Starting a new job may well be tiresome and depressing but it also presents an opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked: A chance to shape how your co-workers see you. We call this First Impressionism – or how to get the most out of starting at a new place of toil.
In business schools they teach the importance of your first 100 days and even suggest that you make a 100-day plan and share it with your new colleagues. We say, balls. Not only does that sound like additional work, it is our contention that you can effectively do everything you need to do to establish your standing in your first week.
Slack Awareness Week
On your first day it is imperative that you do not turn up to work until after 10am, even (and particularly) if your allotted start time is 9am. If you arrive any earlier, go for breakfast. Never apologise for your lateness. Don’t even refer to it. If it is mentioned, look briefly confused and then smile – as if someone has made a joke you don’t understand – but with a hint of sadness in your eyes (which shouldn’t be hard – you’re at work after all). Repeat this for all five days and hey presto, your new start time is 10am.
Corporate Deserter, I. Osman, took this ploy to extreme lengths, albeit inadvertently. Starting a new job on a Tuesday, he had the following Monday booked off for a funeral and then missed the Monday after that due to illness. Later in that third week, while making himself a coffee in the kitchen area, he overheard a meeting being planned for the following Monday in the adjoining cubicle, at which his presence was being mooted.
‘Osman?’ he heard a disembodied voice say, ‘Oh, no, he doesn’t work Mondays.’
As a true Deserter, Osman saw immediately that a rare opportunity had been presented to him. And, sure enough, for the rest of his time at the company he worked a four-day week. Indeed, he became the go-to guy for tips on long weekend European city-breaks. He is now the MD of a successful international news organisation. He still doesn’t work Mondays.
Although he was fortunate enough to chance upon this gambit, we would suggest that it is used only by more experienced Deserters.
For your first week dress alternately in a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops combination and top hat and tails/ball gown, nothing in between. This will mark you out as both ‘of the people’ and part of the eccentric upper class, both of which unsettle the sort of middle-class jobsworths you will now be spending all your time with.
Sunglasses can be a useful addition. Cite ‘ultra-sensitive retinae due to excessive screen work’ and you’ll have double bubble: An excuse for not switching on your computer and a chance for forty winks in the fucking marketing meeting
HR vs IT
Lesser theorists have it that HR is the department to cosy up to but this is a fallacy. HR’s influence is waning as more people realise they have no idea what HR actually does. In addition, people from HR are always on the side of the most senior person in the room, regardless of how many drinks you bought them the night before. Instead, immediately seek out members of IT. Information Technology is now the most important department in any company that will still be around in 10 years time so it makes sense to befriend them and build alliances. Also, they know where the best pubs are.
The phrase ‘Do our friends in IT know about this?’ will allow you to stall any new development that looks like it may lead to more work.
For your first one-to-one meeting with your boss, suggest you have it on foot in your lunch hour as you need to pick up some dry-cleaning (tip: Be on first name terms with the dry cleaner). The message here is: You are already impossibly busy; there is no time to be wasted; you are fastidiously, obsessively clean – the impact of this last point is increased if you are picking up dry-cleaned underwear, which shows focus, determination and attention to detail. They don’t need to know you don’t actually wear underwear.
If you have underlings, hold your first team meeting in the pub. These people – your team – are people who you want to do things in order to make you look good. Treat them as such. It is not enough to rely on their pathetic wages. Give them things, fun things: Beer, time off, laughs. Their happiness is your happiness. Having said that, it’s crucial to fire at least one of them before the end of week one.
Finally, ensure you book in two or three external meetings, especially with suppliers located at the seaside. (If you don’t have any suppliers located by the seaside, finding some that are is an essential first-week exercise). You will be spending a lot of time out of the office in the months to come and you must get everyone used to it immediately.
Rarely, if ever, be found at your desk. Take every opportunity to borrow an office ‘to get some real work done’ (thus subtly suggesting that everyone who sits at their own desk is not doing proper work) or find a spot on a different floor, perhaps at someone else’s desk, where you can re-arrange their photographs. This lays the foundations for later weeks when people will see your empty desk and assume you are elsewhere actually working harder.
I. Osman insists on having two desks, as far apart as possible (preferably in different buildings) and leaves a jacket on the back of both chairs to show he is ‘in’. His colleagues always assume he’s at his other desk, whereas in reality he is in the cinema.
But enough about me. What do you think about me?
On day five initiate a flash ‘360 degree’ company-wide personal appraisal with HR. That’s right, on a Friday. This shows everyone how keen you are to listen and to improve . It creates a lot of positive ‘noise’ about you but, crucially, everyone else does all the work. While your superiors, your team and everyone whose hand you’ve shaken over the last five days are all staying late to fill out those unusable intranet forms, you’re sneaking out the back door for a Magnum Gold and lovely lean on a lamp-post in the last of the sun.
If all this sounds like a bit of an effort, you’re right, it is. But implement this early work correctly and the dividends will dwarf the capital outlay. (Gardeners call this kind of thing ‘spadework’ which is ironic, because when it comes to gardening this is the last thing you want to get involved in).
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, goes the idiot maxim, and for once the idiots are right, bless their nylon socks.
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Image credits: Main image by Artotem; 10-o-clock by Tom Magliery; Emerald Dry Cleaners by Kake, all used under this licence. Ball Gown by Paula Satijn; Officemate Disappears by David Goehring, both used under this licence