Have any tips on getting adjusted to an office job?
June 21, 2016 9:29 PM   Subscribe

I have worked all my life in restaurants. Today, after a lonnnng job search, I scored a really good job with a really great engineering company as a Customer Service Assistant in an office. I am 23. Like the question above says, do you have any tips for adjusting well? I really want to do great in this role and make great impressions.

So. There are a few categories that I am concerned about.

Commute. For the other 2 places I have worked, I have had a 5-10 minute commute. I will now have about a 40 minute commute to my work and back with lots of traffic (would only be 25 min w/o traffic). This will take some adjusting to but it shouldn't be too bad. I have had a problem with being just on time or a few minutes late in the past but this cannot happen anymore at my new job.

Schedule. I currently work all over the place, from 4am to 11pm. I've been working part time for a while now while job searching but will now be working full time 8-5. The regular schedule will be great for me I think. The long work week will take some getting used to though,.

The thing I'm most worried about is fitting in with everyone though. The woman who is my supervisor seemed really nice and outgoing and friendly, and she said she likes me and is impressed and thinks I will fit in really well with the other girls in the department. I think most people are much older than me. I had a second interview today with her boss and he said it's hard to tell if I'll fit in until I start working but he thinks I'll do fine. He feels he is taking a chance on me because I don't have any experience in this type of role or environment, but he was willing to take the risk. I felt that in the interview with him I followed really well with what he was saying but when it was my turn to talk I was really nervous and fumbled a bit and couldn't think of much to ask him because he seemed to cover everything.

I'm a really quiet person and although I feel I can write decently, I think my spoken communication needs work. I am really shy and self conscious, traits that I would love to just go away, and I worry about how I'm going to hold my own in the office. I don't really understand office culture. And I think we all eat together in the break room, and I don't want to be the weird one sitting alone! I'd probably rather sit alone if no one knew about me spending my time alone. I probably need to be more social though.

So anyone have any rookie tips for someone starting their first professional-ish job? Also, my boss' boss said that this is a company that doesn't care about age and seniority; if you do your job well and show you can lead then you will be promoted. He said there is lots of room for advancement and I'd really like to start growing a career.
posted by anon1129 to Work & Money (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Don't talk too much about yourself. Don't give unsolicited opinions on things. Go out for lunch, if you can – 8 to 5 is a long haul, especially after working part time or changing shift work, and you need to get up and move around in the middle of the day, get some air.

Be friendly and pleasant, but, at the risk of repeating myself, be cautious in what you tell people about your personal life, experiences and ideas. Don't assume anyone being friendly is honestly interested in being your friend; I don't mean you should be paranoid, but remember these people are not your friends, you have to keep a little civil distance with them.

This is from many years of working in various settings.
posted by zadcat at 9:43 PM on June 21, 2016 [8 favorites]

Avoid office draaaama. Go out for lunch, yes, but be cautious and hyper-selective about after-work socialising, especially if it's boozy. Leave when your day's done and you want to leave, don't be lulled into presenteeism by the people around you.
posted by holgate at 9:50 PM on June 21, 2016

Read Ask a Manager on the regular. I worked in offices for over 20 years, and I still learn things there.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:55 PM on June 21, 2016 [12 favorites]

Ask A Manager has some advice here; it's written for recent college grads, but I think some of the points might be helpful for you.
posted by neushoorn at 9:55 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, my boss' boss said that this is a company that doesn't care about age and seniority; if you do your job well and show you can lead then you will be promoted.

Heads up: that kind of language can hint at conflict with a union, or that someone's worried about one forming. If that seems to be the case, you should decide for yourself how you feel about it, rather than taking anyone's word on the topic, because it's generally very polarizing. (On the other hand, he might just really mean it.)
posted by teremala at 9:59 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Refer to the others in the office as women, not girls.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:06 PM on June 21, 2016 [18 favorites]

You will be ok. This just sounds like first-day-of-school jitters to me. You will get the hang of it pretty soon and start to feel comfortable, and then you'll feel like yourself again. Don't let this boss guy make you feel like he's doing you a favor by "taking a chance" on you. You have just as much a right to that job as anyone else. Just relax and show up ready to learn.

Seconding the advice above to not get too personal and remember these people aren't your friends.
posted by bleep at 10:16 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh and also don't be nervous to ask questions if you don't understand something or you don't remember how to do something. Don't feel like you can't ask a question because you already bothered so-and-so a few minutes ago. They'd rather you ask than make a mistake because you were shy.
posted by bleep at 10:18 PM on June 21, 2016

Congratulations on your new job! For your commute, check out a variety of audio books from your public library. For me, audio books greatly reduce the stress from driving during rush hour.

I think the schedule may be your biggest adjustment. Since your previous work was in a restaurant, you're probably accustomed to being on your feet, moving about, and lots of activity. In an office, you’re likely to have long stretches of time in which you’re seated and focused on specific tasks. Be sure to take breaks away from your desk, when allowed.

If you'll have an assigned desk or work station, consider bringing a couple items to display – this will help you to feel more at ease and can act as a conversation starter. If you have a pet, definitely bring a picture of your pet in a cute frame – there are bound to be animal lovers among your coworkers.

Consider bringing a book with you to the break room, but be prepared to put it aside to chit chat with your co-workers. Don’t hide behind the book – instead deliberately put it down or close it as others join you. The book may just serve as a conversation starter or, if needed, it may help you to feel less conspicuous.
posted by kbar1 at 10:21 PM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to keep a notebook of some sort with me at all times, and be diligent about writing stuff down. Especially during the first few weeks, there's so much information overload/culture shock it's easy to get overwhelmed.
posted by Tamanna at 10:53 PM on June 21, 2016 [13 favorites]

Don't worry about fitting in. I'm super shy but I ended up doing fine at my last job. The thing is, when you work together there is almost always something to talk about. A job gives you a lot in common. You can always crab about traffic and how the coffee machine is busted again. (Just be sure you're not crabbing more than anybody else. You don't want to be the office crab.)

Be curious and eager. Be friendly, but don't fawn. You're trying to keep your flaws to yourself, but that doesn't mean you have to be some perfect smiling co-worker robot. Be yourself, mostly.

Start listening to podcasts or audiobooks during your commute. They'll make traffic a lot more bearable than music would. With music you're starting a new song every few minutes, and it makes traffic seem like it lasts forever, but a good podcast keeps your brain busy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:12 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lots of good advice already.

Just on the time keeping - set off in good time to arrive 15-20 minutes before your actual start time at least for the first few days. Arriving a few minutes late will create a really bad impression and arriving a little early can't hurt. Once you know the end to end timings in different conditions and have a feel for the culture around timekeeping you can relax a bit more.
posted by crocomancer at 3:07 AM on June 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Each office has its own culture about when people leave and when people arrive and this can include staying/working very late. I recommend establishing at the beginning that there are several days when you leave the office at a ‘normal’ time. (i.e. 5:30 PM on Tuesday and Thursdays (or whatever).

Give a short explanation that you have crossfit, knitting, tennis, spinning or whatever hobby you have or can make up. If you establish this from the beginning, no one will think twice when you leave every Tuesday / Thursday at you time.
posted by jazh at 3:59 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding not to get involved in office drama. Depending on the culture of this place, you may be seen as fresh meat for the gossip hounds that want to suck you in to their side of whatever the latest drama is. Be friendly and professional but reserved. People who you think are your friends will stab you in the back at promotion time. When people want to give you a "heads up about Sally," it's usually gossip or recruiting. Make your own decisions about the quality of people's character as you get to know them.

Do NOT connect with office folk via social media. Keep your personal life private.

I'm not saying that you can't meet friends at work (my closest friend is a former coworker) but don't treat the office as a place to meet new friends.

As for your oral communication -- when I was younger and less outspoken, I frequently observed the people around me and paid attention to the ways that they spoke (phrasing, vocal inflections, speech patterns) and I practiced mimicking them alone at home or in the car to try out different ways of expressing myself. I then morphed what I thought were successful ways of communicating into my own natural way of speaking so i wasn't the clone of someone else verbally. You will also develop a more natural way of speaking in the office once you know your job and can speak confidently about what you do. Give it time.
posted by archimago at 4:14 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

You'll get the hang of talking quickly enough. You're just worried because it's new, not because it's hard. If you've waited tables before, you'll have no trouble.

At every job, there's someone who really runs things even if they're not the boss. Find that person, become friendly with him/her, and follow his/her example. Likewise, there's one person who just doesn't get things. Find that person, and watch what he/she does so you can do the opposite.

You'll get used to the schedule quickly. It'll feel kind of long at first, but because you're not on your feet running around, you won't be as tired, so you won't feel like you need it to be the weekend on Wednesday.

I agree with the advice to take notes on everything.

Last piece of advice: don't worry so much. There are problems with every job, but the vast majority are minor and work out fine. Your new co-workers are not going to be cliquey mean girls, you're not going to forget everything you were trained on, and there isn't some secret code that you have to master. You'll be fine! Good luck!
posted by kevinbelt at 4:47 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're going from a job where you're on your feet all day to one when you're sitting down most of the time, plan on getting some sort of regular exercise after work or during lunch. Take walks, stretch, whatever. I went from a super-fit guy in my 20s to a desk job and it took me about three weeks before I had the physique of Jabba the Hutt.

Really jobs are jobs. Every job, be it at a restaurant or an office, will have the same sort of characters. The bully, the gossip, the whiner, etc. Offices do tend to have a few more people who will stab people in the back or do anything in order to get ahead. Watch out for them.

There will be the office talker, the person who stops by every desk to chat for 20 minutes. Some chat is fine but the bosses notice when people are standing around talking for long periods of time. Make some polite "how was your weekend" talk and then politely tell them that you have some work to do.

There's people who brag about never taking sick days, or working until 8:00 every night. Good for them. Take sick days if you're sick. Take time off. Go home at 5:00 most nights. Everyone is expendable. There is very little reward for sacrificing your personal time for the company, no matter what they tell you. Do your job well while you're at work, then leave it at work and enjoy your life.

It's 2016, people don't need directions as to how to use voice mail. "Hi, this is anon1129 please leave a message" is all you need, or better yet the default message if it uses your name. There's a special place in hell for people with long outgoing messages. "When you hear the beep, please leave your name, number..."

When you're bored, you can make a little pig out of an eraser and five push pins.
posted by bondcliff at 7:14 AM on June 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Archimago's point about social media is a good one. No co-workers or clients on Facebook, Twitter or (God forbid) Snapchat or Instagram. But set up a LinkedIn page if you don't have one and accept your co-workers and clients there.

Schedule: if you are exempt (i.e., not entitled to overtime) arrive before your boss and leave after your boss, and stay as late as you have to finish anything you agreed to have done by the next morning. If that ends up with you working too late too often, be more conservative in what you promise.

Appearance at work is a uniform. People who go to work "out of uniform" will always be penalized for it one way or another. Find physical appearance role models -- women with your general body type who are higher-ranked in the organization in their late 20s or 30s. Emulate their approach to clothes, hair, shoes, makeup, visible piercings and tattoos.

Be NICE. The cliques that you have to be a nasty gossip to join, you can afford not join. Accept every lunch and after-works drinks invitation from a group or another woman. But be reasonably wary of solo invitations from men -- any organization above a certain size has men who will routinely have impure intentions for a newly-arrived 23-year-old woman, and the offices do NOT have the tolerance for dating / affairs / whatever that restaurants can have.

After you have feet under you for your basic duties, be aggressive in seeking new opportunities. "Can I sit on that meeting?" "Can I visit that client with you?" Make the first mode of your aggression about observation and learning; no one takes that badly, but even your most heartfelt or well-considered suggestion or analysis can go awry until you have a lot more seasoning under you.
posted by MattD at 8:22 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Develop a schedule that allows you to get to work on time, 110% of the time. If your commute takes 40 minutes, assume it takes 60 and develop a morning routine accordingly. If you don't want to get to the office too early, this might mean scheduling some time to talk a pre-work walk or coffee shop visit in the morning before you come in. This is especially true during your probation period.

Be good at observing people, and learn who's really good at influencing others and getting stuff done. Don't mimic them, but instead identify qualities of theirs that you'd like to cultivate in yourself and work at it. You're not just an employee, but you're an ethnographer too.

When you're in your early 20's and working with a bunch of similarly-aged people, it's important to develop a sort of sanitized off-hours persona so you can relate to people about stuff that's not work while keeping the less-fun stuff about your personal life well under wraps. You need to appear to have a personal life in order to build rapport, but it needs to be the right sort of personal life, which will depend on your office culture. Be interesting, and interested. Get good at small talk, and become someone who people can have a quick chat with and invariably come away feeling better about their day. It might not come naturally to you, but damn, it's bankable.

The women (and men, for that matter) in your office who are slightly older and senior to you are not your friends, they're potentially your role models. Respect that they're not really your peers and that they need to keep some professional distance from you - they're not bitches, it's just business. The expectations around compartmentalizing might look different than in your previous jobs.

Above all, don't worry.

Perhaps give How To Be Useful and Great On The Job a read or listen - they're both very good books on how to carry yourself effectively in a white-collar environment. I'll nth the suggestions upthread to read Ask A Manager, and also add The Daily Muse - there's a fair bit there that's entry-level-friendly.
posted by blerghamot at 9:04 AM on June 22, 2016

One of the biggest things I found making exactly the same transition years ago (bartending to office) was to remember and ask more questions. Write down questions when there's nobody to answer it immediately. Get to know as much of the business as you can, and don't feel like your question is too stupid to ask.

There are basic things like how to find couriers, where to get more dish cleaner, etc. that we all have and are not intuitive in most offices. It may seem simple to you, but it's probably not.

Defer a little bit to the office culture. If most people eat together, sit with them. Three months from now, you can stop if you prefer the alone time, but at least in the beginning it's a good idea to show interest in your coworkers.

Ask for check-ins with your immediate supervisor one week, two weeks, and one month in. This is an opportunity for them to provide you constructive feedback and to avoid you unknowingly doing something wrong. Mistakes are fine, as is learning on the job, however it's better to know the mistakes you've made so you can correct them than not.

Be kind to others. Offer to help people out if you have the time/ability - this will often endear you to your colleagues. Find a mentor (may not be your supervisor) who's willing to help you get to know the industry you're in better. Avoid gossip like the plague.
posted by scrittore at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2016

Seconding the advice to take a notebook everywhere and write notes. Instead of interrupting a meeting with a basic question, save up questions that arise and ask them later (unless it's very short, like, "What does that acronym stand for?"). When you ask questions, ask GOOD questions - questions that show that you've already thought about the issue and aren't expecting your co-workers to do everything for you.

"What should I do next?" is an annoying question by itself. "I have done X and Y, and both A and B seem like they might be good next steps. A seems like a quicker solution, but B seems more sustainable. Which one do you think is more appropriate?" is a better way to frame it.

Be engaged and pay attention, but don't jump in your second week thinking that you have thought of a brand new solution nobody has thought of before. Take some time to learn the organization and your projects and prove yourself first.

Be dependable. If you start to run into issues with a project, tell your supervisor as soon as you know it's a problem, and present both the problem and your proposed solution. Do NOT just try to hide it in the hopes that it will get better and your supervisor will never need to know. Supervisors know that things go wrong; they need good, up-to-date information so they can manage this when it happens. The best thing for a supervisor is to have an employee where they can say "If I give this project to anon, I know that it will be taken care of, and I don't have to worry about it unless anon tells me something is going wrong."
posted by oblique red at 10:51 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Make sure you stick up for yourself. Expectations about the workload you're willing to take on and the amount of office bullshit you're willing to put up with will be set within the first few months and could stick with you for years. Especially because you're new and young, people are likely to try to take advantage of you in subtle and perhaps not so subtle ways. If something doesn't seem right, trust your gut and speak up about it. If people find out they can walk all over you and you won't protest, they're going to keep doing it.

It sounds like you're worried about making a good impression, i.e. you want other people to like you, but like others have said, work is not primarily about forming social connections. Focus on being professional, not "nice."
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:39 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Look out for yourself. Yup sounds simple but it is required because no one else will. That includes your time/energy/money and effort.
posted by metajim at 2:51 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

A small thing about working with a lot of older staff- I notice that a lot of older people I work with (of course not all by a long stretch) have many feelings about the pervasiveness of mobile phone, and the use of them in daily life. It's a little prejudice that means that if I read the newspaper on my phone at lunch I get a bunch of annoying comments about young people today, Facebook, attention spans of the youth, etc. I am 34...eye roll. And senior enough that I just ignore them but if I was not I might avoid being conspicuously on my phone a lot, even for very legit reasons like taking notes or reading the paper.
posted by jojobobo at 1:59 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

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