“Day One”

At 6:45 a.m. on the first morning of my new job a very wise mentor called to wish me luck.

She said “Today is your statement day. You have one chance to make this first impression so think about how you want to begin this day.”

Her words have stuck with me through this first week.  As many professionals begin new jobs this summer it is important to think about how you want to start this next new professional chapter.

A few things to consider before your first day:

Appearance: Moving from graduate student to pro-staff member?  From entry to mid?  How could/should your attire reflect this?  Understanding institutional culture is an important factor to consider.  Day one is your first chance to demonstrate that you positively represent your institution and department.  Consider a look that is polished, professional and represents you.

Attitude: Nervous? Tired? Anxious? All of these are common emotions associated with starting any new professional endeavor.  The key is to remember that you were chosen above all other candidates for this position.  Try to focus on the opportunities that are headed your way and walk through the door with a positive demeanor.   Your team has been waiting for you to arrive!

Demonstrate Respect for Institutional Culture: Don’t be the person who says “Well, at XYZ University we did it this way…” Be open to a new way of doing things.  Remember one of the most important things you can do in a new position is show respect for the traditions and processes already in place, even if they seem drastically different from your previous experience.  I maintain a motto of “Learn, Maintain and then Create” when thinking about potential opportunity for departmental change.  There will always be time to change things down the line, but take the time to learn the “why” behind each decision and process.  You might just find that their way suits the goals of the department better than you previously anticipated.

Determining Priorities: I call this the people vs. processes debate. During the first few days there are so many tasky things to do—apply for benefits, get your parking pass, obtain your ID, etc.  We can feel the pressure to make sure that these details are completed immediately.  While all of those items must be taken care of, remember that the first couple of days are excellent opportunities to get to know your staff.  Perhaps ask someone if they have a few minutes to walk with you to complete one of these tasks so you can get a feel for the layout of the campus.  Or you can determine if any of these processes can be done on-line after the workday ends so you can focus on getting to know your new team.  What do you want your new department to remember about your first few days?

Be Prepared to be Uncomfortable: Change is always difficult, but if we accept that we are going into a situation prepared with the skills and abilities to do the job it helps us to lean into the uncomfortable situations like not knowing how to find the shared drive or having to ask someone about various account codes.   Six months from now you will be amazed at what you have learned!

As for me, day one was a success! I kept Dr. Cissy Petty’s words in my head and did my very best to remember that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

What other tips would you give new employees about their first few days?


About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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14 Responses to “Day One”

  1. Great post Ann Marie 🙂 I would only add that folks should work on the delicate balancing act of earning respect by delivering quality work/actions and the need to spend time building relationships and understanding the current/past political structure. Initially, “well done” is better than “well said” holds true, but you also will need to know when to strategically speak and advocate on behalf of your area, once you’ve built relationships and understand the landscape. My first 6 months is all about “Mark Twain”… where he said, “If we were talk more than we were to listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.”

    In any case, be excited and have fun!

    • All great points, Ed! That balancing act is always tricky. We’ve been hired to both add value to the department/produce quality work AND play well with others. 🙂 Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  2. AMK, this is great advice and insight. I especially like your motto: “Learn, Maintain and then Create.” Critical for everyone on every level. Starting new means that constant reminder that it’s going to be different, it’s going to be uncomfortable, and it’s going to be unfamiliar. And it’s okay to feel that way. Beginning my own transition, Ice Cube’s words resonate: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Seriously. Each decision and action is a representation of who you are, previous institutions, and the choice to hire you. Identify who you can talk with outside your institution to process what you are observing, journal to reflect and understand, and find the department/instiution “historian” who can not only answer the “why” behind things but also enjoys sharing that knowledge.

  3. themjames says:

    What a wonderful, universally-applicable blog post you’ve written! I plan on sharing this resource with all of my supervisees taking new jobs moving forward!

    One thing that I like to tell new employees is to make a point to develop at least one new connection each day for the first week of their employment. This by no means should stop after a week of course, but it puts a face to the name of the “new person in town” and can potentially open doors for them later on in their work there.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights, Ann Marie! I can’t wait for your next installment!

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting! You are right–those first few interactions are critical. We can learn so much about the context and culture by connecting with those who have seen where the institution has been and where it is going 🙂

  4. Mike Severy says:

    Great reminders as one starts a new experience. I too like “Learn, Maintain, and then Create.” Unless you’ve been specifically directed to create change dropping a bomb is not a good way to start. Even with permission, gaining some understanding of context and people is wise. Congratulations on a good start to your new job.

    • Thanks Mike! I agree–when you take the time to learn about the environment, you can more thoughtfully create change that is sustainable and supported by your team. 🙂

  5. Erin says:

    Great post AMK. I would add to keep in mind to also make time to connect with people outside your department. An offer for coffee or lunch can provide great insights into collaborations, services, and processes. I received feedback and ideas from meeting with upper level admins, faculty, coaches and students in my first month. These conversations helped me to understand how others viewed my area and what we did, develop my priorities and build the relationships needed to accomplish them.
    Best of luck!

    • Thanks Erin! You are absolutely correct-that is so critical to do. Other campus partners can help provide excellent historical context. Thanks so much for reading!

  6. Amy Boyle says:

    Great advice! The first day is full of so many emotions! I think it’s a great idea to snag a few minutes of quiet time to check in with yourself; how is the day going, who have you met, who haven’t you met that you need to later this week, have I eaten today? Fab, AMK! So happy for you and how fortunate you are to have DP as a mentor. Thank you!

    • Yes Amy-all terrific points! Although that reflection time can be limited in the first few days given all that there is to learn, you will be much better off for stealing a few minutes here and there to check-in with yourself. Thanks as always for your support!

  7. Maeghan Rempala says:

    Thanks for the post, Ann Marie! I am starting a new position in less than two weeks, and these are all great things to keep in mind.

    I have been very blessed to get emails of congratulations and “we can’t wait to get started” emails from many of my new colleagues. My advice to others is that when someone says “don’t hesitate to ask me any questions”, actually take them up on it! It’s good to have that “move-in buddy” who is assigned to you, but it’s also important to reach out to your other colleagues so you can get to know more about them before you even get to campus.

    I appreciate your advice, and I will definitely be taking it!

  8. Thanks for reading and commenting, Maeghan! Yes, asking questions (a lot!) is key. It will help you to understand the position more fully and participate in more meaningful ways quickly. Good Luck to you as you begin this new endeavor 🙂

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