Earlier in my career, I went through a period of great anxiety when starting new jobs. So much anxiety that it would become debilitating and even impede my progress during the early days.
I now take the time to re-read The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter any time I start a new job, or experience a significant change in my role while in my current job. It’s a fairly quick read, and tends toward managers or other leadership types. I’ve derived great value from the book and have supplemented with my own “playbook” for starting a new role.
This post is from the perspective of working in the software industry, and I’ve attempted to generalize the key aspects here. Credibility is key to the whole thing working. You start a new role with very little. Even if you are coming into a new role at the same company, the onus is on you to build a new cache of credibility in your new role.
Your credibility largely exists in the context of your current role.
Here are a few of the first milestones I strive to hit in the first couple of months in a new role.
Build Interpersonal Relationships
I list this point first because in more than 15 years in the business, I’m convinced it’s the most important thing. All other milestones during the first few months of your new role will flow from your ability to bond with your co-workers and teammates. Why? You are going to build your own knowledge base and understanding of the environment based on your ability to communicate effectively with those around you. Don’t expect to start a new job, bury your nose in documentation for 3 months and expect good things to come out of it. You need to be seen as a team player early, not as an outsider.
I’m not suggesting that you should be a schmoozer at the expense of the points that follow, but the ability to play nicely with others from the outset is critical.
Establish and Exhibit An Exceptional Work Ethic
There is a ton to learn in the first 90 days in a new role. You will be perceived as either “hard working” or “lazy” within the first few weeks, even days, of taking on a new role. Prepare to work hard, long hours and establish a work schedule that extends beyond both ends of core business hours.
Learn Your Job
It’s completely normal to come into a new role and have dozens of questions about it. Organization is important – write your questions down and prioritize them! I suggest prioritizing the questions not based on how “dumb” or “smart” you think you’ll sound by asking them, but by putting at the top of your list the open questions most critical to building momentum in your new role.
This is an area where your previous experience can be an asset or a liability. If you’re at a point in your career where you have previously performed the same duties now asked of you, then let your experience serve as a foundation for confidence, but not as a crutch. You need to be willing to challenge your own habits and assumptions about how to conduct yourself in your new role.
As soon as you have the seedlings in place for how to do your job, then you must start doing your job to continue up the learning curve. Engage with your new role as soon as possible; this will send a strong signal that you possess initiative and drive.
Explore the Space
Just like in the “More Cowbell” skit in Saturday Night Live – The Best of Christopher Walken, it’s important to look beyond your four walls for guidance. If “Learn Your Job” is the microscope, Explore the Space is the binoculars. Your need for this level of understanding of how others are doing your job outside your company will vary from job to job, but it can help you maintain perspective to understand how the other guy does what you’re being expected to do.
If your job involves a product or service in an industry where there are competitors (whose doesn’t?), then exploring the space also means comparing and contrasting how your product or service behaves against those other companies’ similar products or services.
Seek Feedback Early and Often
This is where developing and nurturing your own sense of self-awareness will really pay off. Seeking feedback does not mean asking your boss “how am I doing?” on a frequent basis. There are several subtle ways you can collect feedback to help you gauge your progress. Some include asking yourself some questions:
- Actively listen to how others talk to you about work. Do they talk as if they think you grok what they’re talking about?
- At what rate is work getting put on your plate? Is the flow of work into your “inbox” increasing?
- Are people starting to ask you questions? If so, then you’re building credibility and sticking power with those around you.
This is just a start. Above all else, it’s vital to let your core values guide your early decisions and actions in a new role.