June 14, 2009

The Top 5 ... Things to do on your first day on the job!

So, last week, I took a day off school, headed to the mall, and handed out a ton of resumes. Three days later, the manager of a local coffee shop called requesting an interview the next day. I went to the interview and did really well - so well that he asked for references and said he'd be calling them later in the afternoon.

Then, two days ago, I got a phone call and the manager told me I was hired and could start the following Monday at 4pm.

Well, today is Monday and pretty soon, it will be 4pm. I'm so nervous. It's my first job and I don't even know what to do!

I have to admit - that story isn't fake. It's pretty much what happened when I was 16 and looking for a job in October. I thought I would share this story given that we are approaching a time when many high school students - and even some post-secondary ones - are starting their first jobs. And having been through it before, I know it can be a time full of different and conflicting emotions.

When I started working, nobody told me what to expect and looking back, I'd say that I went in blindfolded. I remember being terrified and nervous, yet excited all at the same time. I also remember that my nerves got the best of me on my first day and I gave customers the wrong type of coffee - at least 5 people got house blend instead of the dark roast they ordered!

As such, this posting is designed to offer you some tips on how to succeed on your first day on the job. And as the cliché goes, "a first impression is a lasting impression" - and when it comes to your first day, its important to start off on the right foot otherwise, your job is likely doomed from the start.

So, here are my top 5 points that you should do on your first day at work:

1.) Be prepared to learn.

You'll probably be given a great deal of information on your first day and be mentally ready for that. Don't party the night before - get a good night's rest. You'll need to be alert and awake to learn everything from how to use the cash register, to how to fold the t-shirts properly, to how to sign in and sign out.

I recommend taking along a note book so that you can write down important notes. For example, I took tons of notes during my first day at the coffee shop. Luckily, the whole day was very slow and I had ample opportunities to ask questions and jot down important details, like how to grind the coffee and where to find the storage room on the 2nd floor.

2.) Dress a step above acceptable attire.

This is one slightly tricky and controversial, as some youth employment counsellors say that you should dress like you would at work. This is true, but I've always said that its better to dress a step above what is acceptable and use your first day to see what is allowed and what is not.

This doesn't mean you have to come into work with a suit and tie. But if you're working in a retail store, restaurant, or even a casual office*, you can't go wrong with business casual (e.g. khakis/chinos and a button shirt). By dressing one level above what is acceptable, you can be sure that your first day will not involve a stern lecture from the manager on why you cannot wear a particular top or pair of pants to work.

*Note: for those working at a major office (e.g. a downtown law firm), dress the part and opt for formal business attire.

3.) Arrive early, but not too early.

Arriving early is one of the best ways to show a manager that you are eager, punctual, and organized with your time - and most of the managers I've worked with/for over the past few years would say those are 3 of the key attributes of successful employees.

But beware, by early, I don't mean more than 5 or 10 minutes early. If you decide to arrive earlier, you might give off an overeager and/or borderline-desperate vibe. Plus, the manager might not be ready to see you. For example, s/he might still have to complete a few opening duties, or worse, they may even need to open the store/office.

Should you arrive earlier, your best bet is to take a walk. Find a bench, sit down, collect your thoughts, and get ready for your first day. It's also a good time to jot down questions you have and that you'd like answered (e.g. what do I do if the cash register breaks down?).

4.) Take relevant documentation with you.

There's nothing worse than a new employee who shows up to work on the first day without the required documentation. It can slow down the process of starting a new employee file and often, it results in scheduling issues and even delayed pay. So do your homework and prior to your first day, ask your manager what you need to bring in and if any forms need to be filled out.

As a general rule of thumb, you'll likely need your Social Insurance Number (SIN) card with you - not just the number, but the card as well. If you do not have a SIN or if you lost the card, then read my previous posting on how to apply for one.

You might also need other documents, such as a birth certificate or particular accreditation (e.g. First Aid certificate). Managers might also ask for contact information of someone they can phone in an emergency.

And don't forget about your bank details - most employers pay via direct deposit and they will need your banking information. A cheque will be sufficient - just write "VOID" across it - but if you don't have a chequing account, go to your bank and ask them for your direct deposit information.

5.) Have fun!

Don't be uptight on your first day. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and I'd say that 99% of the jobs out there have a learning curve. So don't fret if you make a mistake - I didn't and frankly, I don't think anyone was the wiser that they got a medium roast coffee instead of a dark roast!

Remember that work, especially for students and youth starting out in the workforce, is not only a chance to earn valuable experience, but it should also be a place you enjoy going to - once you detest going to work, your productivity and general workplace demeanour usually falls.

And don't just see what you do as a job - see it as a learning experience. You'll hopefully have the chance to learn a few new skills and hone existing ones. So don't let the opportunity pass you by - because trust me, years down the road, you'll be using many of the same skills and you'll be thankful you had the chance to learn and hone them at a young age.

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