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You are Here: Home > Career Guidance > First Job Center > Adjusting to a New Job

Adjusting to a New Job

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The first few weeks of a new job are always difficult. You want to impress your co-workers as a hard-working, honest, intelligent team member. You want to show your boss that you are competent and talented. And all the while, you can't remember which cabinet holds the office supplies, you've forgotten at least two officemates' names, and your computer seems to be haunted.

Even seasoned professionals say starting a new job is rough. It's even harder if you're a recent college graduate getting acquainted with the real world. However, if you anticipate the challenges ahead, your transition to working America will be much smoother.

Take Advantage of a Mentoring Program

If your company offers you a mentor, don't hesitate to sign up for this opportunity. Not only will a good mentor provide you with unparalleled networking opportunities, but he or she will also give you tips on how to excel in your job, advise you on how to realize your long-term goals, and provide a career trajectory that you might want to use as a model.

Don't be Afraid to Write Things Down

Maybe it's not best to be poised with a notebook during the first round of office interviews, scribbling away instead of making eye-contact and shaking hands. However, when you get back to your desk, don't hesitate to write down co-workers' names and key data about them.

While you're at it, write down where the office supplies are, what day the cleaning crew will empty your garbage can, where the recycling bin is, and whether you need to contribute money to buy grinds and filters for the "free" coffee.

Mind the Dress Code

Employers generally have the right to establish dress codes as a condition of employment. For some jobs, the dress codes are obvious. If you're working as a technician at a hospital, you will probably wear a scrub suit. If you're a police officer, you will likely don a uniform. If you're an investment banker, you will probably sport a suit. Some organizations have specific, written, dress code policies. At many, however, the dress code is not so clear-cut and it can be hard to size up what the company expects of your appearance.

For example, the dress code in newsrooms around the country is highly variable—some newspapers are fine with blue jeans; others demand a workforce dressed to be aesthetically interchangeable with hedge-fund employees. Also, by simply visiting your new workplace, you may not leave with a wholly accurate interpretation of the dress code.

The best course of action is to spend the first week or two of work a little bit overdressed or matched with the most formally dressed person you see in the office. Pay close attention to the finer points of the dress code, and assess the average level of dressiness.

  • Do women wear tights or hose?
  • Do men wear playful or conservative ties?
  • Does anyone ever wear sneakers or casual loafers?
  • Do employees wear tailored, formal pants or standard-fare chinos?

Once you understand the dress code, you will be able to integrate your own sense of individual style with the workplace aesthetic. By waiting to bring your unique sensibility to your office attire, you'll be sure not to inadvertently rub others the wrong way or give the impression that you don't care or don't take your new job seriously.

Be Nice to Administrative Assistants and Clerical Workers

The main reason to be nice to the office staff is, of course, that they're people, meaning that they deserve common courtesies. Another reason, however, is that your relationship with the person who operates the fax machine, answers the phone, files papers, types transcripts, and operates the copy machine can greatly determine the quality of your job.

If you're rude to the receptionist, why should he or she give you phone messages, deliver faxes, or process your copy machine requests in a punctual manner? If you spurn the administrative assistant, why should he or she help you out when you misplace an important file or realize you forgot to do something once you get home from work? Your relationship with support staff can have a decided impact not just on the pleasantness of your day, but also on your job performance.

College isn't Corporate America

The working world can be jarring, especially if you graduated from an idyllic, elite, liberal arts college. Many such schools—the ones with lush quadrangles of emerald green grass, ivy-covered collegiate gothic dormitories, and gender studies departments—offer what many would consider something close to an ideal society. The college community is relatively egalitarian and respectful—even if every decision isn't perfectly progressive, the mandate and vision for equity is palpable. 

According to Phyllis R. Stein, a Boston-area career coach, female and minority clients often express dismay over illegal pay differentials, gendered entry-level jobs, and sexual harassment. There are no simple solutions to these problems and realities—everyone's approach to them will be unique. But handling them will be much easier if the initial shock and disillusionment doesn't catch you completely off guard.

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