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Success At Work

The first 30 days: building on that positive impression

The first 30 days: building on that positive impression

During your first few weeks or months, you will go through an orientation and “probation” period. Your attitude towards your job, coworkers, and the organization is critical to your success. Show a positive attitude and offer to help wherever you see a situation where you have the capacity and the skills to contribute.

Learn as much company and job-related information as you can and do your best on every assignment you are given, even the menial, routine tasks that you may be assigned in the early days of your employment. Take these assignments in stride and view them as a challenge. Avoid complaining or conveying an attitude that certain duties are beneath you. In this initial phase, it is often not as important to impress them with knowledge and skills as it is to demonstrate your willingness to learn and to put forth your best effort. As well, although it is only natural to want to prove yourself quickly, in many organizational cultures and sectors, it is more important to show your ability to work as part of the team than to demonstrate individual achievement. Once your supervisor has observed your strengths (and areas for growth) first-hand, you’re more likely to be assigned more challenging tasks.


Learn as much as possible about your new employer. If there is no manual, prepare a list of questions to ask your manager. Find out what the organizational structure is, the typical working hours, policies regarding time off (including breaks and lunches), computer and telephone procedures, and anything else you think will be helpful. Resist the temptation to point out how policies and procedures could be improved in the early months of your employment. If you are in a co-op or work-integrated learning experience, consider waiting to make suggestions until at least halfway through your work term/experience. Your first priorities are to orient yourself to the role and environment, to establish trust and to build rapport with your colleagues. By the time you have achieved these goals, you may also have acquired enough information to validate your suggestions for change or perhaps you will come to understand why things are as they are and that most policies and procedures do in fact make sense.

Each organization has a workplace culture: the unspoken beliefs and attitudes of the organization that reflect their views on management, customer service, the value assigned to employees, and company budgets and finances. Culture varies from organization to organization and may also differ from department to department within an organization. While some policies and procedures exist in writing, others will be more informal. For example, what are the more accurate working hours? Is it expected that you will take work home with you? And do lunches really last a full hour? Learn these unofficial rules of conduct by observing and by asking co-workers. In the long run your comfort level will depend on how well your values and beliefs match those of the organization, but if you do not adhere to these rules, you run the risk of being viewed as lacking commitment to your job and to the organization.

Work full days: be on time or early, stay a little late, and be prepared to work some overtime. Repeatedly coming in late or leaving early creates a very negative impression. Also establish a good attendance record. Although company policies vary widely regarding taking time off, keep time off to a minimum for the first several months, even if you see others taking full advantage of this company benefit. Remember: you’re new. If you must be absent or late for some reason and know ahead of time, inform your manager as soon as possible. If you are late, apologize and don’t make excuses. And avoid Monday absences: missing a Monday is often interpreted as a “weekend hangover.”

Be aware of the impact of lifestyle upon your performance. Getting adequate sleep will help to minimize absences due to illness and ensure that you are on time and ready to work. Sleeping on the job is always unacceptable and has been the reason for termination of employment in more than one instance!

It is important to be a strong team player in the workplace. By being a team player, you build your reputation and increase your value to the organization. Volunteer to help others if you have the capacity to do so. Show an interest in co-workers’ roles and pay attention to what is important to them. Another way to be seen as a team player is to attend company social events or volunteer for a committee: these can be excellent opportunities to get to know your co-workers and can help to advance your career.

Your manager realizes that, particularly in the first few weeks, you need training and guidance. If you are a recent graduate, the learning process at work will likely be different from what you experienced in school. Much of your learning will depend on your ability to listen well, ask questions, take notes, and observe others.

Find out exactly what is expected of you: don’t assume anything. Obtain a copy of your job description and discuss typical responsibilities and expectations with your supervisor. Clarify instructions and ask questions. Your goal is to ensure you have a common vision of your job, its parameters, and objectives. What are the priorities of the role? How is your performance evaluated? How frequently and in what manner does your supervisor wish to be updated on your activities? You may also want to request earlier feedback on your performance than is standard procedure (e.g., at the end of the first month or two instead of, or in addition to, at the end of your trial period). This feedback doesn’t have to be formal; it may simply involve scheduling a time to sit down and discuss your progress and how you’re feeling. Early constructive feedback can be very helpful in keeping you on a successful path.

Work to build rapport and a solid working relationship with your supervisor. Try to determine your supervisor’s personal style and ways of doing things and, if and where possible, adjust yours accordingly. If your supervisor provides little supervision and feedback, you may want to set personal goals and work toward them to build a sense of accomplishment. Recognize the importance a supervisor plays in your success. No matter what, treat them with respect.

It is important to build strong working relationships with coworkers. Much of what you need to learn is not found in manuals but comes from other members of your team. Make an effort to get to know them: make a point of going to lunch or coffee with them and listen to what’s important to them. Be cooperative and supportive, show appreciation when they help you, and be sure to share credit when appropriate. By demonstrating an interest in your coworkers, their jobs, and their lives, you are more likely to gain allies who will help you to succeed in your job and your career; and you may form friendships, too!

Ethical behaviour simply means “doing the right thing” and it is governed by principles or standards that exist in all organizations. Members of particular regulated professions must uphold codes of conduct which outline expectations regarding ethical conduct. If you’re a member of a regulated profession (e.g., teacher, engineer) be sure to refer to the relevant regulatory body in the jurisdiction in which you are practicing.

Examples of unethical behaviour include:

  1. Lying, misleading, or taking shortcuts
  2. Breaching confidentiality
  3. Violating copyright laws
  4. Coming to work under the influence of alcohol or non-prescription drugs
  5. Theft or breach of security
  6. Habitual lateness or absence with no reason given
  7. Copying company software for personal use
  8. Taking office supplies or other company property for personal use
  9. Taking longer lunches/breaks or coming in late/leaving early while being paid for this time
  10. Conducting personal business (e.g., checking email, visiting non-work-related websites) on company time

The above actions could be cause for dismissal.

University of Waterloo

Centre for Career Development