"What are the biggest mistakes people make on their first day of a new job?" originally appeared on Quora--the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
How could you screw up royally on the first day at your new job? I mean, if you really want to get creative that list could be endless. But in my experience there's one big thing that new hires do consistently that's a sure way to lose the favor of your new boss and peers, or even get you fired: act perfect.
Let me explain. Nobody is perfect. We all know it. We don't expect it, and you're not fooling anyone if you try. I know you want to make a great impression on the first day, prove your competency, and start contributing amazing work immediately, but there's a process we expect you to go through before we can trust you to jump in 100 percent. You're going to need to acclimate, observe the environment, feel the vibe, and gel into place. No one plops into the mold by starting out as the perfect shape for it already, you know? It takes a little shifting and wiggling to get the right fit--flexibility is key. That means you listen, ask questions, and be honest when you don't know or understand something.
Your superiors are there to train you and make sure you're able to do everything they expect from your position, but if you're not honest about your weak spots, how are they going to know what to help you with? The biggest failures due to acting overly confident right out the gate happen a few months down the road, when all the little pieces you didn't know how to handle so you swept them under the rug start to stink. You told everyone you had it handled so they left you to your own devices. But now your work is fraught with errors, late, or missing. If you had said something from the beginning there'd be time to make corrections or provide assistance, but it's too late and you're blowing budgets and deadlines, making excuses, and dodging the inevitable. Pretending you're perfect catches up to you quickly, and when it does, it's often cause for termination.
Keep in mind that every position has the potential to launch your career further by exposing you to new angles, new problems, and new work. Be receptive to adjusting your perspective and be open to admitting you don't know everything and you'll learn that much more. Again, be flexible, be malleable. Be imperfect.
As a side note, imperfection does not mean you'll be a drag on your peers, but be sure you pay close attention to avoid wasting their time. Spend the majority of your initial efforts listening while you edit your questions by priority. If it's pressing, speak up. But if it's something you might be able to figure out on your own, trust yourself, make the attempt to do some digging and researching, and then ask for confirmation. Because, hey, too many lazy questions is almost as bad as no questions at all.
So if you've got the right balance of confidence and humility going on, great! You'll be well on your way. In addition to that, here are a few more bad habits you should definitely avoid:
- Poor time management. This means showing up late, taking a long lunch, or leaving early. It also means getting stuck on one task when you have a full plate. Employers take a hit on new employees until they're fully acclimated. Your job is to get into total efficiency as quickly as possible. Take advantage of your time and be effective.
- Bad-mouthing. Don't complain about your last job, your previous boss, or your old co-workers! No one knows you yet and maybe you're a great person who was treated poorly, but if this the first impression you're giving off, you're going to look like a complainer and gossip. You'll also likely lose people's trust--your new peers will assume you'll complain about them behind their backs, too. Stay positive and try not to compare your new workplace to your last. Seriously, no one cares about how awful your last job was.
- Inappropriate attire or cleanliness. This should go without saying, but you wouldn't believe some of the gross physical neglect and choices I've seen. People who were perfectly professional during their interview would show up dirty and in such provocative clothing on their first day I had to send them home immediately. Have some self-respect and don't be that person. Dress for the job, whatever that might be.
- Demands and entitlement. When you arrive on your first day you should trust that everything you'll need in order to do the job expected of you will be available or provided to you in due time. While you might be used to a particular environment or benefits from a previous position, don't make the mistake of expecting all those same comforts up front. I've seen new hires walk in and demand expensive new equipment on their first day that none of the rest of the company had. I've also watched people obsess over PTO and vacation time while I'm training them; their priorities spoke volumes. If there's truly something you need that is essential to you performing your job, then go ahead and mention it. Otherwise, hold back on your demands until you're able to have a professional conversation about why those items are important to not just you but the team. Don't ask for special treatment. Be a team player and be reasonable.
Just remember you'll have plenty of time to shine and grow in your new position. But on your first day? Take full advantage of the on-boarding and acclimation process while it's available and timely--listen, observe, ask smart questions, and be respectful and polite. You have just as much to learn about your new environment as they have to learn about you. The best thing you can do is flex and find the right balance.
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