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.

Tips for Surviving Unemployment

This post was originally published March 24, 2014.

Three weeks ago I was laid of from my job as a program manager at a small nonprofit.  Coming as a pretty big surprise, I did what most people would do in that situation and begin to freak out about those pesky concepts of paying bills and eating food.  Darn, why do they have to cost money?! 

Spoiler alert: I’ll cut right to the end of this story.  Today I start a new job and I have had a delightful and productive three weeks of networking, intentional socializing, and of course, sleeping in.  My first week of unemployment was fairly stressful, as I thought about money and my future.  However, at the end of the first week, I realized that I had been given the thing I have been wanting for months now…time.  I had all day every day to do whatever I wanted, and rather than spend it worrying I realized I should be putting it to good use. 

That mind shift from stress to productivity resulted in a great couple weeks off and ultimately lead to the acquisition of my new employment.  Looking back on the whole experience, I believe there are a few takeaways worth sharing. Thus, I present Levi Baer’s top 4 tips for surviving unemployment:

1. Don’t Panic

I know this is easier said than done for some people (shout out to my Myers-Briggs “P” types), but really, just relax.  Take stock of your situation and assets, I bet you have more going for you than you realize because you haven’t been forced to assess or use your full set of resources if you’ve been in the same routine for a while.  Focus on the future and what is possible, not on the past and what went wrong.  Sleep in, make some bacon pancakes or other favorite breakfast, and look towards what’s next.  I was able to double check my bank account, apply for unemployment aide, breathe a sigh of relief, and move on. 

2. Make the Most of the Situation

Time is arguably the most important resource each of us have.  It’s limited and we’re all given the same amount each day. Use it effectively!  It might be nice to spend the first day or two finally watching all the episodes of Freaks and Geeks, but after that get up and do the things you’ve been wanting to do but have been putting off.  Meet up with old friends, paint your room, take a community class, explore the city.  The list can go on and on of things you can do while your'e also applying for new jobs.  I spent a lot of my unemployed time at coffee shops, connecting with friends and collaborators. 

3.Trust Your Network

This is the big one.  Reach out to people you know, embrace the vulnerability of asking for help, and connect to the opportunities that are surely happening throughout your network.  Without asking, you’ll never know everything that other people, even your close friends, are doing for work, hobby, and play, and what those activities could mean for you.  Finding new employment is almost always easier through referrals rather than cold calls.  If you’re okay with any sort of job, you will probably be surprised by how fast you can get one through your network.  If now is the time for a career or location change, don’t just Google your dream city, ask people what they know about it or if they know anyone there who can give you recommendations for jobs and housing.  Really, talk to as many people as you can.  I sent out an email to 80 people outlining what skills I had to offer and where I thought they could be best applied.  A week later I was interviewing with a friend of a friend who received that email.  

4. Continue to Build Your Network

Ask your network for help, but don’t stop there.  Stay actively engaged with those connections and find out how you can give back to those around you.  Not only will you likely feel good about doing so, you’ll probably end up opening more doors for yourself.  You probably have a friend in the middle of a project that could use some extra brain or muscle power.  There’s likely someone running a volunteer program that needs a person with your skill set.  Take time to learn more about what the people you know are doing both professionally and for hobby.  All of these interactions hold not only the potential for your next job, but also can create fun and engaging opportunities you didn’t know were possible.  Not to mention, you can continue to strengthen your network for the next time it’s needed. 

I enjoyed my time out of the rat race so much that I wish it was lasting longer.  Perhaps one downside of this type of heavy engagement with your network, is that learning about a lot of good opportunities all at once might make you feel like some are too good to pass up.  I am glad to be getting back to work though and all the networking will just have to fit into nights and weekends, not stop altogether.  At least the bacon pancakes don’t have to end anytime soon either.