Thursday, June 26, 2008

I’m New Here

Over the course of my career I’ve worked for many different companies. All of these companies were different, but there’s one thing each of these companies has in common. Everyone sitting in the cubicles and offices has a first day. First days are great in that you can claim ignorance about any question you are asked “I am not sure about that, you see, it’s my first day working here…”

It constantly amazes me how first days differ from company to company. I remember when I started my first job out of college. On my first day I was taken out to lunch by my co-workers, I was shown around all day long, and I got to know the people that I ended up working with for the next year and a half. It was such a welcoming atmosphere and in my mind it set the expectation for how first days in the corporate world are supposed to go. At my second job I didn’t pack a lunch because I was 23 and I assumed that I’d have the same sort of reception as I’d had at my first job. Boy was I wrong; in fact I don’t recall ever being taken to lunch again on my first day at any other job I’ve held.

But it’s not just the social interaction that takes place on first days that is different from company to company. It’s the actual orchestration of the first day. Will I go on a new hire orientation on my first day? Will my office supplies be laid out on my desk when I get there, next to the stack of paperwork I need to fill in as a new hire? Will I be handed an overstuffed file folder with all the relevant information of my first project and be told “have at it”? Will I be left alone while everyone else rushes through their day because they don’t have time to say hello to me, let alone train me? Everywhere I have worked has done it a bit differently, and I am always thankful to see that some thought had been put into my arrival on my first day.

In the late 90’s I worked for a series of dot.coms in the Boston area and I vividly remember my first day at an online technology news magazine where I worked for two years. I was the first person to be hired in that department by a man who clearly did not put any thought to the fact that he’d have a new hire starting. My boss said “Here’s your office, there’s the ladies room, have a good day.” Then he turned and headed for his own office. That was it. There was no “Hey, why don’t you go to this file on the server and familiarize yourself with this project I am going to have you work on.” There was no “Hey, take a look at this site and let me know what you would propose to make the user experience work better.” All I got was “Here’s your office, have a good day.” At least he showed me my desk and didn’t just leave me in the lobby—I mean, really, can I complain?

I sat in my office for an hour or so, thinking he’d come back to talk to me about my job. So I surfed the company’s web site and got more familiar with it. I roamed the hallways and introduced myself to people who weren’t so engrossed in their day that they looked up to say hello to me. I lurked outside my boss’s office while he endlessly droned on the phone, never beckoning me to come in and wait or never holding his hand over the receiver to say “I’ll come to your office in a bit and we’ll talk.”

I called Todd, to give him my new work phone number and he asked, “How’s your first day going?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “It’s weird. My boss just kinda left me in here with nothing to do. I am looking at the train schedule in my purse trying to decide if I should leave here right at 5 to catch the 5:40 train, or should I wait and catch the 6:15? I am so bored!”

“I think you should wait for the later train, it will make a better impression,” he suggested. I stared longingly at the pencil on my desk, wanting to stab myself in the eye with it rather than stay for a minute longer than I had to.

I waited around the office, and my boss finally came and talked to me at 5:30 or so. He didn’t mention leaving me alone for the entire day. He didn’t mention any plans for working with me the next day. He asked me how my day was.

“Well, I think that tomorrow I would like to sit with you so I can get my hands on my first project,” I replied with what I hoped would be a display of my motivation. Instead it probably came out like “I am bored out of my fricken skull, will you please give me something to do or I am going to break the window and jump out of it merely for something that would occupy my time for a few hours.”

The next day came and went just like the first. Before I knew it a month went by, then another. I was given a project, but it was so slow going I didn’t have enough work to occupy me. The boss hired another employee to work in the same capacity I’d been hired for, but he worked on different projects. At the time I had no idea that this guy was as bored as I was. We both took great efforts to look busy, probably afraid that the other would pull the job out from under us. After working there for about six months, our department was being disbanded and we needed to find jobs in other departments. The company was big enough that this was possible. Finally this co-worker and I had lunch one day, before we both went our separate ways in the company, and we laughed about how bored we’d been, how ignored by the boss we’d felt, and how pressured we’d felt to maintain this semblance of being busy. At least he had an office where his back wasn’t to the door so he could look busy on his computer when he was really surfing and shopping online. I sat in a cube, and constantly checked my back when I was surfing for non-work-related items online.

Most of my days spent at that company were spent like my first day there—bored and trying not to look bored. I’ve since learned that how I spend my first day on a job will set the tone for how the rest of my tenure there will go. At my first day I socialized, and I spend my time there socializing with some of the nicest people I’d ever met and some first days had been spent going over the company's systems and policies, which sets the tone for how my work will be completed.

So, it is true—first impressions are almost always the correct ones.

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Blogger Unknown said...

First days are always so nerve wracking for me for that very don't know what to expect.

June 26, 2008 at 1:46 PM  

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