Ask questions, but don't get drawn into office politics in your new job, advises Karen Hainsworth

If you're a shy type then the first week is going to be particularly difficult. This is not the time to fade into the background and hope that nobody will notice you. "One of the things that companies like is for people to use their first week to ask questions," says Michael Carroll, visiting industrial professor at the University of Bristol and a consultant in employee wellbeing. And though some people think that questions will show a lack of confidence, quite the opposite is the truth. Ideally, you'll aim for intelligent enquiries that show you're alert to your environment, and inquisitive. "Sometimes you can even gain yourself credit when you ask why certain things are done in a certain way," says Carroll. "The company might begin to question it themselves."

Paradoxically, while you need to be inquisitive, it's a good idea to take a somewhat measured approach to the way you relate to people. "You have to be slightly detached," says Carroll. "You won't know about the various personal and professional agendas that are whizzing round the office, or who holds the real power. And there are always people in organisations who are desperate for friends. They'll pull you into relationships and politics that you could find it hard to extricate yourself from."

While you're watching the various games and personalities emerge, keep an eye open for a more positive figure - the mentor. "It'll usually be someone slightly older and wiser who will be able to guide you in your first footsteps. They'll have a good sense of the politics but won't play them." If you're lucky enough to spot a workplace Yoda, ask them for some help, without seeming too desperate. Perhaps ask if you could work with them for an hour a week until you find your footing.

You'll have to use your own nous, however, when it comes to picking up the subtleties of the work culture and sussing out your psychological contract - the unwritten deal with your boss. "Find out if your boss expects you to keep him or her informed all the time or whether they take a more laissez-faire attitude, for instance," says Dr Sandi Mann, senior lecturer in occupational psychology at University of Central Lancashire. "Are you expected to be visibly working? Or, as long as you produce the goods, does your boss not care when and where you do it?" You can do the obvious thing and ask, but be wary, she says, as everybody has a different take on things.

Though you'll have much to think about in those first few days, creating and maintaining a good impression is not something to be forgotten. "Some people think impression management is deceitful but it's not about being a fake persona. Managing impression successfully is about having empathy with those around you. It's about fitting in and being professional with everyone whether it's a colleague, a cleaner or the MD. And whatever the circumstances, you've got to think about your personal PR," says Mann.

But try not to go over the top with your attempt to stand out. "People aim to impress quickly these days and are almost expecting a raise by the end of the first week," says Carroll. "There is a trend to try and fake it. It's as if they have nothing to offer so they build their image around a glossy brochure. After a while people see through it. Be genuine and diplomatic," he advises.

Ultimately, Carroll says, the first week is about seeking balance. "Ask questions but not too many questions, relate to people but not too gushingly, be detached but not too detached. Aim to be trusting but not gullible."

It's a difficult path to tread, so don't be surprised if you're tired at the end of the first week. What can help, however, is talking to a partner or friend who is not connected with your workplace. A different viewpoint can help you keep a potentially exhausting first week in perspective.

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