- Keeping a Level Head -
give it six to nine months to feel @ home
by fergus mellon
Starting in a new company (or even a new job within the same company) is daunting no matter what stage of your career you are in, and I would say it is especially tough as an Early Stage Professional.
As an ESP it is tough as you are not just new to a company but new to the workplace in general and so are figuring out how to be professional (the skills and behaviors contained in this website and in "Early Stage Professional: starting off right"). You are also contending with all the challenges that every new employee will face when joining a new company. In my first real job outside of College (Investor Relations in London), it took me about twelve months to feel at home and about 15 to enjoy being part of the company. Part of the problem was that I did not feel especially comfortable in the "smart" (ok, flashy!) world of finance, but deep down the issue was that I was coming to terms with being the most junior person in the company and getting used to working with managers who had twenty plus years experience. I joined the workplace expecting to be a CEO by the time I was thirty, but joined a company with a hierarchy and very experienced management team and received a sharp shock at the realization that my goal was likely unreasonable. Despite having a good degree from a top UK University I really had very little to offer my company in the first months that I joined. Over the course of my first year I was learning and learning and then learning even more about the Finance industry as well as learning about my new role that had very little (ok nothing!) to do with the degree that I had received.
What about "the challenges that every new employee will face" that I referenced above? In addition to being new to the workplace and figuring it all out, "the challenges that everyone faces" are in building relationships, understanding the true context of the organization you have joined, understanding the product and the details of what your company sells and... building relationships!
Even at the digital advertising company that I now work at it took me six months to really "get" the organization I had joined. I knew I was lucky enough to have joined a great company (amazing product, great management team and the business was and is growing exponentially off a large revenue base). In addition I also knew many of the US leadership team through my existing network and my manager, the COO of North America, was a friend who had recruited me to the position. While I had existing relationships with many members of the team, I had not worked in the same company as them and I was an unknown quantity: they did not know if I was a really decent person or someone who would come in and be political and try to steal their jobs. It took time for them to assess me (and for me to do the same of them) and it was only through being consistent and collaborative that I could establish trust and build relationships with them. There is no short cut to "being consistent" as by definition my behavior had to be steady over time for it to be considered consistent! In addition and despite being very knowledgeable of the digital advertising space, it did not mean that I knew everything about the company. I had to learn its technology and operations from scratch to be truly able to make smart decisions and have a positive impact on the firm. It was daunting for me despite having had approximately 10 roles in my career and having been a member of about seven companies I sometimes felt that I was starting from scratch all over again. Oh and I did not mention that this great company that I joined is a truly international business with offices across the world. To add to my learning I needed to not just understand the North American marketplace (a significant part of the company's revenue) but also how the company operated in the rest of the world. We have a product that advertisers use globally, so I needed to understand the needs and priorities of the various teams around the world. It was a challenge and for at least six months I would come home every evening with a headache from having to learn so much. It was one of the steepest learning curves I have faced!
So what I am saying? At the core, it is simple, give yourself time. It takes time to build relationships and really understand what is going on in your business and there are no shortcuts. If you are lucky, after about six months you will begin to feel comfortable. Then if everything is really going to plan when you get to the twelve to eighteen months mark you will be motoring and, if you are lucky and have landed a great job at a great company you will be really enjoying things. In the same way that during your approximately 45 year career you will need to pace yourself, so too will you need to pace yourself in feeling at home at a new company. Be professional, take note and act on all the information in this book and then be prepared for it to take at least six months for things to begin to fall into place.
Oh and how do I feel now about the new job that I have been in for more than twelve months now? Great! I still do not understand everything that it does (it is a complex place) but I know enough to have a positive impact on it and enjoy working with members of my team as well as my peers on the leadership team, it just took a while!
Next section: Be Your-professional-Self
Related columns: "Give New Employees the Red Carpet Treatment" and "Questions for your new manager"
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