Hunting for a new job? Got a new job? It’s spring and many college grads are looking for and securing a new gig. People who have been in the work world for a time are changing jobs, too. Maybe it’s that first step in a life-long career. Maybe it’s a stepping stone to something else further out on the horizon. In either case, a new job is exciting, nerve-wracking, energizing, and scary all rolled together! Those first few days on the job are critical for you. They are for your employer, too. You’ve both got a lot on the line. There is a lot of advice out there on how to get started right in a new job. I’ve reviewed many of those resources and, frankly, very few resonate with me. So, having observed some people take new jobs recently, I thought I would offer some tips that I think are more helpful. (If you’re one of the folks who knows me and has taken a new job, no, this is not directed at you in particular!)
Don’t try too hard. Yes, you want to start out strong and reaffirm that your new boss made a good choice, but you’ve already interviewed for the position and got the job. Don’t overdo it. Being too eager can be very off-putting, especially to your fellow new-hires.
Be careful with humor. Humor has a particular cultural signature. Until you know the culture of your new organization, be careful about using humor. Be good humored, yes, but be careful. The wrong humor can be very offensive. It’s very difficult to recover from that mistake.
Don’t over-connect. It’s a natural desire to belong. One way to establish belonging is to demonstrate similarity. “You like basketball? Me too!” “You’re from Alabama? I know someone from Alabama, too.” “You went to Northwestern? My cousin went there.” That can be easily overdone. When you’re worried about fitting in, you’re focusing on yourself. It’s better to focus on others. “You like basketball? What do you think of the Cavaliers winning? “Alabama? I hear it’s a beautiful state. Tell me about it.”
Relax and be the real you. Related to over-connecting, it’s also important to know and be the real you. An effective interview process will uncover enough about the real you that they feel comfortable you will fit in. (Chemistry and character are more important than competence, after all.) If you have good self-awareness, you’ll know what makes you unique. They should have hired you partially for what makes you unique, so be true to that. (You would burn out trying to be someone else for long.)
Listen. A lot. Mostly. Ask questions. Listen. Take notes. Ask more questions. Listen more. I’m not saying your ideas aren’t important. They are and your employer probably hired you at least in part because of your expertise and/or perspective. I emphasize the importance of listening, though, because many people in new positions, especially those in their 20s and early 30s are too quick to offer perspective without first learning the organization, the culture, and the relationships that are critical to shaping what to say and when.
Ask strategic questions. Related to listening, you want to ask questions that are strategic to learning your new role and to learning about the organization. Try this: Before asking any question write it down. After collecting five, determine the strategic importance of each. Then ask the one that is most important.
Have patience and grace. It won’t be long (sometime during the first day, guaranteed) before you have some reason to be frustrated or impatient with a process or problem related to your onboarding in the new company. As someone who has observed and been directly involved in onboarding many, many new hires I can assure you that your employer is not trying to make it difficult for you. The truth is that bringing a new person into an organization is a very complex process. Imagine all the challenge associated with inviting an adult to move into your home, permanently. Do you understand now? Try to be patient.
If you’re a new hire, or about to be one, I congratulate you! Learning a new job, a new organizational culture, and new coworkers is exciting! Be thoughtful and strategic with the first few days, even the first few months and you’ll create a foundation for long-term success.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.