Getting Off to a Good Start on Your New Job

How to make the most of those first days on the job.

Posted Mar 27, 2015

Steve Depolo CC 2.0
Source: Steve Depolo CC 2.0

Like everyone else, employers are subject to confirmation bias: After someone has made an impression, we're more likely to accept confirmatory than refutational evidence.

So it's important that a new employee get off to a good start. This article, the 11th in a 12-part series on your career, offers suggestions on how to do that. Of course, all won't apply to every situation, so pick and choose as you see fit.

Make the most of an initial meeting with your boss

Your boss will likely have an initial meeting with you. Prepare a few questions. for example, "How do you see me allocating my time in the first week or month?" Another often-helpful question: " Is there anything I should know about how to work effectively for you?"

Think about whether you'd like your job description to be tweaked to maximize your strengths, preferences, and, if desired, promotion potential. Your star may never be brighter than when just hired--After all, they've just bet a lot of chips on you--That generates commitment bias. If you'd like your job description changed, couch your request to emphasize the benefits to the employer. For example,

It looks like my job will only be about 25% customer-facing. That's a strength of mine. One item in my job description is to categorize all the complaints that come in. I'm wondering if I might trade that for time dealing with customers?

Also, if you'd like other goodies, this is a good time to ask. For example, "I have a long commute. I can work effectively from home. At least on a trial basis, might that be possible for one or two days a week?"

Meet one-on-one with your stakeholders. Many a new employee has been hurt by ignorance of a workplace's unspoken rules. To learn them as well as to help establish relationships, request a brief one-on-one with each of your significant stakeholders: of course, you boss and supervisees but also close coworkers and perhaps customers and vendors.

As in most meetings, this one probably should start with at least a bit of chit-chat, more if you sense the person wants that. For example, you might start by explaining that you're looking forward to working there and, perhaps say a bit about what you were doing before. Then, if it feels right, ask the person, "Do you want to tell me a little about yourself?"

Then, when a bit of good feeling has been established, launch into your first question that could be touchy. One I like is, "I certainly want to get off on the right foot. Is there anything I should know about how to succeed here that might not appear in the employee handbook?" That's broad enough to include everything from the work expectation to the lunch expectation plus things you might not know to ask about---for example, that, after the first few days, asking a lot of questions is seen as a sign of weakness and being high-maintenance

Then you might get more specific, for example, "Is there a person who's influential that wouldn't necessarily appear so in the organization chart?" Often there's, for example, an administrative assistant who knows everything and whose opinion is often sought by management.

Another such question is, "Is there anything I should know about working with my boss so we end up working well together?"

Another is, "Is there any organizational priority that, while not in my direct purview, would be helpful to keep in mind?"

Take notes on your laptop or legal pad. That shows that you're taking their input seriously.

Be respectful of their time, so as soon as you feel you've taken enough, close with a catch-all: "Is there anything else you want to tell or ask me?"  Of course, end by thanking them sincerely for their time and, hopefully, candor.

Your first weeks

While I myself have been unable to follow this suggestion, it's normally wise to do more listening and less talking during the first days or weeks. Be especially cautious about suggesting new ideas. While your boss and coworkers may be more open to your ideas during your honeymoon period, early ideas may be viewed as presumptuous or premature, not considering factors that would take time for a new employee to learn. For the first days or weeks, it's probably best to focus on learning your job, doing it as specified, and slowly building relationships.

Soon though, you might look for an opportunity for an early win: Propose an idea at a meeting you think could be well received. Or volunteer for a small high-visibility project you're likely to succeed at.

The takeaway

It's cliche but true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The ideas in this article should help improve yours.

Here are the links to this series' other installments:

A Holistic Approach to Finding Your Career

An Analytical Approach to Finding Your Career

Getting Well-Trained for Your Career

Networking for People Who Don't Like It

The One-Week Job Search

A Contrarian Approach to Creating Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile

Ethical (and Effective) Job-Seeker Letters

Using Recruiters (Headhunters) Wisely

The Effective, Ethical, and Less Stressful Job Interview

A Contrarian Approach to Negotiation

Getting Off to a Good Start on Your New Job (this article)

A Contrarian Approach to Succeeding in Your Career

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.