3 Easy Ways To Fix A Horrible First Impression At Work

Young employee tries to fix his bad first impression at work

You're anxiously awaiting your first day after nailing the interview and landing your ideal job. Skip to your start date at 7 a.m. and coffee spills on your white shirt, now pushing you one hour behind to your first team meeting. Or even worse, you've completely missed your first day because of a flight malfunction.

There can be so many variations of this story but regardless of your circumstance, you now come off as unreliable and unprofessional. What do you do next?

We understand certain situations can arise that are truly out of your control. In other cases, however, it probably wouldn't hurt to take a step back and ask yourself: Was I at fault? Were there preventable measures I could have taken?

It's important to analyze your particular situation with an open perspective apart from shame, guilt, or self-judgment, with a positive mindset that can serve you better in the future.

For any unfavorable work situation, we've come up with three easy ways to ensure your negative impression in the workplace won't be permanent.

1. Communicate Your Circumstances ASAP

The sooner your boss knows about your delay or inability to show up to work, the better. Be effective and, when possible, send written communication so you have a paper trail of your attempt to fix your first impression. You also risk hurting your reputation if you forget to notify your manager or team in a timely manner.

Whenever possible, be willing and organized enough to send your notification quickly, so you can highlight your positive traits like respectfulness and diligence.

2. Be Sincere And Honest

Professional woman being honest with her boss about why she was late


Make the communication concise and clear. If it's via a phone call, practice what you're going to say a few minutes before you call. Be confident in your words and clearly state your situation with reason. Try to not rely heavily on emotion when telling your manager details and how this will affect your attendance.

Also, apologize and explain that you are truly sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused, but look forward to being a part of the team and catching up on what you missed as soon as possible.

3. Consistency Is Key

Man looking to make a great first impression at his first job


The impression your colleagues have of you after your first day can be just as important as the initial one. Make it a priority to show your commitment and enthusiasm in the days ahead. If you're able to consistently show up and prioritize the work as needed, your teammates will not assume that your unreliability is habitual.

Workplace Culture Plays A Role, Too

Company with great workplace culture has a meeting to discuss employee performance


But, wait! There is a key element that can shine through in situations like these that has absolutely nothing to do with employee performance. It's workplace culture.

Yes, in moments like these, your workplace culture will show its true colors. This is so important to look out for, because it can determine your future success at the company. How, you ask?

Well, let's bring one societal pretense to light—the tendency to always place blame on the employee with the assumption that the employer had no fault. However, being an employer does not mean you're immune to making poor moral and professional choices.

What Is Workplace Culture?

Co-workers have a meeting to talk about workplace culture


By the way—what is workplace culture? It's the set of behaviors and values a company or organization encompasses at its core.


  • Work-life flexibility
  • Mission-driven work
  • Data-focused results

To give you a more concrete example in #1...

Let's say if a company promises work-life balance and schedule flexibility (emphasizing it as one of its core values) but then as your first week progresses, you quickly learn that this is not the case. You have a flight on Friday evening and offer to come in at 7 a.m., leave at 3 p.m. with a short lunch as opposed to an 8-5 p.m. schedule. Your boss disagrees and wants you to begin on another day.

Or, you are an exempt employee who is under the impression that you will be working 40-hour work weeks Monday through Friday, but then are advised there are 7+ events held after business hours, including weekends that you must attend in addition to your normal hours. You agree to attend 6 out of the 7 events but for the one you can't attend, your boss asks you inappropriate questions like why and what exactly do you have to do that's so important, stating things like, "A baby shower doesn't last all day," or, "Wait, it's your birthday, isn't it!"

And if you hear statements like these, they're red flags:

  • "I barely have time outside of work to get personal things done."
  • "I have to hold my bathroom sometimes because I have so much work to do!"
  • "People are having concerns about you at the organization and your level of commitment."

Try to hone in on how your potential team reacts to the workplace culture and why. After you make that first impression, it's a time where you can learn about the people who you'll be spending a lot of time with during the week.

We're objective career experts here, because we understand that you're more than an employee: you're a business-of-one. Your feelings, opinions, and set of personal work values matter just as much as your employer's. So, determining if a workplace culture is a good fit for you holds just as much weight as an employer judging you for not being a good employee, even just after that first impression.

If you are currently in any sticky work situations and need professional guidance, we are here to listen (and help!). Our career coaches have 25+ years of HR experience, so you'll always receive the most transparent and knowledgeable career coaching from us.

What career move is currently on your radar and what obstacles are you facing? Let us help! Join the #1 online career growth club today!