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Conquering first day at first job fears

Moving from the structured educational environment of varsity into your first job is daunting for most people. Even where higher education adequately prepared students about what to expect, taking that first step into the world of work is often accompanied by fear of the unknown, and doubt about one’s ability to be successful.

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However there are a few tips that can be followed to make this transition less scary, an expert says.

“Anxiety can occur for many different reasons, but the most common ones are feeling unprepared to enter the workplace, or doubt about one’s ability to fit into the organisation and coping with the work,” says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information Technology at The Independent Institute of Education.

“Because the workplace is also less structured than higher education, new recruits often don’t know how they fit in the bigger picture, what to do or who to speak to. While some graduates feel empowered by their qualification and enter the workplace with the expectation that they will easily conquer their jobs, a larger percentage find the prospect of a new environment pretty scary.

“Feelings of being inadequately prepared, despite having completed work integrated learning as part of their qualification, are common. Because although good institutions of higher learning offer support and a structured, predictable environment, a job is an individual experience where the support and structure of the past 15 years are no longer there.”

Payne says that, because new job anxiety stems mostly from a fear of the unknown, the key to overcoming this is to have a clear understanding of a company’s culture and the job that needs to be done.

She says that before starting a new job, the new appointee must gather as much information about the position and employer as possible. This will lead to the person feeling empowered and, by extension, less jittery and prone to missteps. Some of the points to consider are:

  • Thinking who, what, when, where and how, and trying to find answers to those questions before you start.
  • Getting the name and phone number of the first person you’ll report to on the first day – this could be an HR officer or your direct manager or colleague.
  • Confirming driving directions using an online map service such as Google Maps and finding out where you will park.
  • Asking for an indication of the agenda planned for you during your first day or week so you know what to expect. For example, are there any department or company meetings, or orientation for new employees? What are the outputs you will be responsible for during your initial few weeks? How much time will you be given to settle in?
  • Knowing the exact hours you’ll arrive, break for lunch and leave, and plan to arrive early. In your first few weeks, try to put in some extra time during lunchtime and after hours, so as not to get a reputation as a clock-watcher.
  • Asking for an outline of your job description and key deliverables. Knowing what is expected of you – even if you don’t know how you are going to manage it – is a good frame of reference to work from.

“Go to bed early and do the best job you can on your first day. Be friendly and willing to learn, and don’t worry about anything else, such as having to make a phenomenal impression from the word go,” says Payne.

“Most companies allow a learning period of 60 to 90 days before your performance will be reviewed. Don’t push yourself too hard initially, because that can cause you to make more mistakes. Listen to instructions and ask questions if you’re unsure. And just always ensure that you are delivering the very best you can,” she says.

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