Starting a new job can be a daunting experience. You might be excited, but you’re likely also anxious to demonstrate your prowess and personality to the team that hired you. Striking a balance in a new work environment can be tricky, but it’s crucial to your development as a team member. Rather than focus on grinding numbers and pitching concepts, we find the best approach to being productive as you start a new job is to listen and listen closely.
Walk in to your first day with a little self-directed research. But don’t tell anyone you did it. Unlike most extra credit projects, a stronger understanding of the company isn’t about showing off your preparedness. It’s about having better context for what you’re going to be learning over the next few weeks. Expand upon your extra credit studies by asking your manager for recent quarterly reviews and presentations, taking note of what challenges and successes the company has been experiencing. As you continue to learn more about your position and how it relates to the rest of the company, take note of what solutions and opportunities are being expanded upon.
A business is an organism. When you understand who reports to who, what project managers work with which teams, how departments collaborate, and maybe where the scorched bridges lay, you gain an understanding of politics and process. This is not to say you should go full Lannister on the company and leverage creative against the marketing team; rather, by respecting how things are done you’ll be better able to work within the existing system when it comes time to execute your own projects. You might even be able to help improve communications across battling factions… but save that for months six and onwards.
Empathize with your manager
Most new hires are approved only when a meltdown seems imminent. New hires are costly, and need to be justified to the higher-ups for weeks — if not months — before they ever see the glowing light of the Careers page. When you arrive at your new job excited to take on new work and eager to prove yourself, remember that your manager is likely still in the position of being “too busy to delegate.” Hopefully they’ve had time to prepare assignments; hopefully there is an official onboarding for their department. But if you find yourself logged in, signed on, and waiting for work, don’t fret. That your manager hasn’t had a moment to delegate an appropriate task is most likely a sign that you’re more needed than ever. Refer to our first tip until they are able to sit down with you and assign a project.
Not only do you need to know project stakeholders and who reports to who: you need to eat lunch. And it’s nice to do that with people. Your place of work might have a more formalized “meet the team” style onboarding, or they may leave you to your own devices in the lunchroom. If that’s the case, rest assured that everyone has been new at work before, and most people are going to go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Even a simple “It’s my first day. How long do people take for lunch here?” will probably garner you a friendly invite to chat and chew.
The other great bonus of the lunchroom mingle: getting a sense of company routines and culture. If the lunchtime conversation revolves around Patti from customer service’s show at the bar last week, you might need to buckle up. If it’s more sport and trail-oriented, you might have the chance to take that portage trip you’ve always wanted after all.
Talk less, listen more
Alternately titled “Slow down, turbo.” While it can be tempting to roll into a new position and point out all the glaring holes that you see… don’t. Chances are really good that you’re not the first person to notice that particular problem. Chances are even better that doing this in week one makes you read as an insensitive egomaniac. Rather than jump in with your uninformed (sorry, but at this point, it is!) point of view, take notes and revisit those impressions a few weeks later. How do they stack up? Are there any ideas or impressions that warrant further exploration or discussion? This is the kind of thoughtful work that makes you a valuable asset — and a person that people want to work with.
Consider the first few low-key weeks of a new job as fertile ground rather than dead air. Note your first impressions to revisit later. Chat new processes so you can reference them without pinging your manager. Take time to learn the tools that your company uses. If your company is using a number of different work management tools — or if they’re not using the one that you like best — try using Unito to pull all of your assignments into a single, organized, manageable space. You’ll look like a hero who never loses track, and your team might just learn something new from you.