Reliable statistics about the frequency with which Americans switch jobs are surprisingly hard to find. One of the broadest-based measures of economic mobility is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), which tracked the early and middle careers of thousands of people born between 1959 and 1964.
From age 18 through age 48, the average male study subject held 11.8 jobs, or one every roughly 2.5 years, according to the BLS. The average woman held 11.5 jobs, or one every roughly 2.6 years.
Forward-looking analyses suggest that job-hopping will remain a fact of life for American workers. If anything, the frequency with which people switch jobs is likely to quicken. Fast Company advises workers to “plan on switching jobs every three years for the rest of [their lives].”
Be Ready for Your Next Job Change
Changing jobs frequently isn’t inherently bad. Forbes contributor and workforce expert Liz Ryan makes a persuasive case that job-hopping is actually a measure of personal and professional success. Of course, whether you agree with Ryan’s sentiment probably depends on how well you’ve weathered your own job changes.
If you’re anticipating a job change in the near future, or you’ve already committed to take on a new role, use this guide to weight the dice in your favor.
These proven tips, many provided by HR professionals, business owners, and employment experts, will smooth your transition into a new workplace and increase your odds of success moving forward – even if you’re onto the next opportunity before long.
Before You Arrive: Tips to Prepare for Your First Day on the Job
Do these things in the days and weeks leading up to your first day on the job.
1. Take Some Time Off Between Jobs
Don’t rush headlong into your new job. It’s better to take it slow and use the extra time to prepare.
“If you are able to, taking a few days off between jobs can help you to mentally transition from one company to another,” says Amy Esry, human resources consultant for Madison, Wisconsin-based Hausmann-Johnson Insurance. “It will give you time to separate from your last employer, and get excited about the new opportunity.”
Unless you took the job with the expectation that you’d start right away, your new employer should be amenable to a later start date. Bring this up during the interview process, ideally once you’ve taken care of salary and benefits negotiations.
And remember, you don’t need months to prepare. Per Esry, a week off is probably sufficient to get your head in the right place.
2. Learn More About Your New Employer and Coworkers
Esry has another tip: Use your time off to learn more about your new employer and coworkers.
“If you didn’t visit the company website during the interview process, now is the time to do so,” she says. “In particular, look for photos or bios of employees so you can start learning who is who.”
Find and follow the organization, its key employees, and members of the team you’ll be working on (if you know this already) on social media to get a sense of their personalities, interests, and professional strengths. You want to have something to talk about – and to know who you’re talking to – on your first day.
Pro Tip: Whenever you use social media in a professional setting, be careful to abide by social media etiquette conventions. There’s no quicker path to a rescinded job offer than a major social media gaffe before your first day.
3. Review Onboarding Materials
Take a full day between jobs to review all the informational onboarding materials you’ve thus far received from your new employer. These might include:
- Employee handbook outlining policies to which all employees (or employees with your particular classification) are held
- Employee benefit packets outlining the scope, cost, and enrollment procedures for health insurance, retirement plans, fringe benefits, vacation and paid time off, and similar
- Employment contract, if your position requires one and you haven’t signed it already
- Information about your rights and obligations as an employee, such as protections provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act
Keep in mind that you may receive some of this material on or after your first day, in which case you’ll need to set aside time one evening or weekend day to go over everything in an unhurried setting. While it won’t make for riveting reading, it’ll help set expectations for your new role, provide a comprehensive picture of what you need to do to be successful in the role, and set a road map for extricating yourself (or standing up for your coworkers) should things go south.
4. Know Who You Need to Meet and What They Need From You
Don’t rely on your new boss or HR contact to set up all the meetings and introductions you’ll need to wrap your head around your new job. They don’t necessarily know everything you’ll need to do to prepare for your new role and responsibilities. More importantly, they don’t know – and might not care – what’s best for your career.
Some of the most important connections you make are those you expect to advance your career or personal brand. In an uncertain economy where job-hopping is the new normal, you simply can’t afford not to look out for numero uno (that’s you).
“Before your first day, think about your professional brand,” says Elene Cafasso, principal at Elmhurst, Illinois-based Enerpace Executive Coaching. She advises asking yourself some basic questions:
- What do you want people to know about you?
- What past experience do you have that could help them?
- Who will you be working closely with?
- Who will be impacted by what you do?
- Who do you need to have on your side?
- What might their issues and concerns be?
Then, she says, “[M]ake a list of [the colleagues you need] to meet during your first few weeks and get those appointments scheduled as soon as possible.”
“Your success or failure will be determined by the relationships you create,” she concludes. Not to raise the stakes or anything.
5. Visualize Success, Then Grab It
I’m skeptical of self-motivational pabulum, but some otherwise level-headed employment experts swear that simply visualizing a successful first day goes a long way toward its actualization.
“Much like an athlete might envision themselves scoring a goal, you can self-actualize your success in smoothly integrating into the office…by envisioning yourself as a part of the team,” says Jake Tully, head of the creative department at West Hills, California-based TruckDrivingJobs.com.
You don’t need to wait for your first day, or even your pre-start walkthrough, Tully adds. The strategy works “even if you have not yet met your coworkers or officemates.”
Spend one of your pre-start off days, or the early morning on the day itself, mentally preparing yourself to succeed. See yourself winning. Will it. And then go into work and make it happen.
6. Prepare and Perfect Your Personal Pitch
Spend your last few days of freedom preparing and perfecting your personal elevator pitch. Since you’ll need to repeat it to colleagues in a variety of different roles and seniority levels, it helps to have a few different versions handy.
“Think about a few stories and events that you can share about your past work,” advises Pooja Krishna, co-founder of Maroon Oak, a free networking and career search platform for women.
Use those stories in sequence, or gauge each situation individually and choose the most appropriate option. Krishna advises taking special care with the version you use for corporate higher-ups.
Your first day or week “might be one of the rare times when you meet and interact with your ‘super boss,'” she says: the executive in charge of your division, or perhaps the president or CEO of the organization itself. “So, think carefully about how you can leave a positive impact with him or her in less than 10 minutes.”
7. Expect the First Day to Be Atypical
There’s no such thing as a “normal” first day on the job. At most organizations, the first day is a blur of meetings: with members of your team, about benefits and other human resources issues, for training on internal systems and protocols. It might be days or even weeks before you can devote your undivided attention to the projects you were brought on to handle.
“Don’t panic if the first day seems to be a deviation from the job description,” says Valerie Streif, senior advisor at Mentat, a San Francisco-based recruiting and job research platform. “You need to manage your expectations and realize that it may take time for you to work your way into your role and fully fit into the day-to-day. Give it a few weeks.”
In the meantime, Streif advises focusing on the important things, such as the closest coffee station to your desk.
8. Plan to Bring the Essentials
Spend the day before your first day on the job making a list of the items you’ll likely need at the office or job site. Pack them the night before, just as you’d pack your back the evening before leaving on a vacation.
“Bring a pen and a notepad to take notes, your smartphone in case you need to look something up, and a briefcase or tote to carry documents,” says Laura Handrick, staff writer at Fit Small Business. “And if you wear glasses, don’t forget to bring them because you may be reviewing an employee handbook and signing some paperwork.”
If you work in the trades or service industry, bring any tools you expect to use on your first day. Many contracting companies expect their workers to operate semi-independently, so showing up without all the equipment you expect to need (within reason) might reflect poorly on you.
“There’s no guarantee that the company will have exactly the tools you need, so it’s best to plan ahead and bring the tools you’d typically use with you,” says Handrick. “You can keep them in your vehicle, so you don’t have to run home to get them if you need them on the job your first day.”
To minimize the risk of miscommunication, or worse, you can confirm with your supervisor or dispatcher ahead of time whether field workers are expected to provide their own supplies. That said, an abundance of caution never hurt anyone.
9. Collect Required Identification Documents and Onboarding Paperwork
These qualify as essentials as well, says Handrick, as it’s customary to verify that you’re legally permitted to work in the United States before you can officially begin. The key form is the I-9, which establishes your work status.
“Bring your Social Security card and driver’s license, or your passport, and whatever else you’ll need to complete the I-9 form,” says Handrick. “No doubt HR will have requested it, and it just looks bad if you show up without that paperwork.
Additionally, since employers can’t legally employ people who can’t prove they’re cleared to work in the U.S., “you may find yourself out of job pretty quick if you don’t bring it,” she says. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you’ll need to bring your legal permanent resident card or work authorization permit if you’re in the country on a shorter-term visa.
Finally, while you probably won’t be required to complete and turn in benefits election forms on your very first day, you should spend some time thinking about your insurance and retirement planning needs before you show up at the office. These matters can easily overwhelm laypeople, so it’s a good idea to level-set before you get too deep into your job.
Pro Tip: Need a refresher on the different types of employee benefits out there? We have a ton of helpful content on health insurance, retirement plans, fringe benefits, and more.
Check out our article on the differences between 401(k) and 403(b) plans to learn more about the distinction between two common types of retirement plans, our primer on deducting health insurance premiums and expenses on your taxes to save some dough this tax season, and our post on health savings accounts for more detail on a little-known employer-sponsored health benefit.
At the Office: Tips to Ace Your First Day on the Job
You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Here’s how to hit the ground running on your first days and weeks with your new employer.
10. Don’t Dress Down
Dress for success. You’ve heard it before, but it’s never more important than on your first day in a new position.
“The office may have a casual dress code, but don’t overshoot the mark and come in with ripped jeans and flip-flops,” says Mario Almonte, principal at New York-based Herman & Almonte PR. “Play it safe and dress smart casual.”
Per Almonte, don’t be fooled by whatever you’ve seen of your new employer’s ostensibly laid-back office culture. If it becomes clear that you really don’t need to dress up, you’ll have plenty of time – years, hopefully – to make up for it with a lower-key wardrobe.
11. Think Twice About Bringing Your Own Lunch
We’ve already touched on what you should bring to your first day on the job. Now, let’s flip that around: Is there anything you should consider leaving at home?
Yes. One item you might not want to carry to your new workplace is a premade lunch. While packing your own lunch is usually an effective strategy for saving money at work, it’s not always a practical choice for your first day on the job.
“I don’t advise bringing a lunch box your first day, especially if you don’t have an office – you’ll just end up carrying it around,” says Handrick, of Fit Small Business.
Handrick advises bringing cash or a credit card to pay for lunch at a local restaurant (or, in a pinch, the office vending machine). “You may or may not be invited to lunch your first day and you don’t want to be the one without cash if your peers invite you to come along,” she explains. “Otherwise, you’ll want to make sure you can grab something to eat.”
Use your first day to get a sense of how your coworkers typically consume their lunches, she adds. At their desks? In the break room? In a cafeteria? Or out and about at nearby restaurants or food trucks? Moving forward, you’ll want to do as the Romans do.
Pro Tip: Looking for other ways to slim down your food budget and reduce the cost of dining out at restaurants? Consider applying for a cash back credit card that earns points on restaurant purchases, such as Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard®.
12. Stay Cool and Be Mindful
It’s totally natural to be freaked out at the prospect of starting a new job. Honestly, it would be weird if you weren’t nervous about your new role.
“The first month on any new job is always challenging,” says Esry, the human resources consultant at Hausmann-Johnson. “Your employer expects you to have questions and realizes it will take a little while to get up to speed.”
Esry’s advice is simple: Relax. You got this.
Practicing mindfulness can help control your jitters and prevent them from spiraling into productivity-sapping panic. Alyssa Petersel, founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based My Wellbeing, tells new employees to “sit in silence for at least 10 minutes before your first day at work.”
Use the time to clear your mind, listen to your body, and take deep, intentional breaths.
“Preparing for your first day with this level of mindfulness will prepare you for any ups and downs you may experience,” she says. When you encounter an unfamiliar situation that might normally rile you up, take a mental vacation back to that cool, calm place and face the challenge with a clear head.
13. Remember That Your Employer Needs You Too
If mindfulness isn’t your thing, take a rational approach instead. Remind yourself that your new employer hired you for a reason. They expect you to perform at a high level, but they also really need you in the role – or they wouldn’t have posted it in the first place.
“Strive for the right balance between being relaxed and earnest,” says Maroon Oak’s Krishna. “Sure, a new job is important, but chances are good that the organization needs you as much you need them.”
Don’t coast on this feeling, of course. The easiest way to fall out of favor with your team is to take an “I don’t need you as much as you need me” approach to your work.
14. Check In and Don’t Wander
Confirm your initial point of contact before you arrive at the office or job site. Once you arrive, check in at the receptionist – or, in a smaller office, directly with that person – to announce your presence. Don’t explore the office on your own initiative.
“Check in with whomever you were told to, probably in the HR department,” says Bruce Hurwitz, principal at Hackensack, New Jersey-based Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, which counsels and recruits executives with military experience. “Don’t go wandering around, even if you arrive early.”
You’ll have time to get the lay of the land later. Even if security is lax, an unfamiliar face poking around is a red flag in many workplaces, and it might be awkward when your now-coworkers recognize you later as the early-morning wanderer.
15. Be a Sponge and Avoid Bias
Shed any preconceived notions about your new employer at the door, and resist transparent attempts by colleagues to replace them with new biases.
“You’ll meet many coworkers who will want to tell you ‘their side’ of its operations, practices, procedures,” says Keith Sbiral, principal at Chicago-based professional coaching and consultancy firm Apochromatik. “This can be very distracting if you get sucked into potential gossip or cliques early on, so keep an open mind and maintain neutrality.”
You’ll have plenty of time to form your own opinions about anything and everything relevant to your job: your colleagues, your boss’ management style, your organization’s strategic vision and priorities. Just not on your first day.
“Your job is to be a sponge first and judge the information later,” says Sbiral.
16. Ask Lots of Questions
Sponges only work in the presence of liquid – or, in this case, honest questions.
Don’t worry too much about coming off as clueless, says Peter Yang, founder of digital CV-writing service ResumeGo. “Your colleagues will expect you to be a bit bewildered at first,” he elaborates. “It’s better to get your questions out of the way now than to wait until later down the line when the company actually expects you to start performing.”
Do whatever is necessary to retain the answers to your questions. For most workers, that means taking notes on a notepad, smartphone, or tablet. You’ll have an anything-goes grace period working in your favor, as Yang notes, but it’ll quickly become awkward to ask the same questions – and receive the same answers – again and again.
17. Get the Lay of the Land
Take Hurwitz’s “no wandering” advice seriously – at first. Just don’t wait too long to familiarize yourself with your new workplace.
“Unless you work in a fairly small office, the first week of your new job might involve lots of running in circles to find the bathroom or copy room,” says Dana Case, director of operations at Calabasas, California-based MyCorporation.com, which helps entrepreneurs incorporate their businesses. “Pay attention to the floor plan and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure.”
If you don’t get a guided walk-through on your first day, your second day might present a better opportunity to take a self-guided tour of the premises. At that point, you should have your employee badge and be able to walk with enough confidence to blend right in.
18. Don’t Come on Too Strong
You wouldn’t jump headlong into a steaming hot tub, would you?
Remember what Sbiral and Yang said about leaving preconceived notions at the door and asking honest, direct questions. You want to ease into your new role, not come in with guns blazing.
“The worst thing you can do when you start a job is to come on like gangbusters and expect to shake things up and ‘improve’ or radically change the way you do your job,” says Almonte, of Herman & Almonte PR. “You can easily come off as arrogant in front of long-time workers who will be offended that you think, on your first day at work, you know better than they do how to do the job.”
Whatever you think of them, your coworkers are more valuable to you as allies than adversaries. Likewise, you’re more valuable to your employer as a team player, at least at first, than a rogue agent. If you excel in your new role and find yourself promoted into a position of greater responsibility, your calculus may change. Until then, play it straight and retain your humility.
19. Be Punctual and Efficient
This should go without saying, but you’d be shocked at just how many new hires roll into work late on the first day, dawdle through lunch, or duck out early.
MyCorporation.com’s Case has two clear-as-day bits of advice: “Keep your lunch break at a reasonable length and arrive on time, if not a bit earlier than usual.”
Once you’ve eased into your new role, you may earn the right to arrive late, leave early, or take long lunch breaks. Or you might quickly discover that your employer has a “leave when the work is done” policy that, at least in theory, allows team members more scheduling flexibility.
The first day is not the day to test those presumptions. Do whatever it takes to get there on time – for instance, rehearsing the route to the office on one of your off days before your start date.
20. Have a Plan for Your Downtime
“Downtime” and “first day at a new job” aren’t often mentioned in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence. Still, it’s possible that you’ll have some unstructured time to kill between meetings or orientations.
“It’s always a smart idea to come in with a plan for what to do during any downtime you might have,” says TruckDrivingJobs.com’s Tully. For instance, he says, “If you’re in sales, speak to another salesperson and ask them about what pitches have been most effective, or shadow their phone calls if possible.”
If you haven’t yet had the opportunity, you can also use your downtime to bone up on workplace policies or employer-sponsored benefits. That way, you can actually decompress when you get home, rather than jump right into another work-related assignment.
21. Don’t Isolate Yourself
You don’t have to be your office’s party captain to get in your coworkers’ good graces. Simply making an outward effort to connect with them on a personal level is usually enough.
“Make friends with your officemates and introduce yourself to everyone you run into,” says Yang, of ResumeGo. Don’t worry about being pushy: It’s better to introduce yourself early on and make a good impression than rush to catch up once you’ve settled in.
“Be sure to join your coworkers for lunch, and grab drinks after work with some of them if this seems appropriate,” Yang adds. “If you don’t do this, you run the risk of establishing the reputation of a loner at the office.”
At some workplaces, keeping to yourself is perfectly acceptable, even welcomed. And, if you’re not adept or comfortable in social situations, you don’t have to continue forcing the issue. Merely enduring a single round of introductions and small talk goes a long way.
22. Don’t Be Afraid to Say, “I Was Wrong”
History is littered with situations that prove the old adage: It’s the cover-up, not the crime.
In other words, an honest mistake can be fixed, or at least forgiven. Trying to obscure or shift blame for mistakes is a more serious offense. For some bosses, it’s more than enough to earn guilty employees the boot.
“When you’ve made a mistake, admit it – immediately,” says Timothy Wiedman, retired associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska. “Don’t wait to see if the boss has noticed. Most bosses are smarter and more observant than you think.”
Wiedman also advises seeking constructive criticism and feedback from your peers and superiors. Don’t wait for it to be offered – make it clear that you welcome it as soon as you’re in a position to do so. “Tell your boss and your colleagues that you welcome constructive feedback so that you can learn the ropes and begin pulling your weight as soon as possible,” he says.
Hopefully you won’t make an egregious mistake on your first day with your new employer. You probably won’t have the opportunity to do so, absent a serious faux pas during meetings or introductions. But once you’re in the fire, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to screw up – and to prove that you’re an honest broker by taking responsibility for your error and making it right.
23. Get Your Boss’ Buy-In
Once you’ve had all your introductory meetings and drilled down into your portfolio, put together a medium- to long-term road map for your work. You should have everything you need to get this done within a month or six weeks of your start date, says Enerpace Executive Coaching’s Cafasso.
Take your plan to your boss “and get her buy-in that you’re headed along the right path,” advises Cafasso. “Ask if you’ve missed anything important – after all, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Yes, this is more of a “once you’re settled in” tip than a “right out of the gate” tip, but it could still make or break the balance of your tenure. Don’t neglect it.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “This is the first day of the rest of your life.”
It’s meant to concentrate the minds of high school and college graduates, not new hires. In an increasingly gig-driven economy where four or five years with a single employer is more than enough to earn veteran status, “the first day of the rest of your life” isn’t really a helpful metaphor for your first day on the job.
But there’s something to be said for approaching your first day with a new employer as the opening scene of a long, richly textured drama in which you play a critical role. (Maybe you’ll turn out to be the star, but don’t get ahead of yourself.) By throwing yourself into the preparation phase and making a killer first impression on your start date, you’ll smooth out your on-the-job learning curve and set yourself up for a successful tenure – no matter how long the relationship lasts.
Do you have any first-day preparation tips? Any war stories you want to get off your chest?