There are things you sit down to write because the world needs to know. Or ideas which are bursting out of you. For me, it’s mainly things that I thought everyone knew… and then I turned out to be wrong, so I write it down and send people the link. This is one of those posts.
My assumption this time was everyone knew what to do when they get a new job. Basically show up, be professional, get to know the people, the work, and impress everyone around you, right? Well it turns out there are a few more items I took for granted. In fact there are likely thousands of small choices you can to make to improve your future at a company from day one, but the the following stick out in my mind.
Show up early
You don’t have to be waiting outside the office on your first day before they open, like some sort of rabid Black Friday shopper. Just don’t be late. In fact, shoot for being at least 15 minutes early. It gives you a little time to settle your nerves and lets you account for any unforeseen traffic or life chaos. The last thing you want on day one (or any day on weeks 1 through 3) is to have your welcoming party waiting. It’s even worse if you’re in a new cohort, and everyone else gets there on time and you’re the tardy one.
When you start any new relationship you want to make sure both parties understand each other. Day one at a job however, is not a date. You don’t need to make sure your boss knows about your quirky collection of Captain Kirk body pillows. Your personal life should be personal until your relationship can grow outside of your professional one. That said, you need to be in a professional version of hyper-communication-mode from day one. This allows you to be engaged, increases your ability to process and store information, and to impress (if that’s your bag).
Practice active listening. Active listening is generally a good life skill, but it’s especially important in a new job. This means often repeating back something a coworker says to make sure you understood it. If Bob says “Make sure you clean off your work surface every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” you say back “Ok, so alternating weekdays I clean up the work surface… with a scrubbing brush?” Tacking on questions helps keep the conversation and learning going. It makes conversations more interactive so you actually pay attention to boring lessons like table scrubbing.
If something goes wrong, tell someone immediately. If you are running five minutes late, call. If your email goes down for a second, call. You cannot know what problems will be important and which ones will be trivial at the start of a job, so treat all culture errors or systems failures as exitensital threats – tell someone about them right away.
Take notes. Writing ideas, questions and concepts down helps you process them. It also shows you care about what people say.
Ask lots of questions. I cannot understate this one enough. Asking questions helps in a number of ways, but in the workplace it shows: A willingness to learn, curiosity about the job, lower ego needs, rigor, engagement, and personal responsibility. Ask a lot of questions!
Ask for help. There are going to be lots of people around you, ask them for help! This allows you to learn about the people and the processes much quicker. It also shows you are a low ego person who isn’t afraid to ask for direction. There is a type of person in this world who does not ask for help because they know already know or know best. These people are called assholes. Don’t be an asshole.
Document the Process
Want to turn your onboarding experience from good to great? Document the entire process. Everything you do, everything you read, every meeting you attend, write it all down. This includes the steps you took, who was responsible, and what the outcomes were (what you learned). You should do this with a particular audience in mind: your first hire. Start a job assuming you are going to have to eventually be responsible for someone else’s hiring and onboarding. If you have a document to guide them through the process you will make their lives much easier. It is the only time you will be able to be an objective observer of this process, because you will be an insider when it your turn comes.
The document will also be extremely useful to your direct supervisor or HR department. It will show you are a thoughtful, diligent person who understands process. This is the kind of person who gets things done. This is the kind of person who will be given more responsibilities.
Leave Judgements at the Door
No one is perfect. No company, no employee, no CEO, no boss. No one. That means every situation is a learning opportunity, but it does not mean you need to be the teacher. People do not want to hear “At my last job we did this better.”
Remember, companies grow with their own unique sets of values, cultural norms, and processes. The evolution of these is completely invisible to you when you start, even if the end results look like a corporate Quasimodo. If the company has grown and hired you, it means some of those evolutionary quirks have added to the fitness of the organization. Wait until you have understood why things are the way there are before you start trying to change them. This applies to new CEOs as well.
Rigorousness is Professionalism
By rigorousness here I mean “showing a level of care in your work and to be detail-orientated”. Care and rigor are fundamental, but your levels at the start of a job should reflect your seniority. If you are hired on as a C-Level, Director, Manager, or Team Lead, it will be expected that your level of attention to the finer points will increase exponentially with job title. At higher levels people care about the usual hard work, etc. etc. etc. But it’s knowing the difference between good enough and not good enough counts for 90% of your professional career.
Basically you are trying to make a good impression, but more so to write your own narrative from day one. If everyone who meets you thinks you’re organized and punctual, it will stay with you for months into the job. It’s not difficult to get noticed this way. When you make your own onboarding easy and professional, people are going to talk. “That young Pat over there is a real go getter! Showed up early, got all their forms in on time, and has been documenting the onboarding process! I’ll mention them to our CEO!”
Yes, this sounds like a 1950’s instructional short, but it’s actually how businesses work. Start out by putting a little extra effort in your first few weeks. These deposits of trust will allow you to take out large dividends in the future.