Impact substitutes: how to make a great first impression in a new job

We don’t get a second chance to make a first impression and this is particularly true when starting a new job. Unfortunately, this is also a time when we might be nervous or out of our comfort zone so the pressure to do well piles up.

In England, we don’t need to be in the midst of the football season to use footballing analogies, so we can compare the skills needed for starting a new job with those required of a football substitute who has to come on to the field of play during a game and immediately make an impact.

Substitutes need to know what they do well, what the team needs and be ready to deliver immediately. Here are a few tips to help you survive the first few days and weeks in a new role and to help you be the best you can be.

1. This is the time to be super-professional

This is a very basic tip but its worth remembering. Prepare your wardrobe and shine your shoes. Get a haircut and sharpen your pencils. Be on time. Get to the office early and be prepared to stay late. Turn your mobile phone off.  You cannot make a good impact substitute if you have your bootlaces undone. If you don’t do these things now, you never will.

2. Remember what you are good at and why you were hired

It is natural to be nervous before starting a new job, especially one which is a promotion. Women, in particular, have an irrational fear of “being found out” and feeling as though they aren’t good enough for their job. Make a list of your skills, experience and key knowledge sets. Write down why you were hired. Did you beat other candidates for the job? Be confident and if you don’t feel confident, fake it ‘til you make it! A striker who wants to make an impact as a substitute needs to keep on shooting at goal in order to score.

3. Listen more than talk

We have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a very good reason. Starting a new job is a great time to practise your active listening skills and is the best way to learn what you need to know to do well. Show interest and ask relevant, useful questions. If you are nervous, write down some simple questions in preparation which you can ask that are good for bonding and rapport. For example, “How long have you been in this role?” or “Where are the best places to get lunch?” I am not a very outgoing person by nature so I tend to dread the “meet and greet” meeting where I am not sure I will find anything to say. My advice is to prepare for these meetings instead of drifting into them. I try and write down 2 or 3 things that I would really like to learn from the meeting. These things can be technical, or more general, topics.

4. Show your appreciation for people making time for you

We all hate to feel that we are a burden as the new person in a company. Try and reduce that burden by remembering to thank people who are helping you to settle in. Ask them about their day. Try asking, “How long do you have available for this meeting? You must be very busy; would you like me to keep it short?”  Track down the person in advance and ask if you can bring them a coffee.

5. Find a great mentor

The benefits of a great mentor have been proven over and over again. Don’t be too proud to get one. This applies at any age so even if you are moving jobs in the middle of your working life, its still great practice to find a mentor who can help you navigate the topics that you won’t find in the Employee Handbook. There may be a mentoring scheme in your company and if not, look around to see who good candidates might be.  A mentoring relationship is 2-way and remember how good people feel when you ask their advice and opinions. By making your mentor feel warmly about you, you will continue to bolster your standing in your company. All the best impact substitutes have learned their trade from top players and managers.

6. Understand your colleagues

We are all different and the quicker we can understand what makes our colleagues tick, the quicker we can build productive relationships. Use whichever behavioural studies you have been taught to understand the people around you through careful questioning and adapt your behaviour to suit. I use the Extended DISC model and try and remember, the golden rule is to treat people how you want to be treated but the platinum rule is to treat people how they want to be treated.

7. Join in the office social life

When you are starting a new role, its great to get to know people outside of the day-to-day life so join in the social occasions and have fun. Not too much fun – don’t get drunk or be the last to leave the party. And, whether you are meeting people at work, or in the pub, make sure you remember their names. Write them down or ask for a phone list if you need to but people can be very, rightly, offended if you can’t remember who they are. Also, use these early days to connect with your colleagues using professional social media such as LinkedIn. Keep Facebook and Twitter for personal use only.

8. Be positive

Nobody admires a Moaning Minnie. Practice being positive and only giving positive answers. To “How are you?”, reply “Great, thanks.” To “How was your commute?”, say, “Actually, not too bad at all today. And you?” Make sure you give only positive feedback to your colleagues at first and consider very carefully how you want to raise suggestions and new ideas. Be a team player. Like the best impact substitutes, think what you can do for the team as opposed to what they can do for you.

9. Reinvent yourself

If there has been a side to you that you have not been so proud of at work, for example a reluctance to speak up, this is the perfect time to change. Nobody knows you, and you can become the person you want to be. It is ideal if you can take a little time off between jobs, even a week, as it’s a great chance to clear out the mind and think about your new job and the new you.

10. Take your comfort blanket

Not literally, of course, and the shrines which our American colleagues build to their families at their desks are not culturally acceptable in the UK. However, if starting a new job is a bit tough or lonely, any Mum will be cheered up if she has a photo of her kids in her wallet or drawer. Have a quick peek at the funny, good luck text your mate sent you when you go out for lunch. Get a meeting in the diary with someone in your professional network that you enjoy seeing. Many impact substitutes rely on superstitious preparations. Starting a new job can be daunting and draining and a little comfort or light relief from a friendly source can do wonders for our confidence.

2 Comments on “Impact substitutes: how to make a great first impression in a new job”

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