Businessman walking up the stairs

Whether you’re a recent college graduate accepting your first job offer or a well-seasoned professional who’s experiencing a change of career, there’s an unspoken etiquette for transitioning into a new job.

No matter what stage you’re in of your professional career, these rules of etiquette are often overlooked and can either cause a burned bridge to your past career or a rough start into your new career.

Put your best foot forward with our advice from the professionals on what to do when you start a new job and, more importantly, what not to do.

Never Burn a Bridge: How to Leave Your Current Job

As the old saying goes, “Never burn a bridge.” For whatever reason you’re deciding to leave your current job (no opportunity to advance, far commute, etc.) make sure you leave your current employer on good terms.

“Give your employer some kind of notice. If you can give two weeks, that’s great, but it’s not always possible,” advised Molly Oberle, team leader on The Pulse’s Talent Acquisition team, the Human Resources team at Quicken Loans.. “If you can’t give a full two weeks’ notice, you can still leave on great terms.”

There are a few reasons not to give two weeks’ notice, whether from a sudden decline in your physical or mental health or unforeseen personal circumstances. The most important thing to remember is to be honest and transparent (if you can) about when you’re leaving and what you can accomplish before you leave.

Oberle recommend reaching out to a recruiter to help with the language of your notice. “Recruiters are excellent resources to help you leave your current role on good terms,” she said.

However, don’t stop showing up to a job once you know you’re leaving, Oberle added. “Your company will most likely be contacted to be a reference for you. You want to make sure that they are giving you a good reference, so leave with your best foot forward.”

During your transition to a new job, it can be tempting to phase out of your old responsibilities to make room for the new; however, as Oberle warned, you’ll want your current job to give you a good reference for your new job, so make sure you leave on good terms.

A great way to leave a positive lasting impression is to tie up any loose strings before you leave. This can include training your replacement, completing any pending projects (or passing them on to someone else) and making sure your team is able to handle your departure gracefully.

“Make the most of your last days by presenting a list of things you would like to accomplish with the company, and make sure your departure is as easy on your company and team as possible,” said Oberle.

This will typically allow you to leave on good terms, even if you couldn’t give them a two-week heads-up.

“If you have given them an end date, stick to that end date,” Oberle asserted. “While they may try to pressure you to stay longer, just know that most everyone that will be affected by you leaving has most likely left a job themselves, so they will understand.”

Additionally, Oberle warns of the counteroffer tactic – in other words, when your company offers you something to attempt to get you to stay (money, promotion, bonus, etc.).

“You need to ask yourself why that didn’t happen while you were a dedicated employee,” said Oberle. “A majority of folks who accept counteroffers leave or are let go within a year – most of the time because the pay increase or promotion was just a Band-Aid and didn’t solve the problem of why you were looking to leave in the first place.”

Reiterating Oberle’s point on “leaving on a good note,” Tori Criswell, a fellow team leader on The Pulse’s Talent Acquisition team, suggested giving honest feedback in your exit interview as to why you’re leaving.

Be open and honest – whether or not your reason is something they are willing to fix. It’s important to identify any possible flaws of the job so they can be prepared with recruiting in the future.

Take a Break In Between Jobs (or Don’t!)

There’s no right way to determine whether or not you should take a break between your old and new jobs. Often it’s circumstantial. When does your new company expect you to start? If it’s right after you leave your current job, you may want to forego any breaks in employment.

Additionally, a break between jobs often means it’s a break without pay. So if an unpaid break is not financially feasible, you may want to start your new job right away.

“I believe you need to do whatever makes sense for you and what is going on in your own life,” said Oberle.

On the flipside, a break can be refreshing, especially if you held your old job for a number of years. A break can create a time to decompress and relax, allowing you to start your new job refreshed and renewed.

A break is also a good time to get organized on what you need to get done before you start your new job. Take this time to take care of any appointments you’ve been meaning to make, to avoid asking for time off on your first day!

This is also a good time to arrange child care (should you need to) to allow a smoother transition into your new career.

Whatever you decide, make sure you communicate your intentions to your new employer before you start your new job and leave your old: The last thing you want is a miscommunication about your start or end date.

Test Drive Your New Commute

A new job means a new route to work. When you’re preparing for your first day at your new job, you might overlook that you’ll have to get there somehow. This can complicate things if your new job is located in an area unfamiliar to you – like if you’ve had to move for your new job.

The best way to prepare for a new work commute is by doing a dry run – before your first day – during the time you’ll typically be heading to work.

“Before starting, take a drive into work during rush hour and see how long it takes and what it is like. Don’t make your first day your first time making the commute,” Criswell advised.

Testing your commute before you first day allows you time to figure out the best route, and even get a taste of your drive in rush hour. This is important because it gives you a realistic expectation of how long it’ll take you to get there, as Criswell suggested.

Additionally, there’s nothing more horrifying than walking into your first job late. So make sure you know exactly where you’re going (what wing, what floor, etc.). Getting lost won’t help temper any first-day nerves you might feel.

Understand Your New Responsibilities

As you start your new job, the first thing you need to do is to make sure you understand what is expected of you in your new position.

Make sure you have a full understanding of what is expected of you upon hiring. This can be accomplished through a conversation with your new team leader or with a team member with a similar position.

You can also reach out to recruiters or the company’s human resources team for any questions you may have, including:

  • Work schedule
  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Dress code
  • Equipment policy
  • Social media policy

When talking with someone at your new company, be alert and interested: Take plenty of notes and ask questions. You’ll want to make sure you understand what you’ll be contributing to the team and what’s expected of someone in your role.

Criswell suggested to get your work calendar organized by asking your fellow team members how they organize their time, to get a feel for company pace and productivity. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions on how to organize your time based on the priorities of your tasks. More often than not, your new team will be grateful that you asked for feedback, rather than had you left it to chance.

Meet Your New Team

Starting a new job means joining a new team with their own unique dynamic and company culture. It can be a bit intimidating when you walk into a workplace not knowing anyone, but as Criswell suggested, a smile can go a long way.

“Smile at everyone like you’re already acquainted,” she suggested. “This is the best thing you can do anywhere – no matter how long you’ve been there.”

If you think about it, at some point in everyone’s career, we’ve experienced a new or first job and recall how nerve-racking it can be. Just remember that your new team may have been in your shoes not too long ago and understand how hard it is to start a new job. The best thing you can do is to be friendly and interested in getting to know them.

“Don’t wait to get introduced to other people,” said Oberle. “Meet and get to know everyone you can. Nothing makes a transition easier than having a bunch of people that know you and are willing to help you out.”

An easy way to get to know people is simply by asking them to join you for lunch, suggested Oberle. You can learn a lot about someone over a meal, so instead of going out on your own, invite your desk mate or someone else you’d like to get to know out for a bite to eat.

Additionally, ask to shadow people on your new team. Most likely, they’ll be willing to share their knowledge and experience of the company with you – not to mention, flattered that you asked!

“You can bring value, knowledge and skill from your last job,” Criswell encouraged. “However, don’t compare everything to your old workplace. Show your new team members that you’re willing and eager to assimilate into their culture while adding your experience.”

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Remember, lots of other people have been in your shoes. Starting a new job can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Follow our secrets of success when you’re starting your new job and you’re on your own to a successful first day.

Take a walk on the flipside and check out our article on How to Lose a Job in 10 Ways for tips on how you to positively impact your workplace instead of losing your job.

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