First Job, First Month Survival Guide Part 2 – Key Do’s

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In the second part of the First Month Survival Guide, Mark highlights his list of ‘Key Dos’. A list that includes all of the things you should do in your first month at work to help you have the best first month possible.

The Dos

There are a limited number of things you probably need to concentrate on in your first month or so as summarised below.


Be there and be there on time

one of the simplest steps you can take, but one which is entirely within your control and which is very visible and gets noticed, is to be punctual. Downstream in your career you may need to deal with the cultural problems of presenteeism but don’t worry about this now.

At this stage of your career you want to be building social capital and this is one of the quickest first steps to doing so.

So, you should always arrive early (on time is late, some say) and crucially stay on for as long as there seems to be work to do (never be the first to leave).

You will probably come across people at some point in your career who always spend the last quarter of an hour before the end of the official working day packing up so they can get away on the dot every time. Clock-watcher is the term and it’s not a description you want to pick up.

One tip I’ve seen is if asked why you are there you can say; I just want to be available to help out with anything that needs doing and learn as much as I can.


Get your game face on, give a good impression from the moment you walk in

If you’ve seen the film Pulp Fiction, think about how Vincent and Jules go about getting into character outside the door of the flat they are about to hit. They are heading into their own particular work environment so they deliberately adopt their work personas before starting.

One of my colleagues on a turnaround had a checklist he kept in his car and went through every morning before he walked into the office; reminding himself he was there as a director, staff would be looking to him for leadership, and he had to conduct himself confidently, smile and be upbeat.

So, develop something similar for yourself. Don’t just walk in to your work in the morning. Before you get there deliberately make a little time every morning to think about how to give the best impression from the moment you arrive, and if nothing else, before you walk in the door, smile!


Dress appropriately

this could reasonably fit as part of giving a good impression but it’s important that you and your appearance fit in with the organisation’s culture and values. A professional firm will have certain standards of professional dress code which can either be quite prescriptive (one financial organisation I’m told issued a formal dress code notice stating in effect ‘no cleavage’) or simply enforced through the cultural norms. So, look around at what everyone else is wearing and check that your dress is appropriate.

Not being too slack (you have flip flops on while everyone else around you in your law office is in a suit and tie) is the obvious failing, but sometimes being overdressed (everyone else in your software firm is in beachwear while you have a three-piece suit and gleamingly polished shoes) can be a problem in achieving a cultural fit with your colleagues.

Of course, dress can also vary depending on the role people have to fulfil, so while the coders at that software firm might work in very casual clothes, the sales staff who are out selling services into big corporates will have to dress formally to give the right professional image to the clients, ie fit in with that culture.


Listen and take notes

Quite simply write everything down.

Your work is going to be overwhelming to start with and people will be telling you lots of different things, which you’ll be expected to remember.

If you don’t write it down, you won’t remember. There’ll just be too much to absorb too quickly.

So, write it down!

Get yourself a notebook (or an App if you prefer) and carry it with you everywhere you go at work. Use it to note down everything: work to do, names (and contact details), deadlines, ideas, everything. It’s important to realise how much you are in learning mode in these early days and how much you are therefore going to need to take notes to be able to refer back.

Immediately this will help you keep yourself organised and avoid forgetting things that need doing, people you need to deal with and so on (at one UK business I’ve heard about, being seen without a notebook is regarded as a disciplinary offence!).

Longer term it will help you as well. People are usually very willing to help someone new and show them the ropes, but there are few things

more irritating than finding they have to be told again and again. No one wants to have to go through telling you the same stuff twice or three times and this will quickly infuriate them, not least because it shows a lack of respect for their time and the effort they’ve already made for you.

Whereas if you can acquire the reputation that you only have to be told once (because you write it down and learn it) then you will be earning credibility and a good reputation.



A properly organised and prioritised To Do list is your best friend. It’s the way you order and organise your world and turn the stream of work heading your way into something manageable.

The truth is, if you don’t plan, others will plan for you and you will simply end up reacting to and running around after their priorities, not yours.

To begin with you simply need to start daily planning for yourself. For the moment, at the end of each day sit back for a moment and take the time to put together an outline plan of what’s expected of you tomorrow. In your notebook, you’ll be keeping a schedule of all the dates when projects are due or expected so you can keep track of them and pull them into your To Do list for the next day. If having a structured format for writing down notes, planning your day and prioritising your projects would help then use a copy of My Time And Project Manager.

As part of this process go through today’s list to make sure you’ve done what you were supposed to do and to carry over anything that didn’t get finished today into tomorrow’s list.


Work to make everyone else around you look good

Forget about yourself for the moment and instead work on the basis that your job is simply to make your boss (and your team of co-workers) look good.

So, try to think about what their goals are and how you can support them. Ask yourself:

o What does your boss want and why?

o And so, what you can do to help them so you become their, and your team’s, go to person for getting things done.

Be proactive and always look for chances to help and be useful. This will make you stand out and in due course you’ll start to be seen as indispensable.

If you focus on serving others what you are actually doing is investing in your social capital, while at the same time helping yourself to learn and develop. Do this throughout your career and it will pay back handsomely, believe me.


Always be ready to learn

Start off by being honest and embracing the fact you are new. No one expects you to have all the answers so don’t pretend you do because it’s not going to fool anyone.

Instead treat your job as a chance to learn, but don’t simply expect to sit back and be taught.

You need to be proactive and self-starting. So, if you find a problem, don’t just go running for help immediately or ask someone to show you what to do. Instead think about the issue to see if you can come up with answers or options yourself, and then if you need to, go and check you have got the right answer.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Yes, as we’ve covered above you don’t want to be bothering people for the same instruction time after time, but if you have a problem you can’t solve or aren’t sure you have the right answer for, then ask.

I’ll let you into a secret, people generally like to be asked for help. It makes them feel good about themselves (I’m seen and respected as an expert) and what they’re doing (I’m being nice and helpful, how great am I?) and if they’re passionate about what they do they will positively want to share their knowledge with you. Some of them will even write a book about it…

And while we’re on the subject of learning, learn through errors. Cock-ups and errors happen to us all, it’s part of life. So, when you make a mistake admit it, don’t hide it. Take it to your boss (yes, you read that right) and show them what you’ve done and why. Work out together what needs to be done to fix it and how you can avoid it in future.

Trust me, it’s a better way than them finding out for themselves down the line.

Think about what you are doing and why

Your firm is employing your brain as well as your hands. Early on in my career I had to prepare what were known as Section 48 reports on companies, which I did the way everyone else did in my department. I found an old one to use as a template, and in those days actually cut and pasted the details of the current company onto it to be typed up.

Or I did until I got a new boss who called me into his office, threw my report at me and chewed me out asking me why my Section 48 report didn’t meet the requirements of Section 48 of the relevant law? To which the answer was, although I didn’t say so at the time, because:

o I’d never read Section 48 of the relevant act, even though I knew it existed; because

o It had never even occurred to me that I ought to so as to check I knew what I was doing!

Instead I’d simply had my brain parked in a bucket by the side of my desk while I got on with pushing my papers.

And as your career develops make sure you continue to learn. Take responsibility for your own development. After the bollocking I got from my boss for that report I realised I needed technical training in the area I was working in, so I signed up for a professional training course which eventually gave me my next business qualification.

Seek feedback

Check in with your manager on a regular basis to get their view on how you are doing. Your job is to make them look good, so don’t you want to know if they feel you have?

Share your To Do list with them at the start of each day, is it covering everything they need or is there anything else they want? This helps you ensure you get off on the right track and shows them you are being proactive in planning your work.

Check in with them before you go home to ensure everything’s been covered off that’s needed today.

Show them your notes on a regular basis (that in itself is likely to impress them). Ask them whether they feel things have gone right and whether there’s anything you could have done better?

If there is, then look to make sure you do it next day.

Depending on how formal your workplace is, you might seek a regular feedback session, say on a monthly basis (particularly while you are working towards the end of your probation period). If you can get this agreed pull together a short summary from your notes about what you’ve been doing, what you’ve learnt, and what you see the key tasks and areas for development are for the next month.

In essence this is some of the material a decent appraisal and development system should be requiring on a six-monthly or annual

basis for all staff, you are just engaging in the same sort of process on an accelerated basis during your first few months when your need for development is likely to be most acute.


Your work is a social environment and to be successful you need to understand the culture and build relationships. There is something to learn from each of the people around you, so dive on in and become part of the team.

What’s the coffee making rota? (Probably you as the newbie, but you never know.)

Where do people go for lunch? Go with them and talk to people.

Same again after work if people socialise.

Work out the social rules, quickly

Every workplace will have its own little customs and practises which are the social norms everybody knows, works by and unconsciously expects everybody else to follow. So, if you don’t, because nobody told you or showed you, then people will see you (probably unfairly but there you go) as acting anti-socially.

Just getting a cup of coffee can be a minefield. What’s the fridge and milk etiquette? Do people make a round of hot drinks, or get their own? Do people have their own mugs or is it a free for all? If you’ve used the last of the water in the kettle are you expected to fill it up again? What happens to dirty cups? Are you expected to wash up after yourself, put them in a dishwasher or leave them for a cleaner?

Get this wrong and you’ll be seen as the one who took my mug (and my milk), didn’t make a round of drinks for everyone, left the kettle empty for the next person and left your dirty cups in the sink as a mess for someone else to have to wash up and put away.

Don’t burnout in month one

The first point on this list was about being in early and staying on while there’s work to do. But this needs to be tempered with looking after yourself, since taken to extremes there’s always more work to do and you could then get sucked into working longer and longer hours.

Unfortunately, in the work environment there’s always more work, and there’ll always be some people who will be happy to let you put in all the hours (even though in the long run this will lead to stress and lower productivity), the only person you can really trust to look out for you, is you.

So, you need to take responsibility for your own work-life balance right from the start.

You need to decide what your boundaries are. You need to ensure that you keep a life outside of work and you need to make sure you work hours you are comfortable with and take the holidays and breaks you need.

Read Part 3 Here

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