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Career Advice » Making it beyond the first day of the job: My tips for standing out at your first job!

Posted: 11 November 2019 by Tendai Banda

Making it beyond the first day of the job: My tips for standing out at your first job!

The most exciting moment for any job hunter after undergoing a series of tough interviews, is receiving that call or email informing you that you got the job. Having a job offer in a very difficult job market like ours is a huge blessing.

As your date of reporting to work fast approaches, however, it dawns upon you how you are going to survive the first day at work. How are you going to survive a new working environment, new people, a new boss, a new organisational culture and many many more? How are you going to impress upon your boss? This happened to me too. This is why I am sharing my experiences and what I learned from others through advice and reading. I survived my first day and I am sure you will too.  


Surviving the first day: first impressions count 

This is the most important day of your journey with the organization/company, so hell yeah, you better make it count. While human beings are not homogenous, but I believe most of them will remember or forget about you after the first encounter. When am talking about remembering you I don’t mean by name but at least something about this new person who has joined their team. One thing to note is that you may not have much control over how awkward or weird your first day will be, so you better just let it sink in. However, you can decide how you want to make your first mark at an organization. I have always tried to be 15-30 minutes early, have a notebook with me to take notes, put my phone on vibration and of course wear my best outfit and wear a smile on my face. I do this with the hope that, coupled with my nods and questions during the orientation sessions for that day, makes me appear like a "cool" addition to the team, which of course I am, but they are yet to find out.

The bottom line is - first days are unpredictable so don’t be too hard on yourself - if you don’t do your best, you have the rest of your employment period to prove them otherwise. How you are going to prove them wrong and deliver, however, may not be covered during your orientation sessions. Well at least, in my experience.  While the orientation sessions may cover what the organization is about, how you are going to do what’s expected of you in your position, policies and procedures, and the paperwork, little may be done to tell you what to do to excel in your job. To be honest, they expect you to delivery - this is what you told them during the interviews.  For first timers, this may affect your performance and not deliver to the expected level or fail to unleash their full potential as they may not have the right skills and experience in how to stand out and hit the ground running without less hand-holding. 


In line with this platform's objective, I am happy to share my experiences.  Here are some five tips for adapting and shining at your new job:


1. Understand your assignment

I know you may be thinking this is common sense, but I thought I should still re-emphasize the importance of understanding the employer's expectations in your role. Before a soldier is sent on a mission, they make sure that they have understood the mission. This is done I believe to ensure that they don’t come back without completing what they were sent to do. This is the same for any other job too. Ensure that you read the job description and contract fully to get a sense of what you are supposed to do and start conceptualizing how you are going to execute your small tasks which shall contribute to achieving your outputs and deliverables.

Set your own small goals or targets for the role. Many are the times when people finish an internship or fellowship and state that they never learnt anything new or acquired transferrable skills that would help them become employable. This is why it is important to set personal objectives and goals at the start. Jobs or internships should be about professional and personal growth.

2. Be creative. Establish work relationships that help you settle early

Work settings differ from one organisation to another. in some settings you meet people who will just embrace you and do whatever it takes to make you feel at home and help you aclimatise to the new organisational culture. In other settings, you will have to do some hard work to establish working relationships. If you happen to end up at a place where everybody seems less welcoming and focusing on their own work, then this is where the creativity must come in. In most cases, people may not have warmed up enough to you because you are new, and they think you need some time to find your feet or they are just not the in your face type of people. However, when you creatively reach out to them you may be surprised at how nice they are.


I can tell of a time in 2017 when I had the opportunity to do a 6 weeks professional development experience in the United States of America at Atlas Corps in Washington DC, as part of my Mandela Washington Fellowship. This was an American institution full of officials, interns and the Atlas Corps Fellows from all over the world and there I was a girl from Malawi trying to find a way to adapt in the shortest time as much as I could. The team was not the in your face people type (I like this term for some reason), so I had to think of creative ways to make them warm up to me.


One of my notable strategy was to befriend the interns. These were mostly about my age or younger and doing the same tasks as me to support Atlas Corps fellows and volunteers. One of the funny ways I did this was going early to the office most of the times. Keys to the building were not given to interns or short stay staff so when one got to the entrance of the building they had to ask on the GroupMe (like a Whatsapp group) if someone was already inside the office to come with the elevator key to open. I would always be grateful when somebody did that for me, which made me realize I could also do the same for the interns and while waiting for the elevator to reach our floor we could spark a short conversation. It did not take long before I started receiving lunch invitations, and exchanging tips on how to use the printer and execute other tasks. This was very important for my happiness at the workplace. 

3. Be proactive  

I feel like as Malawians, we are not taught enough how being proactive is very pertinent to excelling in life. Remember all the nice stuff you highlighted on your CV or said in your interviews like - am a self-motivated’ person, or someone who works well under pressure? Well chances are you may not be asked to show what you said but if you want to increase your prospects of being hired after the internship or getting confirmed after your probation you need to find a way to showcase this. Offer to help your boss, volunteer on tasks and make yourself available from day one.  I read one article ( that clearly expounds on this. The article says that a proactive employee seeks out opportunities to get work done, whether or not it was asked of them. Going out of your way to complete projects and get work done is a great way to be recognized by your superiors. So, don’t wait to be asked the progress of a task, ensure that you are completing your tasks and even taking on other follow-up ones related to your position.

4. Use your other non-work-related talents at any opportunity 


Related to being proactive, I have also found that utilizing personal talents helps adapting to new teams and work settings quickly. For every job or volunteer role I did prior to my current job, I found that adapting to the environment and being part of the team as a very determinant factor in a role’s success.


Key to this is utilizing other inborn or learned talents where needed. I remember while working with UNICEF-Malawi, in the first few month, I was a Mistress of Ceremonies or photographer for staff association events such as farewell lunch for staff and children’s day as well as facilitating staff meetings when it was our section’s turn. Did I have an option to say NO? Yes I did have. But a NO wouldn’t have taken me anywhere. However, I knew this was an opportunity to get to know more members of the big UNICEF team and to expose my talents too.

5. Be observant and open minded


Every organization has its own culture and systems that sustain it. The sooner you can learn the key elements of such culture the easier it becomes for you to adapt and perform the expectations of your role. You learn much about the culture during orientation. I believe most of the learning is done through observation. Understanding how staff in your section or team carry out their activities, how they present themselves at meetings, and how they help each other to complete tasks, are some of the things to observe and understand how the organisation works. You should be open-minded that work environments are different and what you expected may not be the reality.

All in all, strive to be unforgettable in the workplace. Once you ensure that you understand the assignment, set your goals and achieve them fully and with quality, you will be remembered as a top performer. By establishing effective work relationships, you will be embraced as part of the team and if it’s an internship they will still remember you as part of the team such that if an opportunity comes they can recommend you, based on your performance too of course. Being proactive will set you apart from the group of interns or newbies as you will reach out for opportunities to perform well and execute even other tasks outside your role. Reaching out for opportunities to mix with the team using your talents will help you adapt well to the team. Being observant and open-minded will also enable you to embrace faster the work environment and many setbacks you are going to meet along the way.


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    Tendai Banda

    Tendai Banda is a Development Specialist with over 5 years experience in youth development, project management and research. She holds a Masters in Development Studies. Tendai was a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow (YALI) and a 2018 Fellow of Brown University’s International Advanced Research Institute (BIARI) focusing on social entrepreneurship. She is passionate about girls and youth empowerment and  volunteers with various local organizations. She received the 2018 GESU Inspirational Woman of the Year award in recognition of her voluntary work. She works at the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Malawi as the Cultural Affairs Specialist. She has been featured in the local media: GESU Inspirational Woman of the Year (2018) & Mentoring youth for a better tomorrow ;

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