Leading Ladies - Nailing Your First Week

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Overwhelmed. Lost. Defeated.

These are words regularly used to describe first days at a new workplace. But first days are not the be all, end all. Although it's your employers responsibility to make sure you're well equipped in your first few days (or hours!) of the job it becomes your job to ensure you're keeping up.

My first day on one particular job I felt completely blown over; my boss was late, my IT didn't work, I was pulled into meetings I was completely unprepared for, talked to like I had been working in the company for years, didn't eat any lunch and, worst of all, I had no free access to the bathroom(!).

That evening I recovered at home slowly. Everyone was texting me excitedly to find out how it went and yet my head was aching and my lips were so chapped I drank 3 litres of water that night. Several hours and a shower later, I sat down to reassess.

Yes, things had gone wrong but I'd also completed all the tasks asked of me and my boss had already trusted me to attend those important meetings despite my lack of readiness.

Yes, my boss might have thought I was an idiot for not knowing how to use mail merge but now I had a useful new skill to teach myself.

Yes, I had starved myself but now I knew to speak up.

I loaded up my laptop at 9pm. 15 new emails.

"Oh god... wait, no... yes"

Now I had a chance to prepare.

I loaded up a couple of video tutorials on how to use mail merge and started going through my emails. A to do list was forming for tomorrow and I had the opportunity to get the upper hand. 

Sure enough my evening reassess approach was working and by the end of the week I was feeling a lot more confident. By the end of the second week I was learning the work patterns of those around me and deciding my responses as appropriate. And, 6 weeks in I was completely comfortable in the role, although always learning something new each day.

Here's my tips for settling into a new workplace and getting on top of things from the get-go.

  1. You'll never be fully prepared on day one, accept it!: You can learn all you like from the company's Wikipedia page, study everyone in their LinkedIn profile and read all the marketing blabber you like but you'll never be 100% equipped to tackle everything on your first day. And that's fine. What you do need to prepare for is being flexible. Take notes of skills you need to develop, spot the gaps in knowledge so you can fill them ASAP, and give yourself a pat on the back for getting through the day.
  2. Reassess each day: Take 10-15 minutes each evening whether it's on your commute home or before bed to reassess your performance. What did you do well? What didn't you do so well? What questions do you have for the next day? Is there anything you can google now to save yourself later?
  3. Write it down: Making yourself a comprehensive document with all the information you learn in the first month of work can be a life saver later on. Create a Who's Who with contact details, who they are and what to contact them for. Write up templates for any emails or documents you're asked to complete and thank yourself later. Some tasks are only needed every once and a while - keep the details written down so you can refer back to it when you inevitably (if you're me) forget further down the road.

What are your top tips for settling into a new work environment? What do you think the biggest challenge is in a new job? Do you know how to use mail merge? (I mean really. I can't be the only one surely??)

Post-Script: 2 months later I was lining up another mass letter to go out to our employees pleased that I now had the skills to manage it in no time what-so-ever. All of a sudden, the aforementioned boss asks me about how I'm going to manage to send out such a largely distributed letter.

"Well, mail merge of course!"

"And how do you use that?"

All that worry for nothing. I spent the next hour running my boss through the mail merge tool.