The anticipation of starting your new job is over. You’ve met with your new boss and are settled in to your new workstation—and you feel like a fish out of water. Worse, you’re concerned that not knowing exactly what you’re doing is making a bad impression on your new colleagues. After all, shouldn’t you hit the ground running?
“First, you need to know that it’s completely normal. In some respects, from a biological standpoint, we’re hardwired to feel nervous in new situations,” says Keith Rollag, associate professor and chair of the management division at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, and author of What to Do When You’re New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident and Successful in New Situations.
Rollag says many people focus too much on performing in the first few days and focus less on the things they need to do to get them up to speed. To get off on the right foot in your new job, take a deep breath and try the following steps.
In those first meeting days, ask your supervisor about where he or she would like you to first focus, says Mishri Someshwar, associate vice president of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars in Washington, D.C. You likely have an idea from your interview process about how your success will be measured.
“The challenge for new employees is to understand where they need to jump in and move quickly and where they need to avoid being presumptuous about changing an existing system or process straight out of the gate,” she says.
Someshwar says that you can find opportunities to perform early on by listening carefully. When you ask questions about how things are done, opportunities lie in the areas where people are vocal about wanting change. If many people are complaining openly about a particular area that falls within your responsibilities, that’s a clue that you can take action. If they mention change, but do so more quietly, that’s a clue that there are barriers or politics involved and you should tread carefully, she says.
During your interview process and the research you did about the company, you likely have an idea about the challenges the company is facing and how you can contribute to solutions, says Alfred E. Blake IV, assistant director of undergraduate entrepreneurship programs at Rutgers University Business School and founder of the consultancy Rule Breaker University.
He suggests developing your own 90-day plan with personal performance goals that will help you both define your roles and give you a framework and something you can work toward while you’re getting acclimated to your new job so you don’t feel so lost, he says.
Rollag says it’s essential to find an ally who can give you hints about office politics and procedures. This person can help shorten your learning curve and also prevent missteps. Look for the friendly people who offer their help if you need anything when you’re making a round of introductions. You’ll likely figure out who might be a good ally within your first few days on the job, he says.
This is a tough one, but Rollag says one of the best ways to make a terrific second impression is to remember and say a person’s name the next time you see them. But many of us are terrible with names. One of the tricks is to repeat the name right away to confirm you heard it correctly and to start reinforcing the neural pathways from their face to their name.
He suggests mentally quizzing yourself on the name while making small talk, and if you’ve forgotten the person’s name, ask for it again at the end of your initial conversation.
“Say your own name as well, as it’s likely they’ve forgotten your name too. Most importantly, write the name down as soon as you can after the introduction. Your ability to recognize the right name is much better than your ability to pull that name out of memory,” he says. It may sound over the top, but studying lists of names can help you remember them, too, he says.
Ultimately, your job in the first weeks on the job is to get a good understanding of the landscape and see where you fit, Blake says. While you want to prove yourself early in the process and win goodwill, you want to be sure you don’t inadvertently alienate people or focus on working in the wrong areas.
“It’s not, ‘Come in and make your mark.’ It’s ‘Come in and figure out the key stakeholders who you need to meet with.’ When you make decisions, whose bottom line is this going to affect? You will learn who the key players are through your time at the job,” he says.