You’ve killed the interview, negotiated your salary, and ironed your perfect first-day-of-work outfit. You take a deep breath, walk in the door and . . . chaos. Logistical, interpersonal, ego-crushing chaos.
Everyone is frantic on a project and nobody has time to onboard you. None of your log-ins work, so you can’t even begin to learn the seven new software systems your boss thought you already knew. After half an hour of increasingly frantic searching, you break down and ask where the bathroom is. Only to find you’re standing right in front of it.
The first few weeks at a new job can be awful. Make the transition smoother, if not perfect, with a few simple steps to get up to speed fast, establish rapport and position within the organization, and project confidence in this new, confusing arena.
“You go through the interview process and it’s almost like they’re wooing you and you’ve proved yourself, and then you show up the first day and it can be really, really rough,” says Carolyn Betts, the founder and CEO of Betts Recruiting.
She said that while some companies go above and beyond to welcome new employees, your first weeks may well be marked by gentle indifference.
“If for whatever reason it’s not perfect, it’s not about you,” she says. “People are busy and sometimes you have to speak up–‘Hey, my computer’s not working. I can’t connect to the Internet.’”
When senior strategy consultant Markus Hutchins first jumped from marketing to advertising, he found himself in very different territory, with new processes, jargon, needs and styles to learn–immediately.
Aside from outside research–“A weird but great resource is Slideshare; there’s great decks people have built for clients . . . and it’s perfect for accessing specific terminology”–Hutchins suggests posing your questions early on.
“If you position it as, ‘I’ve never been exposed to this,’ it makes it less embarrassing,” he says. “But if you play along and pretend you know it and you’re exposed, that’s when those problems really arise. There’s no great way to say, ‘I need help,’ but the earlier you do it, the more willing someone will be to give it.”
“I try to be porous in the first few months, to take in information both verbal and nonverbal,” said Rukaiyah Adams, CIO of the Meyer Memorial Trust. “I let the organization’s energies flow through me rather than try to alter it . . . and find out where the toxicity is, where the opportunity is, where the creativity is.”
The first few months, she said, you are automatically at a slight disadvantage, and the only way to catch up is to listen more than you speak.
Think, she said, of “three concentric circles. There’s positional power, based on your job title. There’s personal power, the kind of comfort and charisma you bring with yourself. And the third is awareness power, where you have a sense of what’s happening around you.”
You have the first two types when you walk in the door, so focus in on the third.
“You hit the ground running pretty successfully if you have an awareness of the place,” Adams says. “Once you get in the door the meritocracy’s over, and you really have to figure out where social power is bartered, how it’s gained, or how it’s lost. That’s the key.”
Great first impressions aren’t loud, splashy ones. When we get nervous, we tend to talk more and faster than we normally do, says Martha Mundorff Humphrey, director of talent management for 52Ltd.
“People who come in with an over-the-top sense of trying to display their personality–it can be distracting,” she says. “Usually it’s compensating for wanting to fit in . . . but you don’t want to be the subject of the internal IM’s.”
She highly recommends bonding with coworkers over shared tastes and passions–TV discussions can be especially fertile ground, “but be careful not to be a spoiler.”
There is a special flavor of defeat you taste when you have to interrupt your boss to, say, ask where exactly the printer is, and why it refuses to acknowledge your existence and/or printing needs. After wasting three hours failing to figure it out yourself.
But speaking of actual versus titled power, there are people who hold the answers to this and every small (but endlessly frustrating) logistical issue that arise in a new place.
“The two most important people to know are one, the receptionist, and two, the mailroom supply guy,” says Hutchins. “They know all the dirt on everyone and they get asked stupid questions all day. So not only do they know all the answers to all those questions but they never judge you for asking.”
There’s no magic wand that transforms you from the awkward new kid into someone who has years of rapport and demonstrated talent, admired and loved by every coworker. It’s only accomplished with time–and luck, and hard work. So be patient.
“Usually it takes two months to really understand the dynamic of the team you’re working with and know how you can be a productive part of it,” says Humphrey.
Betts agrees, “People do not always do the best job at onboarding,” she said. The key, she says, is “understanding that things aren’t going to be perfect and having a really good attitude.”
“When those hiccups come up, understand that’s it’s totally normal and it’s not you.”
Kelly Williams Brown is the New York Times-bestselling author of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. Her work has appeared in the Daily Beast, Cosmopolitan, Mashable, Matter and more.