First day horror stories: 'I crashed into a colleague's parked car'

We all worry about the first day of a new job or internship being a disaster. But what happens when the nightmare becomes reality, and how can you cope?

Alex Taylor
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What was the first day in your job or internship like? Probably stressful - a blur of overwhelming instructions, mixed with a paralysing willingness to impress. It can be a tense whirlwind of emotions.

It's a situation played out in full glory in the new comedy Twenties on BBC Three. It follows Hattie, a free-spirited young woman, looking to make her way in the competitive media industry. When she lands a role as PA to a top TV executive Ida B, she wants to make her mark, but finds being the new girl a little tough - including underestimating the coffee run.

So, what can you do if the day doesn't go to plan? BBC Three spoke to people about their first day disasters, from crashing into a colleague's parked car to missing six alarms, and how they got through them.

'People thought I was related to a gunrunner'

Saurav, law internships

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My name often caused me a few, surreal, problems when I interned in law firms before becoming an author.

During one four-week internship at a major law firm I was relegated to the postal room on my first day. The floor manager came over and said: "I can't really pronounce your name, it's a bit difficult - is it alright if I call you Sad?"

Initially, I was too stunned to say anything but after he introduced me as "Sad" to a few people, I eventually had to step in.

His response? "It seems the best combination of Saurav and Dutt, is Sad, that way I'm using both parts of your full name."

My surname – Dutt – has also proved a sticking point on its own. I share it with infamous Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt who was jailed over firearms offences linked to the deadly 1993 Mumbai blasts.

Only minutes after an email about my arrival had gone out on my first day, my manager pulled me into a side room. "Someone's said you are apparently related to a gunrunner?"

I explained I was not related to him in any way, but it didn't stop security taking my day pass that afternoon. I was asked to sit in reception while calls were made.

Eventually, they realised I wasn't related to Sanjay - apparently they thought I looked like his son!

Saurav's advice: To any BAME individual starting their job in similar circumstances, I'd say make sure to immediately correct someone if they are "compromising" your background.

By that I mean deliberately getting your name wrong or mispronouncing it, assuming certain lifestyle choices, attitudes and reactions to you based on your ethnicity, or making conclusions about you based on stereotypes.

'I crashed into a colleague's car'

Emma*, radio internship

I'd really been looking forward to the opportunity. Radio meant a lot to me, and I felt like this was my big chance.

A few hours in I was sent out on a story and told I could use the company car. I felt a little nervous as I hadn't driven in a while – only passing my test almost a year to that day – but had never had any problems, so told myself to pull it together.

Anyway, I got in the car, missed my footing and drove smack into an employee's parked car. I'll never forget the thud, splinter and crunch.

I just sat there in total shock. I do remember I apologised a lot. I felt so guilty for the damage, stupid for the way it happened and then like an inconvenience.

As if that wasn't bad enough, I then had to stay with the employee (whose car I'd just smashed up), while they made a call to the insurance company to talk it all through. Fortunately, since it was a company car, I wasn't liable for the damage.

Everyone, the boss included, was very lovely and despite the obvious mishap everyone wanted to check I was okay. They all tried to reassure me these things happen (although not quite in the way it did to me I suspect).

I knew I had to stay the week but assumed that would be a black mark against my name for future work. It definitely made me work harder. Oddly enough I now work at the company!

Emma's advice: Stay calm and make sure you're prepared. If you're going to be doing something you're not sure of or haven't done in a while, try to practise or be honest with them.

It's not worth the stress or the lifelong jokes (from friends, family and colleagues), for what you think might save face.

Finally, things move on and nothing stays as bad as it seems in the moment. Yes, even crashing a car.

'My colleagues joked that I was a criminal'

Lee, banking internship

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After a number of interviews, I finally achieved a place on the graduate scheme at a major bank. Full of energy and enthusiasm on my first day, I walk into the building feeling proud.

After picking up my pass, I have time to kill before training starts. In the lift, I let curiosity get the better of me and head to the 22nd floor.

Walking out, I realise there are management suites and directors’ offices unoccupied and I go and take a quick peek. After all, maybe my career will end up in one of these.

After a few minutes of soaking everything in, I realise I'm going to be late if I don't hurry back down, I try to re-enter the lift, only to find it won't activate because I've not got clearance. The same goes with the door to the stairwell, and I realise I'm stuck.

After 10 minutes of panic, I relented and called reception. They sent security to rescue me, who frogmarched me to training. Cue jokes about me being a criminal, disruptive and generally misbehaved. That lasted a week until somebody found out the full story, at which point I gained the nickname "Bigtime".

Lee's advice: Always check your security clearance levels.

'I slept through five separate alarms'

Daisy*, media company

My first shift started at 7am. As someone who'd worked early shifts in the past, I'd already got a good multi-alarm system on the go; including one that I needed to physically get up out of bed and walk across the room to switch off. Never once had I slept through.

But because it was a new job, I was extra cautious and somehow managed to find and set five alarms. Unfortunately I also managed to switch them all off in my sleep. And sleep through.

I wake up at 6.57am and scream swear words repeatedly. My boyfriend wasn't impressed at being woken up.

Panicking, I order an Uber (not cheap) and don't have time to make myself look nice on any level - no shower or hair styling. Shove on clothes (and makeup) in the taxi.

Thirty minutes later I make it in. My entrance? Sweaty and flustered… midway through the morning meeting. My boss introduces me to everyone, but rather than smiles I'm met with looks of pity.

One helpful colleague remarks, "in my 25 years working I've never once slept through my alarm, it really isn't difficult... have you tried setting a few alarms, and putting one on the other side of the room?"

If only they knew!

Daisy's advice: My only advice is that no matter how many alarms, and how many times you double and triple check them, it can happen. But to avoid that exact situation again, I'll always have a late night shower and style my hair the night before!

Tips from the boardroom

Having heard these horror stories, what advice can bosses give for new starters? As Hattie's relationship with Ida in Twenties shows, managers can be supportive and inspirational as well as feared.

Career and recruitment expert Andrew Fennell, currently director at CV-writing company, StandOut CV, gives his top pointers for a successful first day.

1. Become a go-to person but not a pushover

We all want to make a good impression when we start a new job or internship, but it's important not to be taken advantage of.

Ideally you want to become known as somebody who will absolutely get stuck in and help get the latest project over the line, but not somebody who is willing to drop everything they are doing for a coffee run, or move a car if you aren't confident.

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions

Your first few days at any new job will always be a huge learning curve and no employers will expect you to know everything right away. Most good hiring managers will allocate time for new starters, so make the most of this and tap into their knowledge early - as they may not be able to give you as much attention three months down the line.

If you're worried about pestering your boss too frequently, jot down a list of your questions and ask them in batches during your conversations or meetings.

3. Do everything in your power to avoid being late

Poor punctuality won't make a good first impression, so it could be worth getting into the area 30 minutes early every day for the first week and grabbing a coffee nearby, just to ensure transport nightmares don't put a spanner in the works.

4. Be proactive in getting to know your colleagues but be cautious

This is because in your first few days, all eyes will be on you. Be friendly and introduce yourself to those you will be working with, but try to do more asking and listening than speaking, and gauge the culture before coming out of your shell. Every workplace environment is different, and breaking an unwritten social rule can get you off on the wrong foot both socially and professionally. If you're terrible with names, social media, About Us and Our Team pages are the perfect place to see who's who.

*Names have been changed.