We have all, at one point or another, been the “new kid.” But when you’re getting paid to be there, being new can seem much more daunting. It’s not just a matter of knowing where the restrooms are or where to eat lunch. Instead you’re trying to figure out just where you fit in to the workplace and exactly what your job description translates to in real life. As a recent new hire myself, I’ve been a jumble of nerves and felt like all I have to offer in my new job is a seemingly endless amount of questions. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that it’s okay to feel that way and, in fact, it’s good to feel a little bit nervous. Still, to make certain you’re not too nervous, here are a few observations and suggestions from my first month at my new library gig about how to calmly navigate being the new hire at your new job, be it at a library or elsewhere.
First Impressions Count
Don’t underestimate the impact of first impressions. Sure, you’re frazzled and overwhelmed by all of the information you’re receiving in those first few weeks, and most employers will recognize this. Instead of coming off as a bundle of nerves, try translating that nervous energy into enthusiasm. A positive attitude goes a long way, and approaching your new coworkers with enthusiasm for being a part of their team will make for a good first impression that will stay with them long after your first day. This is the only time that you’ll have a clean slate, so make it count.
Dress the Part
It’s always better to be a bit overdressed your first few days. Looking well groomed gives the impression that you will be just as well put together with your work. If you are able, it’s very nice to be able to visit your new workplace before your first day or speak to a coworker to get an overall idea of just how lax the dress code may be. Still, it is more natural to feel professional when you dress professionally, so in the beginning it is a good idea to avoid dressing too casually. Use it as an excuse to buy a few new pieces for your wardrobe and have fun with it. I’ve already earned a reputation at my new job as the girl with the big hair and the big accessories. So much so, in fact, that I was asked to retake my staff photo because I’d initially had my hair pulled back and “no one would recognize” me that way. Most importantly, make sure you’re comfortable! No matter how professional your outfit may be, if you’re tugging on straps and pulling down hems all day you’ll look uncomfortable and like you’re wearing a costume instead of an outfit.
Be Professional but Friendly
There is a fine line between enthusiasm for your new job and being a bit too Pollyanna. Shoot for being pleasant as opposed to blindly optimistic, and always remember that these are coworkers first and potential friends second. Smile and say hello to your coworkers in the hallway. Make an appearance in the staff lounge here and there. Make a point of learning names early on (I can’t stress this one enough). Ask coworkers what their job is like, how their department interacts with yours and for their opinions on the culture of your new workplace. Still, being professional doesn’t mean you can’t ask about things unconnected to the job! Suggestions on good places to eat or where to grab your afternoon cup of coffee or the best used bookstore in town are a good way to make a cordial connection without getting too personal and can lead to an opportunity to have a valuable, informal interaction with a colleague. The key to being friendly & professional is balancing being pleasant without being invasive. You’ll find out about everyone’s strange-but-true stories and idiosyncrasies soon enough. And boy oh boy do librarians have some stories!
Know what is Expected of You
One of the most disconcerting and anxiety-inducing parts of a new job is the unexpected. Luckily, this can be one of the easiest anxieties to avoid by simply asking your boss what is expected of you. This is a simple conversation that many of us avoid in an effort to seem knowledgeable and self-sufficient. But you’re new; you don’t have to be knowledgeable and self-sufficient yet! Early on at your new job (and I do mean early! If you can set sometime aside to speak with your supervisor in the first few days, do it!) speak to your supervisor and ask about the game plan for your first month at the new job. This will give you an idea of what your boss considers to be your priorities as you jump into your new position. And make sure you know the why behind your work, too. It’s important not only to understand the overall structure of your new workplace but to understand just where you fit into it all. The sooner you wrap your head around your place in the overall scheme of things, the sooner you’ll be able to take some initiative and show what a great self-starter you can be. Finally, check in with your boss regularly. If nothing else this will build a good rapport with your boss and show that you’re invested in your work. In the best circumstances, this allows you to get some feedback and know that you’re doing well, making it all that much easier to garner some confidence in your new position.
Be Confident but Not Cocky
You should approach your new job confidently and not be afraid to share whatever knowledge you’ve accrued through your schooling and previous work experience. You were hired for the job for a reason – because the people doing the hiring thought you were the best fit for the position. Don’t ever let yourself forget this! It’s also pretty easy to feel somewhat competitive starting off, like you have to prove yourself, but the fact is you got the job on the basis of your skills and strengths. Let this give you the confidence to not have to show your worth in every situation. Still, make sure you recognize that you don’t know everything. There is a very fine line between being confident and cocky. Feel free to share your opinions but make sure to listen even more often. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to make mistakes. Own those mistakes when they do happen and learn from them. I found that once I was able to balance being convinced of my own skills with the acknowledgement that I had lots of room to grow, I felt liberated.
The fact of the matter is you won’t be the “new kid” forever. Someone else will get hired and you’ll move a notch up the totem pole. Eventually you’ll figure out where they hide the Wite-Out at the reference desk. And after some time, you’ll start feeling like you belong there. Until that sets in, try to cut yourself some slack and be proud of yourself for making it this far. I’m still trying to get there myself, but I’m starting to feel confident (but not cocky!) that it’s going to happen soon.
Written by Alexis Shpall Wolstein. Alexis is the new Instructional Services Librarian at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. She is doing her best to take her own advice on being a new hire.