How to Have a Great First Day of a New Job

Six people sitting around a conference table with two people shaking hands across the table

Congratulations! You nailed the resume, the cover letter, and the interview. 

Now the real work begins!

The first day of a new job can be intimidating, like the first day of school but about ten times more overwhelming.

Learning the ropes while trying to make a great first impression can be tough. You're trying to appear like the best possible version of yourself, while operating in a completely unfamiliar environment and absorbing an ocean of brand new information.

Luckily, first days are short-lived and each day after gets a little bit more familiar and easier. So while you're navigating the choppy waters of Day One, there are plenty of strategies to make sure your first day is productive all while laying good groundwork for your future success.

Prepare for the day

A surefire way to make a good first impression is to show up prepared and put together. It shows that you’re serious about your new role and you’re ready to work.

Before you even step through the door of your new office or join a virtual meeting, make sure you have all the necessary tools to get through the day.

Gather all of your supplies, lay out your first-day outfit, and make plans to arrive a few minutes early. Study the directions if you need to and give yourself enough time to commute or log-on.

When you're picking your outfit, be sure to try on a few options. Remember that you might need to crawl under your desk to plug in a phone, or that the office might be warmer or cooler than you'd expect. Make sure you are going to be comfortable and able to roll with whatever the day throws your way.

Just like the first day of school, you don’t want to arrive without all of the right tools. Here’s a quick checklist of everything you’ll want to make sure you have:

  • Notebook
  • A few pens (double-check that they work!)
  • Planner – writing important dates down will help you remember them, especially on a hectic day
  • Lunch (or money for lunch)
  • Water – you’ll be glad you stayed hydrated
  • Sweater or light jacket – if you’re in an office, it can get chilly 
  • Snack – you'll need an afternoon pick-me-up 
  • A smile – this is probably the most important item on the list

Make quality connections

It turns out that there is a right way to make connections at the beginning of a new job that will set you up for success later down the road, and Harvard researchers have been studying it.

Professors Rob Cross and Peter Gray say that it’s neither tying oneself to a particular individual mentor nor making sweeping introductions that lead to the most success; instead, it’s the quality of the connections you choose.

In one study the duo found that “successful newcomers were more selective and less superficial in their outreach,” they write in the Harvard Business Review. “They still set up a lot of exploratory meetings, but they used them to ask plenty of questions, offer expertise and assistance where they were able, create mutual wins, and generate energy.”

Instead of casting a wide net, choose a few specific directions. Your first day will probably be spent meeting lots of people, so take this as an opportunity to learn a little bit more about your colleagues, so that in the following weeks you can seek out mentors more carefully.

“Very targeted investments make a big, big difference on people becoming productive more quickly and enjoying their time in the firm,” David Sylvester, head of learning and development at the firm, told the professors.

Don’t rule out any connections too soon, it’s best to be polite and curious in your first days while getting to know the workplace.

Have information read for onboarding

First days are filled with lots of paperwork, which can be the most overwhelming part of the day. Make it a little easier by making sure you have information on hand to complete it all.

For many onboarding documents, you’ll need:

  • an identification card, like a drivers license or passport
  • banking information (account and routing numbers)
  • your social security number.

For benefits paperwork, you may have a few days to complete, so don’t feel the need to rush through it. Weigh your options on health care packages and investment accounts. An HR representative can answer specific questions to help you make the right decisions. 

Write questions down throughout the day

A brand new environment, new colleagues and new protocols take some time to learn. Your first day will likely be all about the basics: who you report to, where the bathroom is, etc. Even those simple things can be easy to forget when you’re being bombarded with new information.

Questions will undoubtedly come up, so keep a list of them in your notes. You may answer them yourself throughout the next few days, but in the case that they aren’t, you won’t forget to ask them or follow-up with somebody who can answer them.

It can feel a little intimidating to ask questions, but it’s normal! Nobody expects you to jump into a job and know everything right away. Many managers even see questions as an attribute. It means you’re willing to do what’s necessary to get the job done.

Finish with some self-care

First days are overwhelming and can be stressful (even if it’s in a good way!), so make sure to block off some time at the end of the day to treat yourself and reward yourself for a job well-done. 

Journaling can help you decompress and sort through all of the takeaways from your new job.

Write about what went well, the people you met, the questions you have and what kind of growth you see over the next few months as you settle in. You’ll have no shortage of topics in your brain dump, and a blank page can be the perfect way to relax.

Spending some time outside or working out — both proven to help reduce stress and make you feel happier — are other good options to end the day. They’ll help you focus on something not work-related and mellow you out for a good night’s sleep so you can slay your second day at your new job.

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