Whether you’ve just graduated and have never worked in an office before, or you’re a seasoned worker who’s just landed a new role, making the best possible impression in your first few months on the job is crucial to your future success.
More than half of employers recently surveyed by Robert Half Finance & Accounting said that they gave new workers one to three months to prove themselves in a new role, and a quarter said they’d give up to three months. Still, the sooner you can find your footing, the better. “If you make a good first impression right away and then have a rough patch in your personal life or at work, coworkers will chalk that up to a temporary thing,” says Angela Copeland, a Nashville-based career coach. “But if you create a bad impression in the beginning, it can be really hard to recover from that over time.”
Follow these steps to start your new career off on the right track:
Consider your image. You should have a sense from your interview how people in the office dress. Even if you’re in a business casual environment, it’s important for new employees to always project and appearance that they’re neat and put together. If you’re unsure about what to wear, it’s better to overdress in the beginning and tone it down once you get a feel for the office. This extends beyond your personal appearance to include the way you keep you work space. Especially in today’s offices where employees are often jammed into smaller areas, it’s important not to let your space get too chaotic or cluttered. “You want to make sure people think of you as a professional,” says Vicki Salemi, a career expert with Monster.com.
That also means getting in on time (or early) every morning, and not being the first one to leave in the evening. If possible, avoid scheduling doctor’s appointments or making other personal commitments that will require you to be out of the office in those first few months. Once you’ve established a rep as someone who’s there all the time, coworkers will be less likely to notice when you need to slip out.
Get clarity around expectations. Ask to sit down with your boss to talk about exactly what she wants you to accomplish in your first few months on the job and whether there are any hard deadlines that you’ll need to meet. Take careful notes and create a game plan for yourself on how to accomplish them. Schedule monthly meetings, if she’s interested, to update her on your progress and to see whether her needs have changed. If the monthly meetings are overkill, keep track of your accomplishments, so that you can show them to her at review time.
Stick with small talk around the office cooler. While it’s important to be friendly with your new coworkers, be careful about over-sharing, especially in the beginning. Remember that the chattiest folks at work may also be the most likely to gossip, and that’s something you should avoid getting sucked into, especially before you’ve had a chance to develop your own sense of the political landscape at your company. You’ll also want to keep any complaints or grievances about the new job to yourself. “You never know when what you say will be repeated, and you don’t want to develop a reputation as a whiner,” says executive coach Michele Woodward.
Expand your network companywide. If you work for a large company, connecting with coworkers beyond your immediate division can give you broader insight into the company culture and help build your personal brand to a wider audience. “Everyone thinks of networking as something you do outside of the office, but in some companies, getting to know people on other teams is essential to your career,” says Jane Horowitz, a career coach who runs More than a Resume.
A good way to meet people outside of your immediate circle is to volunteer for a company committee (as long as it doesn’t take away from your ability to meet the demands of your primary job) or participate in social activities.
Read the handbook (or HR intranet site). It may seem obvious, but career experts say this is a step that many new employees skip. They’ll get the essentials about benefits and time off, but they may skip through the rest of the information about company policies and rules. That could come back to hurt you if you’re unaware of restrictions regarding things like social media posts or allowable expenses on a trip. “It will take you two hours to read through all of your onboarding materials,” says Mark Babbitt, founder of YouTern.com. “Taking the time to do that is one of the best investments you can make.”
Don’t trash your former employer. If people ask why you left you last gig, talk about how excited you are about the opportunities at this company, rather than all the things that were wrong with the previous one. If you’re still working in the same industry, it’s likely you’ll cross paths with your former coworkers (and boss) again.
Ask lots of questions. No one expects the newbie to know how to do everything right away, so this is your opportunity to ask coworkers for guidance. “It’s better to ask lots of questions now, so that later you can operate more independently,” says David Boggs, head of WK Advisors, a division of executive recruitment firm Witt/Kieffer, based in Oak Brook, Ill.
Just be sure not to ask a coworker to take time to help you when he’s clearly stressed or busy with a deadline of his own. In that case, the best question might instead be: “Is there any way that I can help you?”