You recently accepted a new job offer, and you can’t wait to start. After a necessary between-jobs vacation, you’re ready for your first day.
Setting yourself up for success at your new company doesn’t stop with your offer letter: Accepting an offer is just the beginning. Whether you are starting a new job at a new company or switching job functions internally, your first months will be pivotal to your success. You’ll need a plan to help you knock it out of the park.
So how do you set yourself up for success in your new gig from day one? Here’s my advice:
From understanding benefits and commuter options, to parsing through cultural norms like where people sit at lunch, and whether they sit together or work right through it, to what systems and software you’ll need to access and how to download it–you probably have a lot of questions and little idea where to start. Even if your company provides new-hire FAQ documents or training, getting started can still be daunting. You’ll likely find there’s a wealth of material you could be learning at any given time.
My advice? Be prepared to prioritize ruthlessly, or you’ll drown in information.
To help you define and prioritize your one-month learning objectives, start by weighing what it is you need to learn, and consider whether any are time-sensitive. Is it more important to learn about the company’s product offering? Its market objectives? The company culture? Internal politics? Should you skip the lingo learning and start talking to teammates and uncover best practices and your team’s internal processes instead?
If you can’t tell what’s important, ask! You may think it makes sense to get to know your immediate team first and stakeholders second, but your boss may disagree. You may think downloading essential software can be put off until later, but your peers can tell you if any are notoriously difficult to access, or whether there are licensing limitations you’ll need to start working around now. Check with your peers and your new manager about your priorities to see if your hypotheses about learning priorities make sense.
(Someone who isn’t your new manager.)
Some companies have a formal “buddy” process, whereby new hires are assigned to answer all questions–procedural, logistical, cultural. But if you don’t have an assigned buddy, find the friendliest person in the room and start there. Even if they’re not the right resource, they can likely point you in the right direction.
If you’re not sure how things are run, or why they are run that way, ask. Even though you’re the new kid, you’ll find that some of the vets on your team may have been wondering about that same question, too. Your newbie questions can also help existing teams review and reconsider current processes, and be a good heads-up that something that should be clear isn’t. Never be embarrassed to ask a question.
As the new kid, your job is to learn as much as you can and then quickly provide value back to the company and your team.
How do you identify quick wins? Ask yourself: What are areas of opportunity in which you can quickly make an impact? How can you make that impact visible? Are these areas in line with the company’s priorities? Are you equipped to succeed in taking on these tasks?
Talk with your teammates to uncover gaps that you may have an advantage in filling. Consider what an appropriate timeline might look like for taking on those projects. Resist the urge to launch longer-term projects where your work and output is likely to be less immediately visible (and valuable), and opt for those that will be quick enough to execute and show immediate impact (think less than three months out). Make sure you align with your manager and are in a position to deliver on the quick wins you’re setting out to complete.
What will it take to succeed in your new role day-to-day, and in the long term? Besides the tactical quick wins you’ve outlined with your manager, what else is expected of you? What kind of bar are you expected to rise to? To fully grasp your manager’s expectations of your work, you’ll need to understand everything from how to make the best use of your 1:1s and how frequently to have them, to whether your manager is more interested in seeing process or results, to what their preferred email communication style is.
In your first month on the job, take time to talk to your manager about working styles and to understand their current priorities as a manager. When you know how to help your manager, your job becomes much easier. Clear expectations are far easier to meet than fuzzy ones.
Flex your strengths, but let your strategy in this new job be informed by what you have learned about the company culture, your manager’s needs, and your team’s interests and priorities–not just what you are already good at. Your strengths should continue to be an asset, but never a crutch. Be flexible, adapt to your environment, learn new skills, and adjust as necessary.
Whether you realized it at your last job or not, understanding people dynamics likely played a crucial part in your success on the job. No matter what size the company, people dynamics are a major factor in how people get hired, fired, and promoted, and they also have a great deal of impact on your day-to-day experience at work. For some people, understanding working styles and company culture comes easily. If it doesn’t, start small.
Note the differences between how things were done at your old job and how they seem to be operating at your new company. Inspect those differences carefully. Are these differences companywide or specific to one person or team? How will you adapt?
Focus on understanding the values behind common micro-interactions. Understand preferences and assumptions, such as:
- In-person requests or email requests?
- Formal scheduled meetings, or informal discussions?
- Calendars sacred or merely a formality?
- Meetings: assume they are optional or required?
- Lunch at your desk or in good company?
What do the decisions made around how people communicate say about the company’s values and assumptions? Understanding your new company culture’s baseline will help you to know the system you are operating with, and help you gain traction internally.
The first month at a new job can be hard–really hard! You may feel like you’ll never learn it all. You may cringe at not having all the answers. You may make mistakes. You may have less confidence. This is perfectly normal!
Remember to check in and talk to trusted friends and former coworkers who know you and your many talents well. They can remind you of your talents and strengths when you’re feeling down, and be a support group for you when “imposter syndrome” inevitably strikes. Because they know you well, they can help cut through your perceived struggles and identify the real challenges you’re facing, or throw down some much-needed real talk about why you do deserve to be at your job, no matter how far off that feels to you in the beginning months. They are the support group that can give you the credit you may be robbing yourself of.
You were hired for your very unique assets–skills and experiences that may not even have been in the job description! Don’t let being the new kid dampen your personality or passion for the job. Bring your full self to work. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.
If you’re doing all of the above, you’re likely running at full speed. Remember to take a breather, to relax, to step away from it all, and to get some sleep! Resting and regrouping is as important as taking action.
Ask questions, smile big, breathe deep, and shake off any initial missteps. You’re learning, just like everybody else–even those with several years of tenure under their belts. Your plan in place, you too will get there.