First impressions are often lasting impressions, so it’s important to get a winning start in your new job. This means starting to produce useful results quickly while being helpful to co-workers. It also means adapting fast to the workplace culture.
A study by Leadership IQ, a Washington, D.C., employment consulting firm, indicates that a startling 46 percent of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months. A similar study of newly hired managers by Right Management Consultants, a Philadelphia-based leadership development firm, is only slightly less alarming in its finding that more than one-third quit or are asked to leave within 18 months.
“Starting a new job is a time of great opportunity,” says Milo Sindell, co-author of “Sink or Swim: New Job. New Boss. 12 Weeks to Get It Right,” and co-founder of the employee consulting firm Hit the Ground Running.
For newly hired MBAs to take advantage of this opportunity, understanding and being able to function in the workplace culture is essential. Once you start working, everyone will be on less formal behavior than during your employment interview, and you’ll need to observe closely such fundamentals as your new coworkers’ communications styles. Are things done here in a relaxed and informal manner, or do people communicate in a formal fashion?
A key part of this area is the company’s information technology situation. From company intranets and information management systems to report writing and e-mail communications, IT forms an important part of workplace culture’s foundation. Newly hired MBAs must master the employer’s computer system, so spend the time needed to learn the basics of your company’s different software packages.
Ask Questions On The Job
When starting your new job, your two watchwords should be “observe” and “learn.” As a new employee, you’re not expected to know company procedures or where things are. You are expected, however, to learn this quickly, so be confident that no one will think worse of you for asking questions to find out how to get things done.
And there are a million questions, from where to sign out confidential company documents to where to get office supplies. Ask them at an appropriate time. In your early meetings, for example, many matters will be unknown to you. If someone stops and asks if you need an explanation, say yes. If this moment doesn’t occur, write your questions down and meet later with your manager or another coworker to get answers to your questions. This way you’ll get the information you need without slowing down the meeting for others.
Listen carefully to the answers you receive, and take notes. Ask follow-up questions to verify your understanding. Asking for examples can help you understand and remember the answers to your questions. Repeatedly asking people the same or similar questions wastes both your time and theirs. Coworkers will become less helpful if you don’t do them the courtesy of remembering their answers to your earlier questions.
Your fellow team members and your manager will be those who best understand your responsibilities and work goals. These, then, are the people you should approach with questions about these subjects.
You and Your Coworkers
Coworkers who like you because you are polite, cheerful, and respectful will be more likely to help than if you are cool and distant. Learn people’s names when you are introduced. Use them frequently in conversation. This will help you remember them and also make you seem friendlier.
Finding common ground will help you communicate with your workers,” notes career consultant and Polaroid researcher Dan Eustace. “Take company training courses, learn and use company jargon, and spend time with coworkers, so you know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.”
Go to lunch with co-workers when invited. After an invitation or two from co-workers, start asking to join you for lunch. You’ll get to know them better and give the impression that you are “fitting in.” If there are coffee clubs or regular lunch groups, join one.
Newly hired employees need to understand “what success looks like in the eyes of their manager and of the company,” says author Sindell. Many new employees begin with a different understanding of success than that of their employer, and this can lead to unhappiness and poor performance evaluations. After receiving a job offer, before you start working, discuss your work assignment with your future manager. Be sure you understand it and your goals thoroughly. After starting your new job, talk to coworkers; learn more about their work and how it will relate to yours.
New employees, Sindell says, “need to learn how to best communicate with coworkers, and in particular how to share ideas. By interacting with others inappropriately, you can alienate your coworkers.” He recommends “building networks in the workplace,” to better understand how to go about presenting ideas. Sharing information with coworkers is crucial.
Most critically, “new employees need to manage their manager,” notes Sindell. “Managers are often too busy with other responsibilities to guide new employees. So don’t wait for your manger to come to you. Go to your manager and learn what your goals and responsibilities are. Propose solutions; don’t just come to your manager with problems.”
And don’t be shy about seeking a evaluation. “After about 12 weeks, new employees should request a performance review with their manager to assess their progress in mastering their job responsibilities and adapting to their new workplace,” Eustace advises. “New employees can use performance reviews to learn how they can succeed and how the organization can help them meet their goals. Prepare for the interview and go in with a list of your accomplishments. Be open-minded and not be defensive; use your ears more than your mouth and ask questions for clarity and confirmation. The goal is to come to a mutual agreement with your manager on your improvement needs and how to achieve them.”
Why wait 12 weeks? “The first 12 weeks on a new job are critical to long-term success,” Sindell says. “During this time, new employees have to build a foundation for their success.”
Some Things You Should Do
- Establish clear short-term goals with your supervisor.
- Focus on achieving the identified goals. Time management will be essential because your goals will have deadlines.
- Learn how to find and use the information needed to do your jobs. Firms can organize and archive information a variety of different ways, even within the same organization, so make sure you know where to go for the report you need and who needs to sign-off.
- Be a team player. Most companies now use teams as an organizing format and expect every employee to be able to function in the group. Observe coworkers and learn how to work in a team. Your project goals often complement those of fellow team members. You will have to work productively with others on shared goals.
- Finally, you need to present a professional image. This means dressing to meet the norms of your company for your job and employee grade level. Observing coworkers and consulting your employee manual can guide you in this. When in doubt, err on the side of formality.
Today professionals starting new jobs seldom have the luxury of being allowed an extended period to “get up to speed.” So a fast start can be critical to your career success with your new employer. As Sindell observes, “Employees have to accept accountability for their own success.”