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You’ll have a bad reputation on the first day.

By Dennis Yang
May 10, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you make a great first impression at work?” is written by Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy.

Starting a new job is stressful, which can trigger your insecurities. Rather than worrying over what you don’t know and need to learn, turn your attention outward. Be interested, curious, and enthusiastic about your new surroundings, and show you’ve got a good attitude. If you do this, your new coworkers will want to get to know you and trust you to work with them.

Open up

Even introverts have to venture beyond their comfort zone at a new job. Smile, make eye contact, and don’t be shy about introducing yourself. It’ll take time to learn all those new names, but everyone understands that, so don’t sweat it. One of my tricks was studying our team directory and quizzing myself with flash cards.

One of Udemy’s company values is “open up,” which takes on special importance for new hires. I’m not suggesting you need to make your life an open book, but you should help people get to know the whole you by bringing personal details and anecdotes into your conversations. Then reciprocate by showing an interest in their lives too. Connecting on a personal level sets a solid foundation for healthy, collaborative relationships with your new team.

Soak in the company

In your first days and weeks on the job, you should be like a sponge. Listen more than you talk, but still signal you’re engaged by asking incisive questions. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what you don’t know. I find taking notes helps me retain information. It’s also a great idea to jot down initial thoughts to return to later.

Hopefully, the people at your new job will reach out to you to introduce themselves and set up time to talk, but there’s no reason you can’t do this proactively. Schedule informal coffee dates with key stakeholders around the company, even if you won’t be working with them directly.

Drop the past

Humans generally try to process new experiences by putting them in a familiar context. When you’re starting a new job, it’s natural to compare and contrast it with previous jobs—favorably or not. Certainly you can bring lessons learned in the past to bear on current challenges, but don’t dwell on how you used to handle problem X or why you managed project Y differently. Keep your view toward the future, and leave your baggage behind.

Regardless of how awful a prior workplace was, it’s not going to reflect well on you to continue trashing it to new colleagues. As you discover what’s different about your new employer, keep your tone positive, even if you learn something surprising or disappointing. You just arrived and aren’t there to judge what’s going on.

Exercise common sense

I would never suggest that someone censor themselves in order to be accepted. But early on in your new job you shouldn’t show your outrageous side. Save it for later, when you’ve established a level of trust with your coworkers.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t discuss controversial political issues or share too many personal details about your life. And regardless of how casual the work environment is, I advise leaving the flip-flops and workout clothes at home for the time being.

Whether you’re starting in an entry-level or upper management position, the first days at a new company will be stimulating, exhausting, exciting, and, perhaps, intimidating. Use this time to observe without judgment, explore your new home, and make notes for yourself. You’ll never have such an unclouded perspective again.

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