I had arrived. I checked the time again; I wasn’t too early, but enough to be prepared. I got out of the elevator and took a left turn as I tried to remember where I was going. My heart was racing. I opened the door and saw someone. I hesitated. I tried to appear confident as I flashed a smile.
No, this was not a first date. It was not an encounter with a celebrity. It was my first day of a new job. And I really wanted to make a great first impression.
I consider myself a friendly person. I enjoy meeting new people and finding common ground. But this was different. The stakes were higher. Maybe I wouldn’t find anything in common with my new coworkers. Maybe there wouldn’t be time to chat because I’d be so busy learning the job. This might be harder than I thought.
One thing I noticed on that first day was the smell of coffee. I love coffee! I made a point of asking where people bought their coffee, or what brewing method they preferred, or how much cream or sugar they took in their coffee. I discovered that many of my coworkers had their own morning coffee rituals. I tagged along on coffee runs and used the opportunity to get to know my coworkers more. It was easy to find connection over a shared break in a busy day. I felt more relaxed in my new environment and less worried about impressions. If I needed to break the ice, I started with “Do you like coffee?”
Making a Good Impression
There are numerous articles sharing advice on how to make a good first impression at work. Our friends and family are sure to have their suggestions too. The first few days at work are overwhelming as is it, without needing to remember all things we’ve been told we should or shouldn’t do. And every workplace is different. What makes a great impression at one organization might not at another.
And it’s not just remembering advice that is challenging. What if you have difficulty connecting with others? What if making small talk doesn’t come easily? What if you just want to go to work, do your job, and go home? Here are some basic strategies to making a lasting positive impression during your first week at work:
- Learn people’s names. Make it a priority, starting with the three or four people you see most often throughout the day. Practice using their name each time you see them. Rather than saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” you can add their name to make it more personal. The more you use a person’s name when you see them, the easier it will be for your brain to associate that name with that person.
How does it feel when someone greets you by name? I’m sure it makes you feel valued, respected, and appreciated. You could make someone’s day by simply using their name, and if you forget a name? Don’t feel embarrassed and be willing to ask right away! Some great tools include saying, “I’m sorry, could you tell me your name?” or “Could you remind me how to say your name?” It will be more awkward months later when you have to introduce them to someone else.
- Smile. Smiling can help reduce worry and anxiety. It decreases the levels of stress hormones and reduces overall blood pressure. Ron Guzman suggests in his TED Talk The Hidden Power of Smiling that “[smiling] modifies the neural processing of emotional content in the brain, in a way that helps us feel better”. Studies have also shown that smiling can make you seem more likable to those around you. You may have heard the expression fake it ‘til you make it. There is some truth to it! Even a fake smile can change your emotions to more positive ones, and it can change the perception people have of you. You might be incredibly nervous, or overwhelmed at the number of new people you are meeting. So smile! It will make you and your coworkers more relaxed and approachable.
- Be the person you want to work with. I recently found this quote and it has helped me consider the impression I want to give others. Who do you enjoy spending time with and why? Who do you like to work with and why? By asking yourself these quick questions, you could reveal behaviours that you would like to model in your own daily actions. For example, my coworkers are always going above and beyond to help others, including me, whether it is part of their job description or not. I appreciate working with people who are so willing to help out at a moment’s notice, so I try to practice that same behaviour.
Did I do something different than anyone else who starts a new job? Did it take special skills or use secret knowledge? No, but it did take some practice. I intentionally chose to make a connection with others and made it a part of my daily routine. With more practice, it becomes more natural, and pretty soon these strategies will be part of your daily routine too.
Author: Melissa Germain, Facilitator at OFE