2018 · career

how to survive the first days at a new job

I’ll begin by stating the blatantly obvious: starting a new job is scary as heck. A new team and office culture can be daunting enough, but if your daily routine is also subject to change, a new job can really turn your life upside down until you’re settled. Between trying to remember names, figuring out your commute (whether bus route, walking, or the lane of least resistance in rush hour traffic), your brain may feel like mush at the end of the day for the first week or two (or three or four or five…).

As you may already know, I started a new job last week and the above is pretty much how I felt all week. That and, of course, excited and elated for this new adventure.

Surviving your first weeks at a new job isn’t impossible, but it can feel like an uphill battle to really enjoy it and quickly get up to speed. Fortunately, with a bit of preparation and a few simple tricks you can make your first week feel much less stressful and much more productive.

1. Before you start, pre-plan:
As soon as your offer letter is signed, it’s time to start planning for day one, week one, and your first month. If you have the budget and time, some great career books on onboarding can help you get ready. My all-time favourite career book is I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This by Kate White, and to prepare for my new role I read Michael D. Watkins’ The First 90 Days.

Take a few minutes to talk to your hiring manager, HR, or other internal contact to gain an understanding of the office culture BEFORE you get there. Remember: These folks are as invested in your success as you are. Ask for policies you can review in advance, know what the general vibe and dress code is, and get a sense of what you’re walking into before you show up on day one. You can even request a copy of your onboarding schedule in advance so you can plan your days, assuming it’s prepared for you. If it’s not, ask for a general overview.

Do some digging. Sure, you did your research before your interviews but now it’s time to get to know the organization even better – including its people. Learn the names of your team members, and – if you can – check out their professional bios on the organization’s website for even LinkedIn. One of the best ways to connect with someone and earn their allegiance is to find common ground. Did you go to the same university? Have the same major? Find these things out early so you can make the real-life connections early and build relationships more easily.

Set yourself up for a week of success: Do some meal planning and prep! Ensure you’ve made all the necessary arrangements to get yourself to work and ensure your personal commitments and responsibilities can be made and managed.

Highly recommended but not required: Plan out your outfits, too, and save some morning hassle.

2. Your first days (and weeks), focus on integrating:
One of my favourite phrases is “begin the way you mean to finish” which is essentially to say: get off a good start if you plan to be successful. During your pre-planning, you should have uncovered details that can help you make day one as successful as possible. Dressing for success, coming in engaged, and prepared to learn and contribute to the team is imperative on day one.

As you meet with various internal stakeholders and connect with your new colleagues, practice level two listening (I’ve talked about the levels of listening here) and act like a sponge to absorb as much information as you possibly can. Ask probing questions and listen to the answers you receive. Gain a good understanding of the challenges your team is facing and, most importantly, what solutions they think may be best.

If you can, get involved with inner-office events and groups. Sign up for a lunch and learn and join a table, go to the after-work networking event: don’t keep to yourself or your department. Learning about other departments and their unique challenges, workloads, and workflows can help you enormously and bring value to your onboarding. Make lunch dates or visit shared lunch areas (kitchens, cafeterias, etc.) instead of eating alone at your desk.

Day to day, practice your level one listening to truly grasp the culture and environment in which you’re working. Take note of the little things: What time do most people take lunch? Do many people participate in mini-events like Casual Friday?

3. Don’t forget to take care of you:
You can’t run before you’ve learned to walk, nor can you pour from an empty glass. Taking care of yourself is important always but perhaps never more so than when you’re absolutely bombarded by new information as you onboard into a new role. Resisting the temptation to bring your work home and over-achieve in the early days and instead focus on staying well-rested and well-rounded. Get some exercise. Spend quality time with your family. Let all the learning settle into your brain without trying to cram more information in.

4. Create a longer-term plan:
Once you get past the first couple of weeks, you should be feeling a bit more confident and settled. (If not, speak with your team and your direct manager to identify gaps you’re experiencing and communicate how they can help.) Now it’s time to really dig in, grow, and absolutely kill it. I highly recommend setting up a regular meeting with your direct manager as well as a regular stand-up with your direct reports and/or peers. Set goals and ask for feedback often, ensuring your goals ladder up to strategic priorities or organizational goals.

And, if all else fails… bribe everyone with cookies and candy.

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