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7 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid on Your First Day at Work

Let’s face it: we all have this irrational fear of making a really bad impression on the first day on the job or internship. After all, spilling coffee on your supervisor or doing the wrong tasks are what career nightmares are made of! You’ve probably been looking forward to your first day for ages already, but it’s also fairly nerve-wracking when your brain just won’t stop going over all the things that could possibly go wrong at work. Luckily, Her Campus is here to help you make a great first impression as a new employee or intern. Check out these seven rookie mistakes that you can easily avoid making!

1. Not Paying Attention

The first day on the job is always so exciting—you’re going to be introduced to so many new people, get familiarized with a new environment and learn the tasks you’ll be doing. Make sure all this information doesn’t go in one ear and come out the other. Paying attention during the first few days will make life so much easier for you later on.

“You literally learn the most about your job on your first day – everything from what big projects you’ll be working on throughout the summer to how to use your office phone, on top of meeting everyone on your team and in your [office] (if it is small),” says Stephanie Hennings, a junior peer career advisor at Brown University. “Make sure you remember all these things, as they’re important!”

Hennings suggests bringing a notebook with you to write everything down. That way, you can review the basics that were taught on the first day that very same night, learn them as soon as possible and then start tackling bigger projects.

2. Not Dressing Appropriately

Oh, the horror of walking into the office on the first day wearing skinny jeans while the rest of the employees are in crisp business suits and classy dresses! Not dressing appropriately will not only make you stick out and feel uncomfortable, but will also make others feel uncomfortable as well.

“Each [office] has its own dress code, and you don’t want to stand out by either dressing up or down too much,” Hennings says. In order to dress appropriately, email your contact at the company and ask him or her what the dress code is if you don’t already know.

If you’re lucky enough to work in a casual work environment, comfortable, informal casual dress attire is the norm, though that doesn’t mean you should ever show up in raggedy yoga pants! Professionalism is crucial and your outfits should still be modest, clean and well-put-together.

If you work at a company that wants its employees to project a professional image to customers, employees and visitors, however, you might have a business casual or formal work dress code. If you want to be a knowledgeable business professional, you’ll have to dress like one, too! A sophisticated wardrobe is definitely the way to go. If you’re unsure of what to wear, it’s usually safe to fall on the more formal side, but it’s also important not to overdress (going into the office in a suit while everyone else is wearing slacks, for example). If you have Casual Fridays at your workplace, make sure to ask around to see if workers actually dress completely casual or dress more business casual. Looking the part helps management more easily picture you working with them full time one day.

3. Not Using Your Time Effectively

When you’re given an assignment on the first day and someone tells you it needs to be done by X o’clock, it better be done by X o’clock—no wishy-washy business when it comes to deadlines! Time management is crucial to your success at work. “You can make a bad impression by not taking initiative or not getting things done in a timely manner,” says Nayelli Perez, an assistant director at Hofstra University’s career center. “Instead of using your downtime to get homework done, ask if there are other things you can work on.”

Hennings even suggests getting your tasks done ahead of time so you can edit them yourself and have your boss edit them. “This way, you look diligent and you can make sure that you are doing things right,” she says. To effectively manage your time, try using a planner or Google Calendar to schedule time for your high-priority activities.

4. Not Asking for Clarification

You won’t be an expert in your field your first day on the job or at the internship, so it’s totally okay if you find yourself a little (read: very) lost during your first day on the job. It’s not okay, however, to just sit there and pretend like you know exactly what’s going on. “When someone asks you to do a task that you have no idea how to do, it’s okay to ask for clarification,” says Talia Schatz, a career counselor with Barnard Career Development. “This is much better than feeling overwhelmed and out of your element and completing the task incorrectly because you are too embarrassed to ask for guidance.”

Plus, your coworkers and supervisors will expect you and all the other new recruits to have lots of questions on your first day, so ask away while you can! “Just don’t ask things that were already said to you unless you don’t understand what was meant,” Hennings says.

In addition to asking for clarification on certain tasks, it might be useful to sit down with your supervisor to go over your goals and priorities for the near future so you can get a sense of the bigger picture. “At times it can feel confusing to know what your tasks are and how to prioritize them,” says Abby Trout, associate director of the Career Center at Carleton College. “Sit down with your supervisor to clarify his or her goals for your work, which tasks are most important, and set deadlines for those tasks to be completed. Ask questions of your supervisor like, ‘What should I accomplish in my first month? …six months? …year?’”

By clearly defining what is expected of you, you’ll be able to maximize your time efficiently and meet or even exceed your work expectations.

5. Not Having a Good Attitude

Don’t give attitude to your coworkers unless it’s a positive one! Let’s be real: No one wants to work with a grouch, gossiper or know-it-all. Maintaining a can-do, pleasant attitude on the first day is a great way to make a good, lasting impression. Don’t complain about work or gossip about your coworkers, even to other interns. Don’t thrust yourself in front of your supervisors every time you accomplish something, and also, don’t check in with them incessantly, even though it’s important to let them know what you’re doing from time to time.

If you’re asked to make photocopies or file papers, take these mundane tasks seriously and willingly, even if you know you can contribute in a greater way. “I think that some students may make the mistake of not taking full advantage of their internship,” Perez says. “Yes, some of the tasks of an internship may seem basic or like they don’t contribute much to the company, but there are opportunities for students to make the most of their internship.” People will notice and appreciate you that much more.

6. Trying too Hard

Let’s be honest, we all want to make a great impression on the first day of work! But sometimes there is such a thing as trying too hard. “I definitely saw some interns trying too hard and it backfiring,” Hennings says. “Don’t bring in coffee on your first day (there is probably a coffee machine and everyone has their own specific order), and don’t ask people to grab coffee with you on your first day (ask them after you get to know them more so that it can be a more organic relationship).”

Also, don’t be that one intern who overpowers others just because she’s trying too hard to get noticed. Don’t jump on every assignment on the first day of work; give everyone else a chance. When it’s time to go home, go home. Sure, you want to impress your supervisors, but you should also be aware of your other coworkers, too! You shouldn’t feel like you need to prove yourself to the point of making enemies. How would you feel if another intern was constantly trying to one-up you? Try your best, but don’t overdo it!

7. Not Handling Mistakes Appropriately  

Obviously, it’s important to try not to make mistakes during your first day on the job. But the truth is it’s pretty hard to reach the end of the day without getting a little scathed. And that’s okay! Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s the way you react to your mistakes that’s important.

“What is most important in any new job or internship is learning how to process a mistake and move forward,” Schatz says. “It is counterproductive to perseverate over a mistake, and beating yourself up doesn’t do anyone any good. You will be more successful in the long term if you can learn from a mistake and then move forward productively.”

So if you made a mistake on your first assignment, got people’s names mixed up or followed instructions incorrectly on the first day, it’s not the end of the world. Just remember to own up to it, apologize and make sure not to make the same mistake in the future.

In order to move forward, Schatz suggests using a four-step process. First, take ownership of the mistake if it is your fault. Next, explain how you’re going to fix it. Third, explain what steps you’ll take to make sure it won’t happen again. And last, let it go and move on. It’s impossible to be absolutely perfect, so don’t dwell on your mistakes. Instead, take them in stride and learn from them.

While it’s important to try your best at work, it’s nice to remember that no one expects you to be perfect on your first day on the job or internship. With a little help from these tips, you’ll be working like an experienced employee in no time!