In many ways, it’s the dream situation. You set yourself the goal to make a big career leap, you’ve spent weeks sending off applications, survived your way through various interview stages and now you’ve got the job. The hard work is over, right? Well, no. While you might be tempted to kick back once you’ve finally signed on the dotted line, the reality is that the hard work starts on your first day. Get that early stage right, and you’re pretty much sorted. Get it wrong, and it’s a one-way ticket to Groundhog Day – every day.
Very few master the subtleties of navigating those first few months and there’s a lot to think about. First of all, it’s all about timing. “Give yourself (and the organisation you’ve just joined) time before you hit them with the full force of your personality,” career coach Anna Percy Davis tells me. Laugh all you want but it’s true. “Marching in all guns blazing and starting to change everything the moment you walk through the door is an unlikely way to win you friends or the respect of your colleagues,” she adds. “Be respectful of what is already in place and assess its merits (and faults) before you come with ways to change it.”
And don’t forget, you’ve got the whole office politics and social hierarchy to gauge too. “Don’t try to be everybody’s best friend the day you arrive,” she urges. “Remember the old adage: the best friends you make in the first few weeks of arriving anywhere are usually the friends you spend the next few years trying to get rid off. Be friendly to everyone but not too friendly to any one individual.” The trick is to be strategic and think long-term. “Yes, you want to make an impression but start by doing things you’ll be able to maintain,” Anna advises. “There’s no point starting working 12 hour days if you don’t intend to sustain it, or simply can’t due to life commitments.”
No pressure, right? Fortunately it’s not as difficult as it sounds. Enter Jo Thurman, director at Personal Career Management. From someone who coaches clients on this on a daily basis, these are her five rules to live by to make a good impression in those first few months.
Plan ahead: So you have got the job, now what can you do to really give yourself a head start before your first day? In any new job there is a lot to learn – new processes, perhaps new terminology and particularly if it’s a new industry or new job role for you there will be a period of steep acclimatisation. So think about what you can do to start to reduce that knowledge gap ahead of your start date so that you minimise the time when you feel like the newbie and reduce the time before you can genuinely add value. Perhaps there was something specific that came up in the interview process about the challenges ahead that you can research, reflect on and plan for ahead of starting? Could you arrange a briefing meeting with your new line manager where you could perhaps take away some reading materials? Of course, if you currently work for a competitor, this may be commercially sensitive but there will be a lot in the public domain that you can dig into. Start by like looking at LinkedIn to understand the backgrounds of the members of your company or team and also search Google news for the latest on the organisation, competitors and the market.
Calm the first day nerves: It’s natural to feel a little anxious about turning up for your first day. After all, you have to do that whole newcomer thing again. The relationships we build at work are such an important part of not only how we deliver in our role, but also how much we enjoy it. Take away the pressure by getting the basics right. Know where you need to be, who you need to ask for, what you need to have with you, how you need to be dressed and be on time.
There’s an art to making a lasting first impression: You’ve been offered the job so your managers must believe that you can do the role but you will don’t forget that you’re still on probation in your early days. Your line manager will be looking at you closely to reassure themselves that they made the right decision in hiring you. This extends not only to your capability but also to the value they put on you with the salary and benefits package that you negotiated. Your team and peers will be looking to see how you behave, how you fit in, whether you are going to be a team player or out for yourself. If you are replacing someone, you may know little or nothing about their style, achievements or reputation. Of course you are not them – you are you and will have your own approach and capability. So don’t be defensive, don’t over promise, be respectful, and listen more than you speak for at least the first couple of weeks. Nobody warms to the newcomer who jumps in from the start and voices their view on what the team and company could do differently based upon their experience of working in their previous company or industry. Far better to hold your thunder until you have genuinely got a handle on how this organisation functions and what its key challenges are.
Build relationships: Don’t try to be everyone’s friend. Aim not to strike up too early an allegiance with one person or group of people so that you can extract yourself if you find that you have very different behaviours or attitudes. In the early days it is about meeting with as many people as you can both formally and informally – chat in the kitchen, over lunch and at breaks. Ask people what they do, how long they have been there and find out a bit about them outside of work so you can find common interests. Find out who you can go to for help, and volunteer to help wherever you can. Whatever position you are going in at, don’t be too proud to get stuck in and be hands on. Show that you will not ask anyone to do something you are not prepared to do yourself, and so build and earn respect and trust. Learn to spot the office gossip who will gravitate towards the newcomer as a possible ally. Hold any confidences that are shared with you. Look out for those top performers in the organisation and get a sense of both what they are doing, and how they are doing it so you can see what behaviours, attitudes and skills work particularly well. If you are going in to manage a team, set up one-to-one meetings early on and ask them to come prepared to share with you one thing they are particularly proud of having done in the last six months, one thing they have learned and their top three priorities in the next three months. Show that you are going to listen and be open to learning from their experience but be clear about the reporting and communication boundaries.
Create your plan: You will now be in a more informed position to plan your key objectives for the first month, three months and six months. If you’re running a team, share this with them and get their buy-in. If you’re a member of a team, don’t be afraid to feedback to your line manager what you have learnt and observed over the review period and perhaps highlight an area of process improvement, which could benefit the team. Build-in review opportunities into your plan to test that it is still valid, and don’t be afraid to change course if another week within the business shows that you had misjudged things early on. Ask for feedback from your manager and your team on how you are settling in, in terms of both behaviours and performance. Being the newbie, you have a certain leeway to make mistakes; that goodwill will quickly disappear so maximise your opportunity to get up to speed as quickly as possible.