Everything you do or say your first days on a new job labels you.
Whoever said you never get a second chance to make a good first impression had it right. Researchers have found that not only do people form opinions about others in less than one-tenth of a second, longer acquaintance does not substantially change those opinions.
Fortunately, at a new job you do have more wiggle room than a tenth of a second. Unless your new co-workers were gunning for the post you just landed, most people will be inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt for the simple reason that you come, for lack of a better word, preapproved. The powers-that-be hired you, after all, so you must be OK.
All you have to do is not squander that built-in goodwill.
One smart approach is to resist criticizing the “way things are done.” Nobody likes it when a newbie comes in and starts pointing out inefficiencies, even if said newbie was hired to point out inefficiencies. For the first week, dedicate yourself to listening and understanding. You can make changes later.
Also, be careful about establishing alliances. Be especially wary of the overly friendly colleague. This person may be out to reel you in to whatever craziness he or she has going on (it seems there is someone like this in every workplace). Get to know the lay of the land before committing yourself to relationships.
This one is easy: Don’t behave as if small tasks are beneath you. Even if you were hired as CEO, you still don’t want to come off as a snob. So bear with the minutiae. Every job has them.
Finally, remember that little things you do (or don’t do) during your first week take on a significance all out of proportion to their true importance. For example, coming in 10 minutes late on your third day may lead people to label you as a person who is often tardy. You will retain this label even if you are on time every single day for the next two years. Oddly, the reverse is also true. Once you’ve established a reputation for promptness you can occasionally be late and no one will seem to notice.
Making an extra effort that first week always pays off in the long run.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.