Changing Jobs Getting Started

Soft Skills in the Workplace: First Day Do’s and Don’ts

Written by Miranda Pennington

So you’ve applied, interviewed, received the job offer, filled out all the paperwork, and read through the company orientation manual. Now what?

Joining a new company often means learning what systems are already in progress. Who do you report to? How will you be given new assignments? Do you get to prioritize for yourself, or will your supervisor be managing your day-to-day tasks? You can’t meet or exceed expectations if you don’t know what they are!

Your First Day In The Office

Make sure you bring something to write with and something to write on! If you’re invited to attend meetings right away, sit back and observe; it’s usually better to direct any questions to your immediate supervisor or office neighbor later, instead of disrupting the discussion. Draw yourself a seating chart to record your new coworkers’ names and where they sat (it will help you to put names with faces) and take notes to start getting up to speed.


1. Take initiative

This doesn’t mean going rogue or being resistant to existing company practices, but you can demonstrate that you’re an independent thinker by coming up with your own way to complete an assignment and running it by your supervisor to get approval. They may appreciate that you’re already thinking of ways to innovate. If they want to redirect you, be receptive to the feedback.

2. Get to know your neighbors

Set a goal of introducing yourself to one coworker a day until you know at least everyone on your team or anyone with whom your department interacts regularly. Don’t be distracting or monopolize their time, but even a few moments of chatting as you refill a cup of coffee can help you develop working relationships with your colleagues.

3. Volunteer for projects

If you’re in a meeting and someone higher up the food chain is looking for someone to lead a new project or supervise the execution of a new initiative, consider whether your workload could accommodate an addition (and check with your boss). It’s better to be the person who says “Yes, I can handle that for you—anything else?” than the person who sits silently while an opportunity passes them by.


1. Complain

Even if your old office gave out free coffee and omelets every morning and all your new office seems to have is stale animal crackers, you should approach your first weeks on the job with a continuation of your best interview behavior. Don’t let your reputation become that of somebody who gripes instead of saying good morning, or is convinced the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.

2. Act helpless

If you’re really and truly stuck, don’t waste time struggling under the radar. But with run-of-the-mill IT issues, small-scale office needs, or learning new software, cultivate a sense of self-sufficiency. A needy employee distracts coworkers and signals the boss that they’re not ready for more responsibility.

3. Get too comfortable too quickly

Be aware of the prevailing office culture and do your best not to disrupt it by cluttering shared space or bringing in too many photos or knickknacks from home. There’s always time to bring more of your personality into the office once you’ve established yourself as a professional first, a cat or dog or sports enthusiast second.

4. Mock HR Policies

Whether your orientation was a quick spin around the office complex or a more formal company-wide presentation, demonstrate your professionalism by taking them seriously—from the basics, like adhering to a dress code, to the legal standards of conduct, like refraining personal comments about your coworkers.

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.