Can I ask her what I should wear?
June 10, 2014 6:14 PM   Subscribe

I have been invited to lunch on my first day at a mid-sized federal agency by a fellow analyst. What should we talk about?

She'll be acting in a mentor role for me so I'm trying to figure out how open to be with my questions, and how to approach this relationship. My main concern right now is the transition from academia to government work...and basically just understanding working for the federal government. I feel this may be too broad and are cultural-social things I'll learn when I'm there.

What are some smart/effective questions or topics to ask?

Also, bonus question: what do I wear on my first day? I felt silly asking her this in the email.
posted by inevitability to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Asking what to wear for your first day at a new job is absolutely not a silly or unprofessional question, especially to someone who will be your mentor.
posted by elizardbits at 6:36 PM on June 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you have a good rapport with your future mentor, ask her anything! Broad questions are fine. Some things that were harder for me when moving from academia to the government were that my work is now dictated by outside factors, the amount of bureaucracy, and getting used to working in fiscal years with budgets. I might ask her what the basic schedule is during the year - for us, we have planning in some months, and writing lots of reports in others. Maybe ask about the hierarchy of your organization - there are probably groups nested within groups.

What to wear - depends on your agency and department and area. DC tends to be more formal (suits for many) and then it gets less formal as you move west. Nice pants and a collared shirt probably work for most men or women, outside of the DC metro agencies. I wear dark jeans and a collared shirt with a cardigan or blazer nearly every day, and I'm better dressed than most in my office. Some agencies have a no jeans policy, so swap them out for nicer pants, and you'll be fine. Good luck!
posted by umwhat at 6:41 PM on June 10, 2014

How exciting! Go broad.

- what do you wish you'd known when you first started? What do you wish you'd done differently?
- what did you not realize you'd enjoy about this job? What were you surprised by?
- what skills have you found most useful?
- where do you see yourself in five years?
- what are some common mistakes you've seen people make when they start in this position/department/etc
- what did you find most challenging in the beginning?
- what do you find most challenging now?

I've had multiple people call me to ask about what to wear and I always found it charming, plus it gave me a chance to reinforce a connection prior to them actually starting.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:47 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well first, bring notecards. Make sure that you have backups of your topics in a notebook...

Screw that. Make it casual and fun for your "mentor" so she doesn't feel 'on stage' for you. You'll get a lot more distance from this mentor if she had lunch with you once per week and you only discusses professional pursuits for 5 minutes than if you have lunch with it once, and you spend one hour clumsily bringing up topics.

Try to make this a pleasant lunch, so it can be repeated.

As for what to talk about, just be yourself.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:10 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

In general, I think that starting a new job is a great opportunity to ask lots of questions and get perspective from your new colleagues. In addition to general questions about the job (and I really like the one about the rhythm of the year - my office revolves around a fiscal year and a major conference), I'd definitely ask about her career path so far, since this is a nice way of getting to know her and learning more about the agency.

One thing to consider: is she your mentor because she wants to be, or because she was assigned to be as part of an HR process? Our office assigns everyone a mentor, and some people are into it and take it seriously, and others really have no interest. I would hold back a little until you have a sense of whether she's a "real" mentor or not.

Regarding your first day, if you're still in DC, then answer is probably wear a suit and you can always take off the jacket if you feel overdressed. I would wear something that includes a jacket, anyhow, even if you go with separates. You might have your picture taken, or be introduced to someone senior, and it's really a better alternative to being underdressed and making a bad first impression.
posted by chocotaco at 7:12 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, bonus question: what do I wear on my first day? I felt silly asking her this in the email.

Dress UP rather than down on your first day. This tells everyone that you are fucking serious about this job, and you should be taken seriously by them.

That'll get the ball rolling. Good luck at your new job.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:16 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Instead of phrasing it "what should I wear?" ask her what the dress code is like at the office. Many offices have dress codes on the books that no one follows too closely -- she'll probably respond with what she wears, and just follow that.

It's not a weird question at all. I've asked this to a supervisor before I started a job and I don't think she thought it was weird.
posted by mibo at 3:52 AM on June 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wear a suit on your first day. Then make note of what others are wearing and do that.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:35 AM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always ask about the dress code. Then I dress up a notch.

I work in the software industry and apparently they just don't bother. Most of us dress at the low end of 'business attire' but some of the developers...yeah, it's interesting.

So go ahead and email her and say, "What time should I be there on Monday and what's the dress code in the office."

She should be able to give you a guideline.

As for discussion, let her take the lead. If you can ask her, what she believes that you need to concentrate on most in your first 30 days.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:17 AM on June 11, 2014

Thanks all! Super helpful!
posted by inevitability at 2:35 PM on June 12, 2014

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