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How to get a great start in a new job

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No sensible person would walk into an interview without first preparing for it. But when you nail that interview and get the job you really want, I’d suggest you spend even more time preparing to get the best possible start, whether that’s in your first day, week, month or 90 days.

Your new role will throw a few surprises at you, but get all the groundwork right and those surprises won’t unduly faze you.  

There are various kinds of preparation for a new role. The most obvious and simplest is housekeeping: the simple acts that ensure you won’t spend unnecessary time and energy worrying about trivial distractions in your first day or week.

Then there’s the bigger-picture stuff that’s about orienting yourself within the larger organisation and laying the groundwork for good performance in your role. For convenience, I’ll call it “laying foundations”. 

And perhaps somewhere in between are the positive actions and behaviours you can adopt in your first few weeks that will help you to get the best out of your time and the people around you.

You can start your preparation even before you interview for a job. If your interviews consist of several stages and you find yourself progressing through all of them, you can increasingly prepare to perform well in a role, should you get it.

Housekeeping

Life laundry

The last thing you need in your first week in a new role is stress-inducing distractions. Get your life laundry in order so you don’t have to worry about work outfits, lunches and the commute to work. Do all you can to ensure nothing keeps you from the all-important objective of a week of full concentration!

I’d suggest avoiding making extra-curricular plans, making sure you’ve got all your lunch ingredients to hand, all of your work clothes ready for a week and that you know your commute like the back of your hand. If possible, do dry runs of your commute, at peak travelling times. Make sure you’ve got a full tank of petrol/travel tickets/passes and so on. Don’t leave anything to chance. And why not set your alarm a little early?

First day survival kit

You never know what your first day in a new role might produce, so I’d recommend coming prepared for pretty much anything. Bring pens/notepad (or other note-taking technology as permitted), cash, cards, lunch, and your (switched-off) phone as standard.

Learn the layout/tools

Familiarise yourself with the layout of your workspace as soon as possible. Where are the meeting rooms, canteen, toilets, fire escape and so on? Is there a protocol for booking meeting rooms? The same applies to the fundamental tools of your job. What software or systems will you need to use? Ensure you’re as familiar with any new tools as you can be by the time you start.

Positive Actions/Behaviours

Goals and development

Understand the goals and drivers of your role and identify where you might spend time learning more about an aspect of the business, another team or developing a particular element of your skillset to align to those goals.

Ask questions

To paraphrase an old proverb, you can either ask questions and feel like a fool for a moment, or not ask them and look like a fool forever.

Regardless of how clued up you are on the particular jargon of your profession, a new workplace will have its own language, idioms and sub-culture that will seem alien to you.

You won’t look foolish when you ask for clarification on anything you don’t understand. If you’re embarrassed to show ignorance on day one, think how you’ll feel six months in when you still don’t know what X and Y refers to and everyone’s bandying those elusive terms about.

So jot down everything and anything that’s new. Pretty soon the in-talk will start to make sense to you, and you won’t miss valuable insights from a new colleague because you’re fixating upon a new and strange term they used half a minute earlier.

Make work a priority

While you don’t want to set a precedent that suggests you’re the kind of person who enjoys working until 8pm every night (and thankfully most employers will question why you’d need to), it’s a good idea to show willing and put in some graft, provided it’s for a good reason. Don’t work late for the sake of it though. You’re better off doing a good honest shift of fine work in your core hours than making an early impression of someone who is insecure about the value they bring.  

Do your background checks

What’s your new manager’s preferred style of working, and of interacting with their direct reports? How can you work best with your team? What does excellent performance look like in your role? What’s the work culture? What’s the social media policy? Is there a standardised LinkedIn protocol for employees? These are useful questions you can ask in your last interview (if things are looking good), when you know you’ve got the job, or in your first week.

Work on your brand

It’s all too easy to create an impression and rather more difficult to change it. So when you’re chatting to your new peers, be mindful of how you talk about other people or a previous role - regardless of why and how you left it! If asked, find the positives in even the most difficult experiences.

Laying foundations

Take those questions you asked and plan accordingly

If you’ve asked about what great performance in the role looks like, now’s the time to start putting that into practice. Perhaps in interview you asked what the previous incumbent of the role could have done better (if there was one). If so, you can start to set yourself up to do precisely this.

It might be that your predecessor didn’t interact with the accounts department enough, or include the NPD team in their communications when they should have. This kind of feedback is often a useful giveaway about the important elements of a job.

So if you hear that your predecessor didn’t have a great relationship with the quality department but needed to, that’s one relationship I’d be looking to build early on.

Tackle the thorny issues

Find out what your manager’s/the department’s/the business’s big challenges are and start to figure out what role you might play in addressing them. Don’t do this at the risk of neglecting your core accountabilities and responsibilities, which should come first. But be mindful of the bigger picture and the part you can play in it.

Build your network

Identify, meet and nurture your key stakeholder relationships from the get-go: I’d suggest you spend your first couple of weeks meeting or talking with all of your key contacts and influencers, seeking to understand their challenges. If your employer is small enough, I’d suggest simply meeting as many people as you can so everyone knows who you are.

Similarly, it’s a great idea to find a few allies at this time – people at work with whom you get along naturally, and peers of a similar level who might, in future, relate to your challenges and offer useful support or endorsement.

If it helps, you can (roughly) script an introduction – an overview of who you are, your experience, what you’ve been hired to do and why you’re excited to be in your new role. It’ll help for the inevitable round of new introductions and meetings that will be a part of your first weeks and months.

I’ve already alluded to this but it’s worth elaborating: it’s really important that you also build great relationships with your team, direct reports and manager at this time, understanding how each likes to work and communicating clearly about how you like to. Now’s the time to understand your manager’s priorities for you and what success looks like for them.

Establish reporting/reviewing protocols and action them

Build some time into your first three months to review your team (if you’re a manager) and have a review with your own manager so that you know where you stand with them and vice versa. Your own review will provide a useful check that your manager’s feelings about your performance so far match up to your own, and if not, what you need to do about it. And if you’re managing others, it’s a useful way to build rapport and clarify your own expectations of them.

Set some boundaries

Your key stakeholders and peers will want as much of you as they can get. So make sure you establish boundaries about what they can and cannot expect from you.