Only a parent could offer the kind of advice Jessica Donnelly got when she started her first job: "My old-fashioned mother warned me to have my clothes ready and bag packed the night before," says Donnelly, a 2005 Marist College graduate who works for a New York City-based public relations firm. "She also told me to eat a good breakfast and arrive early."
But it turns out Mom's seemingly simplistic advice was more valuable than Donnelly thought. "Those little precautions helped to make a nerve-filled morning run more smoothly," she says.
Your first day of work will help define you in the eyes of your new coworkers. Make a good first impression, and you'll soon be viewed as a capable, respected colleague. But a bad first impression could mean months or years of trying to undo the damage. Here's what you can do -- both before and during your start date -- to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Before Your First Day
Relearn How to Sleep: Two weeks before your first day, start establishing the sleep habits you'll follow when your new job begins. If you're usually out well past midnight on weeknights, get home earlier or, even better, stay home more often than not. And if you know your new job will require you to wake up at 6 a.m. to catch a 7 a.m. train, start going to bed at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.
"Most new graduates underestimate how exhausting it is to work a full eight hours," says Carol Vellucci, assistant to the president for communications at Towson University.
Study the Organization: The more you know about your new company and its activities before you start, the faster you'll get up to speed.
"I read everything I could on the company to prepare myself for my first day," says Mike Adorno, an Ithaca College graduate who works for Articulate Communications in New York City. That included not only Articulate's Web site but also its clients' Web sites.
On Your First Day
Bring a Notebook -- and Use It: You'll be meeting new people and trying to remember their names, learning about office procedures, becoming familiar with the work environment and discovering how your work fits in with that of your department and colleagues. All of this information can be overwhelming.
"No one can remember it all," says Michael Smith, a professor of mass communications at Campbell University who teaches a course for his department's interns. "So write it down."
Listen and Ask Questions More Than You Talk: When you were in job search mode, it probably took awhile to adjust to talking about yourself and your many outstanding skills and achievements. Now it's time to listen and ask questions instead.
"No one likes a mouthy know-it-all," says Patrick Gray, president of consulting firm Prevoyance Group. "Keeping your ears open can turn into a competitive advantage when you're able to crack the culture of your new home more quickly and become a more productive and insightful employee."
Be Ready for Either Indifference or Instant Action: You might be welcomed to the organization with apparent indifference -- no cubicle, no security badge or even no work to do, says Gray. "Keep a smile on your face, and go with the flow for the first couple of days," he says. "Things will usually get sorted out."
On the other hand, don't be surprised if you're tossed right into the proverbial fire. That's what happened to Cara Chancellor, a 2006 Yale University graduate who works for public relations firm O'Connell and Goldberg. The company immediately called upon Chancellor's fluency in French to pursue a media placement. "Six French phone calls and innumerable French emails later, we secured an interview with Le Monde, the largest and most popular newspaper in France," she says.
What a way to start the day -- and a new job.