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Starting Strong

Top 10 tips for getting off on the right foot at a new job.

November 17, 2011
from Robert Half International

Whether you’re a recent college graduate or a seasoned accounting professional with decades of experience, walking into a workplace for the first time can be intimidating. Here are tips for handling the new-job jitters and making a positive impression during your first few weeks on board:

  1. Look the part. Fair or not, first impressions are largely based on appearances. If you want to make a statement from Day One, do it with your enthusiasm and strong work ethic — not your clothing. Think back on how people were dressed when you interviewed. How was your boss attired? It’s generally best to play it safe in the early going and dress a step above what you think is expected. Also, make sure “casual Friday” outfits truly are more casual before sporting that beloved pair of jeans.
  2. Be outgoing during orientation. There’s no need to wait to start forging relationships with the people with whom you’ll be working. Start establishing internal connections right away with fellow newbies in your orientation sessions. You’ll have at least one thing in common from the outset — being new to the organization. Regardless of discipline or job title, these people are in the same boat and can relate to your “new-kid-on-the-block” status. As you adapt to your role and environment, it helps to have built-in allies whom you can ask questions, compare notes or tap for support.
  3. Put yourself out there. Once on the job, swiftly take the initiative and introduce yourself to your co-workers rather than waiting for them to reach out to you. Consider inviting the team members you’ll be collaborating with most closely to lunch or coffee individually.
  4. Name names. The small stuff matters. For instance, have you ever met someone only to forget his or her name a few seconds later? It’s awkward. Keeping track of all of the new people you’ll meet is difficult. But it’s important to make a concerted effort to remember names and how to pronounce them. When meeting a coworker or client for the first time, restating their name (“It’s so nice to meet you, Suzanne”) can help you commit it to memory.
  5. Read and observe. Review the company handbook, but be mindful that office culture is governed by many unwritten rules that can only be learned through astute observation. Are personal photos displayed in workspaces? What time do most people arrive and leave? Do team members alternate making mid-day coffee runs? Does everyone go out of their way to stay on the good side of a particularly influential executive assistant? Keep your eyes and ears open, and adjust your behavior accordingly.
  6. Remain neutral. Ever notice how seemingly harmless water-cooler conversations can morph into harsh gossip fests? Rise above the fray and don’t allow yourself to get drawn in when discussions turn negative. Your goal should be to present yourself as an affable and positive-minded team player. Any perception that you harbor a counterproductive attitude can undermine your budding relationships.
  7. Live in the present. Adaptability is a desirable trait; stubbornness is not. Embrace your new company’s way of doing things, even if the systems or procedures are much different (or seemingly less effective) than what you’re used to. Making statements like, “Well, at my old firm we did it this way …” won’t ingratiate you to anyone. Take a few months to prove yourself and earn respect before drawing comparisons, offering unsolicited advice or proposing big changes.
  8. Pace yourself. It’s great you want make an immediate impact and show everyone you’re a self-starting superstar with boundless energy. Unfortunately, you’ll fail to impress if you end up overpromising and under-delivering. Get a good handle on your core duties before signing up for every side project that pops up. Burning the candle at both ends can lead to stress, sloppy mistakes and the setting of an unsustainable precedent.
  9. Ask for help and feedback. You’re not expected to know everything. When in doubt, ask questions. Making likely but incorrect assumptions can waste time and hinder your productivity. Check in with your manager after a few weeks to ensure you’re on the right track. Doing so shows that you’re determined to do an excellent job, while guarding against costly misunderstandings related to process, protocols or priorities.
  10. Last but not least, cut yourself some slack. There will likely be moments of frustration and self-doubt as you get acclimated. Recognize that this is quite common. Learn from early errors instead of dwelling on them. Remind yourself that what seems overwhelming today will become much more manageable as you settle in. In short, keep your cool and project a quiet confidence. If you believe in yourself, others will, too.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is one of the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firms placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf.