Congratulations on starting a new job. You’ve got a new outfit, a new attitude, and a new paycheck. Be sure you start things off right by being conscious of your surroundings and by managing your expectations. It’s not easy being the new guy. You’re psyched. They’re psyched. But nobody knows what’s really coming next. You radiated energy and intention in all those interviews. They did too. Everyone was on their best behavior. Now you’ll see them in their native habitat.
Some of your coworkers will maintain the facade longer than others, but soon you’ll get a glimpse (or a massive dose) of reality. Nobody ever really knows what they’re getting into until they are in place and fully present, with all their political and emotional sensors on high alert.
To ensure you get off to a smart, savvy, and successful start, focus on these seven factors.
No two organizations do things the same. You’ll see stuff that’s cool and stuff that’s nutty. Your IT and email set-up will be different. So will time sheets, reporting, status, phones, etc. Don’t be shocked. Take it all in. Maintain an even keel. Don’t make faces. Try to understand why they do it that way. If there’s no good reason, accept it.
You are not going to change attitudes, processes, or idiosyncrasies anytime soon. So suck it up. Decide that whatever they do and however they do it will be okay. Go with the flow. Don’t make demands or comparisons to your old job. Don’t be a diva. Your new bosses and teammates want you to fit in. Don’t disappoint them by freaking out or by telling them how outdated, silly, or counterproductive their act is.
Get the backstory.
You’ve joined a sitcom in progress. Find out what went on before you showed up and what people think will happen next. You got hired. But you don’t really know if they think you are the Messiah or if you were third choice. Disconnect your ego and find out as much about the context of your hiring as you can.
You might think you’re there to shake things up or to add some special measure of expertise. If you are the first new guy after a hiring freeze, expectations could be unrealistically high. You might be replacing a superstar or a screwball, either of which will prompt comparisons and early judgments. Chances are somebody there thinks you’ve arrived to be their servant and somebody else has already lined up all the stuff they hate to do as your first assignments. The more you understand the backstory, the easier the transition.
Smile — and keep your mouth shut.
Be happy. You have a new job. But don’t pretend you’ve joined a love cult. People work out all kinds of needs at work. You can’t effectively negotiate the currents till you understand who’s who and where they are coming from. This requires considerable restraint. Everyone is curious about the new guy. Develop a simple story punctuated with some personal details and tell it. Then shut up, watch, and listen.
Identify who likes whom, and who has the real power or influence.
Try to figure out the tribes and cliques around you. Don’t join any group till you really know who’s in it and how they operate. You’re like a new prisoner in the yard. Don’t join or annoy the existing alliances.
Don’t speculate about what’s going on.
Stifle the urge to dissect, psychoanalyze, explain, or describe your new insights to your new colleagues since you’ll invariably be wrong and piss someone off. Do not become an office gossip. It’s the kiss of death. Talk to your roommate, your partner, or even your mom, but keep mum in the office until you feel confident you have the true lay of the land. Remember, new hires can be broomed in 90–120 days without much cause, so don’t make enemies unnecessarily.
Be straight with your boss.
Ask for clear directions, priorities, and assignments. Ask the boss what success looks like. Get agreement on your personal KPIs and understand how your work will be evaluated. Be sure to get clear direction on deadlines, reports, statuses, and how much or how little to involve him or her in each of your projects.
Some bosses are organized, self-aware, and straightforward. Others aren’t. Some are very friendly. Some are distant. You’ll know right away which your boss is, so calibrate your response and figure out how to give them what they want or what you think they want. Be straight but don’t suck up. Don’t be bashful. Ask and ask again. Act on their feedback. Establishing a good, clear, and productive working relationship with your immediate supervisor will determine your near-term career trajectory.
Focus on performance.
You’re there to get something done. Make sure it gets done right. The fastest way to advance is to productively deliver work on time and on budget. Put all the other attractions and blandishments of the new job to the side.
The landscape, the departments, and the process will be new and probably different. Zero in on learning them. Make allies in other departments. Figure out the formal process and the informal workarounds. Someone is counting on you to get on the scoreboard quickly. Deliver on those expectations. Figure out who can help you and who is just in the way. Find a sherpa who can guide you through the system. Play nice. Share. Document your work. Suspend judgment. Keep your eye on the prize. And when you win, don’t brag.
Hey Guns, got any new-job hints of your own? Other pitfalls to avoid? How about a few toe-curling cautionary tales? Share them in the Comments!