How to Behave on Your First Day of Work

The first day of work can be especially challenging for someone who has never worked in an office. Even if  your employer has a first-day orientation program, you will also need to orient yourself.  Assume nothing. Use this five-point list to get started.

Some of this is based on advice shared by Dean Gail B. Agrawal at the University of Iowa College of Law during the school’s August 2011 two-day Job Search Camp. The Dean had come from many meetings with alumni and employers, and she channeled some of their concerns for her students.

When do I come to work?

  • Full-time. Quickly determine the hours that your employer considers “full-time.” Do people come to work at 8 or at 9? Do they stay until 6 or 7? Do they work from home? How do they make those arrangements? Should you find that everyone is hard at work when you arrive at 9, you may want to adjust your schedule because everyone else comes to work at 8, making you look like a slacker.
  • Part-time. Talk to your supervisor and set your schedule. Do not assume that you can work from home or school without making specific arrangements. Sometimes your time-in-the-office may critical to your work as a clerk. Understand how you must keep track of your time, and do it contemporaneously from Day 1. Employers are deeply skeptical about paying hourly workers without documentation.

How will I get paid?

You will need to provide appropriate ID and to fill out forms so that you can be paid. Make sure that you understand the payroll cycle (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) and whether you will be paid by the hour as a part-time law clerk or as a salaried employee on an annual basis. If this is your first job, be prepared for the shock of payroll deductions. Your take-home pay will not be a direct multiple of the hours that you worked or your annual salary divided by 52.

What do I wear?

  • Formal Business Attire.  What do the lawyers wear? If most are in suits, you will increase your chances of being asked to observe in court or to attend client meetings if you wear one, too. No one will take you to court if you are in jeans.
  • Business Casual.  Business casual is fraught with peril because it can mean khakis and a blue shirt or merino wool pants and a Missoni sweater.  In an office with a business-casual profile, the smartest lawyers dress for their days, perhaps coming to work in jeans and then wearing the suits that hang behind their doors when they go to court. Ask how you can maximize your opportunities for court observation and client contact within the business casual context.
  • Business Casual Caveat. There may be one influential lawyer who wears three-piece suits and who believes that the introduction of business casual marked the Beginning of the End of Civilization. If that person is a decision-maker, you may want to dress in a way that does not annoy him.

What can I bring with me?

The Velvet Elvis Painting. Before bringing your favorite artwork, look carefully at the tone of individual offices, and ask if there are guidelines, rules or limits, or if someone has veto power over office décor. Prepare to be surprised. I own an antique poster with a huge cat on it which I once brought to an office. The senior consultant and owner asked that I take it home. Why? While I had purchased it because of the cat image, it was, in fact, an ad for Spanish cognac, and my deeply religious colleague was not keen on having a liquor poster in the office.

What do I call these people?

Do not assume that everyone wants to be called by his or her first name.  Ask. This applies to lawyers and staff.

Have more questions about what your new boss may be expecting?

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joemurphy/1342355177/)

Law School, Legal Careers

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