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Career Corner
Seven First Week Faux Pas

Selena Dehne -- It's your first day on the job, and even if you get those first few minutes right, you're about to spend several days under the watchful eyes of co-workers and management who are feeling you out to determine your worth in their workplace.

It's your first day on the job and you've got anywhere from seven seconds to four minutes to convince co-workers and management that you were a great hire, according to Diane Decker, Victoria Hoevemeyer and Marianne Rowe-Dimas, authors of First-Job Survival Guide (JIST ©2006).

Within a span of minutes, you're suddenly subject to all kinds of assumptions about your economic status, self-assurance, credibility, educational level, and more. And even if you get those first few minutes right, you're about to spend several days under the watchful eyes of co-workers and management who are feeling you out to determine your worth in their workplace.

"The first impression others have of you is especially important because although it takes very little time to make, a first impression is lasting. It is unlikely that you will get a chance to undo the damage of a botched first impression," says Decker, Hoevemeyer, and Rowe-Dimas.

As the "new guy" in the workplace, it can be tempting to shrug off your first few days on the job, believing you'll be overlooked or sympathized with for being unfamiliar to company culture and your employer's expectations. Yet, like any other day on the job, you need to be on your toes, because there are a handful of mistakes—however minor they may seem—that are sure-fire ways to sour the early impressions people have of you as a professional.

1. Be late to work.

How can you tarnish someone's impression of you before ever setting foot in the workplace? You simply have to show up late to work. Arriving to work on time -- even a few minutes early -- is a basic expectation that many new employees take lightly. To ensure you arrive at work on time and prevent any unexpected surprises from making you late, it would be wise to drive one or two test runs to work, allowing extra time for emergencies or weather that might delay you.

2. Swear around co-workers or management.

Although you may not think twice about saying a particular word while chatting with friends or family, your use of it in the workplace may offend co-workers, clients, or management. In your first days on the job, the last thing you'll want to do is offend others with language that can be easily prevented by choosing your words carefully. In addition to swearing, phrases such as "that sucks" or "that bites" should be avoided while in the work place, as well.

3. Dress to un-impress.

Deciding what to wear to work during the first week can be especially challenging when you're unfamiliar with company culture. However, a fashion faux pas can be avoided as long as you steer clear from work place no-nos, such as visible tattoos; piercings; unusually styled or colored hair; and any clothing that is too colorful, short, low-cut, tight, baggy, or wrinkled.

Still confused as to what's appropriate for your particular work environment? Most employers give new hires an employee manual that outlines appropriate and inappropriate attire. If you don't have access to an employee manual prior to your first day, contact the organization's human resources department for guidance.

4. Forget to research your employer.

Sure, you researched your employer prior to your interview, but chances are you'll need to learn even more to make a smooth and speedy transition from "the new guy" to "seasoned pro." Study orientation materials, such as manuals, to learn about the employer's vision, mission, values, history, and what makes your employer different from competitors. Other sources of information include the employer's Web site, financial statements, annual reports, and acquaintances who may have worked for or know people who have worked for your new employer.

5. Disregard your co-workers' names.

Of course nobody expects you to walk out the door on your first day knowing the first and last names of every single co-worker. However, people admire and respond favorably to those who remember and use their names, which is why you'll want to make an effort to remember the people you're introduced to throughout your first few days on the job. A handy trick is to associate a person's name with someone or something you know will jog your memory.

6. Abuse your cell phone.

Cell phones have become such a natural part of our life that we often take them for granted, using them while shopping, in the car, or in restaurants. They've even invaded the workplace, so it's important to know when your cell phone becomes a nuisance. If you must use your cell phone, use it briefly and go somewhere private. If you are in a meeting or at a business luncheon, put your phone on vibrate or turn it off. If you must bring your cell phone to meetings, explain to those also in the meeting that you are leaving your phone on and why you must have it with you.

7. Bumble through orientation.

Many new employees will disregard early phases of training and orientation because it is overwhelming, dull, or appears so basic they've determined it's a waste of time. Not only does this create the perception that you are unengaged in your new responsibilities, it forces you to miss out on opportunities to ask questions that will give you an advantage during your first few days on the job.

In addition, be prepared to bring your Social Security number and a photo ID, as well as to fill out tax and insurance forms. If you have questions about the forms, ask for time to take them home to review them and any additional materials that will explain them.

Making a conscious effort to present yourself as favorably as possible typically pays off in the end. "If your co-workers are favorably impressed the first time they meet you, that impression will have a positive affect on how they view you in the future. In order to keep that positive impression going, however, you need to be consistent on a daily basis," say Decker, Hoevemeyer, and Rowe-Dimas.

"Remember that you are being judged on a daily basis by everyone you come in contact with, including your co-workers, managers, and clients. You can make those judgments work in your favor by managing the impression others have of you."

Selena Dehne is a career writer for JIST Publishing who shares the latest occupational, career and job search information available with job seekers and career changers. Her articles help people find meaningful work, develop their career and life plans, and carry out effective job search campaigns.

© 2007 Selena Dehne

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