10 Commandments for Your First Day at Work

Hi, My Name is … and I’m the New …..

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments

for Your First Day at Work


You’ve probably had the dream in which you go to work naked and realize it only once you’re there. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll approach your first day at a new job with the same sense of vulnerability. There are ways to make the process less scary, to begin to create the safety zones and survival systems you’ll need to succeed, prosper, and generally to feel like you fit in. Here they are:


Commandment Number 1: Dress the part.

By now, you’ve met enough of the people you’re going to work with to have some sense of the company’s style. You certainly have an idea of how your supervisor dresses and might have already met a cross-section of co-workers. Dress to fit in. Avoid looking like the new kid on the block, with price tags hanging from your shiny, new, first-day clothes. Feel and look comfortable so that you’ll more easily blend in. Think chameleon, not flamingo. No matter what else is on your body, you’ll also be wearing invisible New Guy (or Gal) labels pinned fore and aft, but you might as well look as though you’ve been there forever.


Commandment Number 2: Learn your way around.

Even if it takes skipping into the bathroom to sketch a map or write yourself directions, keep track of what’s where, from the bathrooms themselves to the coffee room, copier, supply closet, and especially your own department and work station. Nothing will remind people that you’re new, and irritate them more, than having to interrupt their own productive time to show you the way to the coffee machine. You may make new friends along the way, but better to meet folks over work, and have them think you’re competent, than when you’re lost. Note: the malingerers who spend their time waiting around the water cooler, offering to be helpful, may not be the folks you want to be seen hanging with.


Commandment Number 3: Remember names.

It helps to have an org chart or the internet to look at before you go in, so you can put a face with a name. Your goal is to learn and remember who’s who and who’s not, not merely in the pecking order of power but in their relationship to your job and department. It’s tacky to collect business cards from people in your own company, but you can ask for a list of names, titles, email addresses and phone extensions, or some other internal crib sheet, to carry off to your lair and study. You want to learn  the right folks, the right communications channels, and company’s infrastructure. The sooner you can know who is what to whom, and to you, the better.


Commandment Number 4: Befriend the secretaries.

Or as they may be variously called in these enlightened times: the executive assistants, gatekeepers, or any other official or even self-proclaimed custodians of senior officials and department heads. They are invaluable sources of knowledge about who’s who, what’s where, what happened when, who did what to whom. They are the keepers of keys, forms, passwords, institutional history and skullduggery, personal secrets of the staff, corporate knowledge and culture. Never discount them. Until you’ve earned their trust, you’re likely to be viewed with caution. You are also a potential new source of information and future gossip, so you’ll probably get at least an initial honeymoon of interest. This same advice goes for the computer tech support people, in whose good graces you should always aim to stay.


Commandment Number: 5 Keep a clipboard handy.

Take good notes. You may get the day-long orientation tour of your new company or you may get tossed immediately into a work scenario with performance deadlines. Either way, you’ll have a new environment full of details to keep track of. Become an information sponge. Keep an ongoing list of questions; pay attention to answers as they show up; be ready to plug any hole in your mental database as quickly as you can. Jot down all relevant, mysterious, or repeated  passwords, keywords, acronyms, and phrases. Absorb as much as you can, even if the context or information seems temporarily incomplete. This whole exercise is like a jigsaw puzzle: you are both a puzzle piece and responsible for assembling the whole picture.


Commandment Number 6: Connect with the Personnel Dept.

Make sure you sign all the appropriate forms to show you were hired, started work, and are eligible for benefits (or in a terrible world, unemployment if it doesn’t work out). Come prepared to provide your driver’s license, proof of citizenship or immigration status, SSN, and other relevant legal documents. Get every documented detail about: your job description, company personnel policies, salary and performance review schedules, union info, and benefits and insurance plans (including when your eligibility kicks in). If there is a formal employment agreement, sign and date it. Remember to ask for a copy of everything that goes into your file.


Commandment Number 7: Meet with your mentor.

You may not realize you already have a mentor. You’ll probably acquire more, or different, mentors as time goes on. But for now, the person who said Yes, Him, or Yes, Her, is the one to whom you owe loyalty and allegiance, at least until proven otherwise. Ask your mentor what s/he sees as your most important goals for the first week, month, and six months. Ask if there are particular projects to focus on and pitfalls to avoid. Learn how to best, and quickly, become a productive member of the existing team. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment. You don’t need to slobber, but you should express your appreciation for being chosen, and set a time, say, in a month, to exchange feedback.


Commandment Number 8: Learn the local currency.

Every job has targets that win you rewards (think raises, better office, designated parking place, bonus) or booby prizes (think pink slip). Make sure you understand how success is valued. The targets may be sales quotas, timeliness on deliverables, efficiency in minutes per service call, pages typed, or some other measurable variable. Whatever the product or chores, big or small, short-run or long, how you perform them will ultimately determine your future at the company. So learn the rules and the path up the pay scale. Make sure you know who sets specific, targeted goals and what the standards and review periods are for evaluating your performance.


Commandment Number 9: Brown bag, but be flexible.

Plan to lunch at your desk, but be ready to accept an invitation. Your boss gets first dibs, then your immediate coworkers. Everyone will want to get to know you and give you “the scoop,” for their sake as much as yours. You’re the next kid on the block, and they’ll be deciding if you’re a good addition to their clique (think junior high). You’ll need allies, but remember: in the weeks to come, you’ll have plenty of time to decide which folks to eat or drink with. Focus on the job as much as the people, but don’t alienate them by seeming too stuck up for their attention. (Note: much more on the rules and nuances of office politics in an upcoming column).


Commandment Number 10: Buckle up for hard work.

If you’re looking at this company as a place you’ve not only landed but want to succeed, you need to assimilate not merely the social niceties and internal politics, but the work itself. Remember: they are paying you to perform. You need to master your job, whatever they hired you to do. You need to get good, and relatively quickly, to validate their decision that, of all the applicants, they picked the right one. It’s like cramming for finals during the first week of term. The tough part now; the benefits come later. Pay your dues and plan for success.


Belt yourself in. Your first day is a big change from reading the want ads or dialing for informational interviews. How you do your job will determine many of the options that follow, at least in this company. Today is the first step down a road that took lots of energy to step onto. Make it pay off big.