- Wise Words -
Your New Job.
by fergus mellon
Congrats you got that new or even first graduate-level job!
While your job search was likely challenging and demanded a lot from you (it is rare to get the first one that you applied for), you may feel like it’s “job done”. Unfortunately, it’s just the beginning. There’s the first day, first week, first month and then the rest of it (you, know that 45+ year period between graduation and being able to afford to retire). In this column we will talk about how to hit the ground running in all those firsts and make a success out of your first post-College job or even turn that new gig into setting you up for your 45-year career marathon.
The Last Day
The last day. The day before your first day. Your last day of freedom. While there’s not a lot you need to be doing as work “work”, there are certainly some pieces to do to help make your first day and week a success. First off, do you know your commute? You may have interviewed at a different office to the one you are going to be working at or you may have moved to the area when you got the offer and may not know the route. If so, take a trial run so that you know where you are heading and how long it will take you to get there.
What time do you need to get up? Have you re-set your alarm clock for the appropriate time? Do you have the paperwork you need (passport/proof of right to work) packed and ready to go?
Once these basic logistics are done, you’re pretty much set on actual activity. The next thing is to focus on what not to do: drink alcohol in the evening before starting (you want to be fresh, right?!), not to stay up late, not to panic. Instead have a calm evening planned so you can be in a great frame of mind for when the alarm sounds to signal your entry to the rat race!
Let’s assume you have made it into the office for the time you were asked to, now what? First remember that while you are seeing a blur of new faces, you as the new person are highly visible. People will be looking at you and already making a first impression. Here are a few ideas on how to make a good one.
Smile to your audience! There’s a lot of research out there around how smiling can actually impact our mood and health and lower our nerves so it’s worth doing for this reason alone… that said it also has other benefits to you as the new person. It shows openness to others and that you are happy to be at your new work home. It shows you are open to making connections and is likely a nice first impression to make, unless of course you are working in a tough environment (poor you, if that is the case!).
Now you’ve said cheese, say ”hello”. If your manager is not in the office (it happens!) don’t worry. Maybe there is a member of your new team that you interviewed with who is a familiar face and you can say “hi” to and even ask them to be your wing-person to making intros to those around you. Even if there’s no one to escort you around your new place of work, at least introduce yourself to those who sit around you and who knows maybe once you’ve said hi to those five or six folks who are close by you will have the courage to say hi to another five, and another five. You get the message!
What about X, Y and Z? On day 1 there are a couple of things you may want to ask, particularly if the information wasn’t in your employment agreement or from general onboarding information. Office hours can be an area you don’t want to fall foul of, so ask what time your manager would like you to be in the office and then meet that manager’s request. There’s plenty of time to fall into the bad habits of those around you once you are an established member of the team. You may also want to ask your manager if there are any specific activities for you to complete or expectations that they have of you over the coming week. For more on the topic of questions to ask your new manager see this column “The BIG 3 questions for your new manager”.
Take a breath. While your first day is very, very important to you it is unlikely to be so to others. You may be joining on a hectic day for the team or your whole company so try to take it all in your stride if you feel that you aren’t getting the attention that you expected.
I can’t count the number of times I have turned up for a new role only to find that my equipment is not set up or my manager is on vacation or…. there’s always something!
If you are in this spot, don’t panic that the onboarding experience is weak. Instead take that a breath and know that it’s normal to be at a bit of a loose end. If you are, try asking if you can help anyone. Regardless of what you do, stay engaged and don’t think that the slow start is going to be your whole company experience; it seldom is and companies typically do not focus enough on the onboarding experience so you are not alone (see related column on this: “Roll out the welcome mat. Give new employees the red-carpet treatment”.
Heading home. No manager expects the new person to work overtime on their first day so when it gets to leaving time, say to your manager that you are planning on leaving unless they would like to catch up on anything. As you get more established, you will find that you no longer check-in with your manager, but it is really worth saying before you head out “I am planning on leaving now, unless there’s anything you would like me to do”. It may be that the end of the day is quieter for your manager and they have the time to talk with you.
And relax. Once you’re home, give yourself a pat on the back. You made it through your first day! Now you can relax, reflect and get to bed!!
Ok, so hopefully by Day 2 you have received your equipment and are able to start getting up and running. Good!
Your roll is slowed. While you are ready to rock, remember that your team and managers may not be ready for you. They will know that they have to spend time with you and help with the training and providing you with tasks to complete they will also likely be busy so prepare yourself for a bit of a slow ramp. If you are finding that in the first week(s) you are not at capacity, don’t stress it too much as it’s normal and your manager and team will balancing helping you with your onboarding while at the same time working through the other tasks they have been assigned.
Training materials. Read ‘em. Ok, so reading a ton of documentation on an internal Wiki is boring for most of us, but… that doesn’t mean we should not do it. If you are given the time to review the documentation, do it! One reason to do it is that this is a chance to learn about the company and your role and do it in a way that isn’t rushed. Another reason to do it is that in most companies your screen and activity will be visible to those around you so your co-workers will notice if you are focused on the material or on other online activities. Take it seriously and keep your screen looking professional.
Take notes. When you read that boring Wiki or attend those meetings and training sessions, take notes! It is good practice to keep a record of what you learned and so can come back and refer to and it is also a good way to signal that you are interested and engaged at the task at hand.
Ask questions. Be an active participant. Asking questions is an important way for you to learn and figure out how to do your job and should be reason alone for asking them as you ramp up (and throughout your career). That said, in terms of helping you get up and running, asking questions also shows those around you that you are engaged and interested in what you are doing. Instead of feeling that asking questions in the workplace shows your lack of knowledge, try instead to make the mental shift to thinking of questions as those that help you, your team (you are likely to have questions that others are too scared to ask) and show you are really curious and want to learn from your manager and your team members. For more on the topic of questions in the workplace see this column: “How I use questions to help me at the office”.
Look up. While things are quiet for you, take the time to assess where you work. How do other people work with each other? Do they drop by their colleagues’ desks for a casual conversation or is more formal and structured in terms of communication with set meetings? How do emails come through? Are the salutations casual “Hi’s” or “Hey’s” or are they formal “Dear” or more abrupt with no salutation? While you may have a personal preference, seeing how business is conducted in your new company culture is worth noting when you have the time to look at it so that you can adopt the culture and fit with the business.
Embrace the awkward. Being new isn’t a whole lot of fun. You will be trying to figure out the new environment and people which is tiring and unsettling. To add to this your company may have some activities that at first are awkward in terms of getting you started in the new culture. I have worked at a number of companies that have a bar cart on either Thursday or Friday afternoon and for it to be the new employees who take it around. This isn’t hazing, but instead a casual way of your company helping you meet as many people as possible so embrace it. Even if you feel awkward doing it, that’s fine! Everyone will also feel awkward for you (unless they are a true extroverts) so will be willing you on as well as grateful for the drink you hand them!!
You got through your first week, congrats! While you “got through” it, you may not feel like you are crushing it and that is likely true as you are new and still finding your feet. That said careers are rarely made in their first week so you have time to build on the foundation you put in place during week one. While you will have made your initial impressions during your first 5 days at the office, you will need to continue to be building your reputation and awareness so here are a few more actions to think about…
Social media and killing time. Yes, things will likely be slow for you still but keep on with your “screen professionalism” and try to avoid showing your new peers just how bored you are.
Ask. Can you help anyone in your team? Can you attend any meetings with your manager or others in the team that you can be a fly on the wall and learn from? Instead of defaulting to killing time, use your spare capacity to help others around you. Even if they have nothing for you to work on immediately, they will remember your ask and likely come back to you when they have something.
Is the work really below you? One of the toughest things about moving from college to career is that the tasks we are asked to do in our early years of work often don’t require a college degree. We may be asked to set up a meeting room, tweak some slides or spreadsheet, bind a client presentation or something that isn’t a good use of our brains! It’s ok if this happens to you.
You are not failing and neither has your employer done a “bait and switch”. Instead it is a problem of our expectations and the mismatch of our qualifications and the needs of the workplace. Yes, we could all be strategists or company founders and that would likely be a better use of our brains and potential, but instead at the office we are there to deliver on the strategies and objectives set out by leadership. While we may feel like cogs in an organizational machine, the way to I have found I have got past the “I am too good for this” is to think about it is that we are part of a team and a team requires us to pull together.
For more on other professionals’ experience on this topic see “The five things I wish I’d known when starting out at work”
Focus on the human connection. Yes, you are at work to work. Just because of that it doesn’t mean that you should ignore the humans, leave that to Jeff Bezos and the other robot builders! Building professional relationships and being a part of a team is going to really help you in your work and your satisfaction levels too (you will feel part of a team). Here then, take any opportunity to build a relationship. If you are asked to go for coffee, lunch or even a Happy Hour jump at the chance. Even if it’s on a Thursday evening and you would prefer be with friends, jump at it. Hopefully your friends will understand if you skip time with them. Once you have established yourself as someone who builds relationships at work, colleagues will understand when you pass on the occasional Happy Hour because you have an outstanding personal commitment.
New routine. If you are finding it hard to get into the new routine of work, that’s ok. If you are anything like I was, it will take some months to get use to the rhythm of work. While it’s natural to ask yourself if you can really “do this” for the next 45 years, try to help yourself by also knowing you are going through one of the biggest transformations of your life; moving from formal education to work. This is not a stress-free transition, so if you can step back and recognize that it is a big (if very normal) life change, then you could cut yourself some slack if you are finding it difficult, just don’t give up!
Positive motion. You may have found that in your first weeks and month in your job that work is nothing like it was portrayed to you in the movies, by those at College and even your family and that’s ok. A career is a marathon and not a sprint for the majority of us. If the first role is a bit boring, look around to see what others are doing and know that as you get established more opportunity and interesting work will come your way. You could also look at the bright side of doing less stressful and challenging work; you are less stressed and will have more energy to enjoy life outside of the office!!
Not so new…
Once you’re through the first month, hopefully you will start to feel less like a new employee and instead be making progress on building relationships at work and making an impact to the output of your team and company. If you don’t yet feel that you are crushing it, that’s ok!
It typically takes three to six months to feel really at home and during your ramp up you may run into a few issues, such as making mistakes or you may find it slow to build relationships with some members of the team of or the broader company and know that while it’s not necessarily a comfortable feeling, it’s normal.
Maybe the best thing to take away from your onboarding experience is this: it’s not easy to be a new team member so when others join your group think about what you have liked to experience during your firsts and then help those newbies have a better experience than you. If you do that, you will be showing leadership qualities, be building your team, your reputation and likely your career!
For more on how to crush your first day, week and month see: “Questions to ask your new manager”, “Leading from the start”, “Crushing your new job”, "Millennial reflections. How I made the transition from education to office”.
For related content on how to welcome new members to your team see: “Roll out the red carpet. Welcome your new employees” and “Help the new members of the rat race”.