How to Save a Bad First Day

Published: Apr 23, 2013

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Get off to a bumpy start? First, watch this video: it will help put your minor disaster into perspective.

Then, reflect a little with these questions:

1. Was it really that bad?

Sometimes we forget we're not actually walking around with a spotlight on us. What you feel was a majorly conspicuous flub maybe have slipped by everybody else. And if not, it's quite possible they noticed, and forgot. Before over-correcting, try objectively asking yourself if it's worth fretting over.

2. What impression did I make—and how would I like to appear instead?

Sometimes, more than avoiding mistakes, it's the recovery that employers look for.

Let's say you made a slip up like AJ and cursed: what's the poor impression here? Lack of professionalism maybe? Immaturity or unreliability? Seeming a little too tightly wound?

Sometimes, better than addressing an issue at length (AJ's quick Twitter acknowledgement was perfectly short and sweet), you should simply move on and try to showcase your good behavior going forward. Be professional, on the ball; and if you made the mistake of looking a little crass or angry, extra friendly and forgiving--to yourself as well as others.

3. Can I laugh about this?

Sometimes the best strategy for moving on from an embarrassing incident is to address it, but minimize it too. The easiest way to do that is with humor. Take a little jab at yourself (AJ made a comment about "tripping" right out of the gate), or joke that you've purposefully lowered everyone's expectations for your second day. A little humor shows self awareness (you know you messed up, and you're owning it), but also confidence: you're sure you can still be taken seriously, so you're not agonizing over a flub.

4. Do I owe someone an apology?

Sleep on this one. If you report for your second day and still sense some weirdness, don't be afraid to reach out with an apology. A straightforward, sincere acknowledgement of a misstep and desire to correct it could be just the thing to smooth things over. It might even help you form better bonds with your new coworkers than if you hadn't messed up!

Remember, nobody's expecting perfection all the time. A graceful recovery can show much more about your character and ethic than a flawless first day can. So stay positive!

Got a first day coming up and hoping not to embarrass yourself?

Here's a few safeguards:

1. Sleep and eat enough

You'll need to be alert and well fed (bring snacks in case you can't get away from your desk) to keep up.

2. Take notes

Be as self-sufficient as possible—you're new, but no one's going to want to hand hold you. Carry a small notebook around as you get situated and jot notes about what you're learning. It may save you from annoying your new colleagues.

3. Ask questions if you really need to

Don't guess, if it's important. But do be short and sweet in asking. Your coworkers and boss will appreciate your dedication to both accuracy and brevity.

4. Don't try to run the show

Natural leader? Cool. But sit down and clam up for your first few days. You've got a lot to learn and you won't be able to if you're too busy showing (or mouthing) off.

5. Be observant

Not making a fool of yourself is hugely dependent on picking up on the subtle cues around you. Watch people: they've been at the office longer than you and have figured out how to make their way around their jobs through trial and error. Note their dress, how they approach colleagues, how they ask questions (and whether they ask questions first, or only after trying to figure things out alone), and perhaps most importantly, how they recover from snafus. You never know when you'll need that information.

--Cathy Vandewater,

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