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9 ways to survive that scary first week in a new job

Nervousness mixed with overwhelm, sprinkled with excitement: it’s your first week in a new job…

This post will give you 9 actions so that you not only survive, but thrive.

On my first day as Head of Tax Policy for Customs and Excise, I was introduced to my new team. Not the Tax Policy Team. The Drugs Policy team.

It turned out I’d been given an EXTRA job as Head of Drugs Policy, on top of the one I’d applied for.

This was somewhat of a surprise…

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise – I went on to specialise in law enforcement in the National Crime Agency for the next five years, as Head of Strategy for Proceeds of Crime, and then for International.

But it certainly made for an interesting first week…

What saved me was Active Learning.

And it’s what will save you too.

So what is Active Learning?

One definition is where someone is “actively or experientially involved in the learning process” (Bonwell & Eison 1991).

Through this, you are able to achieve deeper levels of understanding.

Which is very helpful when you are starting a new job!

Think back: how would you score yourself out of ten in these areas for your first week when you started your last job:

With these 9 actions, you will do even better next time:

1. Ask questions

Research indicates that new employees perform better the more questions they ask, and the more support they seek.

Asking questions mean you are Actively Learning, thereby speeding up and deepening your understanding.

And it also helps with building rapport.

2. Introduce yourself

Don’t wait to be introduced – take the intiative.

It might be scary, but it is the fastest way to build relationships.

Practice beforehand, so that it flows easily: “Hi, my name is Kirsten and I’ve just started in team X doing Y. What do you do?” (Note the question…)

3. Remember names

Meeting lots of new people can be overwhelming, even for the extroverts among us.

But Active Learning helps here too.

Rather than just “receiving” the name and hoping it sticks, think of a famous person with that same first name and say it aloud in your head: “Hi, I’m Phil”; “Hi Phil!” [Collins].

You will be activating a different bit of the brain, and that will help with the name’s recall when you see Phil in the future.

4. Get the logistics sorted ASAP

Not knowing where to make tea can add to your feeling of being lost during that first week.

Don’t struggle on alone – if a tour isn’t offered on your first day, ask a friendly face for a one! Not just the tea point and the toilets, but the best local lunch places.

It’s an opportunity to build a relationship, and experientially master the logistics quickly – one less thing to worry about…

5. Clarify your objectives

Ideally in the first week, you need a one-to-one meeting with your boss.

You probably have an idea of what they’re looking for from your interview, but this needs to be explicit. Don’t wait to be told:

– ask for the meeting;

– prepare your own idea of your job goals for it;

– and be ready to ask lots of questions (including asking your boss what their biggest problem is).

You will get to grips with your role much more quickly than just being given a role profile; and you have a chance to make a positive impact quickly.

Bosses all want staff that will take initiative and solve their problems…

6. Balance time in meetings with time spent learning alone

You can end up being dragged to “sit in” on every vaguely relevant meeting, as a short-cut (lazy?) way of helping you get up to speed.

This IS useful (for building your learning of the subject matter, the organisation, and the personalities) – but only up to a point.

You also need to give yourself time:

– to reflect on what you are seeing;

– to identify gaps in your understanding;

– to define questions about it;

– or just to spend time getting to grips with the systems and processes you need to use.

Make sure you give yourself that time to engage, not just receive.

7. Start building your network

You will have weeks to work out the key individuals in your organisation, once you get to know it, and them, better.

But make sure you start with the priority people in your first week – don’t wait for them to get in touch with you:

– HR (get in touch with whoever recruited you to say hello);

– Finance (double check payroll is sorted);

– your IT support, if you have one (best to introduce yourself before a crisis);

– and, most importantly, the secretaries to your bosses.

They will either be an amazing future ally, or a real blocker – start early to win them over…

8. Find a “fwend”

It is a given that there will be a million “silly” questions in your first week: where’s the paper for the printer? How do I order business cards? How do I dial out?

Your life will be a lot easier if you seek out a buddy.

Don’t be passive, be proactive about it.

Identify someone that seems friendly, and specifically say: “you know what’s it’s like starting somewhere new – I’d be really grateful if I could come to you when I get stuck! I’ll buy you lunch…”

9. And finally, be kind to yourself

This is not an Active Learning point, but it’s very important.

Your first week is likely to be a rollercoaster.

Accept that there will be sticky moments, and know that all you have to do is ride it out: it will get easier!

If you notice yourself getting stressed, try box breathing: in for a count of 4, hold for 4, out for 4, and pause for 4; repeat three times. It is amazingly calming, very quickly.


Active Learning methodologies like analysis, synthesis and evaluation are useful throughout your career, not just in your first week.

And don’t forget to score yourself against those four criteria above next time, to notice how much better you’ve done…

Deep breath in, good luck, and off you go!

Practice these:

  • use the name learning process every time you meet people for the next month – it really works! And remembering names more easily will reduce the social anxiety of being new.
  • set yourself a goal of asking five questions per day, or one question per meeting, for one week. Draw a grid on the wall and cross off when you achieve this, or do a tally (the visual reminder will really help). By asking a question you will speed up your understanding – as well as building rapport.
  • look at your calendar: are you currently balancing time in meetings with time spent learning and thinking? You need to do both to be successful in your job, not just during the first week. For the next month, carve out at least 1 two hour slot per week to proactively focus on your learning and thinking. Use the time to develop questions about your role, the business, and their direction. Do you have particular strengths or weaknesses that need addressing? And deepen your understanding of the industry context within which you operate. Are there opportunities to be harnessed, or problems brewing? Active learning means taking responsibility for your learning – and you can only do that if you devote some time to it.

Kirsten xx

Kirsten Goodwin

The Naked Confidence™ Coach

Hired to help female leaders feeling the pain and pressure of their position. Transforming your Mindset AND Skillset 🔥 Banish your Imposter, and find your way, your confidence, & your edge.

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