Shelby L. Graves, MPH, CHES
My Guide to Rocking Week One at Work
Getting ready to take on a new role? Congrats! It's time to set yourself up for success during your first week.
Image © Nadia Snopek
I’ve been the new girl quite a few times throughout my public health career. Starting anew in multiple internships, research assistantships, and full-time positions has allowed me to collect helpful tips and tricks to starting off on the right foot in a new role. I’m sharing this advice with you so you can apply it to your next role.
Before you get started, you should know:
It takes longer than one week to feel “settled” in a new role, but starting off with the right strategy can really help to speed up the process.
Each workplace has a different culture and different expectations.
Remote work can change the dynamic of your “office life,” but many of these tips can still be applied to 100% WFH.
What works for one person might not work well for someone else.
You can take the advice that works for you and leave the advice that does not – this is flexible advice overall. Take it and make it your own!
DO: Iron Out the Logistics
First thing’s first: You want to have the little logistical details ironed out early on. This will help you to avoid speed bumps and tangles during your onboarding process. Each logistical detail you iron out is one less thing to worry about down the line.
If you’re lucky enough to have a structured onboarding process, many of these details will be taken care of ahead of time. You may even have access to an onboarding hub, training packet, or checklist to set you on the right track. This isn’t always the case, so keep your fingers crossed.
Logistics I consider upfront:
Accounts and Logins. Ask for a list of the accounts and logins you will need to access on a regular basis. Make sure you have full access to your email, calendar, VPN (if applicable), shared drives or team drives, program or team applications (e.g., Microsoft Teams), and any other programs you might need to use (e.g., data management systems). Keep your logins, passwords, and pins secured.
Key Contacts and Resources. Ask who your key contacts will be throughout your onboarding process and keep their contact information close by. Knowing who to reach out to with specific questions or problems – Hello, IT? It’s me again – makes onboarding a much smoother process.
Hours and Time Keeping. Believe it or not, some agencies won’t give you an official start time or fill you in on break allowances until you’re on the job. Try to set your schedule in advance. Ask about the time allowed for lunch, preferred time for taking breaks, and the “typical” team schedule. Some agencies are more flexible than others when it comes to work schedules and how you keep track of time.
Technology. I cannot count the times I’ve had a tech issue during my onboarding process. I advise you to 1. Make sure you have all the technology you need, 2. Make sure you have all the logins you need, 3. Make sure you have instructions or resources for how to set up said technology, and 4. Make sure you have the IT Help Desk phone number or ticket process.
Training Requirements. Just about every new role will come with a laundry list of required and recommended training. Have a list of training requirements at hand. Review this list with your supervisor and/or team so you can discuss and schedule this training in advance. Some training requirements give you a time limit (e.g., 30 days, 60 days, 90 days). Don’t let those deadlines creep up! Review the list and block out time to get it all knocked out early on.
DON’T: Get Lost in the Details
Are there countless tiny details to learn in a new role? Yes. Do you need to stress yourself out by trying to figure it all out on your own? No.
My advice for quickly ironing out the logistical details is to refer to your orientation packet for what you already HAVE on hand. THEN you can reach out to HR or the onboarding contact for anything that’s missing. You can even create or use a simple checklist to keep it all in ONE safe place. This is my preference.
Don’t complicate it or let the little things send you into a spiral. You don’t have to memorize every little thing or know all the answers during week one. You just want to have the details AVAILABLE.
Need a hand keeping track? See the sample Onboarding Logistics Checklist or download a free copy for yourself.
DO: Treat Each Day Like Day One
Do your best to treat each day of your first week like it’s day one. Why? Because it will help you to make the best impression possible and keep up a steady pace throughout your onboarding process.
I recently shared my top five tips for a successful first day on the job. For additional details, you can see the original post on my Instagram page. The key points were to:
Prepare everything you can the day before. So yes, set out all your work items, outfits, and snacks the evening prior. Do this as often as possible (beyond your first week). If you’re not a morning person, this will save you a lot of unnecessary stress.
Arrive early. You don’t want to risk being late on your first day – or during your first week. Get in the habit of showing up or logging in at least a few minutes early. Then once those latte stops hold you up for an All Staff Meeting down the line, it won’t seem so horrible. Laugh with me here.
Show up ready to learn. I recommend approaching your career with a commitment to lifelong learning, but it's ESPECIALLY important to show up to your first week ready to learn. You should be a little sponge, absorbing everything you can. You'll probably need a new notebook.
Make a great first impression. Don't sleep on this generic piece of advice. You want to get along well with your team, establish credibility, and build strong working relationships from the beginning. It’s extremely challenging to overcome a bad first impression, so do your best to start off strong.
Don’t just “fake it till you make it.” You are new. Translation: You won’t know everything. Trying to come across as an expert leads to missed learning opportunities. You also don't want to come across as a total know-it-all. It’s not worth it.
DO: Organize Your “Stuff” – Then Keep it Organized
Have you ever left a team and had to sort through hundreds of files to determine what is important to keep, shred, or share? It’s a nightmare. Have you ever had to sort through emails and files to find a specific document on the spot? It’s stressful.
What helps with these situations? Organization. And not just going through and sorting through files once per month to clean up the clutter. You should have a system for organization from day one. Boring advice … I know.
My ADHD causes my organizational habits to fluctuate. I’ve found a few tried and true organization hacks that help to keep me on track. During week one, I recommend:
Creating email labels (e.g., HR, Project X, Project Y, Budgets)
Creating fresh folders (e.g., Personnel Files, Project A, Project B, Project C, Signed Fund Certs, Training Certificates)
Setting up all alert preferences
Using a planner and your work calendar
DON’T: Mark Everything as “Important”
Flagging or using the “mark as important” function in your email is NOT the same thing as organizing your emails and documents. Before long, you will have 100+ flagged emails and won’t have any context for the content.
Find an organization system that works for you and keep it consistent. At the very least, an organized inbox, will save you precious time.
DO: Set Boundaries and Expectations
It’s week one and you want to make a fantastic impression. This means you should present yourself as the “always there,” unstoppable, no lunch break needed, ready-to-go team member, right? WRONG. Do not do this to yourself.
Begin setting healthy work boundaries right off the bat. It’s a lot easier to set and maintain work/life boundaries when you start early. The best employees set boundaries – and respect others' boundaries.
Boundaries and expectations might include:
Established work hours. You want to establish your working hours, breaks, and level of flexibility for both. This can take time to iron out, but I recommend setting the precedent for set hours and breaks as best you can during your first week. Showing up early is a great practice – and you might need to stay late from time-to-time, but don’t make this a daily habit.
Frequency and method of communication. Letting your boss or team know you are “always available” is actually a horrible way to start out. Establish the hours you are available and your preferred method of communication (e.g., emails vs. calls) as early as possible. Otherwise, you might find yourself answering “emergency” calls, emails, and texts all hours of the night for the rest of your time with that agency.
Not keeping work emails on your personal devices. I learned this lesson the hard way. I downloaded my mail app, calendar, and programs to my phone and laptop – which made me feel like I was on the clock at all times. If you are given a work laptop and work phone, keep your logins and programs on your work tech ONLY. This also protects you from potential security issues down the road.
Taking real breaks. You can have set lunch and break times, but still find yourself working through them. Avoid this. Your mind and body need breaks throughout the day. As someone regularly found herself eating cold leftovers or takeout over a laptop for several years, I now support stepping physically away from your desk (and phone) during your breaks.
DON’T: Engage in Toxic Habits “Just Because it’s the First Week”
Am I saying that you won’t ever miss a lunch break? Am I recommending that you NEVER arrive early AND stay late? Does this mean that no one at work should have your personal number? Not at all.
I’m saying that you shouldn’t go out of your way to demonstrate you have no boundaries and that you’re willing to run yourself into the ground for your job. This is not sustainable. If you find yourself saying, “It will just be for the first week or so,” I want you to go look in the mirror and think about your life choices. Only kind of joking here.
There's plenty of content out there that will tell you to make exceptions for your first day/week/month/year of a job. But my tip is to RUN – don’t walk – away from advice like:
“Don’t expect a lunch break during your first week.”
“Show up ready to hit the ground running and JUMP into projects.”
“Give out your personal number to your boss and team members on day one so they know how to reach you.”
“Be willing to arrive early and stay late to show that you really are dedicated to your new job.”
“Go out of your way to do something that shows you’re willing to go the extra mile, put in the extra hours, and be a team player during your first week at work.”
DO: Build Connections with Your Coworkers and Supervisor
You might hear, “Make a great impression on your coworkers,” and think “How in the world do I do that?” It’s vague, I know. Don’t worry, I’ve got you!
Image © Dronathan Davis
Years of trial, error, and reading Brené Brown have left me with the following tips for building stronger connections at work:
Allow for vulnerability. Do I mean sharing trauma on day one or breaking down crying on someone’s shoulder? No. Spilling every detail of your life and anxiety about this role? Also no. I mean leaning into the Brené Brown definition of vulnerability.
Ask thoughtful questions. You don’t have to know everything upfront and you SHOULD have questions. Take some time to think through all the information being thrown at you and ask for clarification where you need it. Also... Don’t ask questions just to ask questions. Don’t ask questions just to demonstrate your own knowledge. If you do this in front of me, I will avoid working with you at all costs. I’m looking at you cis white men from every graduate class I’ve ever taken. Ask better questions and you will get better answers.
Avoid gossip. It’s natural to want to fit in. It’s natural to want to build rapport quickly. Too often, people use gossip as a way to get an “in” with a new team. This is a bad habit to fall into and it can hurt you in the long run.
Communicate clearly. Be direct when asking questions, answering questions, and establishing boundaries. Mastering effective communication skills is essential to building strong relationships at work.
Don’t trash talk your previous boss or agency. It doesn’t matter how toxic your last workplace was – you should avoid bringing this up while getting to know your new team. Instead, you can say things like “I’m happy to be in a work environment that seems so supportive and collaborative” to demonstrate your excitement about joining the team.
Identify personality and communication styles. Adjusting to a new team means adjusting to a mix of new personalities. This takes time. I do my best to get a sense of my new team members’ personalities – Myers-Briggs and Enneagram, anyone? – and their communication styles upfront. Sometimes this can be done by simply observing and engaging during meetings. Other times it’s best to ask directly, “Do you prefer to talk things out on a call or just solve things via email?”
Listen more than you speak. Most people love to talk about themselves. And most people also hate being interrupted. As someone with ADHD, I have to actively work on this. Since you’re already there to learn (be a sponge), it’s a great idea to approach your first week with “I need to listen more than I speak.” You will learn more, interrupt less, and seem like less of an anxious chatterbox.
Problem-solve. I’m not sure about you, but I tend to learn better by DOING. And when you’re learning a new role – you have A LOT of learning to do. So yes, please ask questions. But also, try to problem-solve the simple things before asking your 157th question of the week like “I know I have Google right in front of me, but how do I set up my email signature in Outlook?” These are the things to work out via self-attempt or Google.
DO: Prepare for Doubts and Imposter Syndrome
Picture it: You’re excited and ready to go. You sit down in your first meeting and try to absorb all the new information… So far, so good… Your new team is now throwing around bizarre acronyms. Your onboarding contact tells you that she’s been with agency for five years, so she still has “so much to learn, but it gets easier after year three.” The Director of a partnering agency asks if you’re the new intern.
And it hits you – imposter syndrome.
Have these things happened to me? Close – I’ve changed a few minor details. But imposter syndrome is something I am all too familiar with. My guess is that you’re quite familiar with it as well.
I’m not going to go into detail about how to banish imposter syndrome. Why? Because there are already solid articles that cover this. I’ve also already rambled enough here.
What I WILL do is tell you to prepare for it during week one. Because it will come for you at some point. Remind yourself that it’s inevitable, you made the right decision, and that you deserve to be there.
Interested in learning more about the difference between imposter syndrome and actually being an imposter? Melina Renee has a fabulous blog post here where you can do just that.
(SIDE BAR: I DID have a prominent community leader introduce me at my FIRST panel as a Health Policy Analyst as “Shelby, a new member of the health department – and isn’t she just so cute? We think she’s great, just the cutest.” For real. It happened. There were 68 community partners in the room. I thought I would NEVER recover. But that’s a whole other story for another time.)
DO: Pace Yourself
Did I just give you tips and tricks to hit the ground running? Yes. But trust me when I say – your first priority should be pacing yourself.
Getting started in a new role means learning the real day-to-day of the job, getting to know a new team, understanding a brand-new reporting structure, and so much more. That is… a heck of a lot. You won’t have it mastered in one week. If you DO figure out how to master this in one week, please share the wealth.
You don’t want to rush yourself and miss crucial details. You don’t want to try to both absorb and master everything at once. You don’t want to come across as someone working through a checklist so you can simply rush to the end of onboarding. This will overwhelm you and lead to burnout.
I recommend slowing down and reminding yourself that it TAKES TIME. Whenever I find myself pushing unreasonable expectations onto my performance, I breathe and repeat “No one expects me to have this role down like the back of my hand yet. I will get there one step at a time.”
I’ve had several supervisors tell me that it takes at least a year to truly understand, perform, and grow in a challenging role. This is the advice I turn to when I feel rushed to master it all at once. I promise, it helps.
Your first week can fill you with excitement, anxiety, imposter syndrome, and even dread. It’s usually a blend of emotions. But if you take a deep breath, put some thought into your strategies for success, and pace yourself – I promise it will pay off.
Your strategies for a successful first week may look a bit different from mine. Keep in mind that every workplace and role come with their own unique challenges. You can also apply these tips to your first full month – or however long it takes you to feel comfortable in your new role.
If you take my advice (and make it your own), by the end of your first week you should:
Be able to breathe and remember that it takes time to learn the ropes
Feel more comfortable with your new team
Have a more organized approach to your work
Know how to use your tech and access the resources you need
Start off with healthy boundaries.
If you have found my transparency, tips and tricks, or encouragement to be particularly helpful – you can support my work by buying me an iced coffee on Ko-fi.