Tips for Starting a New Job

This post was originally published March 31, 2014.

A week ago I left the simultaneously uncomfortable and comfortable bliss of unemployment, put on my big boy pants, and went back to work at a 9 to 5 position.  It’s a great opportunity; I’m happy to be back with a consistent income and I’ll get to use a lot of my organizational development skills while continuing to advance my own work on the side.  It also gave me a chance to reflect upon the experience of entering a new workplace.

If one counts the numerous times I’ve been a temporary employee, which one should when counting these things, I have started new jobs many times.  We all know what this is like, you get dressed up in your most appropriate and professional outfit, ready to wow your boss and make new friends that are somehow only friends for eight hours of the day.  Yet, you usually spend most of the week feeling like you’re sitting by yourself in a high school cafeteria.  The first week at work is usually awkward and sometimes embarrassing, but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that bad!

As follow up to a post with tips on surviving unemployment. I present Levi Baer’s top four tips for starting a new job:

1. Ask Questions

Don’t just sit there like a bump on a log waiting for the next thing to be handed to you or hoping you don’t screw up!  Ask questions along the way to make sure your supervisor knows you’re actively engaged.  A “what’s next?” or “am I doing this right?” can go a long way towards establishing rappot.  Not just with your boss, but also with your coworkers (ask them questions too), who probably won’t appreciate working with a slacker. Besides, you’ll probably be less bored if you stay busy rather than sit there dodging assignments and watching the clock.  I used this concept last week when I doubled checked, “you want me to make this purchase with the company credit card, right?”.

2. Don’t Ask Questions

Try stuff and see what happens, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  This is one of the fastest ways to learn the ins and outs of your role as well as the organizational culture.  Lots of people could do the tasks you’ve been hired to do, but it’s up to you to make yourself be the right fit.  As important as it is to ask first to make sure you’re doing tasks correctly, it’s also just as important to explore a little bit and test your boundaries.  A heads up manager will recognize that a change in the workplace, such as a new hire, will actually cause a temporary downturn in productivity as people get used to the change.  If they’re doing their job well, you shouldn’t be afraid to take some lumps while you learn yours.

3. Give Feedback

Not only should you expect to receive praise and constructive criticism from your supervisor during your first week, but you should also be prepared to give feedback yourself.  It is really important to set the tone of your communication habits by letting your superiors and colleagues know up front what works and what could be done differently.  We typically feel pressure to say “yes” to anything handed our way, especially when we’re trying to set a good impression.  One method I use is to accept new assignments, but make sure my manager knows where the new works fits into my current to do list.  For example, I’ll say “yes, I can absolutely finish those TPS reports, but unless you feel otherwise, they will have to wait until after I send this time sensitive email.”  

4. Relax

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  You don’t have to be liked by everyone the moment you walk in the door.  Be the lonely cafeteria kid for a few days; we should embrace the rare moments in life when we get to remember what it feels like to be alone (Louis CK says this better than I can).  In the grander scheme of things, it won’t last that long.  By the end of the first week you’ll be giving high fives to the cool kids.  They hired you because you’re the right person for the job and you should be satisfied with that understanding.  I said it last week and I’ll say it again now, take a deep breath, look ahead at what’s next, relax, and have fun getting to know your surroundings.

Levi Baer

Chicago, IL