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Employment Advice Column: Handling the First Week of a New Job

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Dear Joanna
Thanks to my Reena job coach, I will be starting a new job next week as a stocking clerk in a busy retail store. I’m excited and nervous as I want to make a good impression with my new employer. I don’t understand what is going on. I don’t know how to behave. I feel lost. Please can you advise me on how I can handle new employee challenges and be a successful worker as well?

Nervous New Employee

Dear Nervous,
Congratulations! I definitely get it that starting a new job is no less terrifying than starting your first day at school. The difference is that you are now an adult transitioning into a new workplace and job. I’ve consulted with Victoria Ghouchandra, Reena’s leading program coordinator of both Summer Employment Transition (SET) and Reena Supported Employment Services program (RSES) who offers the following advice regarding your question:

1. Prepare in advance. Research, research and research! Learn as much as you can about the company culture and your new job’s tasks and duties before you start. You can do this by exploring the company’s website, and analyze the job description. You can learn about other employees at the company by viewing their profiles on LinkedIn. Register to receive the newsfeed and email newsletter of your new employer. Learn as much as many of the tasks for the job on your own or at least understand them before your first day on the job. For example, if you want to learn how to handle cash, check out YouTube for a teaching video clip. And if you can, practice it. Employers like employees who are self-sufficient and use their resources wisely.

2. Dress For Success. First impressions do influence how surrounding people perceive you. When you receive the job offer, you can ask this question about the company’s dress code. Reviewing policies on this topic helps as well. Always be clean, perfume/cologne free and dressed professionally. Prepare for “wardrobe disasters” warns Victoria, who recommends having an extra shirt and pants in your desk, car or bag, especially if you are working in the food service business. When you look good, you feel good and this goes a long way to getting respect at your new workplace.

3. Understand the workplace culture. Learn the unwritten rules of your team and company. There are behaviours and protocols at your new workplace that you need to know. The dress code, the use of equipment (personal telephone calls, the computer), handling food and beverages, supplies, computer stations and more. Discuss scheduling issues. Can you change your schedule for a doctor’s appointment? Ask for the ‘do’s and don’ts’ in these areas with your supervisor or fellow team. Watch how others behave during your first week. Until you understand the systems and rules, don’t assume that you know.

4. Orientation week. Generally the employer will be giving you a lot of new information at the beginning. Take notes. Write everything down. Information that isn’t relevant now might be relevant later on. The first week you will learn your boss’ expectations of your role. If a task or responsibility is unclear, ask for clarification. It is your job to completely understand the employers’ expectation of what will make you a successful employee.

5. Be prepared to ask questions. Before you actually engage in the task or assignment, it’s important to ask your assigned “trainer or mentor” for clarification if you don’t understand the tasks or the assignment. It’s better to submit the work correctly and take time to understand it in advance. Write all your questions down in your notebook as you go through the day. Each boss has a different style of managing and responding to your questions. Find out what works best for him or her with addressing your questions.

6. Admitting to mistakes. If you do make a mistake, learn from it. For example, if you are asked to ask to write an email and there was a spelling mistake on one of the company’s terminology, then learn from this mistake. Admit to mistakes. There is no perfect employee out there and taking steps to correct the mistakes, goes much further as it can help you have a transparent relationship with your managers and coworkers.

7. Take initiative. Be as self-sufficient as possible in learning the job. Find out if there are company resources to help you via your boss, co-workers and even Human Resources. Use social media and internet resources as well. Don’t depend on your boss or employee for everything. Take charge. Again, if there is something you don’t understand, first research and try to determine the answer yourself. Your boss is there to help you out; not do it for you. Continue learning on the job. Sometimes the conversations in the lunch room with other colleagues are the best place for informal learning.

8. Maintaining your work ethic. Typically, new employees work their best during the first weeks of probation. Victoria encourages employees to keep up this motivation, hard work, interest in job and learning throughout your work life at your company.

9. Meeting new people. How you act in the beginning can make or break your success as a new employee and the role in the long run. Build workplace relationships. Eating in the lunch room with the team helps. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Shake their hand. List and learn people’s names. Greet everyone with a smile, while being professional and courteous, even on the telephone. Always be appreciative by saying thank you, accepting praise and don’t interrupt. Think about what you could do to make the team happy. Listen more than talk. Learn about the different roles and jobs in the company. Once you are comfortable in your role, you can start reciprocating by helping others. For example. “Hi, my name is Victoria. I just started this week as a stock clerk. If you need any help, let me know.” Make sure the person is not busy or in the middle of a deadline. Make everyone you meet feel important.

To submit your concerns, questions, issues on your job, career and/or employment IN CONFIDENCE, please email Dear Joanna at jsamuels@reena.org