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.

Hyper communicate

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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I help cruise lines turn their technical ideas into reality. I'm experienced in all stages of innovation and technology management. I've also been programing since I was 8 years old, and have somehow retained the ability to have normal human interactions. Occasionally I speak about how Industrial Psychology and Neurophysiology can be interrogated with IT and systems management, because I spend a lot of time thinking about the subject, as strange as that may seem.

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Asking For Feedback the Right Way

The vast majority of people will agree that feedback is the most important tool we have to improve ourselves and others. How else are you supposed to know if you’re doing a good job if nobody tells you? How are you supposed to improve if your weaknesses remain hidden? Understanding these two oversimplifications allows most people to buy into the idea that feedback is a valuable tool. Many of us even pay real attention to the act of asking for feedback or offering it. The problem is that 90% of the time, we’re doing it wrong.

I typically see two main categories of feedback being handed out:

  1. The “good job” feedback.

This is the easiest type to give, and it’s really important. Letting someone know they did a good job on a task is very powerful. Giving feedback directly after the task’s completion makes this even more impactful. Rapid, positive feedback has three huge benefits:

  • Positive feedback adds to the bank account of trust in the relationship.
  • Letting someone know their strengths can help build a person’s confidence.
  • It creates a culture of positive reinforcement.
  1. The classic “compliment sandwich.”

A lot of critical feedback is in the form of “I think you did this well, and this could be better, but this other thing was good.” The compliment sandwich is a really useful way to deliver difficult feedback safely, without hurting someone’s feelings.

So what is wrong with these two approaches?

These two approaches themselves are not broken, but the way they’re used is. And it’s not the person giving the feedback’s fault either! It is the person soliciting the feedback who is to blame.

Requests for feedback should be specific — based on intended outcomes or incremental improvements in an area where someone is focusing on improving.

Why don’t we ask for feedback the right way?

Motivation is a big reason for starters. Most people have jobs where they are stressed all the time, totally disengaged, or lack any support from their peers and supervisors. In these situations, it’s difficult to imagine finding the motivation to work out where you should improve. Why should you make strides in a workplace you don’t care about?

The other reason we don’t do feedback correctly is because it’s hard. It requires effort and direction. Knowing what you want and then working towards it is much harder than just showing up. Many people don’t realize that their careers and their lives are in their hands, so it’s a perspective that requires a person to step back from their day-to-day life and actually think about. No one, and I mean no one, does this instinctively or naturally. It’s a habit and a skill that we have to learn.

How can we fix this?

The solution to many of life’s problems is in the cunning use of paper and pens (or pencils). Writing down your ideas is a life-changing skill. I’m not going to go into the psychology and the validity of this point, but if you want to read more about it, you can here, here, here, and here — and a million other places. If you start with a simple list of your goals and then a shortlist of your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be off to the races.

Start with your goals. What do you want out of your life, your career, and your current job? Just those three for now.

When you’re done, list what skills and experiences you’ll need for each one of those three goals. (Don’t write down anything about changing other people.) Next, write down which skills and experiences you already have and where you are weak.

Create a list

For example, a very stripped down version might look like this:

  • I would like to be a manager or a team lead in the next few years. Managers need to:
    • Skills
      • Be able to manage up.
        • I’m not great at communicating with my manager the way she likes.
      • Understand business goals.
        • I think I’m good at understanding why we are working on something.
      • Design and measure specific data for success.
        • I think I’m very good at defining success metrics.
      • Design processes and make sure they’re being followed.
        • I’m pretty terrible at making plans and getting others to follow them.
      • Communicate clearly with their direct reports.
        • I’m a little shy when it comes to voicing my opinion.
        • I’m too much of a people pleaser.
    • Experiences
      • Develop a background in the type of work they’re managing.
      • Have led smaller projects in the past.
      • Learn about management from books or school.

Write down some feedback questions

Now pick two, ONLY two, to start with and start working on them. Once you know which two you’re going to work on, write down an example feedback solicitation for each one.

  1. Pick one strength and start getting confirmation that you are actually good at it. For example:
    • I’ve created a list of success metrics for this next step of the project. Could you look at it and let me know if this is good? I’m trying to make sure that I’ve got this down.
  2. Decide to strengthen one of your weaknesses. For example:
    • Can I ask you for some feedback? I’m trying to voice my opinion more in team meetings while still trying to work toward consensus. Did you feel like I spoke up more than usual in that last meeting?

And there you go! Those are feedback questions. There are two huge benefits to this technique:

  1. You are now the one driving your career and skills growth. It’s no longer a random crapshoot of lessons you’re picking up from the work environment through hints, clues, and osmosis.
  2. It signals your intent to the people you are soliciting feedback from. This tells them you are serious about improving in some aspect. Your actions demonstrate that you are open to change and are inviting others in to help. Your openness tells them you are a thoughtful person who cares about growth. It lets them know that it’s okay for them to ask you for feedback, too. In this way, feedback can be like sizzling fajitas at a restaurant: When the first person orders it, everyone else hears the sound and smells the sizzling peppers and starts ordering the same thing.

Unsolicited Feedback

Every now and again, you are going to want to give someone unsolicited feedback. Hopefully, this is mainly in the “good job” category, but sometimes you have to make people aware of a problem that they are not working on. General feedback like this still has utility, but use it lightly. Treat these situations as though your target had asked you, “Where do you think I can improve in [x] specific area?” and then hit them with the compliment sandwich. With any luck, this new data can become the focus of their next set of skills to work on. Sadly, it’s often ignored.

You can’t guarantee that taking your career into your hands, building out a plan, and then executing that plan will work. You cannot predict how people will react when you ask them for clear and specific feedback. If no one around you is going to enjoy the sizzling fajitas effect of your earnest feedback attempts, then they don’t deserve you!