It’s been just over a month since I started my new job here in Melbourne, and to say I love it here is a definite understatement. It’s one of the easiest transitions I’ve had to make into a new role, and as someone who’s got quite a few of them under her belt (thanks to a slew of internships completed during university), I can make that claim with confidence. As usual, when you start a new job you prepare yourself to meet new people, take on new tasks, and learn a heap of material in the shortest time span ever (well, save for those university exam cram sessions). But in addition to those expected new-job undertakings, there’s a damn lot of stuff you can’t fully prepare for, but nonetheless they can be a bit tough to navigate when you’re the new meat. Of course, you can prepare a little bit, as long as you know what to expect. So I, your humble workhorse, am going to tell you a few of the things I’ve learned to navigate my way around beyond the first-day orientation.
Mobile Phone Policy– I put this as number one, because in this day and age, there’s a lot of stigma that comes with mobile phone usage. Most workplaces don’t mind if you take a call on your cell phone, as long as you’re quiet and quick—anything longer should be taken out into the hallway or into an empty room (or better, saved for after work). But even if your company is OK with mobile phones, I’d leave it out of sight for the first 2 weeks of your employment. Even if you’re bored silly by orientation information, you must remain engaged in only work material at work. Once you’ve established yourself in the role for a few weeks, that’s when you are permitted to use your own discretion regarding your phone. But unless you’re a manager or use the phone for your work, I’d still suggest limiting phone time to the absolute minimum during work hours (full disclosure: I do keep mine sitting on my desk).
Office Attire & ‘Casual Friday’– knowing your office’s dress code is obviously very important when starting a new job. As always, if in doubt, go overboard—you never ever want to be the most underdressed person in the office, especially when you’re new. On that note, keep in mind that ‘Casual Friday’ can mean different things across workplaces and between cities. Open-toed shoes and flip-flops may be okay in one place, and in another they may be reason to send you home to change—that would be horrifying. In general, I like to always keep it pretty dressed up for work, but that’s just my preference. In any case once you’re working, look to the managers and higher-ups as role models for dress, because hey, you’re going to be one of them someday so you may as well start dressing the part now!
Navigating the Lunch Room– it can be seriously scary to take your lunch break in the first weeks of employment. You can’t quite remember anyone’s names, there are a ton of new faces, and you’ve got to either sit at a table that already has people at it (awkward), or worse, you’re going to go sit alone. WTF! If there’s absolutely nobody in your department that you can tag along on a lunch break with, and you’re planning to go it alone, take a magazine or book to the lunchroom with you to avoid that awkward staring-ahead-at-nothing look that screams I-don’t-have-any-friends (hey, we’ve all been there). Don’t feel bad about it, embrace it. Rock the solo lunch. But if you can, do your best to find a buddy somewhere in your new department, ask them when/where they typically go for lunch, and then ask to tag along. People are nice, and coworkers can relate to being the new guy. Just don’t be afraid to ask.
Noise Levels & Chattiness– Some offices are very quiet, some encourage conversation. Some offices have a very open concept with minimal or half-walls, while others have 6-foot dividers between each cubicle. You’ll have to use your interpretation for this one based on your layout, but generally in the first few weeks I say stay at your desk and wait for conversation to come to you (it usually will). If you’re on the way to the water cooler or coffee machine, by all means say hello to people along the way, but the last thing you want is to be labeled the chatty non-worker in a very strict office. So until you know the general way of the people there, don’t be too eager to seek out and engage in weekend chit-chat. If you’re dying for good conversation, save it for number 3, above, and let it all out on your lunch break (assuming you’re not talking to your book).
Making New Friends– This one ties in with numbers 3 and 4, but applies in a more general sense too. Pay attention during your first weeks at work and notice if anybody is especially helpful or friendly. This is your chance to make a new friend! Friends at the office don’t have to be friends after work, but it’s useful to have someone to strike up a conversation with in the 9-5, or go grab a coffee with when you need a break from work (again, after the first few weeks). They can even be helpful when you have a question (where can I get new pens and a notebook?). Try to attend any company parties or get-togethers so you can meet people in different departments, or get yourself invited to regular lunch outings. You never know where a new friend may be hiding, so definitely be sure to put yourself out there a little bit.
As I spend the beginnings of a new year back at work, I can’t help also thinking about how refreshing it is to come back after a bit of a break. Although I’ve only been here a few weeks, I feel more settled in now that I’ve had some time to digest the whole affair. It’s also a great chance for some extra conversation when everyone comes in each morning. Never underestimate the power of being friendly, inquisitive about the lives of your coworkers beyond their desk, and just smiling and saying hello/have a great evening to everyone each day. If you’re just starting a new job, take the opportunity to become the friendly girl in the office. At the end of the day, a little smile goes a long way.
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