing? How are they behaving? It helps to have a supervisor that you feel comfortable asking questions of regarding culture, etc. Take a lot of notes, for your own benefit. Being self-motivated and having a good attitude can go a long way, too. Once you learn the particulars of the job, I don’t think it will be scary and you’ll have a good idea of what needs to get done each day.

    1. sookie st james*

      Second this – take your cues from others and don’t be afraid to ask. They hired you and presumably know your work history, so you don’t need to act like you’ve been in offices for years.

      Also ‘fitting in’ in an office is likely to look very different from retail/hospitality jobs. I wouldn’t expect the socialising and bonding to look the same, you’re probably less likely to become best buds with everyone (even if you do end up making a few good friends you see outside of work, the ‘group vibes’ are just different). You may also need to recalibrate some of your norms around what appropriate small-talk looks like with coworkers in an office. At my hospitality jobs we were very close and would share everything about our dating lives, families, partying, etc – details that would be inappropriate or unprofessional in an office. Some people still have office mates like this but they’re rarer and you want to err on the side of caution til you’ve got the lay of the land

      1. L'étrangère*

        Really good advice there. You might end up with some friends, but most likely you should only aim for friendly relationships. You are more likely to run afoul of office politics if you try to cultivate deep friendships at work. Try to pay more attention to people’s competence than to their personalities. Cliques are actively harmful in an office, and you don’t want to contribute to that kind of culture. So spend the next few weeks connecting up with old friends, so your sociability is not constrained by work ties

    2. Frank Doyle*

      All this advice to observe what other people are doing is spot-on, just make sure you are observing the right people! People with more seniority than you will have more flexibility with their schedule (for example). And some people might be on the razor’s edge of a PIP, and are not to be emulated! So make sure to pay attention to what EVERYBODY is doing, and try to figure out who has it together (and is at a similar level to you).

      And in a similar vein, don’t get conspiratorial with anyone too soon (if at all). It may be feel comforting to have an ally early on, but you don’t want to be talking sh*t on other people with the person who’s about to be fired, you know? Figure out the lay of the land first, have an open mind, be kind to everyone.

      1. Jane*

        I second, third and fourth this advice. Sometimes the people who are the friendliest when you start are the people who are not necessarily the best role models. I had an experience when I was young of a small group of three 0ffice mates taking me under their wing as the new person. They took me along for extra-long, chatty coffee breaks and long lunches where they complained about everyone else. At first I thought it was nice to have a group to hang with, but after a while I realized they were not the up-and-coming crowd, and not highly regarded by the managers for their diligent work ethic. I finally started politely stepping back when these new friends sat me down one day and told me I was working too fast and getting too much done, and it was not good for everyone else (i.e. them) by comparison. The lightbulb went on, but it took a while!

      2. JSPA*

        Oooh, yeah. The people in trouble, the people who like to stir up trouble, and the people who are trouble, will come in hot and heavy, compared to everyone else. Be cordial, but don’t spend your first couple of days making best friends.

        Make the positive statements broad; deflect (but mentally bookmark) other people’s negatives.

        [implication that you can go for coffee with them every morning and find out exactly how the office works]

        “Oh, you’re so sweet! Everyone here is so nice!”

        [grumble grumble, I suppose you’re still new enough to think so]

        “That’s the great thing about being new, right? I get to take everyone at face value for a while.”

        Now, to be clear, if someone is trying to warn you of actual danger–rare, and getting rarer–then, indeed, do not go in the supply closet with Creepy Dan, to check out that blown fuse in the back corner. But most people treating their wisdom as “need to know,” and wanting you to suck it down in deep draughts on day 1, are peddling drama and biases.

        “I’m just glad to be here” and equivalent verbal pablum is just fine for a week or two. They can learn about your brilliance and incisive wit later, after you size things up yourself.

        1. WestsideStory*

          Agreeing on this. In the most dysfunctional office environments, the person who is often the most enthusiastic about getting friendly with you is also often the person that has no other office friends – because they are gossipy, or screw up too much or (sadly) have massive personal issues they will heap on you because no one else wants to hear it anymore. You’ve been in retail, so you may have a better radar about coworkers than say someone just out of school; by all means be friendly and pleasant but don’t be so quick to forge alliances that may not be helpful.

  4. ErinWV*

    It’s been a long time since I made this migration, but let me congratulate you on your newly free evenings and weekends.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      That depends on the industry, unfortunately; plenty of us are “9 to 5” in name only especially if salaried and in the US.

      But I have fingers crossed for the LW that perhaps they fall into the true 9-5 category where work ends when the clock strikes 5, and weekend emails/texts from the boss are not a thing :)

      1. There You Are*

        Even if LW’s job is like mine, where you’re never truly, fully disconnected from work, at least they can enjoy going to the bathroom whenever they feel like it without asking permission, even if it’s in the middle of a meeting.

        And, assuming it’s not a “We’re like family!” toxic environment, congratulations on being treated like a responsible adult who can be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of the team / product / company.

  5. T.N.H.*

    My biggest pieces of advice is to find a mentor. Lots of companies have full programs dedicated to this. Your mentor should not be your boss, and (in a larger org) you might even fill out a form where you can be matched with someone of a similar background. If your company doesn’t have this you can look online or at local networking and non-profit groups.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      If you have a team lead or a coworker assigned to help train you, they might become your default mentor.

      I agree with everything posted so far. Observe, ask questions, & spend downtime learning what you can about the company, etc.

    2. AGD*

      Came here to say this. Someone you can ask about the general culture and expectations goes a long way!

    3. OrdinaryJoe*

      Yes! This, for sure. Someone you click with, that’s been at the organization awhile but maybe close to your own age or a few years older, someone that seems friendly and seems to get along and have a good working relationship with a bunch of other people.

      This is a great person to ask ‘stupid’ questions to, company culture questions, what the unspoken norms are, whatnot.

  6. Critical Rolls*

    I’d say, do as much observation as you can; see if you can suss out someone respected who can be a low-key mentor; and fake it ’til you make it. And give yourself some grace. I know little mistakes can feel like a huge deal when you’re new and nervous in an environment, but they rarely are, and everyone around you made mistakes before they got acclimated too. (Indeed, some never stopped.)

    1. ThatGirl*

      Agree with this – observe, take notes if needed, emulate others until you get your own stuff down. You can and should ask about dress code beforehand.

      In general you will not need to ask permission or even let anyone know you’re using the restroom, taking a quick coffee break, etc. This will get easier with time.

      It’s also totally OK not to know everything at once – good companies have onboarding and training that will help you get acclimated.

    2. ICodeForFood*

      I agree with this, too, especially “Give yourself some grace.” And remember that the company that hired you for this office job wants it to work out, too! Let your management know that you’re open to feedback: if there’s a better way to do a task than the way you did it, you genuinely want to know, because you want to do things as best you can.

      1. ICodeForFood*

        Oops… I also wanted to add my congratulations! I’m sure you will do well! (Please update us at some point when you’ve gotten more comfortable in the new role!)

  7. Terrible as the Dawn*

    First: congratulations! I made a similar transition myself after almost a decade in retail, where I was totally miserable. Here are some quick tips:

    If you start out with basic slacks/trousers and oxford shirts or blouses, you won’t stand out while you get the lay of the land, wardrobe-wise. No one is paying as much attention to your outfit as you are!

    Bring your lunch until you figure out what the lunchtime norms are–and if you’re not sure about refrigeration or microwave access, make it something that doesn’t need either.

    You’re almost certainly going to have real downtime, which is not a thing in retail (“time to lean, time to clean” UGH). Downtime is okay! That’s just how business rhythms are. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your designated trainers. Jot down as many notes as you have to. They hired you, which means they saw something in your skillset that they like a whole lot and will pay you money for, so smother that imposter syndrome. I’m betting that after so long in retail, you have really valuable soft skills that many white-collar workers never have to develop.


    1. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

      I would like to emphasize the jotting down notes. A small notepad, or maybe a tablet with a stylus is good for this (typing on your phone could be misinterpreted as not paying attention). You are going to probably be told how to do many things in a short period of time, and you don’t want to keep re-asking the same questions. Taking notes also shows you are listening and eager to learn and retain it.
      I also had a philosophy that any procedure that resulted in me getting paid was worth learning the first time and learning well (time entry, expense claims, etc.)

      1. All That Glitters*

        Seconding taking notes. Also, ask where they keep process documents. Having resources to look back at and review can help you get used to the new work you’ll be doing, and it shows you are actively engaged in learning your job. Best wishes

        1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

          if there aren’t a lot of process documents, this may be something you can offer to work on, to make things easier for the next new person. This is how I got started as a technical writer, which turned into a full-time career!

        2. JTB*

          SOP, or standard operating procedure, documents are definitely a good place to look and it also show how effective they are for someone starting from the ground up, a useful piece of feedback for whoever maintains them.

      2. Florp*

        Yes, notes! And notes can include coworkers’ names and what they do. You can meet a lot of people the first few days, and it’s nice to have a cheat sheet if you’re trying to remember who orders staplers a month from now, or who trained you on the database that you didn’t actually have to touch for six months.

        1. Other Alice*

          This reminded me that one of the most useful things I got at my first Proper Job was a little map of where everyone sat, so I could annotate it with what they did.

    2. Era*

      Thirding jotting down notes — and expanding that out to thinking about how you’re going to keep track of tasks across hours and days! Writing down everything I have to do in the same place is key for me to keep on top of it all. Your organization may have a set way to do that (a task management system like using Outlook tasks or Basecamp or something), but if you have a planner, notebook, or any other system you’re comfortable with that’s a good tool to have as well

      1. ILoveLlamas*

        Fourth on note-taking. I kept a notebook that had instructions for logging into different tools, where to look for what, who did what — I still refer to it a year later. Good luck!

    3. cleo*

      I also want to emphasize the soft skills as well! That’s a huge advantage.

      I haven’t worked retail in at least 2 decades but I use the people skills / customer service skills that I learned in retail All. The. Time. I currently have an office job working in digital communications.

    4. PsychNurse*

      Yes to very conservative clothing! You may have some co-workers who are fashion plates, who wear bright colors and high heels and elaborate jewelry. Over time, you may develop a style too. But for the first few weeks or months– black slacks, a conservative top or sweater, flat black shoes. (I realized I’m assuming you’re a female; if you’re a male it’s the same thing although you’d probably be less likely to go outside that anyway)

    5. Death Cat*

      Chiming in with a hard agree regarding soft skills (and imposter syndrome). I got a retail job right out of college, and ended up working there eight years (including meeting and marrying my husband!). I had trouble getting my first non-retail job, even after completing a graduate degree.

      So I definitely had a lot of imposter syndrome and embarrassment about my retail work, for the first few years I was in office roles. Over time, I came to realize that there is nothing embarrassing about working retail! It’s hard work, and I learned so much during my time there. And not just customer service or people skills, but process management, communication with all different kinds of people, dealing with difficult personalities, time management, etc. Once I was more comfortable with owning my experience, I was more comfortable speaking to those skills in interviews and making on the job suggestions based on my experience. I wasn’t an entry-level employee, I had valuable insight to share, and it was often from a perspective no one else in the room had.

      I’m now five years out from my transition into office jobs, and I’m crushing it in my first manager role (largely due to skills and insights I gained during my retail experience).

  8. Indigo*

    Keep an eye out for the lunch culture, don’t just assume you need to eat quickly at your desk or that you can take an hour for lunch

  9. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

    For clothes, don’t rush out and buy a bunch of things right away. If there’s a dress code, basic things that fit that are a good place to start. But after a bit you can get a feel of what level of dress people in the office and start building a work wardrobe that you like.

    Be friendly, but focus more on learning the job vs making friends in the beginning.

    Congratulations! I’m sure you’ll do great!

    1. Mr. Cajun2core*

      In most places, there is no harm in asking before you start if there is a dress code. If you feel uncomfortable doing that, on your first day wear what you wore to the interview. It is better to be overdressed than underdressed.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Totally agree re: asking. If there’s an HR contact you’re working with, that might be a “safer” person to ask culture or logistical questions vs. your new boss, if you’re worried about that. (On the other hand, if it’s a big company, they might not know your specific team’s culture.)

    2. Smithy*

      Here to second not buying a lot of things right away.

      I’ve only had one office job that had a dress code, and it was at a hospital. So the code was very strongly applied to those who worked with patients but for research assistants – there were the elements of the dress code, but 100% a whole other unofficial dress code for our office/kind of work.

      In every other job I’ve had there’s never been a dress code – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Therefore, I recommend taking the Steve Jobs/Elizbeth Holmes approach a first of having enough general basics to get through the work week until you decide how you actually want to dress for that office.

      1. amoeba*

        When I went from academia to industry, I just wore the nice-looking/somewhat more professional part of my non-work clothes for the first few days. I’d guess you probably already have something slightly more polished in your wardrobe? I think I went with loafers, dark jeans and a blouse (nice top, pullover…)
        Turned out pretty quickly that nobody cares and I quickly went back to wearing whatever I like. Which can be on that more polished side, but could also be graphic t-shirts and Dr. Martens, as long as it’s clean and doesn’t have any holes or offensive prints!
        So, yeah, if you have something that you’d feel good in for the first few days, I’d personally postpone shopping. Unless of course it’s stuff you’ve been wanting to wear anyway, in which case, go for it!
        (Also, any chance you already saw a little bit of the dresscode during the interviews? For those, my now colleagues also wore whatever in my case, so was at least sure no formal wear would be required…)

        1. Smithy*

          I’m in the nonprofit sector – which depending on which job, has hit the ranges of business casual+ to fairly casual. But at one job general dress was so casual that an email did have to go out once saying that staff were encouraged to wear pants and trousers without holes in the crotch.

      2. Liz the Snackbrarian*

        I work at a research hospital and the dress code is very lax for people in the labs. The doctors seem to be pretty all over the place. My boss is fine with me wearing jeans

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I once worked in a place with a bunch of lawyers and legal assistants (I am neither) and the range in clothing was WILD. We’re talking a range from cargo shorts and leggings as pants to suits. By and large, it was the people who had been there for years who dressed the most casually, except for those nearer the top of the hierarchy, who dressed nicely. I went for polished, but not fancy. Like cowl-neck shirts/camisoles and cardigans. Not so much button-up shirts (which I generally hate) and blazers. And leggings only under dresses.

        1. Baroness Schraeder*

          Unrelated but wow, wouldn’t it be nice to have that sort of confidence though! (Hopefully I would use it for good and not evil… mwahahaaaahaaaaa)

      3. Florp*

        Comfortable shoes! You may get tours of the office your first few days. Go for an inoffensive rubber soled loafer instead of heels. Then, depending on office culture and flooring, you can have more fun with shoes later.

      4. sometimeswhy*

        Thirding/N-th-ing not buying a lot right away. There can be some surprises that would be okay anywhere else but if you’re in or around a particular environment, wouldn’t be. Where I work, legs covered + close-toed shoes are the norm for anyone who goes through the space, not just the people who work in it full time so, like, our IT person can’t wear ballet flats even though the same job in a different place, she could.

    3. Not a SuPURRvisor*

      Yeah when I started I made sure I had 2 pairs of slacks/khakis and 3-5 nice shirts and a blazer for extra dressy.

    4. sdgbjewoh*

      It can also be expensive to buy a new business/ business casual wardrove right away. What I’ve done in the past is buy one or two pairs of pants (neutral colors/ styles that go with anything), and then buy blouses/ blazers from the thrift store. I’ll mix and match throughout the week. For my body, tops are more forgiving then pants – hence buying the pants outright instead of hunting for something that fits me well at the thrift store.

      1. Florp*

        This is good advice. Plus, a casual thrift store top can be dressed up with a cardigan and a necklace.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          And don’t forget the power of a nice scarf! It elevates basically any outfit.

  10. SpringIsForPlanting!*

    Big picture, identify a good role model or two, and a good person or two that you can ask practical questions of. Maybe the same person, maybe not.
    Small practical thing: Make sure you know the basics of the email and calendaring system used by your office, AND how your office uses them. (Does everyone schedule meetings by sending an invite? Do people respond in the calendaring system? How is availability checked? What’s the etiquette/practices around cc’ing people to keep them in the loop? Around responding to acknowledge that an email is received?)

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Yes, an excellent point! Meeting scheduling is quite possibly the single biggest culture shock of my newish job. Early in the role, I kind of broke down when someone casually told me to set up a meeting and started walking away. “How!?”

      She thought I was asking how outlook worked, lol. It was just the tipping point of frustration about being thrust into a work environment when no one had the capacity to onboard me in a thoughtful way.

  11. Sunshine*

    In my experience, it’s rare for office jobs to have the same camaraderie as retail and service jobs. Sometimes one gets lucky. But if you do basically small talk and don’t have that rapport, don’t think it’s you not fitting in. Office jobs just don’t foster the same kind of connections!

    Also remember, lots of people work retail before office. Even if their “career” phase is all office, people work service jobs in high school or college and then start their career. You won’t be the only former retail worker, and it doesn’t taint a person. But yeah, learning what’s different in this environment will help you.

    Good luck, and enjoy not asking for coverage to use the bathroom!

    1. k*

      Agree, a lot of office jobs are friendly but less likely to all be friends outside of work than retail. It’s important to keep in mind because that can be a big adjustment if you’re not expecting it. If it’s all small talk and polietness that’s fine! Nothing to take personal or worry about.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Agreed. I think a lot of that has to do with the activity, or maybe motion level. In retail, yes, you may stand at the cash register, but you or your colleagues naturally walk around. At a desk job, you sit at your desk.
        If people come over, it is specifically to talk to you (other than trips for coffee, rest room) but otherwise, you are focused on your tasks, on your screen, on your desk.
        Hopefully, your boss will assign a peer to onboard/train you. Take good notes. Good luck. And congrats.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My personal experience has been that we’re not all suffering together at the office. At my retail/service jobs we had to be friends to survive. Even if we hated each other.

          1. Gracely*

            This is actually a really good insight. When I think back on the jobs I’ve had where I was closer with my coworkers, the one thing they have in common is we were definitely suffering together.

          2. Anne Shirley*

            I’m currently in my first office job after retail and yes this. It’s the suffering that built the camaraderie. But also I only have 2 coworkers now and both come from very different walks of life than I do and I thought maybe that played a role in it feeling different. I’m curious to see how that changes (if at all) in the future if I have to work with people closer to my age/experience. I imagine it still won’t quite be the same.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            Granted, I have the luxury of a very, very, functional office environment. I even actively like my coworkers, we just don’t hang out after hours. Maybe we would if we didn’t see each other all day? But we don’t live near each other and everyone has family lives of some sort.

            I am actually friends with some former coworkers, though, so at least some office friendships can stick.

          4. allathian*

            Yeah, I guess I got lucky in my retail jos, because I never felt like I suffered when I worked there. Sure, there was a lot of camaraderie, but the main reason for that was that I was in my teens and early 20s when I worked retail, and most of my coworkers were about the same age. You were friendly with coworkers, because then they’d be more willing to swap shifts with you when necessary.

            I’m friendly with the vast majority of my coworkers, but I don’t hang out with them outside of work, like I did with my retail coworkers.

    2. WorkerJawn*

      I came make a similar comment. LW, try to be thoughtful about your expectations on how much you will be friends with your new coworkers. My office is (to me) a really warm and friendly environment, but one of my coworkers really wants us to be *friends* and me not wanting to go to movie nights or parties with them on the weekends hurt our working relationship. Just keep reminding yourself that if your coworkers aren’t trying to hang out on the weekends with you, you have done nothing wrong!

      A huge congrats and bet of luck on the new job!

    3. Potato*

      +1 to this! I felt really lonely for the first 6 months or so when I transitioned out of retail to office work. I eventually built up some warm, professional relationships—but it takes longer. Be patient, and don’t worry that you’re being iced out or that everyone hates you.

      1. Potato*

        Related: Pet names are WAY less common/acceptable at office jobs (in my experience). My retail friends called each other all sorts of honey/sweetie/mama/etc. But I will never forget the look on one of my closest officemates when I called her “honey” out of habit. Keep an eye out for those habitual things, if that applies to you!

      2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        Good point — maybe be thoughtful about the kinds of friends you want to make and take up some social activities in your off-work time to make sure your needs are met.

    4. ArtsNerd*

      >In my experience, it’s rare for office jobs to have the same camaraderie as retail and service jobs. Sometimes one gets lucky. But if you do basically small talk and don’t have that rapport, don’t think it’s you not fitting in. Office jobs just don’t foster the same kind of connections!

      Another framing of the same thing is “office jobs usually foster stronger boundaries.” You don’t have the same emotional closeness, but you also don’t have the same toxicity that retail and service industries can foster. At least in a healthy office culture. Your coworkers generally aren’t selling each other weed, or cycling through colleagues to date or having dramatic fallouts.

      (And there’s far less trauma-bonding, I hope!)

      The point about coverage is a good one — I definitely had to break myself of the habit of asking permission for certain things.

    5. Hlao-roo*

      To add on to all of these comments, if you are feeling lonely because all of a sudden your work relationships are way less close, reach out to your friends and schedule time to hang out with them outside of work! It won’t be the same as being friends with all/most of your coworkers from your retail job, but it’ll help ease the loneliness a bit if you know you have plans to see friends after work/on the weekends.

  12. CashAsh*

    I remember when this happened to me! I recommend really watching what your coworkers and managers are doing and how they dress/interact/schedule their days. Start off conservatively and work your way out from there using keys from your observations. I also think going to a more relaxed setting from a rigid retail standpoint can be a culture shock, so when I did it, it was very important to me to have a routine so I wasn’t easily distracted by all my new-found freedom. I would drop off my bag/coat at my desk when I got in, then get a beverage and say hi to whoever was milling about in the kitchen, stored my lunch in the fridge, went back to my desk and checked emails, voicemails, and my calendar, and then my projects and went from there.

  13. CJ*

    I did this about ten years ago when transitioning from restaurant to office!

    First advice: the hours are DIFFERENT. I was absolutely exhausted at first, despite switching from 12-hour double shifts to eight hour days, just because the schedule change (and commute, and wake up time) was so different. Just prepare yourself for that and know it’s normal if you feel weirdly tired despite technically sitting most of the day vs. (presumably) standing/walking. It’s also a big change in mental load which can contribute! It’s also a change going from the less formal retail/service industry environment to the office environment – I was pretty lonely the first couple months. You’ll get through it, and make friends, but it IS a change.

    Second: Dress on the conservative side (neutrals, full coverage, on the formal side vs. casual) for the first couple weeks, until you get a sense of office norms. Check with your supervisor if you’re unsure about dress code.

    Third: Accept the fact that you’re going to make mistakes. You might structure your time wrong. You might submit the wrong form. You might misunderstand something everyone else learned years ago, when they were new. And that’s the key – they were also new! Everyone was new to this at some point! Everyone has made mistakes!! The trick is 1) own that mistake and acknowledge it, 2) apologize if appropriate, 3) explain your plan for avoiding the mistake next time, and/or ask someone more senior for advice on how to do so, and 4) don’t do it again!

    Fourth: I don’t have a lot of advice about imposter syndrome except to remind you that almost everyone is faking it. There’s no difference between real confidence and fake confidence to someone on the outside of you, so just fake it until you make it. As long as you’re putting in a genuine, good faith effort to do your best, you’ll be absolutely fine.

    The long and short of it is you’re gonna be fine, and everyone who works in an office had a first day at some point, just like you. Be open to change, be open to feedback, try and stay positive, and enjoy learning everything new!

    1. 3DogNight*

      ^^^This is very spot on!
      The imposter syndrome is real, and it is said by psychologists that not everyone feels it. Those that are feeling it are actively growing. Don’t be afraid of this growth!
      I spent my first couple of years in my role convinced that “they” would figure out they made a mistake and fire me. This drove me to work harder, and work smarter.
      An early mentor gave me some advice, and 17 years in, I see it in action. If this is the career, and company you want to commit to, then don’t do the bare minimum. Do your role, and find projects you can contribute to.
      It’s been said to make sure you’re watching the right people. You don’t have any way, right now, to know who the right people are. You’ll figure it out, but don’t beat yourself up for not knowing. Take your time learning the culture and your role.
      You’ve got this! Think of it as a new adventure. The last piece of advice I’ll give you: Do NOT disparage your own background or work history. Retail isn’t the devils work, and there are a lot of things that do translate.

      1. Random Dice*

        Ha, I’m arguably a world-class expert in my field, and I still worry sometimes that “They” will figure out I’m a fraud!

        Oh imposter syndrome.

        Fortunately I have learned to catch myself, and just skip all the intervening mental drama and go straight to the dire “living in a cardboard box by the river”. It’s a little mental eyeroll – yes yes RandomDice, clearly you’re *destined* for that cardboard box by the river. Now pull up your big kid undies and do this thing.

    2. DryEraseAficionado*

      Also, learning a new job is exhausting, so besides the schedule change you will be using your brain differently and everything is new and therefore harder. At first even things that are obvious at any office or retail job require thought (what should I wear? How dressed up do my hair and makeup need to be? Where do I park? How does the coffee maker work? Where do I print to? etc. etc. etc.) and all those things add up to a lot of mental energy.

      Plus you are meeting a ton of new people, learning the new role, and trying to make a good impression. It’s a lot. Give yourself grace, expect to be tired, know that a lot of this gets better over the first few days and weeks.

      Have fun, this is such an exciting time!

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Yeah the update post about falling asleep shot me back to how physically fatiguing the transition was.

        And, unintuitively, it was far worse when I didn’t have a full workload yet.

    3. Dinwar*

      #1 here is the truth. I can work a 12 hour field day and be fine after, but 8 hours in the office is tough.

      There are a few ways to mitigate this.

      First, drink WATER. I capitalized that for a reason. Coffee is good, but water is better. Dehydration, even low-level dehydration, saps your energy. (Coffee isn’t as dehydrating as people think, but it’s not as good as water.)

      Second, take screen breaks. It’s expected, even encouraged as part of the ergonomics plans in most offices. I try to accomplish both of these by getting up for a drink every hour or so, but everyone has their own methods. A good rule of thumb is: Every 20 minutes spend 20 seconds looking at something at least 20 feet away from you.

      Third, exercise. It’s really easy to get back problems or other issues from sitting all day. You’ve got to find some way to keep moving, especially your legs. Think of your legs as a second heart–the muscles are built to help pump blood, but it only works if you’re moving.

      Fourth, remember that brain work is work. Your brain requires 20% of your available nutrients just to keep you alive. Intense thinking is like running a marathon as far as your body is concerned. Most people underestimate this, though; they think that since they’re not physically active, they aren’t burning metabolic resources. You are, at a faster rate than you think. So until you’re used to it you’re going to experience fatigue, for the same reason and in the same way that if you switch from lifting heavy things to walking for hours a day your legs would be tired.

      1. Silvercat*

        Several places I’ve worked had people that would take a brisk walk during breaks or lunch. Absolutely a good idea to join them. Not only for the fresh air and exercise, but it’s a good way to make connections. Lunch or break buddies are a great resource for office norms.

  14. LadyByTheLake*

    One thing that I had to adjust to when I went from retail to an office — in retail it was fairly common for friends to stop by and chat. So long as I wasn’t neglecting customers and was still working (restocking shelves, for instance) no one really cared. In an office, that is Not Done.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      That’s what I was trying to explain above. Not good, not bad, just different. There will be fewer interactions with people over all.

    2. EmilyClimbs*

      I wouldn’t say it’s Not Done, at least not in the offices I’ve worked at. But it is true that people do pay attention and care, if the time spent chatting with coworkers starts to seem excessive.

  15. Jedi Mike*

    Aside from disliking the ‘waking up early’ part of things myself, office transition has been fairly good (also because of the pay). I’ve found that as long as I’m flexible with people walking in a random times to talk about work related things, and reasonably amicable about learning new things and asking needed questions, things have gone fine. It’s fine to ask about general dress code early in the process as well. I’m mostly happy leaving my desk for 10 minutes doesn’t get me called over a loudspeaker! Never again for retail

  16. Dust Bunny*

    I suspect this is going to be a lot less scary than it seems right now, but it will be hard to convince you of that until it happens :-).

    Clothes: Keep it simple. Plain neutral pants or skirt and jacket or sweater. Not jeans or chinos, at least until you see what everyone else is wearing. They don’t have to be “fancy”–I started out in thrifted stuff.

    Time: You’re not entirely left to your own devices, really. You usually have at least a mental list of things you need to complete today. You’ll get a pretty good feel for how you need to pace yourself once you’re there. Things that don’t get done will pile up and most of us learn pretty quickly not to do that because it makes for a lot of work later on. Aren’t there lots of things in retail that you did a bit at a time during your shift so you wouldn’t have to do them all at once at the end of the day?

    Fitting in: A lot of people aren’t born in office jobs! A bunch of your coworkers will probably have worked in retail or other non-office jobs, too. I was a veterinary assistant for four years. Your background is very likely not as different as you think it is.

    I know a lot of people rag on 9-to-5s but I love being able to just work business hours and then leave it all to go home and have a weekend.

    And remember that everyone else who is there was also new there at one point.

    1. Changes2020*

      I second the thrifted clothes for office wear! My office was business casual and I had only worn uniforms in the past. I did stick to solid colors, mostly white, navy, grey and black for office wear and I found infinity scarves on Amazon (tons of choices at good prices) that dressed up my outfit and added the pop of color.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Yes, this is a good point. Since LW is used to uniforms, they can think of their initial outfits as their work uniform. Picking some neutral basics and then just throwing them on in the morning.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I still do this, decades later. I have a selection of more or less interchangeable work clothes, because I don’t want to make decisions early in the morning. I just have a bunch of office-appropriate and comfortable things that I can grab without a lot of thought and still look OK.

          I started this job owning literally nothing but scrubs and weird weekend clothes, plus having zero savings, so I had to start basic. I don’t work in a discipline that expects me to be stylish, just neat.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        it was a strange upbringing, but I’m really good at fixing copiers

    2. allathian*

      A caveat here is that an office employee’s work is basically never done. So you have to learn, and learn early, the difference between critical tasks that absolutely have to be done before the end of the day, and those that you’ll do when you have a bit more slack. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in prioritizing your tasks if you don’t have the time to do everything. If your bosses tell you that everything is equally critical, then nothing is truly critical.

  17. On my lunch break*

    I made the same transition a little more than a decade ago. Agree with the suggestions to find a mentor and to try and do something productive with all of your downtime. If you didn’t ask this in your interview, ask your boss what high performance in your role looks like. And if you’re unsure of anything at all – just ask! You’ll do great!

  18. Changes2020*

    I went from waitressing to office when I finished my degree. I was not able to do an internship since I needed to work and make money while going to school, so this was a whole new ballgame!

    I found that not talking too much and listening helped me a lot and I learned and was able to fit in. I did find it hard to sit all day and used to get up every hour and stretch or walk around a little.

    I was afraid it wouldn’t work out too, so I kept the waitressing job on the weekend for a year just in case. I wish you luck!

  19. PoePuck*

    This was me 8 months ago after 10 years in retail! YOU CAN DO IT – everyone feels like they don’t know what they’re doing at first! It’s definitely scary changing careers but soon you will be just as much of an expert at this as you were at your last job. The biggest challenges for me were not being used to staring at a computer screen all day or sitting all day. Would recommend blue light blocking glasses and getting up and going for a walk every day at lunch. The work life balance, for me, is SO MUCH better, that it makes any downsides completely worth it (holidays! 40 hour weeks! weekends!). As for fitting in – get a few outfits for your first week but wait to see what everyone else is wearing before you buy a ton of clothes. Reach out to say hi to everyone on your team especially if virtual (ask questions! be friendly!). Remember that you’re not really there to make friends, you’re there to do business and if you enjoy any of them, that’s a bonus :) Good luck!

  20. JB (not in Houston)*

    For your worry that you won’t be able to productively structure your time, when trained on a task, you can ask the person training you (or other people who do similar tasks) for approximately how long it should take you to do it once you’re properly trained.

    If you’re worried you won’t be able to stay focused sitting in front of a computer all day (if that’s what you’ll be doing), you can use timers/pomodoro method for staying on focus. If you have days when you struggle to stay focused, that’s normal. On those days, you can break tasks down into their smallest parts (literally the smallest, e.g., “open the document in Word”) and tell yourself that you just need to do those small tasks for 5 minutes and then take a short break. Odds are good that once you have tasks broken down that small, you won’t feel overwhelmed and will be able to focus. If you find that you are routinely having trouble structuring your time, you can talk to your manager or coworkers for suggestions.

    Everyone starts somewhere. Think about everything you know about how to perform well in retail and to have a good relationship with your coworkers. You had to learn all of that, so you can learn whatever you need to learn to be successful in an office as well. You’ve already proven that you can learn workplace norms. You can totally do this!

    1. Random Dice*

      Re breaking down tasks, I highly recommend finding a “to do list” approach that works for you.

      You need to follow through on action items.

      Outlook’s email has a Tasks list that’s free, but I find it confusing.

      I have long put a circled star in my notes for things I need to do, but then didn’t have them centrally, esp if I switched notebooks.

      For my digital paper Rocketbook notebook, if I put a box in front of something, it automatically goes to my To-Do List on my app (and I can set it to automatically send to my work email, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc). It’s $30 and endlessly reusable.

      1. JB (not in Houson)*

        This is good advice. I don’t use Outlook’s task list, but because we don’t use the calendar function for work purposes in the office, as soon as I get assigned something, I schedule a due date for it on my Outlook calendar and set reminders at the same time. This has saved me multiple times!

  21. The Ginger Ginger*

    The best thing you can do is absorb as much as possible in your training period. If it makes you feel better, they’re not going to expect you to know what you’re doing immediately. Even if you were coming from an office setting, you’d still need to learn the ropes of your new role. To help you understand the rhythms of your new role, be intentional about identifying what your daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks, etc are, and start penciling in a schedule of when you’ll need to start and finish working on those things (or at what ever cadence makes sense for your workplace.) That understanding will help you fill your days/time correctly. It will also be helpful to understand what your new manager expects you to accomplish in your first 30/60/90 days. At a place with their onboarding process well sorted, they’ll likely walk you through that with no prompting from you during training. But if they don’t, definitely ask so you can get a feel for it, separate from what your normal working rhythm will be.

    Depending on your team, role and workplace, once you feel like you have your feet under you in a few months, if you find you still have time open around your normal duties, you can help other coworkers if they need/want it, ask for additional tasks that help you learn new things, etc. But that’s further down the line when both you and your manager are confident you know what you’re doing in your normal duties.

    Just keep reminding yourself, for the first several weeks/months you’re going to be learning the ropes. No one will expect you to know everything in the first week.

    Also, if you haven’t got details on it already, you can email HR or the hiring manager and ask about the dress code so you have time to get appropriate things together. Sometimes on the first day, it’s better to err on the side of more dressed up (not CRAZY – if they say business casual, don’t come in a 3 piece suit or anything). That way you’ll be confident you’re well dressed and people don’t think twice if a new person comes slightly overdressed. That will give you the chance to see what other folks are wearing and tailor your decisions to what you see more broadly in the company.

    Good luck! I was really happy transitioning out of retail, and I hope you will be too!

  22. Tio*

    For structuring – It is perfectly fine to ask your boss – if they don’t tell you outright, which many will – what tasks they want you to prioritize in a given day/week. But in general, anything that you have to hand over to someone or someone is waiting on will be a higher priority, because you can bottleneck them.

    For the clothing, wear something nice but not full suit the first day, and while you’re there, look around and see what everyone else is wearing, especially people in your position. Mimic accordingly. If you’re not familiar with business casual, looking around on places like New York & Co will give you some outfits ideas. (You don’t need to actually buy their stuff, just buy similar stuff if you can find it cheaper.)

    As for your coworkers… if you’re pleasant and work hard, you’ll probably get along with them fine. If you’re outgoing and want to find friends, figure out the common gathering spots and times, like when everyone is on lunch or goes for a coffee break, and hang out there. You’ll probably get drawn into a conversation at least by one of the curious types. HOWEVER – offices don’t necessarily breed the same kind of comraderies that retail does, because there’s (usually) less pressure. Don’t take it personally if people don’t want to go out after work – a lot of offices have people with routines and older people who just want to go home. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, just, they may not want to go out like that, especially not that quickly.

    1. David's Skirt-Pants*

      Similarly, I would encourage being more formal in email/Teams until you get a feel for what tone is acceptable within your office. Better to err on formality than casualness while you’re figuring things out.

    2. Random Dice*

      Agree! In 10 years at my office job, I’ve only had one coworker who has been to my house or met up somewhere totally work-unrelated. (I.e. a real friend) And I can say with confidence that my coworkers really like me, and vice versa. There’s just a bit more of a work/life wall in office jobs.

      At the prior one, I was younger so with younger folks there did more socializing (movies, getting drinks outside of work happy hours, doing an event together).

  23. Over It*

    In terms of how to dress, just ask! And if they tell you something vague like business casual, just say, “I know there’s quite a range of what people define as business casual, can you be a little more specific about what’s normal for this office?” I did this for my very first office job, and no one thought it was weird. I now proactively tell new employees what the general vibe is since we don’t have an official dress code, but you also can’t show up in jeans at my workplace either.

    And also for everything else, ask your bosses, ask your peers. Take notes in meetings and trainings and refer back to them first when you have questions, but when in doubt, just ask! Everyone expects new staff to have questions, especially at more entry-level roles. Just trust that people want you to succeed, and trust yourself that you’ll get the hang of things during your first several weeks. You got this!

    1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      Yes, I was coming here to say this! There’s no harm in emailing your new manager ahead of time and asking for specifics about the dress code. “Is it a skirt and cardigan environment? Jeans and a blazer? Jeans and hoodies? or full suit?”
      On your first day, also don’t be afraid to ask your boss things like how rigid are start and end times? Are there core hours and you flex around those? Do most people show up by 9am? Is lunch 30 minutes or an hour usually? How do they want you to handle mid-day appointments? Do they want you to make up the hours you missed, use PTO or are you salaried and if you work at least 4 hours it’s whatever? These are things that change from office to office, so it won’t be weird if you ask.
      I’ll echo the advice other commenters have left too – do a lot of observing and ask your peers questions when you have them. The biggest mistake you can make is making assumptions about something rather than asking.
      Congrats on the new role!

    2. Allegra*

      Yes, ask about all these things! There’s a lot of great advice about observing everybody else, but I would say it’s important to actually ask questions to make sure you aren’t missing any unwritten/implicit things.

      Honestly, if your hiring manager saw your resume and knows your all experience is in retail. I don’t think it’d be all that bad to say in your onboarding, “Since I’ve been in retail for so long and norms are different there, I wanted to check in with you about what’s expected for our office in terms of [dress code, email response time, Slack/Teams settings, whatever you can think of] to be sure I’m starting off on the same page.” And then when you encounter something for the first time, you can ask then, too: “Great, I can set up that meeting. Would you prefer me to work out a time first over email, or just send a calendar invite?” (or words to that effect) Good managers will be happy to help you find your feet!

      Best of luck! I remember making this transition and wish you the best, it’s so nice to have predictable schedules.

  24. robertposteschild*

    My time has come! I have done this exact transition in the past few years. The best advice I can give is to pay attention. It might help to pick a person you like/respect as a “model” for your professional persona. Not to copy, exactly, but to take your cues from.

    Also, something that took me awhile to adjust to: Retail can absolutely have that baptism-by-fire best-friends-forever vibe that you describe. Not a lot of office jobs have that. Which is not to say you won’t make friends! It’s just not as instantaneous. (Plus, I’m still really close with a lot of the friends I made over the years at my grocery store job–it’s just harder to hang out with them now that I’m on an office worker 9-to5-type schedule and they’re doing shift work.)

    You got this! I wish you all the best.

    1. Obscure Relic*

      The retail friendship phenomenon got real clear to me when I made the jump into office work. Be congenial at first, but please be wary of anyone who seems to glom onto you to be best friends right away. You will want to get a better sense of office politics first. And you might be tempted to reveal your nervousness or apprehension to this new “best friend” – DON’T. The first friendly person MIGHT turn out to be a close friend, but you need to hold back at first to protect yourself in case they have ulterior motives.

      Also, remember that while you’re entitled to breaks, you have to forget the habit of clocking in and out. No one will assign you a break time, you have to take it. And while your 9 to 5 hours are pre-set, be observant about leaving right on the dot of 5. You’re certainly entitled to, but it might look better to wander out around 5:10 or 5:15. (Once you’re settled in, never mind this – there will be more flexibility. But ascertain whether you’re exempt or non-exempt before you start working longer!)

  25. wanderingwatson*

    I remember the transition from taking orders in a drive through to an office job well. Allow yourself to form your own opinions about people. It can be really easy to be swept into office politics, depending on the company, and you want to give yourself a year or so of actually working with people and seeing the system work before you take a hard stance either way. When I first started, I was highly susceptible to other’s opinions and avoided certain individuals because of it. And my perception of management decisions were biased to what other employees told me. There may be genuinely good people who want to help you navigate, but take any criticism with a grain of salt.

    Also, when switching from an hourly to salary job, it’s going to be years before you stop feeling the weight of the clock. If I was more than 1 minute late to work, I would start feeling stressed and guilty. At my job, no one was actually counting that. It was all in my head. 10 years later, it’s still in my head, but I can give myself a little more grace now.

    Ask questions, take notes on the answers, and you’ll be on the right path.

  26. TippyToes*

    Main thing: keep your eyes open and your mouth shut! The same toxic dynamics still play out in an office, but it tends to be more of an undercurrent. I’m not saying don’t trust anyone, but you don’t know what dynamics are at play until you’re several months in at least, so don’t accidentally dig yourself into a hole until you really understand the culture.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Mouth shut in terms of commentary and opinions, sure, but you have to ask questions to clarify what’s expected and to show that you’re interested/open to learning the job.

  27. Kaiko*

    Aw, I’ve been where you are! I transitioned from food service to office, but it’s the same vibe. I found that office work can be a lot more formal—more hierarchical, with people more invested in their roles/authority/job titles. People are often thinking “career” when they’re in their white-collar jobs, so they want to keep it profesh, which can be disorienting when you’re used to a more tightly-knit or casual work community .

    I found that it in early days, it was important to find things to do: ask for tasks, ask for training, ask to know what others in the company do. Set some month-one goals, and figure out what steps you need to take to complete them. Relationships with managers and peers are important: figuring out how to work with your colleagues and meet their needs (and have them meet yours) is so key.

    As for dress code: there are a ton of resources on AAM on how to dress, but it is basically a process of taking the organization’s temperature and finding out how to bring *yourself* to that vibe. A mid-level look, with slacks (not jeans) or a fitted skirt, and a nice button-down and a cardi throw over top, is a pretty A+ office look that works for all genders.

    Good luck!! It’s a big shift.

  28. londonedit*

    Firstly, starting *any* new job is nerve-wracking and odd and you feel like a weird newbie for a while. That’s all completely normal!

    If you’re worried about what to wear, it’s completely fine to email your contact at your new job and ask about the dress code. You might want to err on the side of wearing something slightly more formal on your first day, and/or something slightly more understated, and people totally expect that from new starters. If someone says ‘Oh, by the way, no need to wear a blazer – we’re all casual around here!’ that’s not because your clothes were ‘wrong’, it’s because everyone takes a couple of days or a week to work out what people tend to wear.

    I’d recommend bringing something for lunch on your first day, but something that can happily sit in the office fridge until the next day or that won’t spoil if you end up not eating it. Often new starters are taken out for lunch on their first day, or there might be a wealth of lunch places to explore in the local area, but equally sometimes neither of those things are true and you don’t want to be left without something to eat.

    It’s also worth watching people in your first week to see how everyone handles things like working hours and lunchtimes. You can absolutely also ask your manager about that, too, but it’s helpful to keep an eye out and see whether people generally tend to disappear for an hour over lunch, or nip out to buy a sandwich to eat at their desk.

    As for impostor syndrome, that’s a difficult one, but it might help to know that tons of people have the same feelings! Your boss has hired you for a reason, though, and that reason is because you have the skills they want and you seemed like a great fit for the role. Remember that work is a business transaction – you have skills that the company needs, and they pay you for those skills. Also remember that it’s normal in the first weeks of a new job to feel like you’ll never take everything in and you’ll never know what you’re doing. Then, a few weeks or months down the line, something will happen (a newer person will start, and ask you a question, or you’ll be in a meeting where you suddenly realise you have an informed opinion, or whatever) and you’ll realise you have settled in and you do know what you’re doing!

  29. Kel*


    1. Don’t worry if it takes you longer to adjust; there’s gonna be a learning curve. Ask questions and take the time to figure things out.
    2. Don’t fall into cliques/gossiping. Wanting to find a place to fit in is totally normal, but it’s too easy to suddenly find yourself embroiled in drama!!
    3. If there are social committees or other employee network stuff, start to seek those out, if you want! They can be fun, and give you people to connect to. Especially if it’s people not on your team!
    4. Do a lot of listening when you’re not asking questions; go to every meeting that you can, even if the invite is optional.
    5. Don’t stress! And don’t fall prey to imposter syndrome. They hired you because they want you there!!!

  30. A New CV*

    I want to push back gently on the idea that your retail job was not a “grown up” job— it was a job that you did, successfully, for years. Retail work is real, valuable grown up work! You added (underappreciated) value to a company that exploited you and you were probably treated disrespectfully (ask me how I know!) but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real and important job. The skills you learned in that job are valuable and you can apply them to your new office job! You are likely resilient, resourceful, easy to get along with, good at thinking on your feet, hard working… all those retail skills will serve you in any job! Give yourself credit for the skills you have.
    My real advice is to observe your new coworkers to gauge the vibe and try not to Customer Service everyone. It’s ok to start off a little quieter and not be best friends with everyone.

  31. Elle*

    Congratulations! Remember that they hired you because of your skills and strengths. They know you have a lot to offer otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten the job. Don’t be afraid to ask the about clothes and what people do for lunch. I’ve always welcomed those questions from new employees because it tells me they’re thoughtful and care about the job. Good luck!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Cosign the skills-and-strengths comment! I work in an office-job, customer-facing industry, and people with food service and retail experience have a leg up on other candidates because our customer population is nowhere near as bad as the general public. We train on a lot of skills for new hires, but I find that people with existing customer service skills acclimate more quickly.

  32. Retail Survivor*

    Congratulations! I have been there and my biggest advice is to ASK QUESTIONS. Seriously. If you find you have a good mentor and/or coworkers, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask about the office environment, ask about the working style, ask about emails, dress style, working methods, etc. I am sure I drove my mentor nuts with my questions but I am much better off for it!

    Also, for me, I had a hard time transitioning from the always on/tightly wound customer service mentality to a more relaxed one that you typically get in an office environment. If you can, try to make yourself mentally shift early on away from that customer service mentality. For me, it helped a ton once I finally go out of that state of mind. I was able to focus better and learn quicker!

    Best of luck!

    1. Double A*

      I totally agree with this. A lot of people think that asking questions makes them look dumb, but it’s the opposite. Asking questions makes you look engaged, curious, and willing to learn and course correct if needed. And don’t be afraid of transparency! Don’t start every question with, “I come from retail” (this is true for anyone — you don’t want to constantly be saying, “At my last job…”) but it’s totally fine to say, “My last job was in retail so I’m very unfamiliar with X and might need a little more time to pick it up. Any tips for retaining this information?”

      I loved the suggestion above to ask how long something should take you once you’re fully trained, and also how long they would expect you to take to get to that point.

      Also ask who the best points of contact are for help. In some places, it will be your supervisor, in others it will be a peer or someone senior to you. If you feel like you’re not picking something up fast enough, again, be transparent — ask your point of contact for feedback about your progress. If you are struggling to pick up a skill, ask for ideas about how you could improve your fluency.

    2. beanie gee*

      A twist on “ask questions,” I’d also recommend trying to find answers yourself when you can. Since you’ll probably have more downtime initially, get to know your resources! A lot of companies/managers won’t hand hold you through every single thing, and will probably appreciate self-starters who try to figure things out themselves, and then confirm they are on the right track.

      Don’t be afraid to ask questions, for sure, but also don’t be afraid to do some problem solving on your own. This varies by company for sure, but there might not be as much direct oversight as retail, where I found there was less autonomy in how you got your work done.

      Totally agree with Double A that your go-to person might not always be your supervisor. When I started my current job I liked to spread my questions around to anyone I felt comfortable approaching so as to not overburden any one individual.

  33. Lilo*

    Having worked both retail and office jobs, I think you have some imposter syndrome going on. Is retail a different experience? Sure. But you are going to receive guidance and training. Offices have a wide variety of experiences so I can’t say 100% but my general experience is it’s a lot chiller than retail.

    They hired you for a reason. Relax, be friendly and pay attention to instruction and it’s fine.

  34. Ground Control*

    Congratulations on your new job! I think the most important thing to remember is that you’re actually bringing great experience and insights to this new role *because* of your retail work – don’t discount that experience! I’ve had an office job for almost 20 years now but I still rely on skills I learned nannying, waitressing, and working at a customer service desk at a retail store because they were valuable in teaching me how to deal with angry customers, resolve conflict tactfully and on the spot, anticipate customer needs, and accept a lack of control over some things.

    In general, when I’m in new/uncomfortable situations I’ve learned what helps me the most is to just be vulnerable. I’ll outright say that I’m new to this or don’t know something to let people know I’m open to advice, and I don’t have to worry about people finding out I’m clueless because I already told them!

  35. YougotthisOP*

    Good luck with this transition! Life changes like these are both exciting and scary.

    Take a deep breath and remember the skills you know you have. You’ve worked in retail for many years so you’re good with people, likely good at defusing tense situations, and you’re hardworking. These are all good and transferable skills that will help you.

    You’ve already identified some areas that you don’t know about, so you’ll be focused on getting those right. You worry about getting your work done in an unstructured setting – I’m sure your store manager has sent you alone to clean up a messy part of the store and it got done, even if you had to refold all the tshirts. It will likely be similar at your workplace – your manager will ask you to do x and you can ask when they need it by and what’s needed to get it done.

    As for your other worries… it will depend on your workplace. During your onboarding ask plenty of questions. You can even say you’re what you said here – you’re moving from retail and want to understand the differences.

    You should be given an employee manual when you start, if not, ask for it. It should outline dress expectations (jeans or no jeans etc…), hours you’re expected to work etc…

    And be kind to yourself. A good chunk of AAM material is about people who don’t quite get work norms. We’re all humans and we all sometimes make mistakes.

    Good luck! You got this

  36. I should really pick a name*

    If you feel like you’re lost, ask questions, don’t just sit there and suffer. People will often assume that if you don’t say anything, you don’t need help.

    For the dress code, just ask before your first day.

  37. Lacey*

    The particular culture of your office is something you’ll pick up on over time.
    It’s been a long time since I switched to office work, but each office has been unique.

    Take your time to get familiar with the culture around taking personal phone calls, swearing, dress code, eating at your desk, etc.

  38. Sharks Are Cool*

    I’ve bounced back and forth between office jobs and customer-service based jobs for the last 10 years. One of the things that I miss the most about food-service is that sense of comradery with coworkers that you describe from retail! You may find less of a close-knit community shifting to an office, as there may be more employees at different stages of life than you. Granted I’m currently in a particularly siloed position without any peers, so you may have better luck than me! But I’ve realized that it’s better to share less about my personal life in this context than I would in a situation with more peers–mostly because I really don’t have much in common with my coworkers so explaining my frame of reference gets exhausting.

    Otherwise, TONS of people at office jobs are just making it up every day, so as long as you’re doing your best and willing to learn you’re probably doing great!! And if you’re anxious like me, be prepared to ask for a lot of clarification for things like break and lunch times. These things can be incredibly nebulous in the office world and they genuinely often don’t matter much, but it can feel weird and stressful when you’re used to shift work and assigned break times.

  39. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    Congratulations, and welcome to the world of sitting down while you work!

    The biggest difference for me between my retail/food service/childcare jobs and my current corporate job is how much LESS work I do in a day now. It obviously varies from industry to industry, but in my position my days are very relaxed, and I often worry I’ve relaxed too much.

    As you’re learning the job, it’s okay to reach out to your supervisor or whoever’s training you and say things like “I’ve finished X, Y, Z that you’ve asked me to do; is there something else I should be focusing on before A, B, C, starts?” Or “I’m finding I’m finishing X, Y, Z fairly quickly — could you take a look at it to make sure I’m not moving so fast because I’m overlooking things?” I don’t think they’re likely to take that as a cue to pile more work on you when you’re so new to the team, and it will give you peace of mind that you’re moving at the right pace while signaling to them that you’re learning quickly and being diligent about checking your work.

    As you learn the job and are left to more or less self-regulate, it can be tempting to fall on your self management.One thing that helps me is a daily list: I use the Reminders function on my computer, and set different items to Daily, Weekly, etc, because it helps me to have a concrete set of instructions for my day and I need it to gauge whether I’m being productive or not. My list is usually done mid-afternoon, which lets me know that I can use my late afternoon to focus on more long-term projects, or sit back and relax while I wait for emails to come in.

    Good luck, and again: congratulations!

  40. hiptobesquare*

    At least for me, I think I tried to hard to make friends with coworkers (like, let’s get a drink after work!) maybe a little too soon/adding people on social media – this is office/age dependent but for sure feel it out. My tip there is to mention it once and leave it in their court.

    Also something I’m still learning – if you’re sick, no one wants you there. Stay home.

  41. another Hero*

    In my transition from food service to library work (so not identical to your change but related), I was so jarred by the difference in pace–it didn’t run with the constant urgency and assumption that you would be constantly moving through tasks that even my work in pastry, the chilliest kitchen work, always had. It stressed me WAY the heck out, and it really took me the better part of a year to adjust. Not all offices (or all libraries!) have the same pace, so this adjustment might not happen for you, and if it does, the way you’re used to working could potentially get you a good reputation. But if your peers aren’t knuckling down all day and your boss is happy with your output, try not to stress about not being stressed enough lol. As I’m sure everyone else is saying, observe others to get a sense of norms–but it’s also ok to check in occasionally about whether you’re on track and doing what you need to (aka enough).

  42. Em*

    My advice would be: It takes some time to become independent in a new job, so don’t freak out if you’re still feeling lost after the first few weeks (depending on the complexity of your new role, it can take months or even a year to feel totally comfortable in your day-to-day.) Remember you can google stuff too (this might be a bit specific to my IT experience, but if you’re working with a tool or platform and have a basic question about how to do x, or what does y mean, you can try googling). For example, if you find yourself doing any tedious manual work in excel, you can definitely automate it, so google excel functions!

    1. The Rural Juror*

      If your company does not block YouTube, there are soooooo many videos available. I’ve found that I like training videos there more than what was provided by the software’s websites. I started a new job right before Thanksgiving a few years ago, so a LOT of folks were out of the office and I didn’t have many people to ask about training. Luckily, YouTube was available and I made good use of the quiet time.

      Just be careful about the optics if it looks like you’re just watching videos for fun. In my situation, it was pretty obvious what I was doing because I had the software open on one screen and training video on the other, and I paused it often to try out the tips they were giving. I wasn’t just kicked back watching passively.

  43. Isben Takes Tea*

    I think the best advise from a similar experience (albeit 10 years ago) is: expect it to be uncomfortable/nerve-wracking for about at least 6 months. As Alison has said, that’s about the minimum time it takes to get up to speed for any new hire. It will take time to adjust, because as everyone else is saying, it takes about that long to observe the specific office norms, expectations, relationships, tasks, etc.

    So you don’t have to add the stress of feeling like you “should know what you’re doing”—you shouldn’t! It’s okay! It’s normal! It’s reasonable! Give yourself permission to be new and learn.

    This also helps keep yourself from being “overly apologetic” when you don’t know something or get something wrong! There are many examples on here of people getting exhausted managing the emotions of nervous new hires: most reasonable people understand learning the ropes, and it’s so much easier to be able to correct someone and have them say “Gotcha, thanks!” rather than go through “Oh I’m so sorry, my bad, it will never happen again, I’m so sorry” every time.

    Good luck!

    1. Random Dice*

      Yes! It can be exhausting dealing with someone who apologizes like they just kicked a kitten in front of your eyes, when they just did something that needs a small adjustment and it’s no big deal.

      OP, if you can mentally reframe any work correction as being like driving directions. “Oops you went left when you needed to go right, let’s loop back around” It’s that low stakes and you can just accept the correction and move forward.

  44. howlieT*

    Congratulations! Enjoy being able to. Just go and pee when you actually need to and not half an hour after you asked for cover when there’s a very real danger you might wet yourself!

    Here’s my experience of making the leap:
    – it’s fine to ask what the dress code is, no-one will judge you for clarifying. One place I worked at couldn’t care how short your skirt was but a blouse that showed your shoulders was an absolute no-no, whoever hired you or your new boss should be happy to fill you in on the basics, and if there’s any weird little foibles like that.
    – honestly even if you were going office job to office job you’d probably be asking for a lot more guidance in the first few weeks, no-one will judge you if you finish a task they’ve given you and you ask what’s best to do next. If you’ve got something in mind it’s great to say “hey, I finished X, shall I do Y or is there something else you’d like me to do first?” It’ll also help you get a feel for your manager and how they work/assign stuff.
    – on the imposter syndrome stuff? They hired you! That means they think you’re good enough! And you’d be amazed at the transferable skills you’re bringing with you. Remembering how far you are in a task mid conversation is a surprisingly useful skill, defusing the situation with an angry customer is the same wether it’s a business or someone who doesn’t think they should have to pay full price. It’s all useful stuff. You’ll be great

  45. The Eye of Argon*

    I also went from retail to an office job and had some of the same qualms. I think it was in part that society tends to perceive retail and other service workers as “less than” and even though that’s totally unfair, you can’t help but internalize it to some degree.

    The biggest problem I had was that my store’s management was just horrendous. All of the upper managers made C. Montgomery Burns look like Mr. Rogers and never hesitated to belittle you in front of a customer or throw you under the bus in the name of customer satisfaction. When I switched I was actually terrified of interacting with the bosses in any way, and then when I finally had to, they were supportive and helpful. That seriously blew my mind.

    If your new office is business casual, think about the sort of clothes you see shoppers wearing at lunchtime and in the early evening – they’re probably just coming from work and you can get an idea of what sort of clothes are appropriate. Don’t panic if it’s not exactly right once you start. Everyone has a learning curve when it comes to their office’s norms.

    Try to remember that they wouldn’t have hired you if they hadn’t thought you’ve got what it takes to be successful in the new position. You can do it, and you deserve it.

  46. What She Said*

    A lot of good suggestions above. Adding (mostly just until you get an idea of how your office works):

    1. take a small notebook and pen anytime you go into a meeting or even just meeting with your boss or learning something new from a colleague
    2. take a book to read during your breaks
    3. keep your cell phone on vibrate and out of site
    4. during slow times at your desk look up systems your company uses to familiarize yourself more, this leans into the read manuals, how-to’s etc. So if you use microsoft read up on word, excel, etc. Google, look into docs and sheets, etc.
    5. just take it one day at a time, you got this

    Good luck!

  47. Gizmo's Mom*

    Congrats! I remember my first office job – as long ago as it was. Be mindful of your hours and the way you’re being paid. If you’re used to being paid hourly (non-exempt), and now are on salary (exempt, with some caveats), realize that 9-5 may not really mean 9am-5pm. Your office culture may consist of a bunch of early birds who come in at 8 and leave at 4. Some days you may be asked to work late (no overtime) if there’s a crunch. Of course, that shouldn’t be the expectation every day, but different offices have different unspoken rules for this kind of thing.

  48. Meg*

    I did something similar, 7 years in retail as my first job, and then moving to an office. The biggest difference I noticed is how much slower the pace is. Retail is very “if you can lean, you can clean” in attitude, but office work generally allows you more breathing room. You’re not expected to be 100% productive for every minute of the day like you are in retail (barring a terrible office culture, of course).

  49. Chutney Jitney*

    I can’t speak to the retail>office specifics, but I can make some suggestions about the nebulous worries. The fact that they are nebulous is what gives them their power. So. Make them concrete.

    Write down a list of all the things that you worry will go wrong and figure out what you will do if each of those things happens. Don’t tell yourself that you are being absurd or that you “shouldn’t” be having these worries. Treat them like real problems you need to find real solutions to. Then you will have a list of facts and knowledge to use to talk back to those little whisperers in your head.

    Possibly you might also consider tackling why you think things like “they will take back the job in a month”. Follow that to it’s conclusion. How likely is it? What makes you think that? Is it all stuff about you or is it stuff about them? Because you *sound* like you think they are incompetent at their own jobs. They don’t have good hiring practices, don’t know what they need, hired without really caring who they chose and didn’t bother even reading your resume? Is that likely? Or did you interview and they know what they want and they chose you for those skills and because you’re a good fit for the team?

  50. Catsforbrains*

    I made this transition around 2008 and really struggled. Congrats on the new role and I hope you were able to negotiate something better than retail pay! I’m framing this as advice to my former self, I hope some of it is useful for you.

    – The ways you don’t fit in matter less than if you’re doing the work well. Focus on understanding the role and how to succeed at it (ask your manager directly) and bring your A game for the first month.

    – Trust the people who reach out. Unless the culture is really off, the folks who offer to go to lunch with you or complement your outfit want to keep talking. Mentorship is great but a friend you can backchannel with is great too.

    – Once you get an assignment, take a guess at how you’re going to organize your day and run it by your manager. That will give them the chance to reset time expectations or let you know what the top priorities are. Time management isn’t easy but the biggest way to screw it up is to be secretive about it.

    Finally assume they hired you for a reason and want to help you succeed. Hiring is expensive and annoying, they won’t fire you after a month as long as you’re listening to what they need and growing.

    Best of luck!

  51. Mid*

    In general, how you communicate to your coworkers and your bosses will be different than retail.

    There’s usually less outside of work hanging out with coworkers, and next to none with managers. Your coworkers are co-workers first and not friends. (That doesn’t mean everyone is cold and you’ll never make friends, but it tends to be a slower process.)

    I had to adjust to being more formal with how I spoke to people—the retail work I was in was *very* casual. Like telling managers to fuck off (jokingly) was normal. Openly cursing in general was normal. Talking about parties and substances was normal. Getting hammered with managers was normal. That wasn’t the same in my office. It’s not like you could never curse or talk about your weekend, it was just done differently.

    1. I have RBF*

      Yeah, especially in non-operations or non-customer service environments the talk is different. The level of casual cussing and griping is waaaaaay lower.

      One thing to remember in office jobs is to never put on any written form of communication (chat or email) anything you would not want read aloud on TV or in front of your most judgemental relatives. Never write things like “you’ve got to be fucking kidding” in an email.

      In one job I had we did field work. You could cuss in the field when the customer wasn’t there. You could cuss on the shop floor, within reason. You did not cuss in the open area of the office, or the lunchroom.

      IMO, it’s always been a bit of culture shock to go from a casual environment to a more uptight environment. You need to listen, and err on the side of more formal, non-slang, communication. You will eventually pick up on the jargon and subtle things with a double meaning. Some places no one is ever called a glassbowl, but there are ways to find out who the jerks are.

      Some things that are fine in a retail environment aren’t in an office. Tracking other people’s arrival and departures, unless you are in a coverage job that coordinates with them, is not generally done unless you are a manager. If you need something from someone, you can ask what their schedule is, because not everyone works the same schedule in a lot of offices, especially on the engineering/development/creative side vs the sales/marketing/accounting side.

      Do more listening than talking in meetings. If you have questions, ask them, but don’t let it take over the meeting unless that’s what the meeting is for. There are different types of meetings: Status meetings, where people do updates or management passes down stuff from on high; project meetings, where the subject matter is restricted to projects; working meetings, where people get together to walk through or tackle a problem or task as a group.

      There’s been a lot of electrons spilled on here about break room/lunch room etiquette and division of labor. Always clean up after yourself, but unless it’s a duty assigned by your manager, don’t regularly clean up the whole thing, because other folks will assume that it has become your job.

      1. beanie gee*

        Oh my gosh, I’ll emphasize your second paragraph. Everything on your computer is your company’s property. Don’t store personal files on your work computer. Don’t watch/visit sites that aren’t appropriate for work on your work computer. Everything you write in emails and chats can be pulled up by your company if they have a reason to.

        1. Mid*

          Yes! Absolutely to both of you. And also, on the flip side, document as much as possible, especially when getting new instructions or information, because it’s super helpful to have references and a lot of office jobs have less formal training than retail jobs do, and less clear job duties. Writing everything down is super helpful to making sure you’re understanding everything.

  52. personalpanpizza*

    So exciting, congratulations!!

    For a lot of office jobs, your first few days are about setting up, introductions, and getting oriented. Sometimes you don’t really DO anything for the first few days, other than get introduced and set up your desk and chat with your boss about orientation plans, maybe get taken out for lunch–that is not something you need to worry about and it’s pretty normal! I know retail can make you feel like you have to go go go at all times, or sitting on the job isn’t allowed, all that kind of hyper-productivity stuff. I think that was one big adjustment I had to make, was the idea of what was productivity and how optics worked in an office environment. Playing on your phone is a no, but sometimes there is downtime that you just have to account for.

    I help a lot of my team members get set up in my current role, so I see a lot of people new or returning to office work. There’s a surprising amount of tech to set up (email, phone and voicemail, all the systems you might end up using, any elearning you have to do if any, downloading software, making sure you have all your equipment, etc) and it can take a while. On your first day, you might want to bring a notebook and pen with you just in case they don’t have your computer ready (though they should give you stationary, and I don’t generally recommend buying your own, on your first day it’s a good idea to bring it just in case).

    If they don’t give you things like pens or a notebook or a wrist rest for your keyboard, please ask!! Sometimes there’s a dedicated person to ask in an office for supplies, like an office manager or admin, sometimes it’s just your boss, but often I find I have to ask for these things. I have so many coworkers that never ask because they don’t want to be a nuisance, and it’s so frustrating to see them struggle or buy their own office supplies (or even desk monitors??) for no good reason! Offices have budgets, and part of that is stuff to make you able to do your job. I especially recommend wrist rests for your mousepad and keyboard. If you haven’t done a ton of office work, start using them now and your wrists will thank you later!

    On another ergonomical side: Some offices with a Occupational Health and Safety department will offer ergonomic assessments of your desk. This means someone can help adjust your desk, chair, keyboard tray, or anything else you have to make sure it’s all adjusted correctly.

    And a last health tip: Make sure to get up and stretch regularly! I try to stretch about once an hour at least, and a couple walks in the day. Sitting all day really screws up your body, and stretch breaks can help a lot!

    If you get migraines, I highly recommend taking screen breaks in the day as well, or turning on the “night light” feature if you have a microsoft computer, as blue light can trigger headaches/migraines. A life saver!!

    And my biggest social tip is ask questions. Ask about anything! It’s okay not to know stuff! Ask where the best place to get lunch is, ask what everyone works on in your team, ask what that acronym you just heard means. It’s so easy to forget what new people have no reason to know, so asking can help others help you a ton! I’d always rather have a coworker ask me questions than them assume or never learn something! (and sometimes new people fill a great void where others on the team want to ask but feel they’ve been around too long to actually ask, haha)

    Best of luck in the new position!!

  53. sb51*

    Language is a lot more formal (on average)-don’t swear or be super slang-y until you get a feel for how people talk. Showing strong emotion is less common.

    It’s okay to tell your new boss and any coworkers who are training you that it’s your first office job and then ask questions; people who have never worked retail or other service jobs may not realize the assumptions they’re making but will probably be happy to answer even if they’re surprised by a question.

  54. She of Many Hats*

    Congrats for moving out of Retail!!

    1) Assuming you used the resume & interview tools on AMM, your new job saw You Do Have the needed skills to be successful in this new arena.
    2) If you had the chance to see the workspace and future coworkers, dress a little more conservatively than what you saw. Once you figure out the office culture, you can adapt to fit better for your role. Wait to invest in “office clothes” until you have a better feel of the culture.
    3) Look, Listen, Ask Questions. Watch what’s going on about you, listen and focus on your training (and future training opportunities), take notes and ask questions about what you’re learning or if you’re not sure what’s next.
    4) DO NOT belittle yourself and your skills – especially to yourself. It’s “I don’t know this yet” and not “I should know this or I’m stupid for not knowing this”.
    5) You Got This!! You’ve survived the demons of Retail & Customer Service and mastered skills there that will take you far in the corporate world.

    1. Delta Delta*

      totally echoing #4. It’s fine to say “I’m new and I haven’t learned this yet.” It sort of disarms people if they’re upset about whatever. It also makes you look very open to learning. Back when the earth cooled and I was a new lawyer, for the first year or so I frequently said that I was new, and this almost always got the other person talking and helping.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, definitely lean into the ‘I’m new’ thing. People will help! Even when you’re not brand new to the office, if there’s something you’re not sure about you can absolutely still lean on ‘I only started a few months ago and I haven’t come across this before; can you explain what the process is?’. Heck, I’ve been doing my current job for a good few years now and there are still situations where I say ‘Do you know, I’ve actually never come across this and I’ve no idea what we need to do; let me see if I can find out’.

  55. KC*

    When I first started working in an office, I felt like I was a kid playing dress-up all the time because I was wearing uncomfortable blouses and pants that I would NEVER wear outside of a work context. It took a while for me to figure out how to dress in a way that was comfortable AND office appropriate while still capturing my personal style. I’d say, just browse some websites for stores you like and take a look at the types of outfits that look a little more “polished” to get some ideas for what to wear! When you’re at work, hyper-focusing on your appearance/outfit can be such a distraction. Don’t overthink it, just get things you’re comfortable in that make you feel good.

    Also – it will take you a while to figure out what your job even IS. This is normal! I always say it takes 3-6 months to get used to a job and about a year to get good at it. So don’t beat yourself up if you feel totally clueless at first. You got this!

  56. Clefairy*

    If you’re wanting to fit in and for people to take you a little more seriously right off the bat, I’d take a look at how everyone else dresses and try to match the vibe- for instance, if everyone is in jeans and t-shirts, don’t show up in a skirt and heels or a 3-piece suit. I would say initially, the goal is to NOT stand out- you want to be known for your good work and attitude, not your eccentric way of dressing. I come from experience- my thing has always been dresses and skirts and being the most put together person in the room, but I realized pretty quickly when I joined a startup how much I stood out, and it wasn’t in a good way. I found acclimating much easier when I fit in more to the overall vibe of the office, at least at first.

  57. Narise*

    Just a few things to share.

    Prior to first day drive your route to and from work preferably at the same time you will be going to work and coming home as a test. Are there any delays or construction you should plan for? Any preferred routes or areas to avoid?
    Make sure you bring ID and any needed paperwork. My advice leave it in the car the night before if this makes sense.
    Wear layers because you don’t know how cold/hot the office will be and you want to be able to adjust throughout the day. Neutral colors and comfortable shoes.
    When meeting people include where you are in the company if needed. ‘Hi I’m Jane I report to Ann in operations.’ It gives them context to understand what you do and will help them remember you.
    Prepare a small three sentence intro for meetings and or zoom calls. A bit about your job background and an interesting fact such as favorite vacation place or anything about pets or a hobby is usually good.
    Take notes and review your notes at end of the day and look for any gaps or questions you can ask in a one on one with your boss or with your trainer. Trainer and boss are more than likely not the same person.
    Pay attention to what is being reviewed and when possible find out time line. What should you know in three weeks vs six weeks? Make sure their expectations are understood. This may not apply to all jobs but measurable progress is usually the focus in the first 90 days.
    It’s ok to take a break and/or use the bathroom as needed.
    Bring snacks and lunch and cash/small bills just in case it’s easier to go out for lunch. They may have a team lunch to welcome you the first week although not usually the first day.
    Take note of what people have at their desk or cubical. A small fan office is probably warm; a lot of heaters office could be cold; personalized items or only standard office issued notebooks and pens.

    1. Random Dice*

      Good point about breaks.

      Don’t ask to go to the bathroom. Just go.

      For lunch, it’s ok to tell your manager you’re heading out and when you’ll return, but you can also ask if that’s what they want from you.

      1. I have RBF*

        This may vary if they have a coverage based job (reception, tech support), but it’s generally correct.

        Ask your manager what the policy on breaks is. Usually getting up for a few minutes and getting coffee or going to the bathroom is expected, and just getting up to stretch and walk around is encouraged from an ergonomic viewpoint.

  58. ijustworkhere*

    All these are great suggestions. The only thing I have to add is just be careful about “oversharing.” Many office environments are friendly, but there’s friendly and then there’s WHEW TMI! When someone asks you “how was your weekend” or “tell me a little bit about you,” keep your shares somewhat brief and generic until you get a better understanding of what the workplace norms are.

  59. The Person from the Resume*

    Be kind to yourself. Try to make sure you get enough sleep – extra sleep – before your first work day and during that first week. Expect to be tired in the beginning because experiencing and learning new things is mentally tiring. This is normal.

  60. chs.29*

    Congratulations! I totally agree with all of the advice to observe other employees’ behaviors, especially the well-respected and long time employees. Also, remember that your manager KNOWS you’re coming from retail. They’ll expect you to need time to make adjustments. Don’t feel rushed to figure everything out on Day 1.
    When I went from customer service to office, I had a bad habit of telling my manager every single time I would be away from my desk, even if only for 5 minutes. Finally, she said “You know, you don’t have to tell me when you’re going to be away from your desk. You’re more than capable of handing your time, and I don’t have to know exactly where you are every second of the day.” Every manager is different, but good managers will tell you what they want.

  61. bamcheeks*

    Expect to spend a much, much longer period than you are used to thinking, “but I’m not DOING my job! I don’t understand everything!” The expected “you’re new, so you’re still learning, we don’t expect you to be up to speed Doing The Actual Job yet” period in retail and temping is about four hours: in a lower-level office job, it’s one to four weeks, rising to 2-3 months in a senior or strategic role. You can’t make decisions and Do The Job until you understand the job, and that takes some time. Depending on your company’s size and efficiency, you might not even have the necessary computer access to start Learning The Job until your second week. It’s quite normal for your first week or to just be having meetings with people your predecessor Jane used to work with whilst they show you their systems and say things like, “Jane used to ask us to send these through every other week, just let us know whether you want us to do the same thing or more or less regularly” and things like that.

    If you’re used to being productive by lunchtime on your first day — even if you’re not fully up to speed, you’re certainly talking to customers and seeing a few sales go through — this feels WILD, and you will get increasing anxious that there is something badly wrong because you’re not DOING THE JOB. This is actually very normal!

    You can ask your manager for reassurance on this– it might even be a good conversation for your first day, just to set expectations. When would you expect me to do actually doing the thing? When would you expect me to be fully up to speed? Good managers will be very happy to talk this through and reassure you that everything is OK!

    1. bamcheeks*

      Oh, and when you’re having those meetings, make notes like mad, including about the things you don’t understand (“the SPQR feeds into the PDM, which reports to Silver group— ask Stew what this means!!!”) — it’s quite fun looking back six months later and realising that half of this stuff was actually totally irrelevant and you still haven’t a clue what SPQR or PDM is, and you never even talked to Stew again.

    2. Rosie*

      This! There’s some useful info online about The First 90 Days, which I’ve used when training new managers – the first 30 days, meet the people. The second 30 days, learn the processes. By the end of the third 30 days, be able to make one suggestion to improve one process. If you’re on pace to do that, you are in good shape!

      1. Random Dice*

        Oh that’s really wise!

        Yes, OP, memorize this and repeat it when you’re feeling out of your depth.

  62. grocerystore*

    Every workplace is different. Wardrobe wise, I would make sure you have some decent business casual wardrobe pieces in your closet. Most places these days are business casual if not more casual. A pair of nice black pants and a nice shirt is a great way to start (no matter which gender you identify with). Once you get to the office and see what people are wearing you can tailor your wardrobe choices to that. As a late 30 something female, I tend to wear jeans, nice slacks and cute top. Some days I can get away with a sweatshirt or company branded comfier shirt.

    As far as workplace conventions, this will largely follow your company culture. I would observe for the first couple of weeks and see how people behave. Some offices are more team oriented, socialize quite a bit and have lots of chatter during the day. Some offices will be more reserved, quiet and people will keep to themselves. It’s often not a one size fits all. I too worked in retail and then make the shift to office life. This was a big change for me. Like you my co-workers and I were good friends (as is often the nature of retail). So I was sometimes a little too chummy for my office mates. So I backed off a little.

    Hope this helps! You will adjust just fine and grow to love your new 9-5!

  63. Nook Nook*

    Congratulations! I made this change as well about 10 years ago after over 18 years in food retail. I thought I was destined to be retail for the rest of my life (PS: nothing wrong with this either, but for me it was draining). An opportunity opened up in a friend’s company, and I took a chance and applied. It was entry level, call center type work and a complete 180° change from what I did for over half my life.

    I had about 6 weeks of training and shadowing in my gig, which allowed plenty of observation and “learning the ropes” of both the job itself and the culture. Kept my initial attire basic business casual (black trousers, blouse). By the 6 month mark I was wearing nice jeans and a comfortable sweaters or button downs like everyone else.

    Surprisingly, my customer facing retail experience that gave me thick skin really helped deal with people on the phone better than I had imagined (and only one person at a time instead of 5 hollering at me at once?! I’m in!). I did the online trainings they gave me, and just showed an eagerness to learn to my boss, who was more than supportive.

    I ended up moving up quickly, absorbing as much as I could, and listening to any helpful feedback given to me. I’m now a manager of a small team of analysts in the same job (not linked with the call center anymore) and WFH. Sometimes I wonder if the retail part of my life was a dream…

    If I can do it as terrified as I was, you absolutely can. It’s a different kind of exhaustion some days (mental instead of physical), but a great change of pace…and of course holidays/weekends!! All the best in your new position! Would love to hear a follow up in a few months once you’re settled in!

  64. Olivia*

    Congratulations on getting out of retail!!! Having made this transition myself, I’ve got a few points for you:

    1. I found making friends with co-workers a little tougher in an office environment merely because your main opportunities to socialize are lunch or after work. I’d strongly recommend making time and budgeting for lunch, coffee break, and happy hours approximately once a week for the first month or so while you get to know people, if you can. This may vary depending on your office environment, location, and COVID protocols, though, so it’s just a guideline. The point about having a back-up lunch is a good one, too.

    2. You are used to being under heavy scrutiny in retail (cameras, customers, etc). That doesn’t exist in the same way in most office environments. The scrutiny isn’t a security camera necessarily, but instead potentially monitoring software on your laptop. I’m not trying to say that every office looks at that info all the time or anything, but keep in mind that *everything* you do on a work laptop or on a work account (slack, email, saved documents to any shared cloud spaces like sharepoint or google drive, etc etc etc) is accessible by your employer. I’d recommend keeping your personal email, your personal social media accounts, etc, completely separate from your work devices and work behaviors.

    3. Work moves more slowly in an office environment than in retail. Sometimes MUCH more slowly. While you get accustomed to expectations, I’d recommend you add the question ‘When is this expected to be done/When does this need to be done/How does this rank in terms of priority with [insert other to-dos]?’ as a regular question every time something new is added to your plate. Understanding expectations comes with experience and will grow with time.

    4. Unless you’ve landed in an unhealthy environment, you won’t be expected to do much your first couple days other than get your technology and access set up and meet people. You most likely won’t have to rush into work the first week. Release yourself from the stress of not contributing when you’re brand new – it’s expected!

    5. Did you submit a timesheet when you worked retail? Most office workers don’t have to track their time at all. Not sure what the expectations are for your new role, but you most likely won’t be accountable for every minute of your day. I found this to just be a relief and easy to stop doing. If you find yourself needing more structure, I strongly recommend blocking out small chunks time on your calendar for uninterrupted work – that means for your own interruptions as well.

    6. 1-1 Meetings with your manager/boss: I know when I worked retail that if my boss came over to talk to me or called me into the office it almost always meant bad things. That is not at all necessarily true in an office environment. Your boss most likely will set up regular 1-1 meetings with you – this is an opportunity to check in on your workload, check in on what you’re learning, and for your boss to give you updates on how your work is prioritized and your performance. You boss may, especially the first couple months, also schedule ad-hoc 1-1s with you just to keep you informed of additions to your workload and check in – completely normal. If you’re ever uncertain about if feedback from your manager is positive, negative, or if you have trouble differentiating between ‘it would be nice if you worked on this’ and ‘do better at this or else’ – ask for clarification! A great boss will be upfront with you, but sometimes it can be tough to hear the nuances when you’re first starting. Don’t be afraid to be direct.

    7. If you come across a technology you aren’t very familiar with, learn how to use it on company time. For example, if you haven’t used Outlook before, and your employer expects you to use it but doesn’t provide explicit training, look up a crash course on youtube or similar and go through the lessons *during work*. You shouldn’t be learning on your own time unless your employer is…not great.

    I’m so excited for you to make this transition! You’re going to crush it!!!

  65. No One Is Indispensable*

    You say you’re worried about getting along with coworkers. A legitimate fear, but I would recommend striving for kind, respectful and warm but fairly surface level relationships with your coworkers. People can make true friends at work, but that is often not the norm and can be seen as overly familiar or uncomfortable for many people. When managing new grads or folks coming in from retail in the past, I’ve noticed they sometimes: a) assume that polite surface level connections mean that coworkers hate them; or b) immediately dive in with far too personal conversation topics. Definitely try to avoid both.

    Also, and I cannot stress this enough, EVERYONE IS FAKING IT. Everyone. No one really has it together all the time, and we all should feel out of our depth to some degree when taking on new things. The fact that you are thinking about all of this puts you ahead of a lot of entry level hires who come in with 100% confidence and 0% humility. You’ve got this!

  66. Fernie*

    When you’re moving around the office, catch people’s eye and smile. If you have a chance to talk to people, for example in the elevator or at the coffee machine, start with either, “I’m not sure we’ve met yet; my name is Cersei, I’m new in Llama Grooming” or “I know we’ve met before; please tell me your name again!” or “You’re John Snow, right?” And then talk about the weather, because that’s something everyone has in common. This will help you feel connected to the people in the office.

  67. Jo-El (Kryptonian Name)*

    You need to watch and learn the following 3 things: the product, the process, and the culture and the rest is gravy.

    Oh, and I am telling you, it will be 6-8 months before you start to feel comfortable in your position. Cut yourself some slack until then.

  68. M*

    The thing that surprised me the most when I made this change was how differently people share with each other in an office environment vs retail. And retail, I knew all of my co-workers private health details because they would tell me, and many details about their sex lives and romantic lives. When I first got into an office environment, I ended up treating people too casually at first.

    I’ve definitely been on teams in an office environment where people do share the kind of intimate personal details that I’m talking about, but have found that to be the exception rather than the norm.

  69. Ex-prof*

    Congrats on the new job! I think for me the biggest thing in my long-ago first office job was the feeling that I had to be productive every minute, that if I didn’t have work to do right now then I needed to chase down my boss and ask for some.

    An adjustment to make is to start thinking in terms of the task instead of the time.

  70. Linda*

    Office culture tends to be much more subdued than retail. I’m not a bouncy, high-energy person by any means, but I still had to tone it down by about 30% when I made the switch. It’s much more acceptable to be direct in retail; in an office telling someone that they’re being a jerk and to cut it out would be shocking, even if you used a friendly or joking tone. Stick to boring, neutral topics of conversation for the first month or so, until you get a sense of what’s normal in that office. The weather is a classic go-to, along with sports and popular tv shows. How cute your pet is is a safe topic, and you’ll rarely go wrong asking people whether they did anything fun over the weekend.

    Here’s a big one: don’t talk about any interpersonal conflicts you may have outside of work. That argument you had with your neighbor or friend will come across very differently to office workers.

    That said, most people are pretty nice and are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you make a few faux pas, especially if they can see that you’re trying your best to learn the new job.

  71. Jojo*


    There is already a lot of good advice in the comments. Definitely find a mentor. Give it a few weeks to get a feel for people to see who might be good at helping you learn the ropes. (Avoid that one person who derails meetings and gets lots of eyerolls from coworkers. You don’t want to learn from that person.)

    Something I had a difficult time adjusting to was sitting all day long. In retail, I was always on the move, so finding myself sitting in a meeting for 2 hours was a big change. If you need to wiggle or anything, try to do it in a professional manner. I take notes. Lot and lots of notes, just to keep my body a little bit busy.

    Another thing. So, you know those customers who are just completely rude, entitled jerks? Those jerks have jobs, and they treat their coworkers the same way. And, you have to deal with them every day, sometimes for hours when you work in an office. You’ll need to extend your polite customer service face in those situations, and it’s just as exhausting as it is in retail. It sucks, but at least you don’t have to work Black Friday, so worth it.

    But don’t worry too much. If you are good at retail, you have the skills to figure out how to work with your new crazy coworkers.

  72. MrsRed*

    You’re going to be terrific. They hired you because they saw something that would fit not only the job requirements but also the vibe in the office. I’ve been at my agency for over 15 years and I still occasionally struggle with imposter syndrome. When I’m in my feelings about it, there are a few thoughts that help pull me through. One is a meme I saw years ago that said something like “someone out there is confidently failing at what you’re good at”, which gives me courage to keep plowing forward. I’m also a big fan of “fake it til you make it”. You’ve got this. We’re cheering for you.
    As for specific time management things, I live by the alarm on my phone. I set it every time I need to remember something time specific. I also keep my work calendar updated so I get reminders on my computer about upcoming meetings/appointments, and so that my colleagues know when I am available.
    Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and take notes to refer back to later.

  73. Polar Vortex*

    My company hires a lot of retail workers into their first office job at our entry level. And I’ve spent a long time training them in previous positions. A couple of thoughts:
    – Build yourself a “uniform” for work. Buy 2 or 3 pairs of pants and a few shirts and make that your work uniform as you discover the work norms. First few days you might end up dressing fancier than the office norms, but that’s pretty typical for new hires. Honestly khakis and polos will work in a lot of offices, so it’s not too far different from your old life, and that can make the transition easier. (Honestly, as long as your dressing like you were going into work at retail and not to work for a club, you’re fine.)
    – You’ll find your people at work, especially in the digital age. Chances are your company has a slack or other chat channel where you can find like minded people who all cook or read or own pets or watch movies or play dungeons and dragons or whatever. Just turn on that customer service retail friendliness and that’ll help a lot as you meet all these new people.
    – As a new hire your time typically is very mapped out and very reviewed. You’re not going to go in and be sat at a desk and told here’s reports to compile. There’ll be training, likely you’ll have a mentor if it’s a good place, and you’ll have a manager who’ll be reviewing your work. As time goes on and you have more flexibility, then you’ll have to learn how to map your time. Some people use timers for that to help focus.
    – Imposter syndrome is the worst, and it’ll feel difficult as you adjust to a new environment after leaving a place where you knew everything. My recommendation is to take a post-it note and either every day or every week tally off things you did well/things you were successful at post training, and things you stumbled on. As the weeks go on, you’re going to see that column of successes really grow. And also: put a 3, 6, and 12 mo reminder on your calendar to review where you came from and where you are now. It’ll amaze you what you can learn and become an expert on in just a few months or even a year.

    Good luck!

  74. Boom! Roasted!*

    Congrats! This may have been mentioned, but bring a notepad and take notes in meetings. There will be more info covered than you’ll likely remember. Even more, though, notetaking signals that you are actively listening and taking instruction/info seriously. I’ve seen notetaking work in people’s favor to make a great impression in those first weeks!

    I’d also like to second asking your manager if there are any perpetual to-dos that aren’t time sensitive. Those are great fallback tasks when things are slow, or when you’re still learning. Managers often forget to mention these because they aren’t the priority (even though everyone would appreciate them getting done).

    1. Random Dice*

      Nothing pisses me off like having to repeat instructions to someone who didn’t take notes the first time.

      If they took notes, I don’t care!

      If they sat there, right next to a notepad, and didn’t write down the steps as I’m giving them, (head exploding emoji)

  75. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Be friendly and polite and get to know your coworkers, but don’t make “besties” with anyone right away (or maybe ever). It’s been my experience that the coworkers who want to be besties right away, are the toxic ones you’ll ultimately want to avoid in the future. Most coworkers don’t fulfill their social lives through work relationships.

    As an ice-breaker you could ask about good places to get coffee/lunch around the office, or what the culture is about communal food/kitchen items (is stuff left on the table meant to be for everyone, is there a coffee/tea club, when does the fridge get cleaned out?)

    One big difference is that office jobs tend not to have a set schedule for breaks. Unless the position is one that requires constant coverage, like a reception desk, no need to announce or ask about bathroom or lunch times.

    1. Boom! Roasted!*

      Agreed on the ‘besties’ advice. Keep those relationships friendly but professional always. If you need to complain about someone, there are only two right ways to do it: a) constructively seeking advice from a manager unemotionally, or b) venting to someone outside of the business who doesn’t know who you’re talking about.

      I really doubt you need this advice, but…if you are complaining about a coworker to a coworker, it’s gossip. I’ve seen people new to office environments confuse gossip for venting, and it never works out well for them.

      1. Random Dice*

        And never ever EVER put anything even remotely critical about a coworker in writing.

        If you do, switch to to text and don’t use names.

        But don’t.

        1. I have RBF*

          If you do have a question about a coworker, it’s best to find someone a little more senior at the company (like a mentor) and ask them if your perceptions are real or not: “Hey, John, I noticed Ralph was a little curt in the meeting today. Is this normal or does he have some extra stress going on?” or “How do I tell Tim that I don’t obsessively follow [sport] or [sportsball team] without hurting his feelings?” Do not say “Why is Edward Scissorhands such a glassbowl?” It may be that some of your coworkers are neurospicy and/or have very different communication styles.

  76. put that unpaid labor back where it came from or so help me*

    I’m assuming you’re non-exempt/hourly but… don’t work for free. I’ve had new coworkers who come from retail/food that make comments about doing work stuff at home (i.e.: off the clock) and DON’T! One, it’s illegal, but two: don’t give your labor away for free! You may be used to someone taking advantage at a different type of job but now that you’re at an office job, really don’t think about doing that (not that you should be asked, in a healthy environment). And this depends on your office, of course, but you also probably don’t have to worry about them being too strict about hours. Talk with people to figure out how things work. But don’t assume they’ll dock your hours just because you have a dentist appointment in the morning, etc. Understanding and flexibility are more the norm than you’ll expect.

  77. MassMatt*

    Congratulations! Lots of good advice has been given already.

    Several years as retail manager here. I would say you may find that a surprising amount of skills you had in retail (maybe without even realizing it!) are transferrable. Sales? Dealing with difficult or unreasonable people? Developing rapport in a short time period? Anticipating customer needs? Ability to follow instructions? Being dependable? Learning on the job? Staying busy in down time? Managing cash? Light accounting? Taking inventory? Spotting theft/loss prevention? Taking on unglamorous tasks that need to be done?

    People make entire careers out of some of those skills, especially sales. Others, such as being dependable–well, you can’t make a career out of it, but you may be surprised how many people’s careers are hindered for lack of it.

    Best of luck to you! The very fact that you are ASKING these questions tells me you will probably do very well.

  78. Chrysanthemum*

    You will definitely have lots of down-time at first. If you have an internet connection, use this time to look carefully and thoroughly at your competitors’ websites. Once you are fully onboarded you won’t have time to do this, but it’s really useful to understand their products/services, the way they talk about themselves, their brand voice and style, etc.

  79. Lils*

    I transitioned from wait service to office jobs many years ago. All of the advice shared here is excellent. A couple of additional things I learned:

    Yes, you may encounter snobbery about your previous career. I found this to be worse some place than others. But–and I can’t stress this enough–***you are coming in with some freakin’ amazing people skills from retail–skills that competent managers will be thrilled with.*** The fact is, you know way more about customer service, human relations, and working in a team than your colleagues who never worked retail or other service jobs. You can learn the work-work of your new job, no problem–and you’ve got lots of very valuable skills you’re bringing in with you the first day. I hope this helps you counter your imposter syndrome a little bit.

    The other thing is: try to keep up your friendships from your previous career. I find these people to be true friends in a way most of the (perfectly fine but mostly boring) folks I encountered in my new office job can never be.

    Congratulations and best of luck!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      “But–and I can’t stress this enough–***you are coming in with some freakin’ amazing people skills from retail–skills that competent managers will be thrilled with.*** The fact is, you know way more about customer service, human relations, and working in a team than your colleagues who never worked retail or other service jobs.”

      This is a great point – my coworkers who had worked in retail, restaurants or bars were, hands-down, the best at staffing conferences. The folks who had gone straight from their Poly Sci master’s degree to the office couldn’t manage to hand someone a lanyard without screwing it up.

      1. Lils*

        Yep! Retail and hospitality workers are usually also great at running events, multitasking, anticipating needs, organizing and inventory, money-handling, and more. People downplay these skills in offices sometimes as “beneath them”. But I’ve yet to encounter a workplace where no one ever planned a party or town hall, no one ever arranged for a group meal, or needed to organize things from a customer’s point of view.

        1. I have RBF*

          Being able to organize meetings, with agendas (and food if a long meeting) is a definite skill.

          Good customer service skills are never out of place. After all, in a lot of jobs your “customers” are other departments, as well as actual clients/customers.

  80. Lost my name again*

    Congrats! Some advice in no particular order.
    – confirm core hours with your boss on your first day
    – you likely won’t be “released” for lunch. So on day 1, ask you boss when do people usually take lunch and how long they usually take. Also ask a neighbor, in case the norms differ by level.
    – bring your lunch the first few days until you know whether leaving for lunch is the norm
    – for office attire, go a touch more formal than you think you need for the first few days and then just mirror what you see others do. You generally can’t go wrong with slacks, shirt, and blazer or cardigan.
    – without knowing your field it’s hard to give great advice about how to plan your time, but if you feel you don’t have explicit direction from your boss, feel free to draft your own plan and run it by them
    – there will likely be lots more emails in your life now, so talk to your boss and peers about what warrants and email and what can be communicated via chat or in-person
    – related to the one above, mirror peoples language and style a little in the emails your draft (assuming they are professional)
    – lastly, you may not be besties with them and that’s okay, but don’t shy away from casual convos and sharing a little about your life outside of work

  81. put that unpaid labor back where it came from or so help me*

    As for imposter syndrome… nothing kicks that to the curb like dealing with Grown Professional Adults that are beyond stupid and/or jerks that somehow make it this far while being such.

  82. Bess and George*

    Lots of great advice above. Some people have mentioned seeking out a mentor, and I want to add a note of nuance to that. Be cautious of people who actively seek to take you under their wing, especially if they promise to “tell you who to watch out for” or “show you how things really work around here.” Steer clear of interpersonal conflict and office drama. Be vaguely friendly but don’t form strong attachments right away.

    1. Lils*

      Absolutely agree.

      I have experienced this several times and it never turns out well if you allow it to continue. If they come at you with “get you on my team” vibes, they are toxic–run away! Key signs are: immediately sharing gossip about others, or complaining about the organization, or acting like they’re you’re only ally and everyone else is horrible.

  83. Indubitably Delicious*

    There’s a lot of great advice here.

    One random note: swearing. In the retail/foodservice jobs I had, people tended to swear a blue streak when safely not in front of customers (although, obviously, every workplace is different). In offices, this is very much a watch and learn topic. Some offices will never let so much as a “damn” cross their collective lips; others are much more… relaxed (particularly, I think, if adjacent to more blue-collar work, but it really varies).

    The important things in the office environments I’ve been in are (a) don’t swear in front of strangers (customers/patients, colleagues you’re not familiar with, etc), and (b) don’t be an outlier on the side of profanity (ie aim to not be the sweariest). I would even go so far as to say “don’t say a swearword you haven’t heard someone else say”, if you want to be on the safe side — and stay far away from using swears as a personal insult. It’s one thing to say “this new policy seems like bullshit” to a close coworker, and a whole other level to say anyone is a bitch.

    1. I have RBF*

      I would even go so far as to say “don’t say a swearword you haven’t heard someone else say”, if you want to be on the safe side — and stay far away from using swears as a personal insult. It’s one thing to say “this new policy seems like bullshit” to a close coworker, and a whole other level to say anyone is a bitch.

      Very much this. Sometimes you can say “This damn computer is slow”, but never “So-and-so is an an asshole.” Never insult people, even if you think they are being 14K jerks. If they are truly being jerks, you can complain about their conduct, but not who they are.

  84. Justice League*

    On your first day on the job, you will probably be clobbered with a mountain of HR paperwork: health insurance forms, tax info, etc. To avoid brain blanking, it can be useful to prepare a list of useful things like the contact info and date of birth of person(s) who you would like to benefit in case you are brained by falling teapots on the job.

  85. I love it here*

    As a manager who hires for my team, I *love* to hire people who have retail experience (even if that’s their only or most experience). If you have survived that as a job, you’re going to rock my job, where our customers are mostly normal :-D

  86. Hiring Mgr*

    One thing I do with a new hire is within their first few days send a welcome email introducing them to various people at the company that they should meet for one reason or another. Then as part of their onboarding for the new hire to schedule an intro call w/each of them.

    If your boss doesn’t do something similar, you can ask for a list of folks who you should get to know.

  87. Redwinemom*

    It’s been a while since I made the transition. Here’s what I suggest:
    1) Show up at least 5 minutes early so you can be ready to work at your assigned start time. This might change over time, but it’s smart to begin this way for a few weeks/months. Do this even if others do not.
    2) It’s OK to wear the same outfit several times per week if you are limited in your clothing options. Mix up the various tops with the skirts/pants/cardigans.
    3) As others have said, bring your lunch – and perhaps food that does not require using the microwave until you know the routine of others. Maybe bring a granola bar or other things that can get you through the afternoon ‘crash’ when you need a quick pick-me-up. Also, you may or may not be allowed to eat at your desk, so something quick is better.
    4) You mentioned having close friends at your retail job. Realize that close friends take time to develop, and a lot of people who work in offices like to go home right after work rather than go out after work. It is not a reflection on you.
    5) If you get into a conversation with others, remember that they might be able to be away from their desk longer than you. Keep it brief and return to your work area. This helps your boss/ supervisor to see that you are ready and able to work.
    6) Best of luck to you as you begin your new phase of life! Enjoy it.

  88. WordNerd28*

    I made this exact same transition about a decade ago, and it was definitely a change! Some things that I experienced:

    1. The transition from standing all day to sitting all day is harder than you think. Be sure to get up and walk around.
    2. If you’re in the type of office where you have flexibility over your breaks and lunch, take your full allowed breaks and lunch time every day. Get out of the building if you have to. It’s really easy to just wander back to your desk before the time is up, but DO NOT DO IT.
    3. It will take a bit to get into the rhythm of scheduling your own day. Do some experimenting with how you handle working with different noise levels and at different times of day. I do all my in-depth work in the mornings and the easier tasks in the afternoon when I can, because that’s how my brain works best.
    4. You will have a lot more down time to sit with your own thoughts in an office. It won’t be physically exhausting like retail is, but it can be mentally exhausting.
    5. Getting to know your coworkers has to be a lot more intentional if that is something you’re interested in. People generally are ok with you dropping by their desk occasionally to chat for 5 or so minutes, but you have to be aware of how busy they are and not overstep. Try to say good morning and good night to the people in your immediate vicinity every day!
    6. Take notes and ask a lot of questions. The ramp up on any job is difficult and you may feel like a failure for awhile, but you’re just learning. Give yourself a lot of grace!

  89. Isabel Archer*

    What a wonderful and supportive community AAM is. All of this advice is thoughtful, kind, and truly useful. Congratulations and good luck to you, OP!

  90. EarthhatesWomen*

    I would just expect the office culture to be completely ridiculous once you really get to know everyone. Every office I’ve ever worked in has had batshit dynamics and its super normal. The idea of being friends with my coworkers outside of work is a nightmare to me, so I don’t advice there, BUT as a 25 year restaurant/retail employee that made the leap to corporate Director last year ( it was a looong road) the hardest part for me turned out to be sitting all day and being stuck in one spot. The sedentary life is hard, and I hate staring at a wall. Don’t let impostor syndrome snag you. Nobody belongs anywhere and we’re all faking it, I promise you. Just fake it too, keep your cards close to your chest, don’t let anyone know anything deep about you for a while–until you get the dirt on everyone else, and then you can just become your next version without everything in the past following you. It’s worked unbelievably well for me.

  91. Siege*

    Think about if you have any successful structures for productivity that you use in your personal life. Are you an email filer? Do you do inbox-zero? Do you use a print calendar or do you use a digital one? Do you like to color-code notes based on whether there’s a task in there or for different meetings? Do you think you WOULD like to do those things? Now is the time to start, not two years in when you realize you can’t find anything in your company drive folder because you didn’t build a structure. And even if you guess wrong about what you’ll find most useful, it’s easier to merge “Trainings” and “Annual Review” than find both folders and other related files when they’re scattered across your hard drive, the company interweb, and your email.

    It doesn’t need to be fancy, or even comprehensive yet, it’s just thinking about how you’d like to maintain your digital and task spaces, because it is way easier to start now than to start later.

    And make sure someone tells you where the bathroom is.

  92. Educator*

    A few things I have noticed managing people with retail experience in their first office jobs:

    1) I think that, as a manger in an office, I give way less direct instruction than managers in retail. I expect my employees to take a project and run with it, rather than checking in with me at every step or waiting for their next task. It is totally cool to make sure you are on the same page as your manager about what you need to do as you are learning, but be proactive, i.e. “I am going to make those changes to the Jones account, then circle back with their team. Does that sound good to you?” rather than waiting to be told what you need to do next.

    2) In a healthy office, part of what you are being paid for is your suggestions, insight, and opinions. If you foresee a problem, flag it! And if you have a brilliant idea, share it. I’ve had some former retail folks need to adjust the mentality that some things are their job and some things are beyond their control. Office jobs tend to naturally evolve based on the employee’s strengths, so it is great to share your ideas in a respectful and appropriate way after your initial learning period.

    3) So many skills will transfer, especially your ability to work with different people and solve problems. My former retail folks tend to be particularly calm in tense situations with clients, which I really value.

    1. Adultiest Adult*

      I was sort of looking for a comment like this. As a manager, I do expect people to be a certain degree of self-sufficient, and I have definitely had people come from student or more highly structured roles who are accustomed to being frequently told what to do next, or needing permission to move from one task to the next. I do my best to be available to my new hires, but there are times I might leave someone for a few hours with a list of tasks or set of materials and expect that they will move through them at their own pace. (By the way, plus one million on having a pen and a notebook handy and taking notes as you are shown how to do tasks or given a list of things to do.)

      Echoing another thing people have said about time management: you should check in with your manager about how time is handled specifically in your new job, but generally I don’t need to know whenever you plan to leave your desk, when you’re leaving for lunch unless you’re leaving in the middle of something important, when you leave for the day, or if you will be less than 15 minutes late for whatever reason, unless a client is waiting on you. Most office jobs trust you to maintain your own to-do list, which you will develop as you train and learn what tasks are yours, and manage your own time accordingly. I only need to know if you’re going to be unavailable for a substantial period of time, or you need something from me.

      Final random thought: figure out what your manager’s (and any other significant senior staff you interact with regularly) particular quirks are and what they value. My current boss doesn’t care if I put my feet on her desk while talking to her one-on-one, but she wants people precisely on time to her meetings, even if she’s late herself, and she lives and dies by honesty. Understanding that has helped me figure out how to work well with her, and advise others how to do the same. Good luck OP!

  93. Healthcare Manager*

    I went from hospitality to office work in my early 20s I remember the biggest non-work thing for me was switching from a uniform to dressing myself.

    So I structured my own uniform, and system to make sure I wasn’t wearing the same clothes too often.

    I wore the exact same black work pants every day for several years and the same shoes. Then just focussed on rotating a few tops, and then worse the exact same black blazer for several years.

    No one really cared my pants and blazer were the same every day and it became a good way to have a ‘uniform’ and feel prepared.

    This is more of a pressure for females than males but planning out in advance worked well for me.

    1. I have RBF*

      When working in an office, trying to be “fashionable” was too stressful for me, so I went the Steve Jobs route. I picked a set of colors I liked that matched with each other, then I only bought items that matched that color scheme. Then getting dressed in the morning was very low stress – I never had to worry about coordinating colors, because my entire work wardrobe worked with itself. For me that was black pants and purple polos, with the occasional black, grey or purple long sleeve item and sometimes bluejeans. If you are used to a uniform, you can totally develop a “work uniform” that conforms to your office dress code. YMMV, of course.

    2. Baroness Schraeder*

      Yup. I only own two pairs of pants and they are both the same. 90% of my wardrobe is different tops and all of them work with my black pants. In summer if it’s really hot I might switch out to a black skirt, but usually the air conditioning is cold enough to wear long pants all year round. Nobody has ever noticed (or at least commented on) my lack of variety down below.

  94. PassThePeasPlease*

    One of the best (and most reassuring) things a coworker told me when starting out was that it would take about 6 months to understand what was going on and could take even longer to fully grasp all the facets of your job. Give yourself the time and grace to learn all you can when you’re just starting out and don’t feel bad about asking for clarification or additional information. Being on the other side now and helping train and manage new to the workforce folks, I’d much rather answer several questions than have them work on a project and miss part of it because they didn’t ask! It also helps me hone my training skills so I know what to address down the road for similar projects!

    A second tip would be to try to find someone at your level to ask the non-job related but still important questions like where’s the bathroom and how to set up the various computer systems. Even better if your org pairs you with someone from the start but those early days chatting with someone who has been there longer than you (but likely doesn’t have their own reports but is excited to help!) really made a difference! Just don’t get too overly familiar with them, it’s still a work relationship but being friendly does wonders!

  95. Annie Blue*

    Lots of great advice above. If there is an administrative assistant/secretary in the office, they can be a WEALTH of information about pretty much everything. If your new role is not heavily customer facing or deadline driving, you will likely have much more flexibility in taking time off.

    Good luck!

  96. kiki*

    A couple things I’ve struggled with and seen folks struggle with when they move from retail or the service industry into office jobs:
    – Boundaries with coworkers– it’s really common for coworkers in service jobs or retail to know a lot about each other’s personal lives. In a lot of offices, it’s best to start out a bit reserved– don’t tell all your coworkers about the new guy you’re dating, don’t invite your coworkers out and get super trashed, etc.
    – You generally don’t have to ask to use the restroom, get coffee from the breakroom, etc. Unless your job has a coverage component, for anything less than 15 minutes, you don’t really need to ask or let anyone know.
    – In office jobs, you generally have a bit more flexibility to determine what sorts of work gets done when in your day, unlike retail where you are subject to the whims and timelines of customers. Get in tune with your own daily rhythm and block out times of day for deep, focused work.

    My advice:
    – Observe others a lot– you can catch up to a lot of professional norms just by spending your first couple weeks watching what others do.
    – Ask questions– for the first few months at any job, asking a lot of questions is a good thing! It’s a lot easier to be the person who asks about appropriate footwear than to become known as “sandal guy”

    Don’t stress too much! Every office is different, so even if you had been working in offices for years, there might be norms at your new job that you’re not aware of!

  97. Lowly office bod*

    Don’t worry too much – there will still be pleeeeeenty of being told what to do, and having your week structured for you.

    A bit less maybe, but it’s not going to be drastic. Especially in the first few months, if your new workplace is reasonable, expect quite a lot of specific instruction.

  98. CommanderBanana*

    Be aware that you have no way of knowing what your coworkers’ relationship with each other are, so be very careful of expressing any thoughts about someone else to them. You have no way of knowing who is friends with, related to, dating, or roommating with someone else at your org.

    Also, and I think this is good advice in general, assume that everything you tell someone at work will be repeated.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      This, this, this! OMG, office politics can be brutal, and for me the best way to avoid a misstep is just not to be involved.

      Even if you know what’s going on, don’t talk to others about it. And if you hear rumors and speculation, don’t pass along the gossip.

  99. Bored*

    The thing I’ve struggled with the most over the years in office jobs (other than management roles) is the boredom. I’m pretty efficient and fast-paced, so it doesn’t take me long to get things done. Many, many times, I had such a small amount of work to do that I was bored for hours every single day. This did not change from company to company and role to role, so I finally just accepted that it was the nature of office work, not me, and I found ways to fill my time. I stopped sweating it if I was a few minutes late or needed to leave early, I stretched out lunches and ran errands (if I had the freedom to do so), and found quiet things I could do at my desk that weren’t obviously non-work-related, like journaling, reading articles online, organizing my household budget and shopping lists, things like that. I know it sounds horrible, but for years I tried to ask for more work and it just didn’t materialize. Once, in an entry-level job, I tried to show how enthusiastic I was by constantly seeking out more to do. I was eventually laid off. Never made that mistake again!

    On the flip side of this, I’d say it’s likely that most everyone else is bored a lot of the time too. So don’t feel bad about it and don’t assume you’re doing anything wrong. Show eagerness to learn new things and volunteer to help others when you can, just not excessively. And then, release yourself from the guilt! You’ll eventually get to a point in your career where your value to the company is in your experience and knowledge, and not in the hours you log. At that point, it becomes easier to kind of ignore the clock and just get the work done.

    Good luck to you!

  100. Green*

    Don’t ask to use the bathroom or tell anyone you’re going. Just … get up and walk.
    If you’re in England and you’re getting up to make yourself tea, ask if anyone else wants some (apparently that’s office etiquette there).
    Look at how the most polished people around your level dress, and dress like them. No cleavage, no spaghetti straps, no jeans with rips, no sweatshirts.
    Expect to be REALLY tired each day when you get home for the first week or two, and know THEY know it takes time to train you and get you standing on your own two feet.
    Take five minutes at the end of each day to make a list of what you need to do the next day.
    Re-write your notes after anyone trains you on something.

    1. I have RBF*

      One thing I do is keep a running list of things I’ve done during the week. I literally have a Notepad++ document on my computer with a file called “DoneYYYY-MM-DD.txt” with the date of the end of the workweek filled in. Then I just jot down what I’ve done, like “Meeting: HR onboarding (1)”, “Training for how to generate the TPS report with Ralph”, or “Emailed James F with my edits of the Forbin project report”. This comes in handy at review time or when you get asked “When did you do the last TPS report run?”

      I used to work in a billable environment, and kept a very detailed notebook with charge codes and times. This is not common in most office jobs, but if you are in a billable hours environment you need to develop this habit early. When I did this, people could literally come back to me over a year later and ask what I did on XYZ project in a certain week, and I could look up my notes and tell them.

  101. The Rural Juror*

    There are soooo many time management tools out there, but it’s ok to start simple with just a notebook and jot down tasks. Do you need a daily list of things that will be your responsibility? Weekly? Monthly? Are there one-off tasks you’ll be asked to do from time to time? Make a list!

    Then, over time, if you find you like digital tools better, you can transition. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and there’s nothing wrong with pen and paper if you’re not yet used to more complex tools. See what other people in the office like to use and try different ones on for size :)

  102. ABK*

    Ask your manager for a weekly 30 min 1:1 if they don’t offer that up themselves. Time to talk about what you did, what you’re planning on doing the next week, ask for more work if you need it, hold yourself accountable to finishing stuff and and a time to ask for feedback! It’s really SOOOO important!

  103. Mama llama*

    From day 1, keep a list in a notebook (or just a piece of paper) of words/phrases/processes you hear that you don’t understand. That way, when your boss or other helpful new coworkers ask if you have any questions, you can pull a couple things from the list. Makes the most of their time.

  104. OhGee*

    I’m just here to say: don’t stress too much about fitting in/”getting it”. I work for an Ivy League university in one of the more formal (in dress and behavior standards) departments, and we hire people from the retail world frequently. In my experience, people who have worked retail are able to work with a wide variety of personalities, and they tend to excel at the work we do, and people here are generally enthusiastic about helping new people learn and settle in.

  105. 2 Cents*

    So excited for you, OP!

    I worked in retail PT in college, but have been in office jobs since. A big thing is how time is structured. While the time clock ruled my life in retail, it’s been more amorphous in my office jobs.
    –Breaks and start/stop times are not as well-defined. I keep track of time, but it’s not like I have to punch in/out officially. Some days, I take longer breaks than others, when I’m skipping lunch and barely breathing because of workload (that’s not often).
    –Spend the first few months seeing how “chatty” the office is. One office I worked in rivaled a morgue in quietness. Another always livened up at lunch. Another was always bustling and loud.
    –I tended to wear dressier clothes my first day/week (like a suit jacket, slacks, etc.), then adjust according to how people on my level or just above dressed.
    –Being upfront that I was new. And not being afraid to ask clarifying questions.

  106. Robin Ellacott*


    I think you might find more skills are transferable than you think! Retail does have its admin components, especially if you did closing/opening, and customer service skill is always useful. We often hire ex-retail folks for admin jobs and if they don’t do well, the issue doesn’t seem to have been their experience, more something specific to them.

    Of course it depends on the office/industry, but you may not find the same blurring of work and social relationships in the office, though. My three best friends are people I managed in a retail job more than 15 years ago, but that level of intimacy likely wouldn’t work in my current job. So keep an eye out for norms in that area and take your cues from the people to seem to be senior or successful.

    Re the actual work, hopefully your boss gives a lot of feedback but if it’s not clear, I’d make especially sure you are clear on the priorities for your various tasks and what productivity level you’re aiming for when you’re settled in.

  107. Angstrom*

    – Bring a notebook to all meetings. You’ll be getting a flood of new information and it helps to write things down.
    – Everyone has a different way of handling task lists: whiteboards, paper lists, software, etc. The right way is whatever works for you.
    -Don’t be afraid to ask your manager about the priorities of tasks.
    – Beware of “Reply All” in email. :-)
    – Most of your colleagues will respond well to genuine friendly curiosity, and will be happy to explain their roles or help you learn.
    – It never hurts to learn more about standard office software(usually MS Office). Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook — those are tools you’ll use in almost any position. Online tutorials are a good way of using down time.
    – As with any job, “How can I help?” and “I’d like to learn” will go a long way towards making a good impression.

  108. ecnaseener*

    If you’re a regular AAM reader you probably know this, but problems are much more likely to be addressed via write-up in retail than in an office – in some environments, if it doesn’t merit a write-up it doesn’t really matter. If you’re used to that, keep in mind that most offices operate very differently and even informal corrections are important.

  109. Tkg*

    Conversational topics! In corporate offices, stick to safe things like:
    Safe-for-work hobbies or weekend activities like going to the zoo, or hiking, or video games
    Really, you should mainly just talk about work itself! Your projects, your questions, the office, etc

    Anything sex related
    Mental health
    Judgmental topics about society or individuals

    Retail and service industry jobs can train you to overshare really personal and inappropriate topics with your coworkers. There’s definitely a learning curve, so don’t be afraid to ask your boss or a trusted friend at work if something is acceptable to bring up or not.

  110. goddessoftransitory*

    Remember, retail IS a “proper, grown up” job.

    Service jobs as a whole are treated way too dismissively in our society. You have the job you do now because of what you learned in your career (and yes, it is a career) so far. You can organize, think on your feet, assist others with ease, and get along so well with coworkers that you met your partner at work! That is not nothing!

    Dress codes and social circles change, but your experience and good work history will serve you well no matter what kind of job you’re doing now.

  111. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

    Congratulations, OP! Others have addressed overall dress code, but I want to add: bring an extra pashmina or light sweater along in addition to your regular outfit. Many offices are kept pretty cold and you probably won’t be moving around as much as at your retail job. You don’t want to have trouble concentrating because you’re freezing! Lots of people who work in colder offices (or who run cold themselves) keep a scarf, sweater, or even blanket at their assigned desk.

  112. NNT*

    Don’t expect to fully have the lay of the land until about a year into the job, generally. When I first started working in the office, I expected to get used to it in the same amount of time I did with my retail jobs, but office culture is different, and it can take some time to develop.

    Be careful choosing your work friends- at first, it’s easy to gravitate towards those who gravitate to you, but you need some time in the role (at least 6ish months, maybe more) to understand who everyone is and how much of yourself you should be giving to each person. Be kind, be friendly, but hang back a bit and observe so that you don’t end up in a situation where you have become unfiltered with the wrong person, simply because they are unfiltered with you. (A hard-earned lesson on my part- don’t be like me!)

    If you find yourself doing something that no one else in your office is doing, even if no one says anything, I’d strongly recommend you stop. Early in my career, my boss said he didn’t really mind if I didn’t get in exactly at 9 as long as I worked 40 hours. This was music to my non morning person ears, and I took to coming into work at 10:30/11(the now 32-year old version of me cringes to think about it.) No one else was doing this, but no one said anything to me for a long time, so I continued to do it. But eventually, it was a problem. I knew at the time that I was probably getting in too late, but it was convenient for me and so I ignored that little voice in the back of my head. Don’t do that- if you feel like you shouldn’t be doing something, you probably shouldn’t.

    Also, dial 9 before the phone number when you’re dialing out from your office phone. No one told me this was a thing and it was super embarrassing to have to ask how to use the phone. :-)

    1. NNT*

      And also- remember that life is long and time heals a lot. I made so many mistakes at 24 in my first office job, and I cringe to think about some of them. But after 7 years in that position, I was an expert in what we did, was completely comfortable, and regarded as an extremely high performer. When I resigned, they had a lovely party for me, and almost everyone I ever worked with made time to attend. No one remembered my early missteps but me. You got this, OP!

  113. Constable George Crabtree*

    This is just gonna be weird and stressful for a while, but eventually it’ll be your new normal! I moved from food service to a very professional office environment and it was months before I really felt comfortable – not just in how to dress and what to do, but how to behave and where professional lines were. I employed my “shut up and listen” tactic pretty consistently, which really helped me learn about the office culture, and reading AAM helped A LOT in figuring out professional norms for asking questions, taking time off, etc. Go out and get yourself some flexible shirts and sweaters, the kind that are easy to dress up or down, and stick with pants for work if you can (the skirt/dress situation is fraught with dos and don’ts specific to office culture, save that whole thing for a little later). If you find some cool people you vibe with, ask about where they like to go to lunch or coffee – it’s a nice way to open an avenue to invites, or at the very least you’ll have something to connect with folks about. Finally, your new manager knows you’re learning – ask a bunch of questions! Don’t save stuff until it’s been a long time and now it’s awkward to admit you still don’t know it. The first 3 months of my job were a constant stream of questions and requests to check my work, and after that I was fully autonomous most of the time, and in another few months I was truly earning my own reputation around the office for my work.
    Long comment, but all to say I’ve been there and it’s tough but great! Meet people, be ready to learn constantly, and good luck!

  114. Former Retail Lifer*

    Unlike in retail, in an office job you can:
    (1) go to the restroom without telling someone.
    (2) get coffee or a vending machine snack without telling someone.
    (3) leave the premises without a manager going through your bag to make sure you didn’t steal anything.
    (4) at least partially manage your own tasks so that you allow for some breathing room.
    The first one was a hard adjustment for me for some reason!

    If you find you have a lot of downtime, there’s lots of great advice in this thread. I’d add that when I started my first office job, I read the employee handbook from cover-to-cover during my downtime, and I also read quite a bit of our operations manual that’s all online. Lots of stuff that came up later in training was something I’d already read about, and much of it never came up in training but wound up being useful later.

    1. AcademiaCat*

      It took me the longest time to not feel the compulsion to open my purse for inspection every time I left the office!

      I did eventually get over it.

  115. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

    Congrats! it always feels weird when you get that first office job, especially when you’ve worked retail for a long time.

    1. Clothing: For the first few days wear similar clothing that you wore to your interview. It might be a bit more dressy than what the normal code is but it shouldn’t be a problem. After you’ve seen what others are wearing you can alter your dress if you want. For example if everyone wheres jeans and khakis you might not want to wear a suit and tie.
    You could also ask HR or whoever is your contact at the company what the dress code is and what they recommend. Whatever you do, wear comfy shoes that are broken in. You might be walking around a lot on your first day and won’t want to be in uncomfortable or new shoes. I’d also recommend wearing layers. So like a cardigan or blazer that you can take on or off depending on the temperature. one of the number one complaints of office work is that some people are too cold while other people are too hot.

    2. For the performance piece it really depends on the job. All office jobs are different and the tasks are going to depend on your company and what your job really is.
    You should be in some sort of training at least for the first week, so there will be some structure at first. This is also something you can ask your coworkers if they are in similar positions or your boss. If you are being trained by the person who you are taking over for they will have a lot of insightful information. Sometimes the tasks just come depending on what you do. For example, someone who works as the primary contact for the company, like a receptionist, is going to have to answer the phone so their tasks and how they structure their day will be very different from someone who works in marketing and doesn’t have to be available at specific times for outside calls.

    3. Getting along with your coworkers. This is just going to be something natural that happens. I’m sure you’ve worked with some people, even in retail, where you just didn’t click. Just be kind and friendly, but don’t force yourself onto people.

    I think Alison should create a what NOT to do on your first day/week when you are in a new job. Basically read some of the letters here that should give you an idea of what to do or do not do.

  116. AA Baby Boomer*

    I switched from banking to an office job it was a huge transaction and learning curve. I did not use the Microsoft Software at the bank. It was a specialized program. I took some introduction workshop at the local Parks and Rec. You can also find things like that at the local library, YMCA, etc. It made a huge difference in my confidence level. They ran 2 – 3 hours and cost around $25 each. It would be a lot more now, but might be worth it. I took word, excel and intro to Japanese. Take advantage of any training that is offered to you.

    I can tell you what “not to do, and do, etc.”
    Take lots of notes. One of the things I hate about training college students is that they will not take notes and I the same question 3 – 4 times.

    If you require information that can be supplied by the company’s web page please use it, before asking about something. This is a pet peeve of mine —- I give the students and wage employees the payroll schedule, due dates etc. I still get calls and emails asking when their next pay date is. Get your time card submitted on time; you do not want to find yourself being chased down by your supervisor asking you to do it. Most time cards are on line. Please read the direction on the web, if available before asking for help. But if you are confused or having trouble with your time entry, reach out to someone (co-worker, supervisor, payroll) if you cannot figure it out. We prefer that you ask for help; than miss your time card submission deadline. No strong scents, colognes, etc. You have no idea if a coworker has allergies or ashama. I found out the hard way that I’m allergic to vaping chemical after some students were doing it in the bathroom. Take a few moments when it’s quiet to get familiar with office machines, like the copier, fax, etc. Do this before you use it for the first time. The office may have the manual, or you can find it on-line You do not want to find yourself learning out to use it when another 2 – 3 people are waiting on you.

    You do not want to cause more work for your team mates & supervisor. That is where my pet peeve comes in. Students not entering their time cards, than show up stating that didn’t submit and they cannot even pull up the payroll dates. They stand there wanting you to do it for them. I have one student that I have come to dread seeing in my office; because she is unwilling to follow directions and pops up every 2 – 3 months stating her time cards were incorrect or she missed it. Than I spend 1 -2 hours pulling up the pay schedule, etc. She just stands there, I tell her she needs to enter all of the info, just. Stands there looking at me until I get frustration and do it for her. I need to find out the language to make her more self sufficient, and if the replacement time card isn’t filled out; I’m not doing it for you.

    1. I have RBF*

      Yes, this.

      If you are hourly, fill out your time sheet daily, make sure to save it, then submit it when you are supposed to. While you may not punch a time clock, hourly workers still need to track their time and do time cards, usually electronic ones.

      Some employers are more regulated than others when it comes to when you fill out your time sheet. But you can never be wrong filling it out as you go, making sure that it’s up to date at the end of the day. Just be sure to save it, but not submit it, until the end of the pay period. Then be sure to submit it so that you get paid promptly and aren’t a problem to your boss or payroll.

      1. AA Baby Boomer*

        So true. Our wage & students are on a two week cycle. The time period ends on a Saturday at midnight. It’s locked at down for time entry at 9 am the following Monday They have enough time to submit. They think they are just disrupting me. It affects two other offices on campus besides me.

        If I end up with a student under my supervision, that doesn’t follow directions and is unwilling to do so; if they are causing more work than help I’ll replace them at the end of the semester. Sometimes sooner if it’s bad.

  117. Elizabeth West*

    When I went from food service to an office, one general thing really stood out to me: mental work still made me tired. My brain had to switch from doing very obvious physical tasks to figuring out thought-oriented tasks, and sitting all day felt strange.

    In your first days, you’ll have to process a LOT of information as you simultaneously orient yourself to the physical space, your coworkers, office culture in general and your office in particular, and the actual work itself. It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed. I recommend taking notes during your training, so you don’t have to go back and ask the same questions repeatedly.

    Get good sleep a couple of nights before your first day. Try to get up from your chair and move around at intervals. Be sure to eat, and don’t forget to drink water. Take it one day at a time and you’ll be fine.

    Congratulations on the new job! \0/

  118. C*

    For structuring your work – plan! you’ll find your preferred method but I’d suggest starting with a list of the task and when it needs to be done by. Then at the end of each week/day, work out what you are going to do (& when) in the next week. Then when a new piece of work comes in, you can look at when it can be done and discuss prioritisation if needed. And remember the key question “When do you need this by?” One persons idea of urgent does not match another’s!

    At the beginning, ask for regular feedback. When you finish a piece of work for someone or on a regular-ish basis (for repeating work) ask something like “As I’m new to the role, I just wanted to check that this work is ok/has met your expectations – if there is anything you think I should change in my approach or delivery, I’d be happy for the feedback.”
    (Feedback is useful always, but it’s easy to ask at the beginning with a “I want to do my best for you” lens). Then take the feedback well (and clarify anything that isn’t clear).

    Good luck!!!

  119. Beezus Quimby*

    I remember when I made the switch from 10 years in retail/food service jobs to an office job! Maybe this advice is specific to me but I’ll share anyway. First off, you (probably) don’t have to lead with falling over yourself apologetically to take a day off or leave for a bit for a doctor’s appointment. AND you still get paid when you step away. It’s glorious. Don’t speak as freely to your coworkers and especially supervisors as you might in a retail/food service environment. I realize that if you haven’t worked these jobs, my advice sounds contradictory. But trust me, in these types of jobs the same people who want to sh*t talk everyone with you will turn on you when you need time off. Related – almost all the retail/food service managers I’ve had enjoyed some banter and ribbing amongst the employees. That is common in this field. Don’t do it! Don’t do it with anyone but definitely pay attention to the hierarchy at the office and be appropriate deferential. Good luck!!

    1. Beezus Quimby*

      I thought of something else – you don’t need to tell someone every time you step out to do anything, like use the bathroom. I am sure I embarrassed myself a couple times with that one.

    2. AcademiaCat*

      Oh yes, the ribbing and the gallows humor are big Nos in an office setting. But I can put that away for hanging out with friends in exchange for being able to just say “I’m going to be late two days from now – I have an appointment.” and not have anyone blink.

      Also weekends. Not working weekends is the stuff dreams are made of.

  120. cardigarden*

    This may have been addressed upthread, but in addition to needing like 6 months to feel adjusted in a new job, I also wait about 6 months before showing my whole personality. I like to observe how other coworkers interact before I accidentally step wrong with someone, and it’s a good way to figure out the office politics. I’d rather come off as friendly but a little aloof than overshare with the office gossip or say the wrong thing to the tattle-tale. These people don’t exist everywhere, but you don’t want to find out the hard way that you have one.

  121. hereforthecomments*

    Can’t go wrong with wearing black pants and comfortable shoes–you may get a surprise tour or taken out to lunch. If you paid attention to what others were wearing when you interviewed/visited your workplace, you can either dress those pants up or down accordingly. Don’t use smelly things (candle, Glade plug-ins). Your office is NOT a self-contained space. Same goes for playing music. Observe and listen instead of talking a lot (unless asked something). Ask questions. In my experience, after the first week or so, I know how to dress within office norms, who to ask certain questions and who to avoid. It will be fine! Good luck!

  122. lw*

    I’ve been thinking about this for one of my direct reports who came from a non-office job: do some professional development about how to manage your inbox. Know how you’ll file emails, how you’ll use the delete button, what the time window expectation is for responses, and how to prioritize. Good luck and congrats!

  123. manda*

    When I first moved from retail to a more office environment, I remember one of the things that felt incredibly different was how much I could accomplish in a day. Estimating how long tasks would take was so different from retail stocking, auditing, merchandising, etc. and I was underestimating how long things would take (especially because my new role had a lot of interruptions). So be prepared for your sense of what you can realistically accomplish in a day to shift (particularly as you are new to this role, team, and company!).

  124. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    Something I remember from my service industry and retail jobs was a feeling like I always needed to be busy while I was on the clock and I was aware that I was expected to be completing my “side work” when not actively helping customers or waiting on tables. Office jobs can feel like there is a lot of down time by comparison. I think it can be tough to know what to do with all that time when you aren’t used to having much say in how you used your time at work previously. Try to develop good routines for ongoing work that is not time-sensitive (but adds value) that you can return to when you have a lull, like reviewing policy manuals, updating process documents, filing, etc. This sort of thing will look different in every job and its perfectly fine to approach a colleague or a manager to ask if there are things you should be working on when you find you have some down time or more capacity to tackle other things. But please know also that you don’t need to be doing a work task every second of your work day. Sometimes the day is just a bit less full and that’s OK.

  125. Library IT*

    For dress code – unless you are in a super conservative field, as a female-presenting person you can’t go wrong with black dress pants, a blouse, and a sweater. It won’t look too dressy if you are in a casual office, but you won’t look too casual if it is solidly business casual.
    For fitting in – ask a lot of questions about people. People tend to feel seen if you remember the name of their dog/kid/grandkid/husband. Ask about their hobby/favorite movie/what they’re reading. You’ll find things in common with people. But also, you don’t have to be best friends with the people you work with – you just want to be able to work with them and get along.
    For time – ask your supervisor! Have some goals that are specific and time-bound. I like a daily to-do list and a weekly to-do list. Your deadlines can be arbitrary, but sometimes it helps to have them just for yourself. Also, not every moment has to be spend working. There is time to research things, learn things, try things, talk to people, etc. And don’t expect to feel like you know what you’re doing for 6 months at least.
    But honestly, the fact that you’re asking these questions means that you are going to do fine!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Fully agree with your two main themes! Firstly, people generally like talking about themselves (obviously, there are some exceptions). So people will probably respond well if you ask them about themselves and their work and show interest in their answers.

      Second, I’ve found that managers are not always clear on timelines for stuff. So ask! “When do you need this by?” and “I can have a draft done by Wednesday, does that work or do you need it sooner?” are totally acceptable questions.

    2. AA Baby Boomer*

      Agreed, especially the last comment. Each job has a cycle, where things take place. You’ll have a better grasp of that within in 6 months. It’s not necessarily the same for all duties and time lines. I have gotten in the habit of writing down my to do list for the next day at 4:30. Sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling brain dead towards the end of the day. When you feel that way use that time for things that do not take a lot of mental thought to it.

      You can do the list, some filing, return calls, etc. I suspect that others do this too:

      I have some faculty that will send me an email or receive it from me and they are in my office wishin 10 minutes. Especially if it’s something they sent. Sometimes I haven’t even had a chance to read it. You’ll learn who those individuals are in your office. Please learn to use the delay email feature. I have learned that the individuals that are the worse in regards to doing this, it’s best to set up an delay send in Outlook. . I leave at 5 pm; and I set it up to go out anywhere between 4:45 pm to 5:10 pm. It’s a time management tool. You know that whatever you need to do / say is off your plate. It’s going out; but they are not showing up in your office within 5 minutes. I have two faculty that will not read the emails fully before they call me or show up. I have found if they cannot reach me; they are forced to read the entire thing and I do “not” hear from them the next morning unless it’s a to do item. The program has to be up and running for the delay delivery to work. This is a link to the directions: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/delay-or-schedule-sending-email-messages-026af69f-c287-490a-a72f-6c65793744ba

  126. ENFP in Texas*

    Bring a notebook and take notes. Things that need to be done, training classes that need to be completed, forms that need to be filed, processes to be followed, people to reach out to, due dates, computer software systems, things you don’t understand but need to ask questions on later…

    Even if you’re usually “really good with learning new things”… write stuff down.

    You may feel like you’re trying to drink from a fire hose at first with all the information coming at you, and that will impact your ability to remember and retain everything. THAT’S NORMAL! Taking notes is totally acceptable and will be helpful to refer to once you’re feeling a bit less overwhelmed.

    You got this!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yes, notes. I can’t count the number of times having notes has saved me.

      1. I have RBF*

        For me, due to a disability, “if it isn’t written down it might as well not exist”. However, taking this tack also helps when you are under stress (like starting a new job or learning a new task.) When taking notes on training with a person one on one, you may want to read back portions to check on whether you understand stuff.

        One thing too is to take notes on the onboarding process, and what was slow, hard or weird. You may be asked in a few months to help someone even newer onboard, and your notes will be invaluable.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          And also in meetings I always take notes, even if someone else is taking notes for minutes. Pretty regularly I’ll remember that we talked about X a while back, but not some of the details or nuances. But it’s in my notes :)

  127. FamousBlueRaincoat*

    Congrats! I switched from 10 years of retail to an office environment back in 2014, but hopefully most of this still applies. :)

    First, you have gained invaluable skills with reading people and de-escalating situations in retail–that’s useful in almost every job, and shouldn’t be discounted.

    Second, my biggest advice is to watch some YouTube videos to go over the functionality of commonly used office tools like Microsoft Outlook (including the calendar function), Teams, Powerpoint, and Excel. You don’t need to be an expert but knowing the basics will definitely make you feel more confident.

    Third, take notes not just on tasks but on people. Not in a creepy stalker way but like a “go to this person for x” way. Ask if you can see an online org chart and during downtime, glance at it and see if you can glean information about who does what and who reports to which leader and who sits in your location. This information is always useful. Find out if your office is one that has administrative/executive assistants, and if so, be friendly to those people because you never want to be on an admin’s bad side–they are the secret power brokers of most offices. Plus they have lots of useful information that you might not learn through formal training like which catering companies to use or what conference rooms are always booked for visitors or board meetings or whatever.

    When you have downtime during your first few weeks, use it to review your notes and maybe even add to those notes if you’ve gleaned new information but haven’t jotted it down yet. If your company has its own intranet, use downtime to read articles on it and get to know the company better. Sometimes there are comments or message boards on the intranet–those can be fascinating places to learn about company culture too.

    Unless you’re explicitly told it’s fine, don’t use headphones/earbuds the first few weeks–you’re going to want to listen in whenever you can even if you are not the one being addressed. Once you’re more established, there will probably be times you can listen to music or podcasts while you work but I still recommend balancing that with times you don’t have those on. It’s like having an office with a door–you don’t want to keep it closed all the time or it sends the wrong message about you.

    Make a folder in your email for positive feedback, and put all the emails in there that praise you & the work you do. That will help with the impostor syndrome and it will also be helpful on days when you’re just feeling meh.

    Every office has their own jargon and acronyms, but you might do well to google “common business acronyms” just to familiarize yourself ahead of time. If you hear one you don’t recognize, discreetly look it up or ask someone what it means.

    You’re going to do great!

  128. Sarandon*

    When I started in my first job where I was in charge of how I managed my own time, I found it incredibly useful to keep what I called my “Daily Tasks Accomplished” list – basically just a word document where I kept track of what I did each day. Nothing too detailed, things like “worked on x project” or “emailed report to so-and-so for proofreading”, things like that. I also had my “to-do list” at the bottom of the document, with the projects that I was working on, and a list of ongoing projects or training ideas that I could work on when I had downtime. Having it all in one place helped me feel organized and on top of things, and made sure that I didn’t forget anything because I would add it to my to-do list right away.

  129. Dill pickle*

    Once, I actually staked out my office-to-be to watch what the workers were wearing

  130. It is what it is*

    Take notes (paper and pen). You may think you’ll remember it all but you won’t.
    My process is to write short phrases and then go back later and write out in more detail. I do it for specific procedures of my job but also random bits that are brought up (free coffee the 1st of the month; Susan is the go to for printer issues; maintenance number is xxx-xxxx).
    I always keep my notes because I can get flustered occasionally in stressful situations and knowing I have notes to refer to eases my mind.

  131. Lizard*

    Congrats! I had made a similar change a few years ago, and I was very concerned with dressing appropriately for the office. I basically did a deep dive on the company website and socials, and took a cue from the random employee photos (photos of employee engagement events, conferences). It helped a lot… seriously, black slacks, flats, and a sweater will take you far until you see what everyone else is wearing for yourself. Also, it’s common for new folks to be slightly more formal than the staff on the first day, then segue to a more casual look.

    For food: bring something basic that you can keep in a bag all day, until you figure out the breakroom situation. But know that it’s very common to be taken out to lunch on day one to get to know the team/boss better (but it’s not always a given, so be prepared to fend for yourself).

    I’d also bring a notebook and pencil, even though you will likely be provided those items, eventually. You’ll probably be getting a lot of key info that you’ll want to recall, but it always seems like people forget that you might not have anything to record that info on! Might as well head that off.

    Best of luck to you in your new job!

  132. Roscoe da Cat*


    There is a lot of unstructured work that has to be done in an office. For example, you need to brush the llamas on a schedule, but you also need to fit in the brushing spreadsheets. I found that a notebook in which I kept a running list of activities that needed to done was essential to keep up.

  133. AnotherSarah*

    I might have missed this, but my best piece of advice is to go into every meeting–from a quick convo with your boss to a real capital-M Meeting–with a notebook. For your sake, as you really will want to write down follow-up items, other things of note, but also because it will help show that you’re engaged and responsible.

  134. Mbarr*

    When you encounter a roadblock in the work you’re doing and you need to escalate to your manager, make sure you come prepared with what you HAVE accomplished, and ideas for possible next steps. Your manager won’t want to hear, “I don’t know what to do.” They want to hear what you’ve already tried.

  135. Sparkles McFadden*

    Get a notebook and take notes whenever someone is training you.

    Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I used to keep a running list of questions and then go over that list with someone during a lull so I wouldn’t keep interrupting someone. One weird caveat: Try not to ask any questions about why something is done the way it is. Who, what, when, where and how are all good, but asking why sometimes makes people weirdly defensive, (often because they don’t really know why). I learned a lot from observing other and even more by asking “What are you working on and how can I help?” Ask about wikis, manuals or reference lists so you can look things up.

    Try not to apologize if someone corrects you. Say thank you instead. Be open to feedback. It’s easy to get defensive so remember part of the job is learning how to deal with feedback.

    The clothing thing is always interesting, but I’d say being neat and clean is more important than anything else. I always overdressed a bit because that gave me more confidence, so what works for you might be different. I think it’s always better to start out a bit on the conservative side and change things up when you see what the environment is like.

    It’s also OK to ask directly about the culture and norms. When do people usually take lunch or breaks? Is it OK to have headphones? How do people normally answer the phone (in some places, this is a thing) and it is OK to use email, IM or Slack instead of the phone? Who should you go to with questions? Is surfing the net OK during breaks? How often can you check your personal phone or use social media (if at all).

    I think the most difficult thing to learn is when to ask for help. Will spending 15 minutes more trying to figure this problem out on my own make things worse? I had times where I’d tell my boss I was trying to figure something out, but I might need his help in a half an hour. That way, he’d know what to say if someone asked “Why is that server still unavailable?” That was with a boss who liked the staff learning that way. It might have been different with someone else. You’ll learn what’s best by talking to your boss. It’s fine to ask “How often should I check in with you on this?”

    After being in retail I am sure you know all about dealing with difficult people, so you’re starting out with a good skill set in that area, I’m sure! Best of luck!

  136. Former Retail Manager*

    Congratulations on the new position! I also made a similar transition from being a retail manager to a professional position almost 13 years ago and had very similar concerns. Here’s some advice:

    — Office politics are real. When you’re new, be pleasant to everyone you meet, make an effort to glean as much information from them as you can, and be wary of anyone who trash talks others. (Note: Trash talking should not be confused with honest warnings about how to conduct yourself/keep yourself out of hot water. For example, a warning about submitting timely expense reports or else Bob will notify your supervisor if you’re so much as a minute late isn’t trash talking.) Keep that information in the back of your mind, but form your own opinions based on your interactions.

    — Keep your eyes and ears open and be aware that how things may be presented to you when you’re new, may not be the reality.

    — Remember that you never know how long you’ll stay and someone that comes on board at the same time as you might one day be your boss, or vice versa. Conduct yourself accordingly.

    — In retail, our team was close, and we all overshared. We all knew pretty much everything about each other’s personal lives, the good, the bad, and the ugly/scandalous. If your team was similar, beware that you don’t generally do that in an office. Keep it light and G rated….pets, TV shows, G-rated hobbies, a play you went to see last weekend, etc. You may eventually befriend some co-workers and share more stuff with them, but for about the first year or so, I’d suggest keeping it very professional but friendly.

    — Clothes…suggestions above are great. Business casual (slacks, nice shoes, and a sweater or blouse/ button down shirt) should be fine in most settings unless you are told otherwise. If you haven’t been told anything, ask your hiring manager or HR about dress code. It’s a very normal question.

    — As for doing the job….know your learning style and take actions to facilitate learning what you need to do your job. For example, if you know that you are someone that needs written directions for more involved processes, carry a notebook and pen with you whenever someone instructs you how to do something and take notes. If you need screenshots/visual aids, create your own job aids as you walk through the process so you can refer back to those when you have to complete that task again.

    If you don’t fully understand something you’re being asked to do, don’t pretend you do. Ask for clarification or paraphrase back what you were told and say that you just want to be sure you are clear on the steps needed to accomplish X task. Also, ask for timelines to determine how long a task should take you, if that isn’t conveyed. You don’t want to spend half a day on something making it perfect if it doesn’t need to be perfect and should have taken an hour. Same deal for deadlines. If you aren’t given a deadline or deliverable date, ask who needs it and when.

    Try to strike a balance between asking relevant questions and asking too many questions, especially if you are encouraged to ask questions. If you can google and find the answer yourself, do that. You don’t want to annoy your trainer or manager in the first few weeks, and I assure you, even if they tell you to ask questions, they don’t want you asking questions without taking any initiative to try and find the answer yourself first.

    It’s a good idea to say, “Hey….I am trying to complete XYZ and I referred to *this source* or *that source* and it looks like I may need to do either A or B. Am I on the right track or should I be seeking information from another source?” This shows initiative and problem-solving skills and gives your trainer a starting point to assist you.

    And finally, I would say communicate. About the first 4-5 months in my position, I just tried to keep my head down, ask as few questions as possible, and take direction without asking for much clarification or asking follow-up questions. There was a LOT of miscommunication, frustration and wasted time for both myself and my manager. Once I started speaking up more, asking for clarification and ensuring I was on the right path, things got substantially better and less frustrating for everyone.

    Best of luck & I’m sure AAM readers look forward to an update at some point in the future.

  137. Isolda*

    The fact that you are humble enough to come here and ask for guidance is evidence that you will likely succeed. It means that you are open-minded and willing to learn. Follow the good advice people are posting here, then come back and say how things are going after you’ve been there a while. Best of luck!

  138. grape seed*


    I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned or not but observe what your immediate coworkers are wearing. Higher management may have more flexibility in their attire, you most likely will not.

    Find out who to go to if you are having tech issues. Do you email IT? Is there a ticket system?

    Take LOTS of notes. You will look more engaged and you can refer to your notes before asking a question you may already have the answer to. (Nothing annoys me more than when I train someone, they take 0 notes & then keep asking me the same question despite multiple demonstrations. Are you even paying attention? Why am I bothering to help you if you won’t take the initiative to remember this simple process?)

    And don’t microwave fish ;)

    1. I have RBF*

      IT tickets: Please, please, please don’t file a ticket that just says “my computer doesn’t work”. Tell them what you were doing and what the result was, what you expected, and copy/paste any error messages. It will win brownie points with IT.

      Also, know the difference between requests (“I need to install X software”) and problems (“My Outlook won’t display my calendar for next week”).

      Don’t file something that is affecting you as if it affected everyone, unless you know that it literally is affecting everyone. Nothing gets you on IT’s bad side faster than filing every little ticket as top priority, drop everything and fix this or it will crash the company.

      I’ve known people that everyone in IT rolls their eyes about, and others that are favorites because they write great tickets and are a pleasure to work with. You want to be the latter.

    2. AA Baby Boomer*

      I feel you on the fish. When I was working in a large office building, One of the lawyers across the hall heated up fish. We were on the 9th floor; the odor went down the 5th. Everyone was calling security. Found out he want home sick. Did the fish make him sick? or the constant complaints?

      The “not” taking notes is a thing with the new generation. [not complaing], jsut something I’m seeing in the office. With COVID people were forced into working on-line; and have issues adjusting to being back in the office.

  139. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    There’s a lot of great advice in the comments! One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that each manager will have their preferences about things that you’ll need to learn. Some of it is big stuff, like how much autonomy someone in your role will have to make decisions and solve problems. Some of it will be smaller stuff, like Susan likes to see revised drafts with tracked changes, but Janet just wants a clean copy (in my organization, it’s related to the chain of command – intermediate managers want to see what changed, but senior leaders get a clean copy). Or Philomena is totally fine with you sending out meeting notes to the group, but Clarisse wants to get them from you and send them herself. Is it OK to remind them that you’re waiting on them for something or will they get weird about it? Do they want you to remind them because that makes their lives easier? And if it’s OK to send reminders, how long should you wait before doing it? Do they like to communicate via e-mail, chat, phone, in person, and does it depend on the subject?

    There will be absolutely no way to know in advance what the general approach of the company is and what the people you’re working with specifically prefer. Your coworkers can give you some insight, but it’s also OK to ask how they’d like you to approach things. You’re asking so that you can give the manager what they want!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      To elaborate a bit on one point, the aspect where I’ve struggled the most is making sure I’m clear on who I’m allowed to contact and who I shouldn’t. In a previous role, I was allowed to contact people who were at my level or one level above me, but if the other person was higher up than that, I had to send an e-mail to my manager, to send to her manager, who would send it over to the other person. Except that sometimes it was OK to e-mail the other person as long as I also CC’d my grandboss. And sometimes there was some weird quirk in the org structure that means that the key contact was someone two levels higher than me, so I could contact them directly in some circumstances, but had to go through my boss and grandboss in other circumstances. It can be confusing. And, in my experience, overstepping on this leads to getting your hand slapped in ways that might not happen for other errors.

      ANYWAY, when talking to bosses about how we need to contact someone, I will often ask if they want me to do so or if they’d prefer to do it themselves, just so it’s clear. A reasonable boss will just tell you. An unreasonable boss isn’t your fault.

  140. Jaydee*

    There are certain types of questions you’ll probably need to ask of at least some people. You might feel silly asking them because you think “of course my boss/team lead/whoever would tell me this information if they thought I didn’t know, so I will look stupid if I ask.” But more often than not your boss or team lead or whoever will not think to give you this information and you will not look stupid for asking questions like:
    – How soon do you need this?
    – How long should it be?
    – Is there a template or a previous one that I can look at to get a feel for what you’re looking for?
    – Who is the intended audience/what tone should I use for this?

    It’s also very reasonable to ask questions about how to balance multiple different things you’re working on. For example, “I’m currently working on X which I need to get Fergus by noon tomorrow. Is it okay to get started on this after I send X to him, or do you need this back sooner than that?” or “I’m attending the llama team meeting at 2:30 – I can get you a *very* rough draft before then or something more polished by the end of the day, which would you prefer?”

    It’s okay to explicitly ask about office norms if no one tells you. These could be things like how quickly you’re expected to respond to emails and voicemails, whether you’re expected to have a more or less set lunch break or whether you can take your lunch break whenever it works for you. Those sorts of things will help you better establish your own daily schedule and workflows.

    Also one thing my office does that I think is great is that new employees have 1:1 or small group meet and greets with all existing employees sometime within the first few weeks after they start. We’re a pretty small department, so it works without being a zillion meetings for everyone. We’ve learned it’s not necessarily helpful to do it the first week or so because the new person has no idea what they’re doing yet. So mostly they meet with their boss, immediate team, and support staff at first. But by week 3 or 4 they’re getting more comfortable in their role and can have a genuinely productive conversation with people on other teams about what they all do and how their roles interact.

  141. Endorable*

    Be aware of the tendency to gain weight! Office work is much more sedentary than retail and the opportunities to eat are much more frequent. My SIL went from retail management to a government office job about a year ago and has put on about 15 lbs!

  142. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

    One of the things that came as a surprise to me when I made the transition into corporate was due to my assumption that progression and knowledge linear was linear. I took it for granted that if I, as the most junior person on the team, knew something, so did everyone else, and if I had worked on a project, so had everyone else. Imagine my surprise when I started in on a summary of a problem I was encountering on my work, and the most senior and revered-outside-our-company member of our team said, “Wait, back up, what is this thing you’re talking about?” because he had never even looked at and had barely heard of the project I’d been immersed in since I started working there.

    That was an eye-opener. I just thought all new people started with that project and moved up!

  143. Michelle Smith*

    You can ask about the dress code if it’s not written in the employee manual. That is an easy thing to tackle, so don’t stress too much about it. You’ll see what the rules are, see what other people tend to be wearing, and calibrate accordingly. Generally speaking, if you’re not sure, default to business casual one day one. Exceptions might be traditionally conservative industries like law, banking, etc.

    You’re probably not going to get fired in your first month or at all. Imposter syndrome is a real thing, but you shouldn’t let it stop you from putting your best foot forward. It may help you to put up some little reminders in your home with positive affirmations and practice saying them to yourself in the mirror. Sounds corny, but it works!

    Don’t worry too much about “fitting in” either. It’s work. Having the people you work with be friends in and outside of work, particularly once you move to a different job, is pretty rare. Usually the relationship is limited to the office or to your time working at that office. That doesn’t mean you can’t make friends! Just don’t have that be an expectation but more of a pleasant bonus. As long as you are professional (say hello to people or acknowledge their existence, be polite, have a friendly tone, etc.), most people will be just fine to work with.

    Finally, you are putting a LOT of pressure on yourself. That’s pretty normal, but I’d encourage you to refrain to the extent possible. (As someone with an anxiety disorder, I get that might not be fully possible.) Let’s look at the absolute WORST case scenario: you get fired or have to quit. That wouldn’t be ideal, but I’ll tell you what won’t happen. You won’t be taken out back and put to pasture. You won’t be blacklisted from ever working again. Nothing particularly heinous will happen to you – you’ll just need to find another job. You’ve done that at least twice in your life and you can do it again, I promise. So don’t put so much pressure on this job to be perfect and on yourself to be perfect. It can take 6 months to a year to really get fully comfortable in a position, so give yourself some grace and remember that in the worst case scenario you’ll still be able to dust yourself off and move forward.

  144. JustMe*

    Regarding clothing: I think it’s better to start slightly overdressed and then to relax your wardrobe over time than to do the opposite. I don’t know the dress code at your office or your gender background, but I think style blogs are good to give you a sense of how to dress. (If you’re a woman or female-presenting person, the blog I recommend is ExtraPetite–there’s a “Work” section, and the outfits work in manyyyy traditional offices. You can also google “Business casual [identifier]” if you’re worried, for example, that the workplace has a strict “Ladies must wear skirts and heels” dress code but you aren’t very femme and haven’t worn a dress since you were six, or if you’re genderqueer and you want ideas for more gender neutral work outfits.) If you find you need new clothes, TJ Maxx and Ross are good for getting nicer work clothes at a discount. When I started my first office job, my clothes were wildly off the mark, and it really took some time to get it right. I spent a lot of time going, “Well, these TECHNICALLY aren’t jeans, so they’re fine, right?” Wrong. If you find yourself going “They look like…but they’re actually…” then don’t wear them to work when you’re first starting out.

  145. Lady Blerd*

    This is not universal but you’ll be surprised at how people’s maturity level at work hasn’t evolved since high school no matter the age of your colleagues. That is something that has struck me as I worked in an office for about 20 years now. You may luck out and have colleagues that fully mature and well balanced but don’t be surprised if you ever get that feeling that you’re back in your school’s lunch room. All this to say, be careful which colleagues you become friends with and be mindful of cliques.

  146. Pricilla, Queen of WFH*

    Even the mildest jokes in a retail setting won’t play in certain offices. DO NOT JOKE AROUND or make a comment on anything until your sense of baseline has been re-calibrated. Please be careful, I made this same transition, and this really screwed me up despite having grown up in a household that was stressed situational etiquette rules, I had been in retail so long I didn’t notice it.

    1. AcademiaCat*

      ooh, yeah. I got that talking to my first week. At least I didn’t make the same mistake twice.

  147. AcademiaCat*

    I did this too! I’m so happy for you! Do a little dance for yourself every Saturday that you’re not at work! Thanksgiving and Christmas are amazing when you’re not in retail!

    Some things I noticed:
    1. There’s often a culture of venting behind the scenes in retail that can get rather “blue.” In my experience this is Not Done in office spaces.
    2. Most people have no idea how horrible retail horror stories can get. Anything you wouldn’t share with your proverbial grandma over dinner shouldn’t be shared in the office.
    3. In fact, you might find that your new coworkers *really* don’t want to hear about your former work life, for a bunch of classist reasons. Try to find at least one person who gets it, and stay professional with the rest.
    4. Ask questions. An entry level position will have a lot of structure built into it to begin with, so you might not feel as lost as you expect, but especially during training just ask. Think about questions like “How far ahead do I need to prepare for X task?” and “what does the workflow feel like on a monthly level?”
    5. Find out what is appropriate for you to do with your downtime. Some offices will be fine with you browsing the internet or your phone when there is nothing else for you to do, some won’t. This is another “just ask” situation.
    6. Unless you were told to wear a suit, aim for the dressy side of business casual the first few days, and really look at what everyone else is wearing. Is this a henley tee and casual slacks kind of office or a dress slacks and button down shirt kind of office? What kind of shoes are people wearing? If you present feminine, see if you can tell whether other people around you regularly wear makeup.
    7. Take advantage of the forced cheerfulness retail taught you/us. Say good morning and goodbye to the people who sit near you, and don’t be afraid to whip out the retail smile. Unless they’ve been there they don’t understand that it’s actually the “dead inside” smile, and you will find that people are more than happy to help the cheerful, friendly newcomer who might be a little rough about office norms. You can pare this back after a couple of months, but it’s an impressive skill to have in your back pocket.
    8. Remember: they hired you because they see your skills and potential. You deserve this. You deserve for your body to have a regular sleep schedule and to not get yelled at by customers (or coworkers). And if it doesn’t work out perfectly for any reason, now you have this on your resume. You can get another office job and never work another Black Friday, 4th of July, weekend, or late night ever again.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Yes to number 1. Especially in a new job, try to avoid the “this place sucks” mentality. It will bring you down.

  148. Didi Nic*

    I did this exact same thing. I will say that the biggest thing I learned was that in retail, we are generally all about face time. But in an office setting, a lot of people will prefer a message or email instead of just showing up unannounced in their office. So it’s important to pay attention to the office culture of communication and proceed accordingly.

  149. Raida*

    Retail and Food Service experience generally translates into “I’m not going to sit around doing nothing” and “I will learn how to do a task correctly, learn how to check it needs doing, and ensure it gets done”

    So don’t get yourself loaded up with tiny tasks like emptying the dishwasher, filling the printer paper, making tea/coffee, running errands, etc. Certainly learn all of the little things that aren’t any one person’s specific job, and do *your part*, but don’t put yourself in the position of doing them all each day when they’re shared tasks – so that if you stop it becomes “why didn’t LW fill the printer?”.
    I stopped buying milk, it took over a week of people making comments about it before someone else finally paid attention to the clear instructions on the fridge “there’s a piggy bank of money go buy milk if we’re out” and bought some. I really missed my cuppa tea but I refused to allow people to believe it was “Raida’s job” to do that tiny little errand that needs no training or qualifications but benefits everyone.

    That’s my one tip, from a person that worked in a jewellers and gift store, KFC, Cafe, Phone/Internet/Computer store, then an office. You are good at nailing down a list of tasks that need doing repeatedly, so make sure the ones you take on are a valuable use of your time.

  150. Anonosaurus*

    I’m sure you will be fine but one issue I have had in starting new jobs, even when it was the same type of job, was a massive panic breakdown on day 2/3 along the lines of “OMG I can’t do this, I don’t like this place/these people, I wanna go back where I waaaaaaas omg omg” kind of thing. I once went into the office on day two of a new job solely because I felt obliged to resign in person and not ghost them – then I decided to try staying til lunchtime and treating myself to lunch – and so on (I ended up working there for three more years). I have cried in the restrooms of every new job ever.

    Ok it might just be me but if you get the ginormous collywobbles the way I do, I recommend you do something nice for yourself as soon as possible (ice cream, coffee, walk outside, early night in your jammies with your dog), cry in the restroom as required but KEEP GOING. Do not walk off the job within the first two weeks unless there is an extreme problem (being asked to do something illegal, being harassed etc). Change is hard and sometimes our reactions blindside us. Feel free to ignore me if this doesn’t apply! Good luck

  151. turquoisecow*

    OP, this was me more than 10(!!) years ago In my case I went to work at the corporate office of the store I worked in and a lot of my coworkers had a similar background so that was helpful. it was wild to me to have the same hours every day an the same two days off -in a row! – every week.

    The best advice I can give to anyone starting a new job is to pay attention to what your peers are doing. What are they wearing, what are they doing, especially others in your role or other entry- level positions similar to yours. Hopefully you have a supportive boss who is willing to mentor you through the soft skills and quirks of your specific company or industry. If not, seek our other mentor type coworkers. There’s usually one or more people who are outwardly nice and welcoming on your first day, ask that person questions. Make friends with the people who sit near you if you can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

    I’m sure you’ll do great. Good customer service skills – which I’m sure you have after working retail that long – can pay off in the corporate environment as well.

  152. Caitlin*

    Congratulations and good luck!

    In terms of what to wear – keep it simple for the first few days, trying to match to what you remember your interviewer wearing is a good shout (eg shirt & slacks, full suit). Once you’re there, see what other people are wearing (especially people who’ve been around for a few years) to work out what the expected standard is.

    In terms of the structure, entry level office jobs can also be fairly structured! Asking proactive questions (about things like deadlines, expected tone, templates, detailed expectations) is a great way to get that. I also tend to ask to have weekly one-on-one catchups with my manager, so I can get a sense of how my work is going, what the priorities are etc. Some managers will set that up automatically, but it’s also fine to ask for it! To do lists are also your friend for structuring time yourself – but experiment to see what works for you! You don’t have to be perfect right off the bat!

    And remember – if you’ve worked retail for this long, you’re probably good at communication, teamwork/collaboration, and working under pressure, all skills which will really help you! Good luck!

  153. Jlh*

    Good luck! The below helped me a ton when I was starting out!

    -while I was still working out my professional work tone, I saved emails which were super well written into a folder so I could look at expamples to follow
    -those learning the ropes weeks are a blur! As a trainer, I try to encourage people to email with follow up queries once they’re more bedded in, because in those learning weeks, you don’t know enough to even be asking the right questions! I never mind giving follow up training.
    – I used to work as a receptionist. It took a little while to become more active than reactive, because the person in front of you as a receptionist is the priority, so you don’t have to manage your time. If your office culture allows it, don’t be afraid to block out time to plan/ prioritise your work each day. That was the steepest learning curve for me.
    -you’ve already got skills that will work well in an office. You’re personable, adaptable, responsive and charming! Those things go a long way!

    Good luck!

  154. Skippy*

    For folks who have done both: is it more common to be told what to do in retail than an office? As a manager I have similar challenges to a lot of folks here in that I find it hard to say what want someone to do and easier to just wait for them to understand. (Leads to lots of passive-aggression…) I’m wondering if LW might want to watch out for less direct… Direction… Than before.

    1. Jlh*

      I think you’re bang on, yes–there isn’t such a script of ‘this person needs help right now’. The work isn’t so immediate, so the demands/orders don’t look the same. I struggle with that sometimes still!

  155. Not A Real Manager*

    For time management, schedule your tasks on your calendar. When I moved into an office role that wasn’t strictly working every minute of the day, it was really helpful to schedule all my to-do items for the day as calendar items. Took the mental load off when I was sitting idle and wondering, “what should I be doing now?”. It also prevents people from scheduling a ton of meetings with me when I have a lot of tasks to complete.

  156. Dennis Feinstein*

    Congrats on your new job!
    I switched careers in 2018. New job came with a range of new admin tasks. Sometimes there’d be formal training, other times it was just someone else saying “do XYZ” and showing me once.
    I took notes, created “how to do XYZ” docs with step-by-step instructions and saved them in my OneDrive “how to” folder. This has been really helpful for tasks that might only need to be done 1-2 times a year. I’ve often shared them with colleagues who’ve also forgotten how to do something they were shown how to do once a year ago!
    Of course, a good organisation would have procedures written down, but reading AAM all these years has taught me that many organisations DON’T do this and that all the info is probably in Bob’s head and Bob’s retiring on Friday…

  157. Late, Not Lazy*

    For structuring your time, being brand new makes it easy to just ask! If you’re being trained by a coworker who has done your job before, ask questions like
    “and how often do you check the Grooming Log?”
    and “there seems to be a lot of different llama stables; how did you track when to check in with them?”

    It’s possible that there are actual team processes for some of these things, or your coworker might share their personal processes. I got started with a check list google sheet from my predecessor, and then I’ve expanded and changed it significantly over the last several months to match my work style. But it was really helpful to have a starting point.

    You can also ask these kinds of questions to your manager or supervisor, as well as:
    “Jane is doing a great job orienting me to the role, but I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to structure my week or how often to do tasks like x and y?”

    It’s so much better to ask these questions now, when you can wrap it into your new-hire training and orienting conversations, than to flounder and have to ask months later (though you should still ask then if you need support!).

    And one tip about switching from retail to office work — all your customer service skills will come in handy for making good first impressions on your new coworkers! Be friendly, cheerful, and helpful. Don’t go over the top or outside of your role, but by putting on a bit of your customer service persona you can make a great start on positive working relationships.

    For what to wear – I think other commenters have said to observe what other wear. I agree, and if it’s a business casual place I would hold off on buying a whole work wardrobe before you do that observing. Business casual, and even casual, can mean different things at different companies, so it’s worth confirming the norms before buying a bunch of new items.

  158. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    Not quite work advice, but plan on exercising more deliberately. Office jobs are a lot more sedentary, so you’ll loose tone and gain weight unless you replace all the incidental exercise you get being on your feet all day.

  159. Jenna*

    I’m actually a bit of an expert here: I work in a role where we really value retail employees and their awareness of the customer experience and help them transition into corporate. I suspect you have a ton of skills that translate really well: work ethic, an ability to tackle things pretty quickly, and customer service. All this to say–you know way more then you think you do! It’ll be fine. But-you won’t get nearly as many steps as youre used to getting.

  160. musical chairs*

    Even if there are specific hierarchies, remember the golden rule: Everyone is Just Some Guy (gender neutral). It is my favorite piece of insight I’ve ever gotten. No one is more or less special than anyone else, (including you!!) everyone has room to grow and things they do well, everyone has to put their shoes on one at a time. Treat people with respect cause of their personhood, (not their authority) and expect the same in return.

    Depending on your field, there’s likely to be a lot of acronyms for the industry and for your company. Keep good notes on what you learn (even past your training period) and don’t be afraid to ask what something means. There may be a glossary somewhere if your company is big or old enough.

    You’re entitled to help to get settled in, and in a good office culture, everyone wants to see you do well.

    If your company has a handbook or standard operating procedures read them and absorb them. Even if it’s not closely followed in practice it’ll give you and idea of what success looks like and you can always point back to that.

    Blue light glasses (you can get them with HSA or FSA dollars I think if this new job also means new health insurance) and remember to take stretch and mind breaks. You have to take care of your body in different ways.

  161. Katefish*

    Worked retail for 10 years and am a desk job manager in a professional field now. Two observations: customer service soft skills are arguably THE most valuable skills to have in any job, including desk jobs. I use my retail background every day with clients and external contacts.
    Also, I have a couple recent college grad rock stars on my team now and they all take notes, are easy to get along with, and let management know when they have consistent downtime (i.e. can take on something new).
    Best of luck to you!

  162. Inkognyto*

    There’s so many things we do not know that were not shared about the type of ‘office’.

    The biggest thing you need to do is ask for a timeline when given a task that will take more than a day. You may probably be given several long- and short-term tasks depending on the job type.

    I remember almost being afraid to ask when I was new but the first office job I had each type of job had an actual deadline so it was far easier. You grabbed work for a queue, you did it.

    If none is given they say “I’d like you to handle this project/task” and no deadline was given it’s fairly straight forward to ask, “What’s the timeline on this?”

  163. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

    I mostly worked in retail, food service, and education– all fairly busy, physical jobs with lots of social interaction. I’ve only occasionally worked office jobs, in part because physically I get stiff and achy from sitting all day, and staring at a screen (instead of looking at real-world stuff at real-world distances from my face) makes me feel pretty queasy if I fall into a hyperfocus state and forget to take breaks. So, seconding others’ advice to take breaks, walk around, and specifically walk to somewhere that you can see (or even be) outside, because allowing your eyes a chance to refocus on something far away from you can be a big help.

    Culturally, I found myself surprised by little things, like I could fake business casual dress code pretty well, but all the shoes I wore for running around on store floors were a smidge too clunky/informal compared to everyone else’s. Stuff that I couldn’t believe would matter to anyone did, in fact matter, like making sure I set up my email signature.
    Figuring out what everyone’s actual job was always seemed really hard– in retail or food service it’s so obvious that the person cooking is a cook or the person stocking shelves is a stocker. But when everyone is just sitting at desks, how do you know who to go to when you have a payroll question? Or who to go to with a question about how to work the fancy copier– the IT person (and who is that?) or the other admin who has worked there the longest and knows its idiosyncrasies?
    Especially if you have a good, close-knit group of coworkers in a retail or food service environment, there can be a culture of pitching in and helping another person with their tasks when things get busy– I think this contributes to the way tight social bonds can be formed in that environment. In my experience there’s minimal-to-zero of that same vibe in office environments. The default is much more that people stay in their own lanes. Obviously, if you’re one of many admins, there may be more of a culture where some tasks are group tasks rather than individually assigned, but for the most part it’s good to be on the alert for figuring out what is considered a group task vs what is assigned to you and only you.
    If your contacts back in the retail world can hook you up with some coffee/tea/cookies to bring in to share, do not be too proud to stoop to buying your new coworkers’ affection via their stomachs. If AAM has taught you nothing else, it is that folks working in an office love free food.

  164. Office Gumby*

    For my first office job (a looong time ago!!) I carried a little notepad around with me and made notes of everything new and different. Anything I needed to know (from where the toilets were, to when I was expected to be at my desk and what I do there), I wrote down. I wrote down everything until I got the hang of the job.

    I especially wrote down my chain of command, and who was responsible for giving me my tasks to do, and who I was responsible for answering to. The reason for this was because there were certain people who thought they could give me tasks and ask me to do things, but they didn’t have any authority to do so. I was to serve a limited group of people, and nobody outside of that. That one guy in an office (who would later turn out to be a jerk) comes out and asks me to get him a cup of coffee? That’s a nope, because he’s not on my team, and I’m not his EA. That other guy in an office who asks me to fetch him a cuppa? Yes, get him coffee, because he is in my chain of command *and* this is one of my duties.

    That notepad saved my butt so many, many times. Also made me look good, because I wasn’t committing too many mistakes, I was being consistent in what I was doing, and didn’t have to keep asking someone what was expected of me.

  165. ProcessMeister*

    I struggled when I transitioned from retail to corporate (largely thanks to a toxic manager).
    Still, if I could give an advice to LW (or to my younger self), it’d be to learn how your own role/work fits into the bigger picture. That will give you insight into the actual boundaries of your own area of responsibility and help you to “own” it. The alternative is to risk going down metaphorical rabbit holes or, worse, stepping on others’ toes.
    Also, take note that existing processes were often designed by people who’ve seen the system break. Granted, the process may not make sense and there’s always room for improvement. However, don’t be quick to assume that the current process is just stupid.
    Third point: have you heard about a fellow called Dilbert…?

  166. Bookgal*

    I went from a 20 year retail management career to an office job and I’ve never been happier. It turned out that all of my experience dealing with the public in general (and co-workers) really made it easier to fit in, to handle working with clients and customers. Additionally, it was so great to get out of such a stressful job! Honestly, my biggest issue with the transition was getting used to how much TIME I had for myself. Nights free, weekends off, holidays off; it’s been amazing and I will never go back to retail. Enjoy your new opportunity!

  167. Old Hampshire New Hampshire*

    I’m shortly going to be starting a new role at a new organisation having worked for a LOOONG time at my previous employer. All of these are great tips for me too, reminding me of how to start with a new employer. Thanks everyone.

  168. a raging ball of distinction*

    The advice to find a mentor is good – AND also make some buddies who are at or around your level. Both being new to the company is an easy thing to bond over. I’d feel more comfortable asking someone at my level what feels like a dumb question than someone above me. These are also the relationships with the best chance of becoming friendly. All the better if it’s not a direct coworker but someone on a team your team works with – you’ll have different pressures and receive slightly different information about the company (which is a good thing to discuss and compare).

  169. Madame Arcati*

    This is an awful cliché but: the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. And you can word questions thoughtfully so you don’t look dim; for example instead of “I’ve no idea how to do xyz?” or “how does this work?” consider things like, what is the best way to go about this, or who would be a good person to talk me through this process, or what is best practice in this scenario, or where should I look for the guidance/manual about xyz.
    So you aren’t being helpless, you are proactively looking to learn and find solutions and, importantly, get it right and not half-arse it.

    A few years ago I managed someone who like you was brand new to a “grown up office job” having come from a very different work area. So different that when I first met him I said, “I have to ask, what made you go from that to this?!” Anyway he took to the work like a duck to water and is the best trainee I’ve ever managed so take that as encouragement! One thing I gave him very good feedback for was that if he had a question, he’d have a think first and then say, here’s the situation, I thought about a, b and c, and I think there are two options [explains]. I think the first one would be best but is that in line with proper procedure? What do you advise?
    I liked this because he made an effort, he was thoughtful and reasoned things out, he didn’t expect to me spoon fed BUT he recognised his relative inexperience and wanted to get it done correctly- he didn’t go off piste, make it up as he went along and cause a problem. Also this way often gave me a teaching moment – ah yes, we use option one here because [reasons] so that’s good to remember whenever you are grooming a sloth of this breed…
    Lastly – the other reason to ask questions is that putting a task off because you don’t know how to do it rarely looks good. “I’m glad you’re back from lunch as I wanted to check with you before I did x” is fine, but “oh that? I didn’t know what to do so I just left it”…not so much!

  170. hi there*

    Be aware of the pacing differences between those two worlds. In retail you probably had a lot more regular movement on the job, so I recommend planning to use at least one of your breaks/part of your lunch break taking a walk. You can always invite a new coworker to join you, too.

    1. Kate*

      To help manage my tasks, I also find it helpful to use Outlook to-do lists or reminders. E.g. If I give a project stakeholder X days to give feedback to us, I will make a reminder in my calender to check in with them in X days.

      There are also other task management systems that people use that you might find helpful, like Trello boards. :-)

  171. Emily S.*

    This might be a small thing, but personally, I worked in retail and food service for years, in and out of college, before settling into office work. One of the things that was a big adjustment was sitting down all day, rather than standing.

    I don’t know if you’re used to standing in your retail job, but if so, and if you’ll be seated at a desk in your new role (some firms offer standing desks, which can be nice as an option), think about how sitting so much will affect your body.

    What I recommend is standing up at least once every hour. I like to take breaks of about 3-5 minutes (when possible), to get up and do some simple stretching, because my arms and legs (and back) tend to feel tight, and I also like to take short walks around the office, which helps get my blood flowing. These practices make me feel fresher mentally, when I return to my desk. I believe this sort of break could be called a “brain break”.

    You might want to wait a while, and settle into the job some, before beginning this kind of routine. That way you can determine if you think it will or won’t distract your coworkers, or if it would be seen as odd (that said, I don’t care if they find me a little odd). :)

  172. Kate*

    Something I’ve learned through many years in different offices, is that different companies all have different cultures. In my first few weeks in a new company, I try to keep a low profile and observe what the culture is like, what’s acceptable and what’s not, so I can hopefully fit in without making too many faux pas. :-)
    For example, some places are more formal and you might not be friends with co-workers, but just have a polite working relationship. Others can be very informal and casual, like people wearing board shorts to the office, and managers dropping the F bomb in meetings constantly. :-D

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