Making the Most When Starting a New Job

March 28, 2018

The first few months of a new job are critical in building your foundation for future success. But in all the excitement, many people miss the opportunity. If you take it slow, refine your presentation, and build your relationships, your first few months can be a springboard to your career development.

Take It Slow

With all the pressure of a new role, it's no wonder people overpromise in their first few months of the job. Everyone wants to prove themselves and their worth right off the bat. The problem is, new hires aren't familiar with how things work yet. They don't know who can be the most help, the history behind why things are set up a certain way, or what resources are available to them.

When you join a new company, resist the urge to jump on that audacious project right away. A good piece of advice I was given early in my career was, "Don't worry, we don't expect you to make any meaningful contribution in your first 6 months." That sounds pretty disheartening, but there's wisdom in those words. Any time I feel the urge to prove myself by taking on a big project, I try to wait until I've been there 6 months. It helps to exercise restraint in the scope of the projects you pursue. Any project that the company's been dealing with for a long time will probably still be there in 6 months.

Instead of taking on big projects right away, focus on the "quick wins," which are low-complexity and fairly easy-to-accomplish projects. These projects will gain you favor and rapport with your colleagues and will associate you with success. If you have a string of accomplishments behind you, even small ones, people will be more willing to follow when you tackle the big issues. While you're taking care of the quick wins, keep note of the people you've worked with - their talents, and willingness to take on new challenges. On the side, do a little scouting to learn what you can about that big audacious goal, so when the time comes you'll have a well-researched understanding of the goal, as well as a team of talented people excited to help you succeed

Refine Your Reputation

Success in industry isn't about working the longest hours or being the smartest person in the room. Like it or not, one of the primary attributes that drive success is reputation. Promotions and opportunities are gained by influencing how people perceive you day to day.

Perception of your coworkers is difficult to change once it's established. Therefore, you need to present yourself consistently right from the start to build trust. If you try to change the way you present yourself later, you're going to raise a few eyebrows, and maybe even some suspicions.

When you're new to a company, you have the opportunity to build your reputation from scratch without anyone knowing you've changed. No questions arise, because you've never presented yourself as anything else. This is a great opportunity to be the best version of yourself and reinvent how you're perceived at work. Maybe in your old job you were too quiet, or slouched in your chair in meetings, or dressed a little shabby. Now is the time to establish your new image! Sit up straight in your chair, or start wearing business attire. Address habits and perceptions you've struggled to change in the past. It's a lot easier to reinvent yourself when you're not challenging already established perceptions.

Build Relationships

Data is abundant, processes are established, and all the tools you need are provided by the company. So why do some people succeed effortlessly while others struggle to keep up? It has often been said that a company's most important resource is its people, and that is true for you as an employee as well. The most successful people have a network of friends helping them on every big undertaking. Unlike in school, industry rewards copying what works, developing shortcuts, and values results over methods. Using your relationships to drive progress is the most efficient way to success.

The people in your company are experts in their role, yet most are used like a search engine; email your question, and wait for a response. When people are used this way, they respond in kind; "Read this procedure, fill out this form." When you have established a real relationship, the answers you receive are personal. People don't just answer your questions, they're invested in helping you achieve your goal. People with whom you have established a relationship are more likely to provide the shortcuts, secret paths, and extra push to get things done. The more people you form relationships with, the more likely you are to overcome adversity and drive success.

When's the best time to establish these relationships? In the first few months of a new role. You have a perfect opening line and excuse: "I'm new here, and I don't believe we've met, I'm (your name)." It works every time, but only for the first few months. After that, you'll need to explain why you're just now introducing yourself. Nothing says "I don't think you matter" more than neglecting to introduce yourself.  

If you follow these fundamentals, the first few months in your new role will provide a strong foundation on which to build your long-term success. Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.   

Author: Justin Tettenborn

Justin Tettenborn
Justin Tettenborn is a microbiologist with broad experience in medical device manufacturing throughout the product life cycle; including product invention, initial and ongoing quality testing, and sterilization. His passion is leading teams across diverse disciplines to support organizations in building a reputation of quality and trust.