Work It: 5 tips for the first week of work

Photo by Roman Bozhko on Unsplash

(P.S. If you haven’t caught up on the first post of this series, read it here!)

Every “first day of –” in my life has been accompanied by the pre-rollercoaster sensation. Maybe you’ve felt it before, too: I’m next in line for a rollercoaster, and all of a sudden panic and excitement flutter in the pit of my stomach. I wonder if it’s too late to escape – from a new school, an internship, or the ride that seemed chill until I heard the screaming from up close.

Plan your escape routes no more! For this week’s Work It, Christine and I pooled advice from our first week of work – she at a law firm, and me in tech – to help you make the most of those thrilling first days.

1. Overdress on Day 1 (yes, even if you’re in tech)

Christine has had a solid business casual wardrobe since she interned at the State House in college. For other fields, dress code may not be as clearly defined – especially in tech, where the dress code is notoriously casual.

What you wear on your first day is crucial because you’ll likely make more face-to-face first impressions on your first day. My rule is to dress to the level of my last interviewer, who in most cases is the boss to whom you’ll directly report. This way, you dress toward an office norm and show that you’re eager to progress.

We also have to acknowledge that women, particularly women of color, are judged far more harshly when it comes to dressing for the workplace. (We’ll talk more about this in a later post). The way I think of it, appearance is one less thing to worry about so you can focus on what actually makes you a kickass human being: your creativity, your razor-edged intellect, and your tenacity in following your dreams.

2. Make an effort to eat lunch with people.

I am the least confident person when it comes to introducing myself to new people. Fortunately, when it comes to things like confidence, faking it works well enough.

Squeaking out a “Hey, wanna grab lunch at around 12:30?” works wonders. Having lunch with your team or the people by your desk helps you get to know the people you’re working with, share interests, and maybe feel a little bit less like a fish out of water.

3. Write everything down.

At my last internship, the CEO called me “the girl with the notebook.” The nickname was endearing and accurate: I seldom left my desk without it all summer.

On your first day, there will be passwords, meetings, unspoken office norms that you’ll need to remember. A notebook or legal pad is absolutely necessary to keep together to-do lists and avoid being the one who asks a question that’s already been covered.

A mentor even advised me to keep track of my accomplishments in a notebook. That way, when you’re up for performance review, you’ll have concrete achievements to show and can be a better advocate for yourself.

Think of your notebook as your Pensieve – if it was useful for Dumbledore, it’s useful for you.

4. Find ways to learn things without inconveniencing your boss.

This is a tip I got from chatting with an Editorial Director at a big publishing house, and I’ve found that it’s universally applicable.

Time is valuable in an office setting, and people won’t sit down to teach you everything. Use your sleuthing skills and find ways to learn without asking for help. Dig through old documents on Google Drive, sift through old emails. Ask to observe meetings and conference calls.

If you find small, creative ways to learn, it also shows your colleagues that you take initiative and take responsibility for your own growth, which is the best first impression you could make.

5. Don’t freak out about the hair straightener.

This is Christine’s harrowing story of her first day at the firm, and there’s a pretty sweet, only-funny-in-retrospect moral at the end.

The morning of her first day, Christine wanted to feel confident on her first day, so she straightened her hair (see Tip #1). In her hurry to leave, she left the hot straightener on her wooden floor.

She didn’t realize it until she was already at work. So she sat through her morning trainings quietly consumed with fear that, as she made cheerful small talk with other paralegals, her apartment was burning to smithereens.

Finally, she worked up the courage to explain the situation to a supervisor who let her rush home and unplug the wretched thing.

All this to say: Don’t freak out. You’ve got this. Relax, or else you might burn down an entire block of Washington, D.C. Kidding. Relax because you’re smart and qualified af, and you’ve got this.

Christine has a dark singed streak on her floor that will remind her not to sweat the small things. You, at least, get to hear it from me.

Do you have any first day of- stories that you’d like to share? (Hopefully none as terrifying as Christine’s!) What’s your advice for working it on the first week?

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