Congratulations – you got your first job! You studied, applied everywhere, interviewed, waited – and you are officially about to be employed.
No matter what position you have attained, any first job in the professional working world is exciting and puts you in a new and diverse environment quite different to school and college.
The good news is that you can prepare and learn how to be an employee and co-worker that bosses, managers and colleagues want to work with – and keep around!
How to Start a New Job
You likely did some research about your new employer while you were interviewing, but now it’s time to really prepare for the environment you are about to walk into.
Your checklist might look like this:
Do Your Research
Do all the research! Go through the company website, read news articles, find out about the CEO and big projects, your department, the name of your direct boss, and so on.
Work Out How to Get to Your Office
Do a transport practice run on the same time and day as your first day to sort out your logistics, and plan to arrive a bit early – rushing will make you more nervous and you don’t want to keep your new manager waiting.
Pack the Necessities
☑ Workbag, ☑ notebook, ☑ 2+ pens, ☑ laptop, ☑ lunch, ☑ cash, ☑ contact names and numbers, ☑ work address, ☑ cell phone, ☑ cell-charger+plug, ☑ spare top;
Get the contact details of the company and ideally, for the person you are meeting. Charge your cell phone and have airtime! Work should provide all the tools that you need, but be prepared to use your own while you settle in. If you do use your own equipment, make sure that the usage, data costs, etc, are detailed in your contract.
Check the Dress Code
☑ Clean, ☑ ironed, ☑ shoes polished, ☑ conservative style; ☑ spare top/shirt;
Even in the most creative jobs, you are safer dressing more conservatively than crazy on your first day. You don’t yet understand the corporate culture, so keep it more covered than exposed, smarter than casual, and wear shoes you can walk in. Pack a spare top, just in case of coffee spills! Most large companies have a dress code, so check with HR (Human Resources) if you are concerned.
Tell your Tribe
Let your friends and family know how you want to prepare – if you want a quiet evening, tell your mom before she starts cooking and invites everyone to celebrate the night before!
THE FIRST DAY
The first days at a new job can feel overwhelming – there are new people and names to remember, systems to learn, and routines to understand. Your first week is likely to be full of introductions, off-the-cuff training, and learning how to do the basics of your job within the systems and procedures of the company.
The first people you are likely to meet are your immediate manager and co-workers. It’s a good idea to write down people’s names and designations as you meet them, especially as you will be introduced to a lot of people in your first days that you won’t see every day.
Spend some time orientating yourself – where are the restrooms and tea areas, which stairs and doors lead where, and where is your workspace in relation to other departments.
You will likely be working with people of all ages and backgrounds, all of them with more experience working for the company than you. The company already thinks that you can add to their success (that’s why they hired you!), so you don’t need to prove yourself in the first 24 hours – listen, be patient and open to learning from your co-workers at all levels of the organisation.
SETTLING IN & STAYING ALERT
The good, bad and sometimes ugly news about ‘going to work’ is that it can be as interesting, complicated and personal as school and college – but with more opportunities and risks. As you start getting to know your co-workers and your job, always remember that you are in a professional, working environment – run by people.
In a new job, you have the chance to create a good impression from the start. Most people eventually reveal their natural personality at work, but first impressions do make a difference, so resolve to be the best example of yourself as you start off.
As you get to know the company, you will discover personal dynamics, relationships and ‘ways of doing things that may impact your work, so don’t make too many waves in the beginning – you may unknowingly offend just the person you need to help set-up your workstation!
Be respectful, honest, say ‘no’ to gossip, be interested, keep personal calls to break times, stay off social media, don’t swear, and try and keep a positive attitude, even if it all feels a bit too much!
It’s important that you know your KPA’s and KPIs – your Key Performance Areas and Key Performance Indicators. The KPA describes your job and what the company expects, the KPI is how your challenges and achievements will be measured. Your manager and/or HR person should brief you on these elements within your first week, including how, and how often your KPIs will be measured and judged.
Make sure you understand what your manager and co-workers want and expect from you in the first weeks – and in the long term. Ultimately, you are in charge of your job, so take charge of learning how to do it too!
THE CALL OF DUTY
As you become more known at work, people will include you in ‘the team’ and the rituals of being part of the company. This might include informal events like birthday celebrations or Friday after-work drinks, to formal activities like employee volunteering and team-building. You will need to learn how to judge for yourself and how important it is for your job and working relationships to participate, especially after-hours.
In South Africa, the maximum normal working week is 45 hours long, and a lunch break counts as unpaid time. Overtime is legally voluntary and must be agreed to by both the employer and the employee.
You might need to put in some overtime or extra hours as you adjust to the new job – if the company specifically requires it, then you should be paid, but if you work longer because you want to get better quicker, consider that unpaid overtime as a personal ‘time-investment’ in your own career.
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
People change jobs – even careers! – much more often now than a few decades ago, so the first company you work for is not likely to be the one you retire from. Getting your first job can be a dream come true – but not if it ends up a nightmare!
In the best of worlds, your first job is a positive, learning experience where you gain skills, knowledge, contacts, a good salary, and opportunities to grow and advance. But a toxic working environment where people gossip constantly, workers are ignored, bullied or feel physically unsafe or emotionally threatened, where managers shout and make impossible demands, is not a place where you want to build a long-term career.
Ultimately, this is your career and your life, so as you get ready to storm the working world, be clear on your goals, and what you want to achieve – and get prepared to start like a pro.