When you are new at work the amount of new information can be overwhelming. There are so many things to learn – the people, the process, the products and services. I can remember being new and listening in on meetings and only understanding about 10% of what people were discussing.
And of course, with the onslaught of information you also have this desperate desire to impress those around you. When you start a new job, you want to do your best work, make great first impressions, and show that you were the right candidate for the job. You want to demonstrate that they made a good choice on hiring you.
You are nervous and afraid you will make mistakes. And chances are, you will. However, most mistakes are learning opportunities and won’t necessarily kill your career or interfere with your potential in the future.
When it comes to really bad mistakes, the most common problems fall into the following categories:
- Failing to establish strategic priorities – 23.5%
- Committing cultural gaffes/political suicide – 16.4%
- Waiting too long to make an impact – 15.8%
(Source: Michael Kanazawa First 100 Days: Checklist and tips for getting of to a fast start)
Thankfully many of these can be avoided with careful planning and some social grace.
And thus the crux of the problem – how do you impress everyone when you don’t know what is going on? [ Tweet this! ]
This may sound challenging (or even impossible) but it is actually easier than you may think!
This guide is going to walk you through some tips and techniques to get up to speed quickly and look smart doing it. Win!
When you are starting a new job, the theme for your start should be “observe and learn”. Initially you aren’t expected to know much, but you are expected to learn quickly, so you should feel comfortable that no one will think any worse of you for asking questions about how things work. That’s what they want you to do.
People don’t like being asked the same questions repeatedly, though, so make sure you pay attention to the answers, ask follow up questions to ensure your understanding, and take notes so you have a reference if you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for examples (which can help you remember specifics) or additional resources or references.
If questions come up in meetings and you don’t want to interrupt or derail the meeting, take notes and then follow up.
Hopefully you have a mentor, but if not, establish someone to be your “go to” person to check in with after the meeting. Knowing that you have someone you can ask these questions takes the pressure off in the heat of the moment, but will still get you the answers you need.
When you are new you get a great helicopter view of what works and what doesn’t. You come in with a fresh perspective on how things get done, so as you are asking your questions, you have the opportunity to expose lots of great insights.
Why does the team approach things in that fashion? What is the reason we use this format? By asking insightful questions about why things are the way they are, you can help uncover all sorts of opportunities for improvements.
Write out your learning curve
During your interview process, you wanted to rock the answers and you may not have dived deeply into your knowledge gaps. But now that you are in the role, you need to be honest with yourself about what is missing. It is so helpful to go through the exercise of actually writing things down so you can visualize what holes in your knowledge need to be filled.
- What are the gaps?
- What skills or understanding do you need to learn to rock your new role?
- What resources do you need to make this happen?
- Are these available on your job or do you need to look for other sources and information?
- How can you fit learning into your new job? Can you put in extra time at night and on the weekends (or if you are reading this before starting your job, can you tackle some of these before your even step into the door on your first day)?
Getting a solid handle on what knowledge gaps are missing will help you approach your new role with confidence – since you will know what you don’t know.
When you show up to work on your first day (and every day after, really) you want to make a great impression. Take time to prepare yourself before you even walk into the door.
- Do you have something to take notes on?
- What about something to take notes with?
- Did you bring in all your required documentation for the first day of onboarding (i.e. your identification)?
- Are there other tools or books you use regularly and want to have at hand?
Get all of these things out ahead of time so when you show up, you do so organized and prepared. By getting organized ahead of time you take one more thing you are worried about off your plate so you can focus on wowing people with your work.
Understand the customers
Doing the right work implies an understanding of the customers you are serving.
- Do you know the main customers of your role?
- Are they internal to the company, or external?
- How do you know if they are satisfied with you and your work?
Coming up with answers to these questions is key to making sure that the work you are doing delivers the right results. If the answers aren’t obvious to you, then these are important conversations to be having with your mentor or supervisor.
Sometimes this can mean researching the products and services offered by other teams or groups throughout your company or organization too. Getting a handle on all the pieces will make you better equipped to make decisions going forward. This sort of research is also easy to front-load before you start your new role.
Make sure you understand how your success is measured. And if something isn’t satisfactory determine a plan to make sure feedback reaches you. Creating a tight feedback loop between you and your customers will ensure that you can adapt and improve as you go along.
Learn how things get done (the process)
Once you understand your role (the inputs and outputs) then you need to get a handle on how the work gets done. This can mean getting a handle on organizational layout and challenges, but also the cultural undertones on how people work together.
At the top level, it helps to have high-level conversations with your manager or supervisor. Try to address each of the following:
- What is the company’s business plan?
- What is our team’s role in achieving that plan?
- What are the other strategic priorities?
- What are the biggest challenges facing our organization?
Once you have a handle on the top level view, then you want to take the time to understand the culture. Some aspects you can ask about, but others you will just need to pay attention to and observe to figure out. By the end of the first month, though, you should be able to answer all of these questions:
- Are there any cultural booby traps or political landmines to steer clear of?
- Who are the formal and informal influencers?
- How do people communicate (email, meetings, etc.)?
- How does your boss like you to communicate with them?
- How are decisions made? Are they driven by consensus or edict from on high?
- How can you influence those decisions?
- What do you do when you disagree with a decision? What is the best protocol for expressing dissent?
- What is measured and tracked? How are things reported?
By answering all of these questions, you should have a good handle on how to make forward progress, express disagreement, and navigate the culture to get things done.
In the beginning, it can be overwhelming. You want to contribute, but you don’t want to let everyone down. You may even find yourself in the situation where you can either jump in and contribute or you can step back and say, “I’m sorry but I am new and not sure I can handle this yet”.
The thing is you really need to jump in.
Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, you will hit road bumps. Yes, you may not know everything you need to. But the best way to learn what you need to know is to start doing the work and making some progress.
Your goal is to transition from a value consumer to a value contributor.
As you tackle your work and get a handle on your priorities ask yourself questions like:
- What is the most critical area of your role?
- Which projects are the most visible and will have the potential to generate the most results?
- What work can you do to get early wins, build confidence, and solidify your role on the team?
- Are there any projects or work that involves collaboration with other smart people on your team to help build cohesive relationships?
Jumping in and showing progress will kick start your reputation with solid credibility; increasing confidence in your ability to execute and get things done. So don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end, it will force you to make progress early – and that is a very good thing.
Diving in headfirst can be overwhelming, so it is important to ensure that you maintain your personal balance during the first few months. Schedule time to take a break and unplug from work.
Meditate if you need help relaxing and unwinding. Spend time with friends and family. Unplug, disconnect and spend time doing something that makes you truly happy. Taking the time to step away from work can actually improve your health and make you more productive.
Summary and actions
There are a lot of ideas here to help you start things off on the right foot. Just remember to approach everything (and everyone) with a positive, can-do attitude.
And even though things may seem really scary and overwhelming just keep your confidence and keeping taking baby steps forward.
To send you off on the right track, here are some final actions to help you along:
- Maintain a success journal. It is really helpful is to keep a journal of your progress in your first few months. Try to track any significant accomplishments, projects or goals you contributed towards. Write down things like problems you helped solve, or solutions you helped create.
- Approach every task with a “learner” mindset. You aren’t expected to know everything, but you can learn from everything. Release your inner student and try to look at everything you do, and every interaction you have, as an opportunity to grow.
- Always be networking. You want to start building relationships from the start so that you have them when you need them. Treat everyone with respect and do you best to have only positive interactions.
Best of luck on the new role! And if you have other suggestions or ideas please leave them in the comments.