First days are milestones in our lives. Everyone remembers their first day of school, first kiss, first drink, first day of a new job. I remember my first day of work vividly. I remember the way I laid out my outfit the night before. I remember what I wore: Wide leg navy Theory pants, a white silk blouse and a matching Theory blazer. I remember walking into this giant New York City office building and not knowing where to go. I remember getting off on the wrong floor and then quickly realizing that I was definitely not in the right place. I remember an older analyst greeting me at these big frosted doors and walking me through a maze of cubicles introducing me to people who’s names I wouldn’t remember for more than a minute. And I remember getting to my desk and thinking holy shit, now what do I do?
First days require resilience. Resilience through awkwardness and uncertainty. What is more awkward than a first year analyst at a big bank having absolutely nothing to do but having to stay through the night looking busy. I can’t tell you how many times I took, and re-took, every training module sent to my inbox. I could have recited the firm’s code of conduct by heart by the end of my first day. My first day was filled with mistakes. I forgot to pick up a napkin at the cafeteria to eat my sandwich for lunch and remember wiping my hands on my chair because I was too embarrassed to ask someone for a napkin (why I was too embarrassed, I have no idea. In hindsight, that is not a weird thing to ask for at all…) I referred to people by the wrong name. I left my ID badge at my seat to go pick up a coffee and had to bang on the doors to get back in. I didn’t go to the bathroom all day because I was nervous I’d miss something at my desk. I made opinions on people. I got too close to some, and not close enough to others. I didn’t ask enough questions, and I definitely didn’t write enough down in my firm branded shiny new moleskin.
For anyone starting a new job, just ask yourself – first kisses, first days of school, first jobs – are they really any different? They are all filled with nerves, excitement, awkwardness and resilience. And guess what, you got through all of the firsts that came before this one, so you’ll get through this too. You’ll look back in the not so distant future and laugh about all of your first “mistakes” and about how all the things you didn’t know are now common sense (like for me, I quickly realized that there was a stack of napkins in a pantry just a few steps away from my desk and never had to wipe my greasy sandwich hands on my chair again!)
But… for something more tangible, if I had to offer my first day self advice after over 1,600 work days later it would be as follows:
- You do not need to wear a matching suit set every day so don’t waste your money on them now (check out my work essentials post to start, but more details to come)
- Don’t make quick opinions on people, processes or the firm too quickly
- Listen more than you speak. It will pay off. If you are anything like me (and like to speak!) this will require a lot of constraint, however, listening will make you so much smarter down the road when it is time to speak. You’ll then be armed with enough information to speak with impact rather than emotion.
- Smile and just say yes. Whether its to grab someone a coffee, take notes in a meeting, or do work for another analyst (yes, there was an analyst a year older than me who, inappropriately, dumped all of her work on me…) There will come a time to push back, but now is not that time.
- Stay positive. I know this sounds cheesy, but remember that as hard as the first days are, it does get better. You want to have the reputation at the end of the year as a positive addition to the team. The people who walk around grumpy all the time have a much tougher time defending their work at the end of the year.
- Ask questions. You have a pass to not know anything! This fades really quickly, so take advantage. Even if you think you know the answer, ask away to be certain. This will help prevent making damaging mistakes.
- Write everything down because there is no excuse for asking the same thing twice.
- Have fun. I know, I know, this is a cheesy one, but it is true. Especially your first day of work, you will likely spend more time with your colleagues than your friends, family and significant others so find ways to make the best of it. Some of my greatest friends to this day are from my analyst training class. We used to text each other from the bathroom stalls when we cried over ridiculous things that definitely didn’t always warrant a cry. We’d get drinks together after we screwed up pitch books and needed a breather, and we’d lend each other the cardigans off our shoulders when one of us discovered a mysterious stain on our blouse right before a meeting. These friendships got me through my first few years.
Shop my work essentials reboot here!