by CareerActually contributor, Julie Preston
Whenever I start a new job I feel foremost the need to achieve lots of things, to prove the recruitment team made the right choice when hiring me. This drive to act is important for establishing myself as a productive member of the team and organisation, but it’s not the best place to start. The most important thing to do in the first few days and weeks of a new job is to learn. Learn by listening, by observing, and asking questions.
Here are some things that have worked well for me when starting a new job:
Meet the manager
Your relationship with your manager can have a significant impact on your enjoyment of work, and as we spend so much of time working it’s important to get this relationship right.
It’s not uncommon to meet your line manager for the first time on day 1 of a new job. In one example I only met my manager in person after having travelled half way around the world to start the job. I had met some of the team at various conferences and knew my manager’s work from his publication record, but that first meeting was daunting. There had not been a chance to ‘interview the manager’ as one might in a regular face-to-face interview, so this was my first real opportunity to learn about the person I would be working for. In hindsight, the questions below would have been beneficial for that first meeting.
I’ve learned that assessing my manager’s style helps. A lot. Find out their leadership style and preferred communication methods. Keep these questions in mind during your early interactions:
- Availability: is it an open door policy, or will you need to schedule a meeting?
- Progress updates: regular, detailed updates or less frequent overview of project progress?
- Meeting style: pre-meeting agenda or see where the meeting takes you?
- Communication: hallway chats, phone calls, emails or a combination of all?
While I’m not suggesting you should ask these questions directly, they are worth considering as you explore the relationship with your new manager. You might also learn the answers by reflecting on conversations with your new colleagues.
Meet the team
Your new colleagues will be a wealth of information about your role, your team and the organisation. Take the time to get to know each member. Invite each to sit down over coffee to discuss their role and how your roles might intersect or overlap. (This is also a great way to find the best coffee spots!).
As with your manager, take some time to learn how each prefers to work, though this will of course take more than one coffee chat. Take note of the existing team dynamic. Perhaps some speak at team meetings while others prefer to share their thoughts later? Look for patterns in activity, like being a morning person (or not) or preferred times for independent work vs team chat. Working with these preferences can smooth your transition into the existing structure.
Your colleagues will be better connected across the organisation than you are right now. Ask them to help make introductions to key staff in other teams so you can begin to build your own networks.
It is worth remembering that your colleagues will be very busy, possibly covering some of your role during the recruitment process, and helping to keep things moving while you learn the ropes. Be careful not to ask too much of already stretched colleagues.
Learn the processes
The first few days of each of my new jobs have been the same: attending onboarding seminars, reading mountains of policies and procedures, and signing endless documentation. It can feel a bit like hearing an airline safety announcement every time we fly. In a plane we’re advised to pay attention because “not all aircraft are the same”. This is true for organisations as well. The basics may be the same, but each organisation will have its own processes.
It’s important to read everything you’re given and attend all the seminars and workshops you’re sent to. Sure, some might be dull, but the information in these documents and workshops should provide you with an overview of the inner workings of your new organisation, and a sense of the processes that you will be working to. If you’re lucky they might even prevent you forgetting to do something really important.
Ask lots (and lots) of questions
This really is a time when “there are no silly questions”. Make the most of your newbie label and ask questions. Aside from finding the stationary cupboard and specific job-related concerns, these are some questions I ask, usually indirectly, to broaden my understanding of a new position.
Your own role
- Was someone acting in your role? This person may be a great source of insider information.
- Where does your work fit within the broader goal of the team?
- What are the possible overlaps with your colleagues? How can you best work together to achieve shared goals?
- Where does the team sit within the organisational structure?
- What value does your team contribute to the organisational vision?
- Where does the team work closely with other areas in the organisation?
The value of learning by asking questions during this time cannot be underestimated.
I can almost guarantee that you’ll get lost at least once. Some of you will instantly remember the name of everyone you meet, but I never can (I draw a floorplan to record the names of those immediately around me). Just remember to make the most of those first few days and weeks. There’s no need to change the world, so focus on learning, establishing good relationships and understanding your new environment and you’ll set yourself up for a strong future.