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How to Fit in as the Office Rookie

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Starting a new job can make us feel like we’ve gone back in time to our first day of junior high school. We want people to like us, but we don’t want to seem too eager. We hope we wore the right clothes and dressed up enough, but not too much. The self-confidence we had in the interview that landed us the job is slowly taken over by nerves as our first day approaches, and we worry about making a good first impression and knowing how to fit in.

But new jobs should be exciting, not stressful. We’re taking on a new role, a fresh start, one filled with opportunities and a future—we’re not going to the dentist. Use the following six ways to fit in at your new job.

1. Show your true colors—it got you the job, after all.
Before any big “first day,” remember what our parents always told us, “Just be yourself!” It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. For example, if you’re more of a calm, mellow kind of person and on your first few days at the office you’re overly friendly, hyper, and super smiley, chances are your act won’t last. When your true colors show a few weeks down the line, people might think you’re a phony. The classic rule of being polite and smiling goes a long way.

2. Let people talk about themselves.
In a new job, it’s crucial to remember people’s names and titles, so meeting all your new coworkers on the same day can be overwhelming. Try writing things you want to remember in a notebook. When meeting a new coworker, simply ask, “So tell me about yourself. How did you end up at this company?” The person’s reaction and answer can tell you a lot about her. Hearing a little bit of her story will help you to remember her name, position, as well as her manner.

3. Observe company culture.
Learn the company’s culture through observation—never make assumptions. Your last job might have allowed coffee breaks throughout the day, but your new one might not encourage leaving the office irregularly when there’s work to be done. Does everyone leave at five o’clock sharp? Is there a separate area for taking personal calls? As for work attire, always dress a little nicer than expected; it’s better than being underdressed. Take cues from your coworkers and follow their lead. Remember, you’re new—you kinda have to be a sheep (for a little while, anyway).

4. Initiate an outing.
During the first few weeks or so, send around an email asking if anyone is interested in familiarizing you with the surrounding coffee shops, decent lunch places, or fun happy hour bars. All of us have a little gem of a spot that we love showing off. However be sure to double check with your supervisor on who should receive your invite; the CEO probably doesn’t have time to share a martini with you. Keep these outings sporadic and remember to balance your work and social life—they’re two different things. Real friendships with coworkers will form naturally, with time—not likely on day one.  

5. Make allies, but be professional.
Avoid gossip at all costs. Even if it seems like friendly banter, remain professional, and steer clear of water cooler gossip. Be above it, ignore it, and move on. You’ll earn a lot of respect by doing so and influence others to do it less. A better way to learn workplace personalities is to ask questions about preferences and processes. A good indicator is to study people’s email etiquette. For example, Mrs. Smith always includes a Good Morning! and Thanks so much for your help!, while Mrs. Simmons never greets people in her emails. Learn by example and study how employees write and communicate with one another and between departments. You should do the same.

6. Your moment to shine will come.
However much you want to shed the rookie status, realize that your coworkers have been there longer than you have—they deserve your respect and full attention. Resist the impulse of trying to impress everyone with all your new ideas. Stick to the job you were hired for. In time, you’ll earn your coworkers’ trust and they will help guide you through the company. Save up those ideas and perfect them until it’s your time to shine.

First day nerves are inevitable, but remember, you got the job—the hard part is over. And although there will always be bullies and brown-nosers (just like in junior high), stressful days, and mistakes, remember that you are a professional. Walk into that first day and simply observe, adapt, learn, and succeed. In the end, your first day only lasts eight hours—it will be over before you know it.

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