Starting a new job is a little like visiting a foreign country: You’ll encounter unfamiliar people and new customs, and you may find it difficult to speak the “native” language. Even if your colleagues are using English, it may be all Greek to you when someone says, “Look in the BCA directory for the LUCA promotion and hand it over to Big Bob.”
Indeed, making sense of a company’s unwritten rules can prove as elusive as trying to figure why your Aunt Esther is still angry with your cousin Susie for “ruining” a family dinner 10 years ago. In fact, when our company asked 250 advertising and marketing executives what the greatest challenge was for those starting a new job, four out of 10 said acclimating to the corporate culture.
Most managers understand that you need time to adapt, but they also take careful note of how you go about doing it. Early impressions are often lasting ones, so you’ll want to avoid the following five mistakes:
#1: Not noticing the norms. Sure, you want to do things your way, but you also need to do things the way they are typically done, at least when you first start a new job. Before getting into a routine, spend at least two weeks “studying” the culture at your firm. On day one, arrive 30 minutes early and stay a half an hour late, noting how many employees do the same. Is it typical for employees to take projects home or be accessible outside the office? If you’re working at a company where your manager and colleagues always check e-mail from home, for example, you’ll likely have to do the same. Also consider how co-workers prefer to communicate: e-mail, instant messaging, memos, voice mails or face-to-face conversations? Think, too, about how strictly the dress code is observed. Perhaps you thought you’d only have to wear business attire for your interview, but you notice most of your colleagues dress pretty conservatively every day. You’ll acclimate and find more success at your new job by paying attention to unwritten company rules and adopting most of them as your own.
#2: Keeping to yourself. Although your boss may take you through the office to shake everyone’s hand on the first day, your introduction should go beyond, “Hi, I’m Steve, the new copywriter for the breakfast foods account.” Take the initiative to have more in-depth conversations with key colleagues. This may be during one-on-one meetings late on a Friday afternoon, at lunch or over coffee before work. While you don’t want to chatter on needlessly, you do want to learn specifics about the other person’s role, how his or her responsibilities affect yours, and how the two of you can work together most effectively.
#3: Having unclear expectations. There should be no ambiguity when it comes to what’s expected of you. Within the first couple of days, meet with your manager to discuss the responsibilities of your position and how success will be measured. What are the immediate priorities that need to be addressed? How often, and in what form, should you provide project updates? How will your performance be evaluated? Clear answers to these questions will help you ramp us as quickly as possible.
#4: Doing things the way you always have. Nearly 30% of the executives we polled said failure to adapt to new business protocols was one of the greatest challenges for workers they recently hired. Your company will certainly be different from your old one. If your current firm is smaller than your previous one, you may be expected to accomplish more with less assistance, for example. And no one wants to hear, “At my last job, …” Instead, keep an open mind and adapt as quickly as possible to the new processes.
#5: Creating no game plan. Think like an executive and develop a strategic plan that guides your first 30, 60 or 90 days on the job. This can help you stay on the right path and serve as a useful tool for your first review. The outline should include goals you hope to accomplish and steps you must take to reach them. The plan doesn’t have to be long—a single page should suffice. Include a mix of simple activities, such as learning the preferred communication styles of your co-workers, with more challenging goals, such as managing a major project within the next year.
Beginning a new job is never easy, but if you avoid some of the most common pitfalls, you can get off to a positive start in any company. By building rapport with your co-workers and getting noticed for all of the right reasons (and not, say, your unusual work hours or head-butting with the boss) you can position yourself for success.
The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.