Navigating first days

January 16, 2021
Level Up

This week I started my new role, almost 6 months since I left London and arrived in Dubai. This wasn't the plan. I expected to be at least 3 months in by now but, as we all know, 2020 had other ideas.

First days are always a little nervewracking as you want to make a good impression, but this time around it felt a little different. The longest time I've taken between roles is a few weeks and, since the end of 2012 I've never not worked. So whilst I was raring to go, it also felt a little bit like the first day at school.

Here are some of the things I've focused on as I've navigated my first week.

Photo by Nikolai Chernichenko on Unsplash

Quieten the little voice instead your head

If you're starting something new, chances are the little voice is asking lots of questions:

  • do you remember how to be an EA?
  • will people like you?
  • will you settle in?

The key is to leverage doubts and remind yourself of who you are and what you're capable of. You've also been hired to do a role! Even if you can't see it today, your new company definitely saw your skill and potential.

Being honest, I was terrified I had forgotten how to be an EA, that all the skills I've developed and honed would have disappeared - poof! - in the six months I didn't work. So I really held onto the truth that being an assistant isn't something you forget: the skills might get a little rusty but that doesn't mean they're gone!

Self doubt is a normal part of life, especially when trying something new. The key is not to let it overtake any other thoughts or feelings you might be having.

Remember you won't knowing everything on your first day

In my previous company, I was the go-to person for anything office and company related. Straddling both Office Management and EA functions, I kept a finger on the pulse of the company and knew everyone there. Deep down, I know this knowledge took three years to build, but I'm still having to remind myself that it's okay not to be that person from day one.

Instead of focusing on what you don't know, reflect on everything you have left to learn. By changing the narrative around knowledge gaps, you give yourself the space to grow, without the pressure of needing to know everything right now.

Ask questions and take lots of notes

Joining a new company gives amazing opportunity. You find out how things work, meet new colleagues and dive head first into a new culture. I've found that the best way of doing all that is to observe, ask lots of questions and take as many notes as possible. Notion is my go-to for storing notes, but for onboarding, I prefer to use a notebook so that I can easily carry it around with me.

Where appropriate, schedule intro meetings with your principal's direct reports and other team members you will work with. By dedicating time to this, you lay the foundations for strong working relationships and get a much clearer idea of how teams work together. This is especially important at the moment when work from home is the norm. Nothing can fully replace the dynamic of being sat in the same space, but by leveraging conferencing tools you can put faces to names and remove the awkwardness around initial email exchanges

Prepare, prepare, prepare

The last thing you want to be doing on your first day is rushing around, so preparation is key.

I created myself a checklist that I went through the night before my first day -

  • where do you need to be and when?
  • how will you get there?
  • what do you need with you?
  • what will you wear?
  • what does your first day look like?

I also set up a brand new Notion dashboard so that I had my favourite tool ready and waiting.

And finally, be kind to yourself

‍First days are different for everyone and so much depends on the team, culture and onboarding process. It can feel frustrating if you're not "achieving", especially if in you're used to being rushed off your feet. You can also feel like a failure if you don't feel like you can contribute. The best thing you can do is be kind to yourself. Work out what you are feeling and try to understand why. Then think about what you would say to your best friend and act on that. New jobs are incredibly stressful, but by being kind and focusing on your needs, you can step into your role, fully prepared and ready to take on the world.

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