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3 Ways to Turn Around an Unproductive First Day Because Your Client Wasn't Prepared

Companies love hiring IT contractors because they're experts in their fields and "hit the ground running". As much as everyone tries to make that a reality, all independent contractors have experienced first days that seem like a waste of everyone's time because either nothing was prepared, the right people weren't there, or the project wasn't even ready for you. Regardless of how terribly unproductive the outlook of that first day might seem, here are three ways you can turn it around and make the most of it:

Get to Know Your Surroundings

Take steps to get familiar with your surroundings and the people with whom you're going to work. Use your spare time to familiarize yourself with the building, and get to know where all the facilities, meeting rooms and key people are. You can also silently observe the culture to understand how people interact with each other and gain an overall feeling of the organization. Any downtime you have on your first day is also a great opportunity to get to know the people on your team and off your team. Without being disruptive, learn names and positions, especially those you'll need to interact with over the course of your project. When timing works out, join your team for lunch so you can get to know them even better.

Set the Right First Impressions

Speaking of getting to know people, the first day is often your only chance to create the right first impressions, and if you have extra time on your hands, you can work a little harder at it. Obviously, arriving on time with a positive attitude and willingness to cooperate goes without saying. Experts in the field also recommend you listen more than speak as people give you orientations, but you also want to ask plenty of the right questions to show that you're eager. Another tip from experienced IT contractors is to have a short elevator pitch ready. Not the same one that you'd give to a recruiter detailing your career, but one that introduces yourself with a brief history of your field and what you're taking on in the project. Essentially, you want to answer that blunt "Who are you" question briefly, accurately, and confidently. While you want to meet people, introduce yourself, and learn as much as you can, you also don't want to waste anyone's time. Watch for signs when people are busy to be certain you don't interrupt work and avoid asking questions that you really could have found the answer to on your own (yes, there is such thing as a stupid question).

Familiarize Yourself with the Project

Strive to learn everything you can about your new project, even if your client isn't ready for you and the onboarding is going sideways. Anticipate this kind of first day by doing your homework in the time leading up to it. Research the company and talk to your recruiter to grasp an understanding of their site, technical environment and the people on the team. This way you can have a list of questions when you walk in. As you talk to people -- either formally or informally -- take notes about your project and understand the expectations your client has for you during your term. It's also wise to set their expectations as well, especially if you'll need to time to ramp up. Regardless of how much of an expert you are in your field, you can't possibly be expected to be an expert in their environment after just the first day. If people aren't readily available to help you on Day 1, ask for documentation so you can do as much independent learning as you can. Perhaps they have an IT manual, mission manual, project notes, or any other documentation that will get you up-to-speed. Eagle sends first day surveys when our IT contractors start a new placement and, for the most part, feedback is positive. Clients are generally great at having everything ready and consultants can jump right in. Unfortunately, we do see the odd train wreck where nothing was ready, and the new hire felt they completely lost a first day. If this happens to you, do what you can to turn around and make it productive. You're billing your client either way, and they'll appreciate you did all you could to provide value.