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Starting Your Career Essential Tips for Your First Day

Author: Eloise Skinner

It’s precisely 9am. You’re in the reception area of the company that’s just hired you, wearing a slightly uncomfortable suit, and – of course – you’re early. It’s the first day of your career; the first day of the next part of your life. You’ve probably battled through rounds of assessments and interviews and application forms, giving everything you had to the recruitment process. So, what next?

Starting in the working world can be terrifying – you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing, who anyone is, or (perhaps most importantly) how to work the photocopier. From now on, your personal and professional development is in your own hands, and that can be – at the same time – both exhilarating and exhausting.

This series of articles is here to help, guiding you through the first day, first week and first month of your new job. It will give you some advice on finding your feet and some practical guidance to enable you to keep your perspective as you’re flung head-first into professional life. Good luck!

The First Day

1. Be ready for the day

It probably goes without saying, but you need to be early. Treat it as you would a job interview – leave yourself far too much time to arrive (especially if you’re relying on public transport) and make sure you know exactly where you’re going.  

If you arrive earlier than is socially acceptable, linger in a coffee shop until about 15 minutes before your allocated arrival time. Remember that you’ll probably have a security photo or pass procedure to get through before you’re let into the building, so add on a few extra minutes for this. 

Use your early arrival time to rehearse your introductions and flick through any relevant industry news (first days tend to involve quite a bit of small talk, so make sure you have something interesting to contribute). Go for a comfortable outfit - remember that you’ll often have an office tour as part of your introduction, so make it something you can walk in. However, on your first day, obey the dress code down to every last, specific detail. You can always start to develop a more personal style as you get used to the environment and gauge what’s appropriate. 

2. Handshakes and smiles

First impressions count – and you’ll be making a lot of them on your first day. First days call for a lot of handshakes and a lot of smiles. Know what you’re going to say to people when they ask you the predictable questions about who you are and what you’ll be doing in your new role.  

Make an effort to remember names, but especially the names of the people working around you and in your team. The number of people you’ll meet on day one might be overwhelming, and others will understand if you introduce yourself all over again on another occasion – but remembering names has significant networking power. Even simply saying someone’s name directly can create the impression of a closer connection between you.  

For those looking to do a little next-level impressing, make a quick note during breaks of the names of those you’ve met. Alternatively, try repeating their name as you introduce yourself (for example, when meeting Emily from Accounts: Hi, Emily, nice to meet you. I’m David).

3. Make friends with the technology

For those used to working in an academic environment, you’ll inevitably have built up strong bonds to your own technology – your laptop, phone and tablet become familiar, reassuring assistants to your work and studies. But, upon entering a new professional environment, you’re likely to be faced not only with a new laptop, but also the photocopier, scanner, printers, phone, headset… not to mention any new software you’re expected to master immediately. 

The best approach is to dive in – take full advantage of your first-day ignorance and ask someone to show you how everything works. Take notes and ask for detailed instructions. Use the opportunity to make allies out of nearby colleagues and any support staff you encounter. Test out your own competence (can you make a call?  Can you scan, print and copy?). It might seem unnecessary right now, but Future You will be eternally grateful when someone senior calls with an urgent printing or copying request when no one else is around to help.

4. Get organised… and stay that way

The first day is the perfect time to set up your organisation systems. Familiarise yourself with your email inbox. Set up folder systems - categorise (and sub-categorise). It may seem pointless – after all, this is the one day when your desk is actually clean and empty – but again, you’ll thank yourself later. 

Take advantage of the quieter moments to create to-do lists and calendar appointments for any recurring meetings. For those looking ahead, it’s worth creating a list of things you’d like to achieve during your first few months in the role. Set mid-term (3-6 month) and long-term (6-18 month) goals for yourself. 

The simple exercise of setting down on paper the ways in which you’d like to advance your own development can greatly increase the chances of it actually happening for you. It may sound like magic, but it’s actually an exercise in self-awareness, and brings you clarity about the steps you should be taking. Your goal list will also be a helpful starting point for any new-joiner review meetings.  

5. Social networking (the real-life kind)

After an exhausting day of endless handshakes, smiles and battles with new technology, you’ll probably want nothing more than a swift retreat to the comfort of your own home. But the first day isn’t over for you yet – if there’s a chance that anything social might be going on in the evening, make sure you’re a part of it – even if only to show your face and do some (more!) introductions. 

If you’re starting a job as part of a group of trainees or juniors, there’ll be an immense temptation to huddle together and discuss the delights or horrors of your first day experiences. Resist it and instead, network. Start conversations, remember names and ask for the tips, tricks and advice that your co-workers wished they’d known on their first day. Below are a couple of conversation topics that are perfect for first-day socialising: 

  • Is there anything I should know as a new joiner in this business?
  • How would you describe the culture here?
  • How would you sum up your experience in this job so far? 
  • What kind of non-work activities take place at this company?
  • What was your first day like?

If you have any questions, comments or thoughts about the first day at a graduate job, it would be great to hear from you - tweet us @brightnetwork. And don't forget to check out Eloise's top tips for getting ahead in your first week and first month.

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About the author:

After joining Bright Network back in 2010 and studying Law at the University of Cambridge, Eloise is a trainee at a top American Law firm. You can find her Bright Network Alumni profile just here.