10 Tips for the First Week on a New (Civilian) Job

Two people having a meeting in an office.

Ask anyone who has ever had a first day on a new job (which is pretty much everyone!) and they'll share similar fears and anticipation. The new hire isn't sure where they fit in, doesn't know where the coffee pot and bathroom are located, and fear they'll forget the name of the colleague they were just introduced to. We've ALL been there!

In the civilian world, your new manager or human resources contact will likely greet you that first day and show you around, orienting you to the environment, your team, and the rules of the company. Your new colleagues will be helpful as you wander the halls, directing you to the copier, lunchroom, and restrooms. Perhaps you'll be part of a "new hire training program," where you'll also meet other new hires starting that same day.

Regardless of the format and culture of the company you'll be joining, here are 10 ways to ensure you'll be successful that first week on your new (civilian) job:

  1. Be careful making friends too quickly: While it might be tempting to align yourself with the very friendly colleague who wants to make friends right away, keep some boundaries. Forming friendships (especially those outside of work) with the wrong people — for instance someone about to be fired — can brand you as trouble. You also don't have a clear picture of the office environment or company culture. Are office friendships encouraged or frowned upon?
  2. Avoid gossip: Tempting as it is to hear the scuttlebutt about who's who and what's what, avoid getting into conversations with other employees that involve gossip. As a new employee, you need to keep your reputation clean. Gossiping about co-workers or former employees is a great way to get branded as a troublemaker.
  3. Be careful personalizing your work space: Will you be assigned an office, cubicle, or open workspace? If you aren't sure, avoid bringing personal items for your desk in those first days on the job. See what others do and follow their lead. Once you feel comfortable, it is perfectly acceptable in most companies to place photos of your family, pets and even your time in uniform on your desk. Keep all personal items tasteful (no bikini photos) and consider whether the item or photo could damage your personal brand and reputation.
  4. Participate in meetings and conversations: Just because you are new to the job doesn't mean you should sit quiet in every meeting and casual conversation. Contribute your ideas, insights, thoughts, and perspective, and ask questions in meetings if you are unsure of what is being discussed.
  5. Don't over-share: Related to #4, while you should feel empowered to offer your insights and opinions in a discussion, avoid over-sharing and talking too much. Know your limits and boundaries and keep them close. If you get a sideways look from your manager as you challenge a colleague in a meeting, take that as a sign to back off. Avoid sharing too much personal information, particularly about your military career. Remember that most of your colleagues will have limited (if any) understanding of what you have been through.
  6. Project confidence and approachability: Your body language says a lot about how you feel. When you walk into a room, or shake hands with someone (which you will do a lot!) keep your shoulders squared, head held high, and a smile on your face. When your body language says you are someone who is happy to be there, confident in his/her abilities, and approachable to new people, others will be drawn to you and will want to help you succeed.
  7. Look people in the eyes: Pay particular attention to eye contact. When you talk to someone, look them in the eyes. Don't hold your gaze so long it makes them uncomfortable, but good eye contact says, "I am happy to meet you. What you say is interesting and important to me." This is a great way to build rapport with new people and start the process of trust building.
  8. Take good notes: Have a portfolio or notepad with you at all times. Make sure it stays crisp and professional, and doesn't become messy and dirty. Take notes on ideas you have, passcodes and protocols you'll need to remember, names and jobs of people you meet, and insights your new colleagues and managers share with you. Each night, review your notes and start the next day on a clean page.
  9. Leave/arrive on time: Here's a little known fact about many civilian employees: They do as they are told. That means if they are supposed to arrive at work at 8 am or 8:30, they typically don't show up at 7:15am. By contrast, many military veterans will arrive early and stay late to show allegiance, and because the project isn't completed yet. I understand that drive and dedication, but it can distance you from your colleagues who follow protocol. Until you are comfortable stepping outside the rules, show up and leave on time the first week on the job.
  10. Ask questions: Not sure what's expected of you on a project? Ask. Unclear about what to wear to a meeting with a client? Ask. Guessing is not nearly as effective as asking. Inquire about the goals, expectations, and protocol for the work you'll be doing. You are expected to ask questions. Managers respect someone willing to reach out for help. Be careful about repeating the same questions, however. That's why taking good notes is important!

By week two or three, you'll be more familiar with the work style, culture, and job you're asked to perform. Trust yourself to make good decisions, ask good questions, and stay relatable and approachable to new colleagues and managers.

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