It has long been said that first impressions are lasting impressions. As a graduating student entering the job market or searching for an internship, you will be presented with many opportunities to make an impression on individuals who will influence your career. It’s up to you to make a great impression that will open the doors to an exciting career.
Important encounters, where your dress, handshake, demeanor or body language can impact your future, can happen on a daily basis. All people subconsciously form an opinion of a person when they first meet, based on certain actions or reactions the person takes. These often rushed judgments can be hard to reverse, making it important for students to be socially conscience of their actions and how they interact and build their professional network.
While your resume or phone interview may have played a part in how a future employer views you, the interview is your chance to make a great visual first impression. Being dressed in the appropriate attire, having a firm handshake and portraying a positive attitude are all the basics that get you the job. However, first impressions don’t stop after the interview. Your actions during the first week on the job or internship are really what will create your image amongst your co-workers and define you as an employee. In the interview, it is likely that you interacted with only one or two people. During your first week, you almost have to sell yourself to your co-workers. The first impressions you make will show your potential and help you gain respect. The way that your supervisor, cubical mate and even the mail carrier perceive you in the first week will turn into long-term perceptions and establish your reputation at work.
There are a lot of ways that you can ensure that you are putting your best face and identity forward during your first week on the job. Being prepared is the first step. Knowing what to expect or the “office norm” will allow you to assimilate quickly into the crowd. Reviewing the employee handbook/code of conduct will help you understand a variety of office procedures, such as company holidays, dress code and recycling procedures, all of which is good information to know. A week to two weeks before you start, create a list of questions like: What time do I need to arrive (always arrive 10 minutes early), what do I wear (never assume you’ll have casual Friday), and what are the lunch procedures? Spend some time on the phone reviewing your questions. Not only will this show your supervisor how committed you are, it will also provide you with essential information going into your first week. This knowledge will allow you to be more productive and experience less pain during your first week.
The way you dress and appear may be the single most influential opportunity you have to make a great first impression. Your attire says who you are before you even say a word. Everyone knows to err on the side of overdressing rather than being underdressed, but you must be careful not to take that too far. Dressing appropriately for the job is most important. Wearing a suit to your first day at a grain mill probably won’t get you rave reviews from your co-workers, much like wearing overalls to a meeting at the corporate headquarters. While corporate America has seen a shift to more relaxed dress, agriculture for the most part has remained conservative. For you, the best approach may be to grab a Post-It and write down 10 words that best describe yourself. Take these words with you as you shop to build your wardrobe and tape them to your mirror to make sure you’re portraying your honest image each day.
For those who work in more casual atmospheres or in an environment that welcomes casual Fridays, remember that your reputation is still on the line. You don’t want to become the office distraction because of what you wear. Tank tops, spaghetti straps and halter tops, low-cut clothing, bare midriffs, see-through clothes, casual sandals/flip flops, baseball hats, tight-fitting muscle shirts, skirts shorter than 3 inches above the knee, and sports or political T-shirts all make the short list for what not to wear to work. Just as with clothing, ladies especially must be cautious of accessories such as makeup and jewelry. If you have to make excuses or explain how you are dressed, then it’s not a good idea.
Work is no place to forget your manners. Remember the movie “American Pie?” Could you have heard the line ‘This one time at band camp’ one more time? Imagine sharing office space with that person who starts every sentence with “When I worked….” “At my old job…” “Where I worked before…” “When I was in school…” “The Internet at my old job was so much quicker.” Statements like these will quickly make you the pun of every joke around the water cooler.
How you spend your time during work is also monitored by more people than you realize. Lunch hour is sacred time. Studies have shown that stress is greatly reduced, productivity increases and attitude improves if you can step away from the office for your lunch time. However you must remain conscientious; don’t schedule your oil change for your lunch hour the first week on the job. Don’t sit at your desk feeling lonely and sorry for yourself. Leave the office every once in a while even if you just sit outside and read a good book.
Part of making a great first impression is being willing to spend time with your co-workers while remaining balanced and getting your work done. That’s where the three “Ts” come into play. The first “T” stands for time to leave; spend your time at work wisely to accomplish your goals and only stay late when needed to finish a project. Be careful not to become the person who stays late at the office just to prove an unnecessary point. The second “T” stands for take advantage of after-hours activities but don’t wear out your welcome. As a new employee you’ll probably be invited to a few after-work outings. You’ll want to keep a balance between your work and your personal life away from work. Out-of-office gatherings can also be an easy place to let your guard down. While you may be at the neighborhood hangout tonight – tomorrow everyone will be around the printer talking about it. And, finally the third “T” is taking time off. Plan ahead…a big part of the working world is making choices. It could be six months to a year before you’re eligible for vacation time, not to mention that when you are away, someone will have to carry your load. Dumping last-minute projects on someone else won’t make you the office favorite.
Imagine you’re sitting at your desk and the new person, who’ll be in the office next door, keeps walking by with boxes on their first day. At lunch you walk by and notice it looks like Martha Stewart came to work. Office décor will also make an impression and can be interpreted in many ways. For the first week at work, you’ll want to leave the U-Haul at home. When you do begin to bring in a few items to help you feel a little more at home, remember to keep the decoration work-related. While your spring break trip to Cancun may have been the time of your life, more than likely most of those pictures are not suitable for the office. Be sure that any photos show you and others in the picture at your best. Why not make a great impression for your friends as well. Hopefully they are doing the same for you. You’ll also want to leave the singing fish you got from your dear Aunt Sally at home as well. It was the gift of the year at Christmas, but will quickly become the first thing voted off the island by your co-workers.
As you can see, there are lots of opportunities to make a great impression during your first week on the job. A strong first week may lead to months and years, and possibly to your next job. The impression you make during your first week as an intern or entry-level employee will be shared throughout your career network. The key is to remember that you are always leaving an impression of yourself wherever you go, which can directly or indirectly impact your career. Find a good mentor who can help guide you through your “impressionable years,” have a good attitude, leave non-work drama at home, don’t get caught up in office drama, and be a TEAM player!