Help, I have a real job!
August 20, 2014 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm due to start my first job post-PhD on Monday. It's a tech job outside of academia, vaguely related to my field of study (but not my research). I've never had a job in an office before. What should I expect the first day? What do I need to bring with me (besides documents for an I-9)? What am I supposed to wear? (I'm assuming err on the side of formal relative to what people were wearing when I interviewed, but not as formal as for the interview.)
posted by hoyland to Work & Money (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The right answer to this is to call the HR person that took you through the hiring process and ask. They won't tell your boss and won't think it's a stupid question, I promise.
posted by empath at 7:06 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

The reason I say that is that corporate cultures in tech very widely. I'm working at a large tech company right now and wearing jeans, sneakers and a polo shirt and i'm overdressed compared to the other people on my team.
posted by empath at 7:08 AM on August 20, 2014

When I had the same problem, I emailed the HR person to ask and they had a potted description.
posted by katrielalex at 7:20 AM on August 20, 2014

Response by poster: I am going to contact the HR person (given that I don't know what time I'm meant to arrive!), but am interested in answers generally (assume I am an idiot who has never had a job). For example, what papers do I need to be sure I get copies of? (Health insurance, 401(k)?)
posted by hoyland at 7:27 AM on August 20, 2014

As empath says, check with whoever your contact in the company is. "What's the dress code?" is a perfectly reasonable thing for any new person to ask, even if you've been in the industry for decades.

Plan your route to get to the office (and an alternate). Figure out how long it will take and double it. You can whittle that down over the first few weeks so you're only getting there a little early each day (remember, there is no such thing as "on time" -- there is early and there is late).

On your first day, bring:
  • Small notebook (one that will fit in your pocket is ideal) and pen
  • Copy of your resume
  • Books that you think you'll need at work (manuals, useful reference materials, a good dictionary)
  • One easily transportable "piece of flair" (e.g., sports team pennant, picture of significant other). Don't bring a plant (I once had a co-worker who did that, and she had to walk around with the damn thing all day because they didn't have a desk for her yet, and she was forever known as "Alice With The Plant")
  • Power cord for your phone
  • Headphones (get a new set and a new power cord and just leave them in your desk -- it'll pay off in the long run)
Resist the urge to gossip. Be relentlessly positive. Write down everything. Ask every question that pops into your head, no matter how dumb it seems (knowing where the other bathroom is will come in handy some day).
posted by Etrigan at 7:31 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

If it's a reasonably large company, they'll tell you what to bring and will give you a packet of papers including all the 401k and health insurance things. They'll have all the forms you need to fill out. You'll probably need just your id and social security card. If it's more of a startup, it can be kind of disorganized, but either way HR will have answers for all these questions.
posted by empath at 7:32 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It somewhat depends on how big of a place it is and how complex their HR/benefits/etc. support system is.

What surprised me in my first "grown-up" job was how long it took to get everything sorted out. The HR person did not know all the benefits info. and I was referred to somewhere else for that. Retirement options were handled by yet another person. Basic stuff like accounting for my time and where do I go for Post-Its and pens....also other people. So be prepared for it to possibly take awhile and involve multiple people on your first day(s). Be patient and be persistent if you don't feel like you've got all your questions answered.

On preview -- the notebook rec is a good one for keeping track of all the info. that will be thrown at you.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:32 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wear a nice shirt and have your hair the way you like it, because you will be wearing this picture around your neck for the next few years.

If they told you to bring I-9 documents, bring those. If there were something else you needed, they would have told you that, too.

I have a folder that has a notepad for me to write down useful things, and pockets for me to store documents handed to me. I use it during interviews and on my first day of work. Very handy.

Don't bother bringing anything more than that. This is your first day, but it's the first day of hundreds. Once you see what your desk looks like, you can bring books decor etc. If they want a piece of info you don't have, you'll bring it tomorrow. Most paperwork (related to benefits, 401k, insurance, etc) is online, and you may not get your computer and all your accounts and passwords set up until the end of the first week. There's no rush!
posted by aimedwander at 7:37 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my tech company, the 1st day (hell the 1st week) is surprisingly casual. They bring you around to coworkers, out for lunch, and you really won't be doing much actual work and this is ok, everybody knows this and no one is judging you for not doing work Right Away. It takes time to ramp up. Maybe they'll give you some health & safety training videos to watch and lots of manuals to read in your cube and IT will get you set up with a computer.

Papers to bring etc - the company should drive this process. They'll give you payroll forms to sign, code of conduct to sign etc. Don't worry about that at all.

Social - just sit back and observe. Be nice, positive and wait. It's like a game of double-dutch: watch the patterns of the office and the rhythm of the social scene before you jump in and play.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:40 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Possible exceptions to "they would have told you to bring it":
If they have formalized parking, you'll want to have your license plate number written down someplace.
If you have spouse/dependents, you'll want their SS# written down someplace for whenever you get around to doing insurance stuff.

Basically, they'll give you some forms the first day and whether you fill them out on the spot or turn them in at the end of the week matters very little. But these are two pieces of information I'm always having to call home and ask for.
posted by aimedwander at 7:43 AM on August 20, 2014

There's lots of good advice above.

Go with the flow, ask questions, figure out who the power players are in your office (not necessarily your boss), etc.

Don't assume anything, especially as it pertains to your computers, access to files/software/etc that you need to do your work, security practices (both physical and digital), employee benefits/vacation policies/etc., culture, etc.

As for what to wear: it's sometimes a good idea to look at the way someone two levels above you dresses and emulate that person. In a lot of tech startups, you'll find that the more senior people are the most casually dressed, so this rule is not universally applicable.
posted by dfriedman at 7:47 AM on August 20, 2014

Notebook is also good for names. I was at an office recently for an organization for which I will be volunteering maybe 90 minutes a week, and was introduced in short order to half a dozen people, only two of whose names remain in my memory. Even if you jot down something like "mustache - Fred, redhead - Amy" it will help anchor them in your memory.
posted by zadcat at 8:00 AM on August 20, 2014

I wouldn't bring books or stuff to decorate on your very first day. Often there isn't a set place for you to sit yet. The first week (as noted above) you probably won't have everything you need - cube, computer, phone, etc. It's mostly about getting you in all of the various systems. They will probably also have you sit with people to start learning about your job and company.

I would ask HR but basically plan to dress nicely (as you've planned). As noted above, you'll be wearing a picture taken on your first day on your badge for years, so be ready for that. A notebook and your I-9s are good. You'll get copies of your insurance paperwork, or they will show you where to download them. As noted above, write down your car make/model/license plate in case you need it for a parking pass.

Congratulations! You'll do fine :)
posted by RogueTech at 8:26 AM on August 20, 2014

If you want to set up direct deposit you'll want to know your bank routing # and account #. These are printed on your checks, some payroll departments want a voided check so they don't have to take your word for the #s.

Of course this can wait, but if you're like me you'll want to get your payroll info set up ASAP.
posted by mr vino at 8:50 AM on August 20, 2014

You might want your bank's routing number handy to fill out direct-deposit forms.
posted by jgirl at 8:50 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

All great advice above. Expect the first day to be pretty casual where they set you up in the company systems, HR, payroll, IT.

You won't go far wrong dressing business casual, and you can check with HR on specifics.

Definitely be friendly and curious, but don't take it too far. To every friend that has started work at an office, I drilled into them - YOU ARE NOT THERE TO MAKE FRIENDS. It sounds a bit harsh and friendships can definitely develop with the right people, over time.

But I've seen far too many people at the start of their career befriend the wrong people at the office - 'the backstabber' or 'the gossip' or get in with some clique without understanding the politics or which boss hates whom, and have intense, unpleasant drama at work as a result.

For the first few months it really really pays to be friendly, professional, and really noncommittal about your personal life. You're there to work, not make friends. If you do - great! But it's better to not look for it, expect it, and get too involved with too many people and their drama.
posted by tatiana131 at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've worked as a consultant programmer, so I've had a bunch of first days. One thing that drove me nuts was the number of questions I had to ask. How do I get a user name? Where do I get program x which is missing from the PC? Who do I ask to give me user rights on the directory? Etc. Something new every 2 minutes.

Do your best to be resourceful, but then just ask. It takes about a week just to assemble the tools and get a bit of context.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2014

Bring enough CASH to be certain you can buy your lunch (presuming there is a cafeteria) Don't assume they will take plastic (they probably will, but its best not to be surprised). Also, have some change to use if there is a coffee/soda/snack machine you want to access.

Best advice I ever got was to bring a small "back-up" lunch "just in case", particularly if you haven't seen the cafeteria setup during a tour, etc.
posted by anastasiav at 11:10 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

All my 'first days' have been short circuited by a giant institutional employee orientation, but my 'second day' advice is to wear something nice but comfortable, as you might be setting up your office / machine and no one likes crawling around in a pencil skirt if it can be helped.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:12 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just started a new job last week in the IT department. We have a business casual dress code. This means slacks and polos for dudes, and tops with slacks or skirts or dresses for chicks. Friday is jeans day! My first day I wore and office dress. Had I been a dude, I'd have worn Khakis and a button-down shirt.

My first day, I did some HR stuff, and some Computer Based Training that was laid out for me by the training department. There's usually: Safety, Ethics and the Company Indoctrination Video. You sit, you absorb and you do what people tell you and stay out of their hair if they're busy.

Things that look like you're busy: Checking out the employee website/intranet, checking out the customer-facing website, going through your benefit information, signing onto the HR website to sign up for your benefits.

Then I started getting meeting invitations, and then transition stuff, and I'm still doing that. So I'm learning the systems, the methods, etc.

Hang loose. No one expects you to start cranking it out right off the bat.

As for what to bring:

1. Pen and notebook

2. Messenger bag, in case they don't give you a case for your laptop.

Wait a week or so before moving your "flair" in. I brought my bamboo plant on Monday, a week after I had started. I don't think I'll bring in much more than that. It's just not that kind of office.

Here's a question I wish I had asked: When will I get paid. Turns out I started half-way through the pay cycle, so I'll get a weeks extra pay on my check on the 29th. Good thing I have a cushion.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:57 PM on August 20, 2014

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