GET STARTED ON THE RIGHT FOOT!
Winning Strategies for the New-Job Game
By Craig Harrison
This two-part article appeared in the May 21 and May 28, 2000 issues of the California Job Journal
CONGRATULATIONS! You aced the interview, got the job and start in a few weeks. You're feeling pretty cocky right now. But beware! You're not home free yet.
The first days, weeks and months are critical periods in the life span of every new employee. It's what they don't tell you in the interview, what isn't described in the job description, and what hasn't been documented in the new employee's handbook that will determine whether you are well received, find the fast track, and ultimately succeed in your new position.
Before Your First Day...
Just because your interviewing is over, your research shouldn't stop. Keep learning about the organization you're about to join. Look beyond the company's PR. Are any of your friends, associates or former co-workers already on the inside? A 15-minute chat with them before you start can help to fill in many of the blanks concerning the company's current climate and recent activities: hirings, firings, reorganizations, successful or unsuccessful campaigns. Follow up with any of these sources who helped you before the interview. Now that you're coming on board they might have additional insight, advice or strategies of which you'll want to make note of.
Don't Party. Prepare!
While you may still need to give notice at your current job and won't be starting for some weeks, your new position's start date could still be weeks away. Pave the way to success with your new company by getting a leg up on your responsibilities. "Contact your hiring manager and ask what you can do in preparation so you can hit the ground running upon arrival," advises Rob Katz, senior account manager with The Trattner Network — a Norell Information Services Company in Walnut Creek. Rob believes "it shows others your willingness to work as well as your desire to succeed."
New Wardrobe? Not Yet
It's natural to want to look your best, but don't purchase an entirely new wardrobe before your first day. Wait until you better understand your new company's dress code, be it official or otherwise. Sure they all wore jeans and T-shirts that day you interviewed. But that was on a Friday, the only day the entire company dresses down. The rest of the week may see three-piece suits, white shirts and ties, or something else altogether as the standard. You'll want to take your cues from your immediate manager, workgroup co-workers and key players at your firm. Once you're on the job you will be better able to look and learn. And beware, consistent over-dressing and under-dressing can both be problematic. At this entry point in your job you want to focus on fitting in, not standing out.
Just as Rome wasn't built in a day, neither will you become CEO in a day. Surviving the first days and weeks should be your first order of business. Not only can't you win everyone over instantaneously, you shouldn't try. Yes, you're under scrutiny, but give yourself time to show your stuff. Your first order of business should revolve around grasping the basics.
After your interview, the second most important day in terms of your appearance is your first day. It's true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Most of your co-workers haven't met you yet so appearing well dressed and groomed is important. By dressing well you are showing respect for your company while also demonstrating your good judgment. When in doubt, over-dress (as opposed to under-dress) and err on the conservative side.
Usually there are papers to fill out on the first day for paychecks, insurance and other items. Is the personnel office aware of your arrival? Is there a new employee orientation you can attend? Are there timecards or security badges to obtain?
Etiquette suggests you'll need to be on your best behavior, from the start. Sure you want to arrive early your first day, but don't cut off other drivers on your way to work. Similarly, don't take someone's parking space in the company lot. Invariably you'll find its the space of your boss's boss you've just taken. Politeness should extend not just up the corporate ladder but in all directions. I've found that not only are switchboard operators and front desk receptionists worthy of your politeness, they're great friends to have. It's never too early to start making contacts.
Does your company use an elaborate phone system? Is your phone working? Do you know your number? Where's your department's FAX? Do you have an electronic mail account and documentation on how to use their system? Is training available? How does your company's internal mail system work? And remember, when ordering business cards, you may want to include direct phone, FAX, pager and e-mail numbers among the other information displayed.
Bathrooms, emergency exits, cafeteria, break rooms and snack machines — where are they? If your company has multiple buildings perhaps a floor plan or map of the grounds can help you. Later you'll want to find out where the first aid kits, fire extinguishers and security personnel can be found.
Other things to ask about (if you haven't already) include parking provisions, shuttles or transportation links. Are there commuter discount tickets or vouchers, existing carpools or bike storage lockers?
"Don't be a Superperson — don't say you can do everything" advises Chuck Russell, senior partner with CheckStart, and author of Right Person-Right Job: Guess or Know. Russell is weary of employees who don't admit to any weaknesses, whether in interviews or on the job. Through your words and actions you will be presenting yourself to your fellow employees. Be careful what you say and do. Everyone is watching. Don't brag about how well you interviewed, or the salary and compensation you're receiving. Save those discussions for family, friends outside of work, your cat, or a personal diary. Furthermore, don't try to be all things to all people.
Announcing Your Arrival
Is there a company or departmental newsletter where new employees can be introduced, profiled? Ask if your manager will introduce you via an e-mail message, the company's Intranet, at the weekly staff meeting, Friday social or through a tour of relevant departments.
The Name Game
If you're like most people you're not blessed with total recall of names, especially when you are meeting so many new people at once. That's understandable. Remember, the other employees only have to learn one new name at a time. It's probably inappropriate to ask for business cards for others within your new company. One alternative is to try to secure an organizational chart to not only learn names and titles, but to understand the complexities of your company's hierarchy.
Pay particular attention to office etiquette regarding names; are employees on a first name basis with superiors, each other? When in doubt be formal at first. It's a sign of respect.
In short order you'll be meeting many new people and processing much new information. When in doubt, write it down: names, numbers, titles, meeting times and locations are all worth recording in print. Write down the time and location of weekly staff meetings, communications or management meetings, and when weekly reports are due. Consider using a small notebook, daytime calendar or even a PDA for this purpose. And it's not just times and places you'll need to record.
Every company has its own culture. Your job (within your job) is to determine your company's culture. Clues abound. Is yours a traditional company with offices and closed doors, neck ties, formal etiquette and memos? Perhaps your company emphasizes cubicles, an "open door" policy where anyone can talk to anyone, at any time, and liberally uses e-mail to communicate all types of information. Be attentive to how your superiors and co-workers work. Is the telephone used extensively to communicate or does your company or group rely on written communiqués to achieve goals.
Some companies are better equipped to orient new employees than others. They have special information packets and manuals to facilitate your integration into the company. If your new company doesn't, perhaps you can request the assignment of a mentor or "buddy" within your group to help ease the initial newness. This can also be arranged unofficially. Diann Foley, assistant corporate controller for Dreyers Grand Ice Cream, inculcates the notion that no question is stupid (except the one that's unasked) and encourages open door, face-to-face contact between new and seasoned employees. She recognizes that certain employees are "go-to" resources for new hires and seasoned employees. In her twenty years with Dreyers, Foley, who also holds the title of Coach, estimates she's hired over 2,000. She knows firsthand of "the importance of mentoring, nurturing and supporting employees on their way to career success." Every employee should have mentors, whether within or beyond their own company.
Don't laugh…people outside of Los Angeles "do lunch" and you should too. You may consider lunch as your time and prefer privacy to eat, run errands or otherwise seek a respite from the office. Still, part of fitting in and learning about your job suggests that some time spent lunching with your co-workers is worthwhile. There are several reasons.
Not eating (at least periodically) with co-workers suggests to them that you're stand-offish or don't enjoy their company. Especially if this is true you should nevertheless take pains to be part of the group periodically. Also, in some cases your absence leads to unwanted speculation.
I advocate planning strategic lunches. One of the best ways of forging friendships, learning about other departments and staying abreast of the big picture involves lunching with co-workers. While gossiping is of course discouraged recognize that the intelligent exchange of pertinent information is valuable!
Desk & Phone Etiquette
Try to create a professional environment. An organized desk suggests a well-organized employee. What should be on your desk, bookshelves and walls? Dictionary…yes; Political bumper stickers probably not. Your space is your space, but it's also company space. As for phone calls, be wary of the personal calls you make. Ditto personal e-mail messages your send from your company account. Be aware that your company has the ability to monitor your communications, and your co-workers often have the proximity to do so. When in doubt, be circumspect…it's for your own protection.
You want your ear to it, but remember, word about you as a new employee also travels across the grapevine. Think first, about what may be said about you as a result of your comportment at work. By acting prudently, you can control some of what is said and thought about you. This in turn will help you with your career ambitions.
Apparel and Hygiene
It's not just the obvious items such as business suits, shoes that matter, but the little items as well. In general, strive to carry a handkerchief, wear a belt, bras for women, T-shirts for men, and of course matching socks. Access to breath mints, perfume or cologne, and deodorant can be beneficial. Again, you want to fit in, not stand out. Don't try to "out-dress" your co-workers. This will only be resented. You want to be like them, not appear better than your fellow employees.
The Unofficial Organization
Just as there is a formal organizational chart, there may be a practical or informal 'org' chart in operation. You'll need to. Who are the real power brokers? The comers?
Find Your Natural Allies
Within every group there are sub-groups. It may take time to identify them, and longer to become part of them. Your company may have a joggers group that runs at lunch, a weekly on-site aerobics class, toastmasters club or veterans group. Is there a ski club that plans periodic trips? Perhaps there's a special newsgroup on your company's electronic mail system for women, your ethnic group, veterans, or other sub-groups of professionals. Membership in these clubs, participation in these activities allows you to meet important people, develop friendships and form alliances with other like-minded people. It can also expedite your assimilation into your new company, open doors professionally for you. Just remember, you're still at work even if you're off-site with work associates. The same rules about manners, etiquette and good judgment are in effect.
Avoid Coming On Too Strong
You were hired to perform a specific job. You weren't hired to enhance your multi-level marketing business, proselytize your religious beliefs or politic for your ardent beliefs. It's your right to have strong beliefs, but your responsibility not to offend others with your zealousness. By coming on too strong you run the risk of immediately turning people off. Start slowly. Sometimes it's not what someone finds out about you as much as when they find it out, that determines their reaction. People tend to pigeon-hole others. Avoid letting them at first. I believe initially you should give yourself the best chance to be liked by not "putting it all out there" in your early days on the job.
Whether or not you're a new employee, certain behavior is never appropriate. Sure you've been told you have a great sense of humor, but now isn't the time to stake that claim with off-color or lewd jokes. Remember, sexual, racial or ethnic jokes should remain off-limits_even if your boss is telling them. While you want to fit in, don't lower yourself to an undignified level that may already exist in your new work environment. If you're uncomfortable with confronting co-workers or superiors' about inappropriate behavior publicly for fear of fallout, politely excuse yourself whenever it occurs.
As with inappropriate humor, sexual innuendoes or advances are also grounds for sexual harassment charges. Similarly, you may be a warm, "touchy feely" person outside of work, but your tactile nature may not only be misconstrued, but result in serious repercussions.
Sure you mean well, but what's harmless to you may be threatening to others. Don't assume your standards are others'—they never are. In these days of political correctness and lawsuits err on the side of caution.
Many of us have a tendency to want to be liked. That's natural. But don't act unnaturally in hopes that people will like you more. Ultimately people like other people that are real. Avoid playing the role of life of the party, know-it-all or Mr. Big Stuff. New acquaintances will like you for yourself if you let them.
It's a Job And An Adventure!
There's never been a job I didn't make mistakes at. That goes for all of us. The key is to learn from our experiences and apply our new knowledge toward our success. This article was not designed to scare you on the eve of your new job, but simply to open your eyes to the situation you will soon encounter and give you a head start in navigating your new environment. Good luck!
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