November 2, 2012

First Day Jitters? Here’s What Your Company Expects From You on Your First Day

Nervous businesswoman biting fingernailsThe first day of a new job can engender a multitude of emotions ranging from excitement to nerve-wracking anxiety. One of the big sources of anxiety comes from the lack of control over the unknown. What will your boss expect from you on your first day on the job? The fortunate answer to this question is “not much.” That’s right, Day 1 expectations are pretty low, but you will be expected to be punctual and show up ready to learn the ropes. Get ready to meet people, experience the work environment for the first time, and begin to gradually build your reputation among your coworkers and superiors. Even though first-day expectations aren’t very demanding, there are a few things you should consider when entering your new workplace for the first time.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the higher you build expectations about your productivity at first, the harder it is going to be to keep pace with yourself. Most people feel the need to over perform during their first several weeks at a new job, but this sprinting mentality will quickly lead to job burnout. By working harder than you are capable of maintaining, and building expectations that you can regularly perform at that level, your productivity will eventually slip below the high bar and you will be seen as less capable than when you started.

Pace yourself and take some time to adjust to your new position and adapt to the company. Don’t try too hard too fast to avoid making silly mistakes and keeping expectations at a workable level. This way, you can get better at your work, over time, and appear even more impressive than your initial days.

Relatedly, don’t equate your value as an employee with your knowledge of a job you’ve possibly never worked before. You aren’t supposed to know everything about your job at first. In fact, if you show up intending to show off how much you know and end up being perceived as trying to change things to your preferences you will be thought of as an annoyance at best, and potentially even as a workplace disruption. Instead, you should approach your new job with an open mind, be willing to share your ideas when solicited, and be able handle to the prevailing attitudes of your bosses and coworkers.

Don’t be afraid to mess up. As a new employee, you are expected to make mistakes and you shouldn’t feel ashamed about admitting them. Don’t worry about making a bad impression. Hiding the fact that you’ve screwed something up and being found out is much worse than admitting to the mistake and showing that you have learned from it. Be honest. Ask for feedback on how you can do your job better. Earn the respect of your peers and bosses by using each mistake as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Finally, understand that most employers will not fire you for your choices unless you perform the same mistakes repeatedly and fail to learn from them or do something illegal. Terminating offenses can include anything from mishandling cash, lying, treating customers with disrespect, stealing product or confidential information, chronic tardiness, and lack of accountability and refusal to accept personal failures by blaming them on others. So, fear not, unless you try really hard to get canned or have a seriously flawed work ethic, you should have no fears of hair-trigger firings.

In sum, most employers expect only a handful of basic behaviors when you start your job (and for as long as you wish to remain employed): be punctual, use your mistakes to grow not punish yourself or others, be honest, keep an open mind, be motivated, and genuinely care about your job performance and the quality of your work.

Read more in Starting a Career

Joshua Bjerke, from Savannah, Georgia, focuses on articles involving the labor force, economy, and HR topics including new technology and workplace news. Joshua has a B.A. in Political Science with a Minor in International Studies and is currently pursuing his M.A. in International Security.