Starting Out: Tips for Playing it Cool

4763849153_45c9f498c1_mEarlier this week, I talked about the importance of making a good first impression and why diving head first into a new job and office social scene can be a mistake. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should hide somewhere where no one can find you, just that you need to strike the right balance of competence and humility. Here are a few tips to help you achieve this:

1. Keep up appearances: It’s day one at your new job. What do you wear? Your first instinct would be to look at the employee manual and see what the dress code is, but this doesn’t always tell the full story. Of course, if you’re asked to wear a suit and tie, wear a suit and tie. But what if it’s “casual”? How casual is a “casual” dress code? Does that mean cut-offs and sandals or nice jeans and an un-tucked polo shirt? My advice: take the dress code and go one or, at most, two levels up. No, you don’t want to be the tux in a sea of t-shirts, but you want to err on the side of caution until you know all of the unwritten rules about what you can and cannot wear.

2. Do one less: With the dress code, playing it safe might mean overdoing it a little bit. With social interactions, it’s the opposite. You want to play it a little low key. This isn’t to say you want to be as quiet and inconspicuous as a statue, but you need to show some discretion. If people are talking about a movie you’ve seen, feel free to contribute your thoughts, but keep them brief unless you’re asked for more. If someone makes a joke that’s a little PG-13, you can laugh and make your own joke in response, but keep yours in the PG zone. This won’t always be how it is, but in the beginning, you don’t want to come on too strong and rub people the wrong way.

3. Get confirmation: If someone gives you a task, it’s always a good idea to ask questions to make sure you understand. Even better is to get someone to watch you do the first one or two steps so that he or she can tell you, “Yeah, you got it,” or “No, try this.” While this may seem like burdensome behavior, just remember: it’s a much bigger burden to you and your coworkers if you do the whole thing wrong.

4. Don’t always agree: Nothing’s perfect. People are going to vent about certain people or processes that are involved in their job. They might even do this in front of you before you even fully understand everything they’re talking about. This is a tricky situation. Approach it with caution. Don’t immediately jump in and agree. You’re brand new. You haven’t earned the right to be upset yet. Instead, ask questions if it seems appropriate. Otherwise, do whatever you can to be supportive without taking a strong stance on something you’re not familiar with.

That’s my take. What’s yours? How do you manage the first few weeks at a job? Let us know in the comments.

(photo by Flickr user Charleston’s TheDigitel, used under a Creative Commons License)

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