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First job

Young workers infographic Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowStarting your first job can be a scary experience for many people. There are lots of things to get used to including a new place of work, new people and new rules.

There are also a number of employment rights all new workers have to help you get treated fairly. You'll also have a number of things to do for your new employer to help make your first job easier.

Key points

  • Prepare for your first day at work and it will be much easier.
  • A contract of employment is an agreement between you and your new employer explaining what your rights and responsibilities are.
  • Most workers are entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage, this varies depending on your age and whether or not you're an apprentice.
  • There are rules about how many hours you can work and what time off you can have.
  • You should be prepared to learn about the rules that your new workplace has, and to follow them.
  • In work you can be expected to be treated fairly and you should treat your colleagues fairly too. 

Watch our animated video which neatly captures how things can go wrong on the first day at work

Your first day

The first day in a new job can be frightening, for some, and doing some basic preparation before the day can really help.

Getting there

Before you start your new job make sure you know where you're supposed to be and how you'll get there. If you're using public transport check the options and times the day before or ask if there is parking available if you are going to drive.

Remember the location of your interview may be different than where you end up working so it's best to check.

Be on time

It is important to make sure you are on time in your new job, not only because your employer and colleagues will be relying on you to be there, but also as many organisations may have rules about lateness. Ask your new employer in advance what time you need to start so you can show up on time and make a good first impression.

What to wear

Many organisations will expect their staff to dress in a certain way and you should try to find out before your first day what is appropriate clothing for your new workplace. You might be working somewhere that has a uniform which should make the decision of what to wear quite easy. In other workplaces you may be expected to wear smarter clothing, jeans and t-shirts may not be allowed.
More info: Dress code

Lunch and break times

You can ask your new employer before you start if there's a staff canteen on site or other places to buy lunch nearby. If you don't have this information in advance then you may want to bring food with you for breaks on your first day.

Many employers will give new members of staff an induction on the first day, this is to welcome you to the organisation. Inductions vary from place to place but generally include basic information about where you are working and what you will be doing. This includes some of the things we've already mentioned such as what the dress code is and where the staff canteen is. It should also give you information on the goals of the organisation, the job you will be doing and the rules you'll be expected to follow.

Following the rules

Your new employer will probably have a series of rules (which might be called policies) which set out how they expect employees to do their job and act while in the workplace. You might be given these in the form of a staff handbook or be referred to a webpage to read about them, sometimes you might even receive training on some of the rules as part of your induction. It is important that you make yourself aware of any rules the organisation has and try to follow them.

If you're not sure how to do something or why you're doing it then ask your supervisor or a colleague.

Your rights at work

You probably won't need to know all of this for your first day but you should be aware that there are certain employment rights that you have when you start a new job. You can read more about these on the Acas website but here's some basic information.

Contracts of employment

An employment contract is a term used for the agreement between the employer and employee and all new employees will have one. The contract explains what your employment conditions, rights, responsibilities and job roles are.  Key points within the contract have to be written down, but the agreement will often cover things which have not been set out in writing for you.  For instance things that you are regularly asked to do could become part of your contract over time and parts of the law such as health and safety rules will apply whether written down or not.

With most first jobs you are also legally entitled to something called a Written Statement. This should include details of things like pay, holidays and working hours. Most employers will supply this when you start your new job and you should receive it within the first two months, if you don't then ask your employer about it.

More info: Contracts of employment

Getting paid

Getting paid and making sure you're being paid the right amount is important. You should receive a basic hourly rate in your new job. How much you earn can depend on your age with younger workers getting less minimum wage per hour than older ones. If you're working as an apprentice you could receive a different amount per hour. You can check out the current rates for the national minimum wage and remember they change every October. You can also find out what you should be getting paid by using the Helpline Online tool.

Some employers may pay more than this so ask when you start and find out what you can expect to be paid.

You're also entitled to a pay slip which explains how much you've earned and shows any deductions that have been made, for things like Tax and National Insurance.

More info:

Working the right hours

There are laws to limit the number of hours you are expected to work and to make sure you get the right breaks and time off. These laws are called The Working Time Regulations.

The main rights you have under the Working Time Regulations:

  • You should work a maximum of 48 hours per week (on average);
    • though with some jobs you can choose to "opt out", this means that you can work more than 48 hours per week.
  • You should get 5.6 weeks paid leave a year;
    • this means that you should multiply the number of days you worked during the week by 5.6 to work out what you're entitled to. So if you worked 5 days a week you get 28 days off per year. These 28 days can include bank holidays, although some employers may give you those in addition to the 28 days so check your contract to find out.
    • If you work different hours each week it's a bit more complicated but luckily there is a calculator  to work it out for you - GOV.UK - Calculate holiday entitlement
  • You should get at least 11 hours of rest in a row in a 24 hour period;
  • You should get a break of 20 minutes if you work more than 6 hours;
  • You must get at least 1 day off each week (although you'll probably get at least 2);
  • If you work at night you shouldn't work more than 8 hours during a 24 hour period, plus you'll be entitled to regular health assessments.

If you're a younger worker (16 & 17 year olds) the Working Time Regulations rules are slightly different:

  • You should work a maximum of 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week;
  • You should have a rest break of 30 minutes if you work more than 4 ½ hours;
  • You should get 2 days off each week.

More info: Working hours

Getting treated fairly at work

When you start your new job you can expect to get treated fairly by your employer and colleagues and not be discriminated against or harassed. There are laws to protect you from that sort of behaviour and often your employer will have rules about how to act in the workplace to try to stop discrimination and harassment.

Sometimes bullying might take place in the workplace. Bullying might be physical, for example someone hitting you, or it might be verbal. In the workplace it is more likely to be verbal and this might include someone repeatedly making jokes about you, calling you names, criticising you or your work or excluding you from the team.

If you think this has happened to you, or you see it happening to your colleagues you should try to speak to your employer about it. You should also ensure that you do not treat your colleagues unfairly.

More info:

Trade Unions

When you start your new job you may want to join, or be asked to join, a Trade Union. Trade Unions are organisations that represent people at work and aim to make workplaces better. Trade Unions are able to offer people who join advice and support on a range of things that might happen at work, for example if you're not getting paid properly, or being treated unfairly or if you just want to check a detail about your contract.

There are lots of different types of Trade Unions so it can be a bit confusing knowing which one to join, but often people join a particular Union because of the type of job they do or type of workplace they are in.

More info:


The Department of Work and Pensions is currently running a campaign to help people get into work and start their first job. The campaign is encouraging people to recognise that while your first job may not be your dream job, it's a great place to start gaining skills, knowledge and practical experience.

To share your first job tips and experiences on Twitter or Instagram use #firstjob or follow @DWPgovuk on Twitter or @DWPgovuk on Instagram.

We asked colleagues about their first job.

Jill Coyne, Senior Guidance Manager

My first job involved working very long hours 6 days a week in a Cash and Carry doing a variety of tasks: stocking shelves; working on the till; unloading deliveries and helping customers find items.

My main memory from that job happened on my first day... Most of the customers paid with cash, including bags of coins which didn't fit in the till so we put them in a brown paper box underneath it. At the end of the night I had to balance my till and as it was my first shift my boss thought it would be funny to hide my box of coin bags, so for about an hour I thought I'd lost over £1000! I was terrified.

The main lessons I learnt from that job - how important team work is, how much more exhausting working is than school, and (if you're working with cash) never take your eyes off the money!


Stewart Gee, Head of Information and Guidance

My first jobs were through an agency in food manufacture, in a meat packing plant and later in a cake factory.  I worked between 55 and 60 hours a week (this was long before the introduction of rules about working time) and found the experience very tiring as the hours were very different from school.

While neither of these could be described as my absolute dream job, there was a great deal to like and learn at both workplaces. I really valued the understanding I developed of the different backgrounds of the people I worked with - in one workplace I was on a production line alongside people who had done the job for years, as well as someone completing a Phd, and a trainee airline pilot. People join a workplace for all kinds of different reasons, but the important thing is not to make assumptions, and to understand you always have something to learn from colleagues who have been doing the job for a while.