How To Be Useful When You Feel Useless: The First Week at Work


I have to be honest, it is a disorienting time for me right now. In the past three weeks, I have completed one Welcome Week, moved from Florida to Massachusetts, started a new job, and embarked on the events of a second Welcome Week. Whew!

As you all likely remember, there is a period shortly after starting a new job where you feel positively useless. You’re qualified for this new position you’re embarking on, but you can’t do anything. Untrained, unacquainted to the people or the places around you, unfamiliar with the campus culture beyond what you were shown during a whirlwind on-campus interview...as I joked to one of my coworkers, “I can wear the ‘Have a Question?’ shirt and help direct students, but I have just as many questions!” So what do you do in the early days of a position to combat that feeling of being “the new kid”?

Listen.
Yes, you should listen during orientation, meetings, and explanations of the job descriptions of others. These are the gold standards and make us successful at what we do. When I say listen, I mean listen to the true culture of your office. Observe how people respond to students in the halls and around campus. Note how fellow coworkers respond to your supervisor when a request is made. Ask questions about what you see, and really listen to the answers. By the time you’re well-trained enough to be effective, you’ll have a better idea of the atmosphere in which you’re doing your work.

Read.
Chances are, when you come into a position, you will be inheriting the projects, procedures, and occasional burdens of someone who preceded you. Take your early quiet time to read. Read everything. Learn about stacks of receipts, peruse manuals, even find articles and publications from others on your campus. Armed with the conclusions drawn from the written word, you’ll get a head start on how you should approach filling out forms, interacting with faculty and staff, and talking to students (perhaps the most daunting part!).

Smile.
This is a big one. First impressions mean a lot- I still remember my first day at each institution I’ve worked at- what I wore, if I was taken to lunch or if I packed one, and who I spoke to. It’s that last piece that has the potential to stick the longest. As you meet each person you will undoubtedly be introduced to, smile. Shake hands. Try to remember names, even if there are a thousand of them and you’re terrible at it. People will remember meeting you, and you’ll likely need to call upon a few of them during your tenure at the school. Even if you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, or shy...smile. It helps.

Interesting...just as I was writing this, I was called away from my desk to do my very first piece of actual work :) It was a small task, an easy one, but should prove to you that this period of feeling useless is a short one. Pay attention, stay positive, and you’ll be on your way to being an expert in no time!

Amma Marfo
@ammamarfo

Student Affairs - the First Years

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