The Definitive Guide to Acing Your First Day at Work

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You powered your way through all the interview stages and were awarded the job, placement or internship that you really, really wanted. So that’s the hard part done with, right?

Well, yes and no. While it’s great that you got the placement, internship or school leaver programme that you were crazy about, you now have to actually do the job and impress the people you’re going to spend a lot of time with.

To help you, RateMyPlacement has listed 25 top tips to help you cruise through your first day at work and the early days of your new career.

Before you even start your placement or internship...

Like everything in life, you have to put in some legwork and preparation beforehand if you really want to nail it on your first day of work.

These are things that can have a big impact on how you perform, so it doesn’t pay to skip over them.

#1: Get your sleep in

Sounds crazy obvious, but if you’re tired on your first day of your placement or internship, you’re unlikely to perform at your best. This is even more important if you haven’t had a regular routine beforehand.

So get a few good nights’ sleep before you roll up to make sure you don’t fall asleep halfway through your first day.

#2: Work out your route

If you wake up on the day and realise you don’t know where you’re going, chances are you’re probably going to be rushing around and may be late.

So, before the big day comes, do some research and work out which way you’re going to go. Look at directions, distances, routes, travel times and public transport sites if you’re using it. Also, check if there are any traffic works going on that could disrupt you.

#3 Refresh your memory:

You probably did a fair amount of research before your interview, so you should know a little about the company and industry already. However, if that was a little while ago, it’s a good idea to refresh your memory and see if anything new has happened in the industry before you start.

This will stop you from going in cold and not looking like you have a clue what the company does on your first day of work.

#4 Refresh your wardrobe:

If you needed a good excuse to go shopping, this is it. You’ll probably want a few new outfits to help you fit into the company. The kind of place it is will dictate what you need to wear. If it’s a global finance or consultancy company, chances are a stylish suit will be in order.

Elsewhere, you might get away with something more casual. If in doubt, you can always contact the company to find out (or they might tell you).

#5 Show how keen you are:

You may have a first day scheduled in your diary, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out before then. If you can, you may want to meet with some of your soon-to-be colleagues for a coffee, or something a bit stronger.

This will give you the chance to start building a rapport in a less formal and pressured setting and suss out who’s who.

#6 Set yourself a goal:

This might seem like a bit of an overkill, and may be tricky without knowing what projects you’re going to be working on specifically, but take some time and have a think about what you’d like to achieve within a set time of joining.

That could be a month or two or three, or maybe the first 100 days. Don’t be unrealistic, but also try and set goals that will push you quite a bit and help you get off to a strong start.

#7 Final preparation:

Read through any contracts, induction packs or emails you’ve been sent by the company. These will have important information about your employment, responsibilities and what you may need to bring with you when you start.

Also make sure you have everything that’s been asked for specifically. This could include: your passport, National Insurance details, driving license, proof of your address and, if you have them, a P45 and visa (if you’re on one).

On the day when you start work...

So the big day is finally here. You’ve laid the foundations for your success – now it’s time to build on them. Here are our tips for starting your placement or internship as you mean to go on.

#8 Wake up early:

Head to bed early and set your alarm early. Give yourself extra time to get ready and dress the part (you might even want to pick an outfit the night before), so that you can do so at a leisurely pace and give yourself plenty of time to get into work.

Yeah, it means you might have to sit in reception for a little while, but that will let you get your brain into the right gear. It’s also much more favourable compared to getting in late and sweaty.

#9 Be confident and friendly:

Confidence doesn’t mean being really loud or ‘showy’ on your first day. Rather, it means being open, at ease, welcoming and friendly to everyone. Smile, shake people’s hands and say hello. Get to know them.

Treating everyone fairly and openly shows true confidence and integrity, rather than trying to be the attention-grabber.

#10 Don't be scared to ask questions:

It’s a brand new job with people you don’t know – you’re not going to know everything. Your colleagues know that too, so don’t be scared to ask questions if there’s something you’re unaware of. Like everything else though, use some common sense too – don’t ask questions for the sake of it, and if there’s something you can work out yourself, try not to bug your colleagues about it.

#11: Check office etiquette

Different offices have different ways of doing things. Some might not mind if you use your phone at your desk, play music, use earphones, change your desktop’s background picture, leave stuff all over your desk or even pop onto social media to take a quick breather from work.

Others may hate it if you do one or all of those things. So if you’re in doubt, subtly bring it up with one of your colleagues to find out how things are done there.

#12 Bring a notebook and pen:

You know, for writing notes. You’ll probably get a company one anyway, but don’t risk looking unprepared and ill-equipped on your first day at work.

#13: Offer to make people drinks

Yeah, this old classic. Your new colleagues will probably be expecting you to offer to make drinks on your first day, so don’t let them down by not offering to. Also, when people tell you their preferences, do your best to remember them. You might want to write them down.

#14: Don't stay late for not reason

If you actually want to stay late, no one’s going to stop you. But don’t just do it because you think it’s going to make a good impression. Doing great work will help you make a good impression. Saying that, don’t rush out the door as fast as you can when 5:30pm comes around on your first day of work.

#15 Learn how to use your phone:

Obviously if you don’t have a phone, this won’t apply to you. If you do, find out if there’s a standard greeting that you should use when answering. Also, if your colleagues have phones, find out if you need to answer them when your colleagues are away from their desks.

#16 Learn how to use your emails:

Most emails are pretty standard, but you might still need to find out if there are any little extras to include. These could include setting up the company’s email signature, copying people into your emails and signing off professionally.

Also, remember, emails are pieces of writing – they should be professional themselves. Space things out nicely, check spelling and grammar, make sure there’s a subject line, don’t forget your attachments (if there are any) and – whatever you do – don’t copy in the wrong people or hit “reply all” by mistake. If you do, you won’t look very professional for long.

#17 Get contact details:

If something happens, or if you get ill, you’ll need to inform someone, so get the contact details of your manager of HR representative.

#18 Know your hours:

This information should be in your contract anyway, but there’s no harm in just double-checking everything with your manager on your first day at work about when you need to start, leave and have lunch throughout the day.

Work out the lay of the land: each office will have its own culture – some will be quieter than others, while some will be frantic. Take some time to work out which yours is, and therefore how you should act in it.

#20 Listen out:

Maybe your natural inclination is to chat about anything and everything or stick your earphones in, but there’s a lot to be said for listening out. You’ll find out about projects, developments and interactions, which will help you to get up to speed with the company’s work and also find out how to act around your colleagues.

Speak to your manager: your manager will be interested in your progress, so let them know what you’re working on every now and then, or ask for their feedback on something. Also, you might want to instigate some kind of regular catch up, maybe at the end of each week, to go over what you’ve been working on. It might also be worth writing down a list every day of things you’ve done so that you don’t forget.

#21 Be ready for ice-breakers:

There are many types of ice-breaker, so you can’t prepare for every type. These are just generally designed to be fun ways of finding out about other people and letting them find out about you, so don’t worry about them too much.

What might help is having an introduction prepared that outlines who you are, what you’ll be doing and an interesting fact or two about you.

#22: Get stuck in socially

In the long run you may not want to go out all the time, but in the early days, you’ll want to show that you’re happy to get out of the office and interact with people in a more casual environment. If you’re offered a place at lunch on your first day of work, or asked to go for a few drinks after work, just say yes and go with the flow. It’s easier to start off on the right foot than try and play catch up later.

#23: Network

Sounds strange, but you won’t be in this job forever, and strange things do happen in business. If you do your job well and are friendly with your colleagues, they may help you get a promotion, or even put in a good word for you elsewhere if things don’t work out for you in this company. Obviously you don’t want it to come to that, but remember – who you know is as important as what you know.

#24: Ask for a mentor

What better way to show how committed you are than by asking for a mentor on your first day at work? This will show that you really want to learn and let you build a rapport with your mentor. If the company hasn’t got a scheme in place, you may even help to kick-start one.

#25: Have fun

You’ll spend a lot of time in work, so do your best to make it enjoyable. Make friends, do the work well and open up your own opportunities. It’s your career, so make it a good one!