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First Impression Is Everything: Things You Must Do Your First Week on the Job

Tom Ireland
Tom Ireland

People form their opinions of you very quickly.

There’s no way of getting around it.

Not only that, but it’s also very difficult to change those opinions once they have been formed.

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that what we learn about a person early on continues to strongly influence how we view them as time goes on. This is known as the primacy effect.

So, when you start a new job, it’s vital to do everything you can to get off on the right foot. Here is some advice on what you should be doing in your first week on the job.

Related Article: Interviews & First Dates: The Tools You Need to Get to #2

Be on Time

This may seem obvious, but it’s really important. Arriving late from the very beginning won’t exactly inspire confidence. In fact, it’s best to arrive a little earlier (10 minutes or so) than your actual start time. This way, you can show that you are raring to go.

At the same time, you don’t want to arrive too early. If you do, you might set up expectations that you don’t want to live up to in the long term.

Dress Appropriately

This is important throughout your career but especially so when you are new and colleagues are forming their opinions of you. You should have seen what others wear in the office when you had your interview, so match their level of formality.

Make an Effort to Meet People

Accept every lunch invitation. More than that, you should be proactive. Say “hi” in the kitchen or the corridor, introduce yourself to anyone and everyone. You might expect people to make you feel welcome, but you should also be making others feel like you want to be there.

Shake Hands

Beyond it simply being the polite thing to do, there is research to back it up. Researchers from four universities used behavioural responses alongside MRI scans to measure participants’ responses to different ways of approaching them. They found that a handshake led to being viewed more favourably and increased interest in future interaction.

Not only that, but a handshake can also repair some of the damage from a previously negative impression. One of the study’s authors, Sanda Dolcos, said: “Many of our social interactions may go wrong for a reason or another, and a simple handshake preceding them can give us a boost and attenuate the negative impact of possible misunderstandings.”

It’s crucial to get that handshake right, though. There are so many ways it can go wrong, after all. Too sweaty, too limp, too firm, too long, too short. All of these things and more can leave a bad impression after a handshake. Luckily, Professor Geoff Beattie of the University of Manchester has come up with a mathematical formula for the perfect handshake:

PH = √ (e2 + ve2)(d2) + (cg + dr)2 + π{(4<s>2)(4<p>2)}2 + (vi + t + te)2 + {(4<c>2 )(4<du>2)}2

(e) is eye contact (1=none; 5=direct) 5;
(ve) is verbal greeting (1=totally inappropriate; 5=totally appropriate) 5;
(d) is Duchenne smile - smiling eyes and mouth, symmetry, lower offset (1=false; 5=Duchenne) 5;
(cg) completeness of grip (1=very incomplete; 5=full) 5;
(dr) is dryness of hand (1=damp; 5=dry) 4;
(s) is strength (1= weak; 5=strong) 3;
(p) is position of hand (1=back towards own body; 5=other person's bodily zone) 3;
(vi) is vigour (1=too low/too high; 5=mid) 3;
(t) is temperature of hands (1=too cold/too hot; 5=mid) 3;
(te) is texture of hands (5=mid; 1=too rough/too smooth) 3;
(c) is control (1=low; 5=high) 3;
(du) is duration (1= brief; 5=long) 3.

(The numbers outside the brackets represent ideal values)

If, like me, you find that more confusing than helpful, Professor Beattie also added some advice in plain English, saying: “The rules for men and women are the same: right hand, a complete grip and a firm squeeze (but not too strong) in a mid-point position between yourself and the other person, a cool and dry palm, approximately three shakes, with a medium level of vigour, held for no longer than two to three seconds, with eye contact kept throughout and a good natural smile with a slow offset with, of course, an appropriate accompanying verbal statement, make up the basic constituent parts for the perfect handshake.”

Related Article: Dress for the Job You Want: Why Looking the Part Matters

Remember Names

Saying “Sorry, I’m not good with names” is just lazy. People will appreciate it if you remember them. If you do struggle with names, try these tips.

When you first hear the person’s name, repeat it. A simple “Great to meet you, Jonathan” is all it takes. You should also repeat the name a couple of times during your conversation. Just don’t overdo it. Repeating their name at the end of every sentence is just weird.

Connect the name in your mind with something related to the person. If it’s alliterative, even better. An example might be “Blonde Brian” or “Isabel from IT”.

Learn the Office’s Unwritten Rules

Where’s the coffee? Should I offer to grab others a cup? Where do I put my empties? Who takes out the trash?

The answers to these questions may seem like small matters, but small things like these can easily upset people if you do the wrong thing. Figure out the unwritten rules and follow them.

Set Expectations

Meet with your boss to clearly define what they want to see from you over the next week, month, quarter. You don’t want to be spending your energy in the wrong place. Conversely, if you will be managing others, have a similar meeting with them.

Ask Questions

But make sure they’re good ones. This can range from simply asking where the bathroom is to asking pertinent questions to make sure you’re up to speed or bring up an angle your colleagues haven’t considered.

Listen to the Answers

When you’re new, you should be spending more time listening than talking. Don’t come barging in and throwing your weight around. Listen, learn and then figure out how you can offer the best input.

Go for a Drink

Eating lunch with your colleagues is all very well but you will develop a different relationship and learn more if you spend time with them after work. Getting an after-work invite is a sign you are already making a good impression; don’t miss the chance to build on that.

In addition, according to the Journal of Labor Research, people who regularly hit the bar actually earn 10-14 percent more than non-drinkers. Edward Stringham, an economics professor and co-author of the study, believes that this is because it increases social capital.

Just be careful with how much you drink. Having one too many and making a fool of yourself can be irreparable. I won’t lay down any hard and fast limits like one drink, two drinks, but you should know yours. When you reach it, stay firm and don’t get peer-pressured into having more.

In addition to all the things you should be doing, there are a few you shouldn't:

DON’T Worry That You’ll Be Expected to Know Everything

Your boss and colleagues will understand that, however, experienced you may be, there is always a learning curve when joining a new company. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Instead, focus on learning everything you need to know to hit full speed.

DON’T Eat at Your Desk

If you do this, you’ll be isolating yourself from day one.

DON’T Join in Office Gossip

Every office has it. That doesn’t mean you should be a part of it. Stick to positive topics or you will end up being associated with negative ones.

Related Article: Leadership of Champions: How to Actively Create Your Company Culture

DON’T Be Too Friendly

While you want to meet people, don’t give too much away. Diving into new relationships without reflection could lead to awkward situations in the future. Wait to understand the office politics before you open up. Instead, keep conversations on neutral topics and ask questions more than you answer them.

This may seem like a lot to think about, and perhaps it is, but the most important thing is to approach your first week in a natural way. Be yourself. If you try to be something you’re not, it will catch up to you in the long run. It’s important to remember, they already gave you the job so they must like you.

Image Credit: Fizkes / Getty Images
Tom Ireland
Tom Ireland Member
Tom is a content marketer and writer, published on and Elite Daily - in addition to writing for the StartupCVs blog.