No matter the type of company, there are certain fundamental things you need to get right in the workplace to ensure success:
1) Show up. As writer Regina Brett once said, “Most of life is showing up.” You can argue with the how much of life is showing up, but you can’t argue with the saying’s corollary: “Failure to show up is 100 percent guaranteed to be bad for your career.” It’s not just a matter of being physically present. In this context, “showing up” means being there wholeheartedly.
When you start a new job, there’s a lot going on and a lot of new information to take in. It can be overwhelming, but try not to let the information overload get the better of you. Remind yourself to pay attention. Take notes if it helps. There’s always a lot to process, and you can’t process it unless you’re fully present.
2) Be prompt. Don’t leave people, including your new boss, wondering what happened to the new guy. If anything, get there early. Show up relaxed and ready to go, rather than as a nervous wreck who barely made it on time. You have enough to deal with without worrying about being late, so if your new job entails an unfamiliar commute, give yourself a cushion of extra travel time. If you’re uncertain, test things out with a dry run before your first day. Anything you can do to reduce first-day jitters is a thing worth doing.
3) Dress right. At your interview, you may have picked up some clues about how to dress. If you’re in any doubt, opt for something on the formal side of appropriate. If you’re in serious doubt—or if you know that a mistake will paralyze you with self-consciousness—consider making a scouting expedition to the office to see how people dress.
4) Be approachable. You don’t have to be a world-class extrovert. You do have to interact with people. Be professional but friendly, and avoid giving the appearance that you are someone who would rather be left alone. Rightly or wrongly, that’s seen as aloofness, and it’s one of those first impressions that can hurt you.
5) Say “Thanks.” Say it a lot. Acknowledge people who are giving you their time, and if there’s someone who’s been particularly helpful, make it a point to stop by at the end of the day and say so. “Thanks so much for your help. It really made a difference. See you tomorrow”—that’s all it takes, and it will be noticed and appreciated.
6) Remember some names. For some people, remembering names is second nature. For others, it’s an unsolvable puzzle, but there are tricks you can use to make things easier. Use people’s names when you’re introduced. Saying them aloud helps make the connection. Associate a name with something memorable. If you meet Katrina and her desk is a hopeless mess, she’s “Hurricane Katrina.” You’ll remember the association. Down the road, when you’re ready to move on to the advanced level, add the names of people’s kids and pets to the list. It’s another thing people appreciate.
These six basic tasks remain important to your success beyond your first day. They should be on your agenda each and every day.