How to Have a Great First Day at Your New Job

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By Blake Thorne


Day one at the new job. How’s it feel? Slightly terrifying?

It should. At your old job — just last week perhaps — you were the most experienced you ever were there. Suddenly, you’re the least experienced you ever will be at this job.

It’s enough to cause a panic. But it doesn’t have to. Fresh starts come with great opportunity. Here are a few tips on how you can capitalize on this new adventure. We’ll skip the obvious — show up on time, practice the route to the new office —and focus on some of the research behind the first day and how you can use what science and experts say about the topic.

Ask a lot of questions

Day one is going to be a barrage of new information. New places, new people, new systems. It will be a sensory bonanza compared to the routine of your old job (don’t worry, we can use this to help us — more on that later).

Faced with all this information, it will be tempting to freeze up and just nod and agree to everything. Resist this urge. Listen closely, but be sure you’re asking questions. A lot of questions. Even bad ones.

Don’t be afraid of stupid questions

Relax. This is not the job interview anymore. You don’t need to worry about seeming dumb. Your new bosses understand that a lot of things here are new for you. You’re expected to be unfamiliar with many things. You might worry that you’re being judged for not knowing things, but it’s quite the opposite. Smart people value people who ask questions.

For example, bestselling author Ramit Sethi has written that this is one way he can tell if someone is “real-smart” or “fake smart.

“People who seek out advice are a good bet,” Sethi wrote. “After sitting in on about a billion meetings with real-smart people and fake-smart people, I’ve decided on a pretty good litmus test to tell them apart: If someone asks questions, he’s probably smarter. Why? Because he’s not afraid to admit that he doesn’t know it all, and comfortable enough to ask questions. That alone makes him smarter, plus the actual answer he gets from asking a question.”

Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat something

At some point today, someone will explain something that doesn’t quite click. Maybe it halfway clicks. Maybe it gets 70 percent there. Resist the urge to say you understand for the sake of moving on.

So someone’s explaining the billing system. They go through it. They explain how it works. You’re still lost. It’s OK to ask for help. Your boss would rather take the time to explain it again then deal with mistakes later on.

Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas of management consulting firm Mu Sigma warn against falling into the trap of hurrying into tasks before comprehension.

“Because expectations for decision-making have gone from ‘get it done soon’ to ‘get it done now’ to ‘it should have been done yesterday,’ we tend to jump to conclusions instead of asking more questions.,” they wrote. “And the unfortunate side effect of not asking enough questions is poor decision-making.”

Never lie

It may seem obvious, but never lie. For most people with a functioning moral compass, big egregious lies are a chore. You have to really struggle to justify a big lie. It’s the white lies you need to be careful of, little lies like exaggerating your duties in your last role.

White lies will be tempting. Especially white lies that make you look good and seem innocent enough.

“You’ve used Productivity Tool X, right?” someone may ask.

Avoid the temptation. If you haven’t used the tool, admit so. It will slow down your day. Someone may roll their eyes. But you’ll be grateful later on.

Challenge your assumptions

Unless you’re undergoing some radical career change, there’s a good chance your new job will look a little bit like your old one. This can be nice, it can also be dangerous. You may be tempted to fall into old routines and make assumptions without realizing it. Ed Batista, an executive coach and an Instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, warns against this.

“There’s generally a great deal of continuity between roles when we set up, but it’s important to look for the differences and to anticipate where they will challenge us,” Batista writes.

Batista has a series of questions he recommends new people ask themselves.

  • In what ways does this new opportunity differ from our previous role?
  • More specifically, how might the new opportunity look similar but actually be different?
  • How will those differences require us to stretch beyond our comfort zone?
  • How far are we prepared to go?
  • How far is too far?
  • What support will we need to stretch ourselves successfully?”

Launch new habits

This is a great time to start a new habit. Research shows that the more your normal routine is changed, the more likely you are to stick with a new habit — or kick a bad one.

Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” has written about the power of changing habits while on vacation, another environment where our normal cues and rewards are upended.

Your old job likely had you in a familiar pattern of cues and rewards. With a new environment, you have the opportunity to establish a whole new set of patterns.

Think of a habit you’ve always wanted to build — whether its a 30 minute run on your lunch break, or reaching the elusive Inbox Zero — and give it a try. Now’s the time.

Try a new habit. Meditate. Why not?

But hold onto some habits

Chances are, however, you picked up at least a few helpful habits in your old job. It’s worth taking a thorough stock of the tools and habits that have worked in the past to see what might transfer over. Whether it’s a specific calendar app or a 3 p.m. coffee break ritual, there’s a good chance something that’s worked for you is worth carrying over.

And new habits require mental energy to pick up. Try to pull in too many at once, you might burn out. It will be comforting to know that not everything has changed.

Follow the lead

Day one is not the day to be a trailblazer. So maybe you have grand ideas for propelling the company into the stratosphere and making everyone rich. Pump the brakes. On day one, blending in is more important than sticking out, writes Michael D. Watkins, co-founder of leadership development company Genesis Advisers and author of “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.”

Soak up the culture

Watkins recommends soaking up the office culture. Learn about your surroundings, take in the patterns and preferences of those around you. Do they work quietly or is there a hum of constant chatter? How do people dress? How do they interact?

“Take time to observe the office culture, and try your best to blend in,” Watkins said in an interview with LearnVest. “And always listen before you speak. Sometimes people feel a need to prove themselves early on, so they form an opinion before they really know what they’re talking about.”

Meet a lot of people

This is also a critical day for introductions. You should think about meeting as many of your new coworkers as you can and remembering names. The nuts and bolts of the job are important, but don’t neglect the power of building relationships.

“I see people focus too much on the technical job skills and not enough on the company’s politics,” Watkins said. “Build key relationships early. Ask your boss, ‘Who is it critical that I get to know?’ And then invite those people to coffee or lunch and pick their brains. Don’t just focus ‘vertically’ on managers above you—also create ‘horizontal’ alliances with colleagues. You want to have support at all levels.”

Amanda Augustine, career expert at TheLadders, an online job-matching service for professionals, also recommends taking the time to meet people.

“It could be a fast-paced culture, and they don’t have time to come to you,” Augustine told Business Insider. “Start with the group that’s closest to you, the people you’re directly working with.”

Along with career benefits, there are health benefits to having close relationships with colleagues. Research shows people with robust networks of coworkers and friends tend to live longer.

Seek a mentor

Suppose you want to go a step further and reach out to people beyond your immediate circle. This is a good time to start thinking about a mentor. The idea of a mentor may seem uncomfortable. But It doesn’t have to be anything formal.

“Is there someone at the company who has done what you’re doing before? Enlist that person’s help and offer help in return,” Watkins said. “For instance, maybe a colleague can show you how to master the internal computer system and, in return, you can teach that person how to craft an effective tweet. Every networking relationship is an exchange.”

Say you’re looking for advice from someone several rungs above you with a lot of responsibility. Be direct when seeking help from them. Sethi recommends an e-mail format he calls the “1-2-3 Choice Technique” that will “get almost a 100% response rate.”


As he put it:

“Hi Ramit, I love your book on blah blah. I noticed you said I should XYZ in chapter 5, and so I tried it. I’m stuck due to XYZ. So I’ve come up with 3 possible routes:
blah blah1
blah blah2
blah blah3″

It seems simple, but it shows you’ve already done some mental work on the problem you’re looking for help on. So important people are happy to reach out. Try it with that intimidating rock star coworker and build those good relationships early.

Remain Calm

Along with all of this, it’s important to remain calm. Don’t be overwhelmed.

It’s important to remember that you were brought here for a reason. Panicking won’t help. Stay the course and follow the advice we laid out here.

You’ll be great.


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