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We all want to succeed at work, and when you start a new job you have a one-time-only opportunity to hit the ground running and work towards any career goals you might have.
At the same time, you need to feel oriented in your new role, get to grips with the company culture, and start making those friendships and working relationships that will serve you well in the future.
You might feel daunted by your first day in a new job - even as a seasoned professional in your industry - or you might relish the chance to dive into new chances and challenges.
Either way, in this guide we'll take a look at some of the things to keep in mind when starting a new job, which should help you to be more successful over your first days, weeks and months in the role.
First things first, make sure you understand what is expected of you in your role. You might have your own idea of how to measure success, but your manager probably has some thoughts about it too. Give a careful read through any and all information you have been provided about the role:
Ask your new colleagues if you have any questions about how performance and success is measured, and what management expectations are. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your manager directly. This shows a keenness to succeed and a willingness to learn, and will gain you the most direct insight into the way your immediate boss perceives your role.
Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, says: “Ask your boss how your success will be measured and over what time frame”. “Without context and expectations, you will have no clue as to deliverables, the time required to come up to speed, and the resources you will need to deploy to achieve success productively and efficiently.” You also send a clear message that you want to work with your manager, not against them – a positive sentiment that will serve you well in your first few weeks and beyond.
Company culture has a big bearing on how businesses define and measure success, and how successful individual employees are considered to be; what’s ‘successful’ in one company might not be considered good enough in another. Look for information about your new employer’s long-term goals, such as mission statements and BHAGs (‘big hairy audacious goals’) on the company website and marketing literature.
Amy Zimmerman, head of global people operations at Kabbage, suggests reading voraciously: “Immerse yourself in reading all that you can about the company’s culture and norms: old newsletters, articles, decks, org charts etc. “If done effectively, you will have far more context and information, which will help you understand the company, your role and what success looks like.” The more you read, the more you’ll understand how your role sits within the broader company hierarchy and how your contribution can help drive organisational success on those most ambitious targets.
It’s useful to ask some key questions about company culture in order to build up the most comprehensive picture of how the business operates and your position within it:
This last question is a good rule of thumb to start understanding how the company operates overall, and can be as simple as asking whether you’re expected to wear formal business clothing for a non-customer-facing role.
There are not many jobs you can do completely independently, so learn who your colleagues are and start building relationships with the following groups:
Recognise that the closer colleagues are to your position in the hierarchy, the more likely it is that they can help you achieve short-term success, for example by overcoming a small obstacle or answering an immediate question.
But beyond that, almost anyone in your organisation should be able to help you achieve long-term success, as you gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the company’s broader objectives and how you can work towards promotion. As you break the ice with more of your colleagues, you’ll start to learn who’s willing to go the extra mile to help you, and who will only contribute the bare minimum towards getting things done.
It’s likely your manager will hold some form of icebreaker session to introduce you to your team, but you can take the initiative to start building some rapport too, especially with the people you’ll be working most closely alongside. Some options to achieve this include:
Larger organisations also have employee resource groups or ERGs, usually to represent common interests like:
Don’t feel obliged to join these just because they’re there, but if an appropriate group is available to you and you think it will help achieve your career goals, make full use of it.
All of the above has been about knowing your environment, the expectations of management, and the people around you who will play a role in determining how successful you can be. Once you know what you’re working with, you can start to build your own value as a contributor, not only in terms of the core duties of your job, but also more generally as you help your organisation towards greater success.
Were you hired to carry out the same duties as many of your co-workers, or because you have specific experience or expertise nobody else has? These are not mutually exclusive: you may be able to offer unique insight while working within a role that is approximately the same as the people around you. Your thoughts are important, so don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. A good manager will listen and consider what you say, or at least tell you if you’re overstepping the boundary of your job description.
Are there obvious ways to improve the processes you are expected to use on a daily basis, and would those changes deliver greater productivity and success? Again, don’t overstep the mark, but if you have good ideas about how your team could work smarter, speak to your line manager about making some small changes. This could allow you to expand your own role and take on more duties, which is a great way to maximise your personal success, work towards promotions and secure pay rises.
Don’t be content to work within your own role if there are opportunities to gain experience that will benefit you in the long term. You could ask to be allowed to sit in on planning meetings, even if you don’t initially contribute anything to them, or to observe your teammates working on a project that doesn’t directly involve you. Over time you’ll naturally start to throw your own ideas into the hat, especially when you can see an opportunity nobody else has spotted. This enhances your company’s success but also positions you well as a valued employee.
If you want to drive your own personal success more proactively, you can work on becoming more indispensable to your employer by building your role and duties over time. This doesn’t have to mean taking on more and more unpaid overtime, but can simply mean making contributions that go beyond the scope of your job description:
Many people make the mistake of trying to do all this without any data or evidence. Instead, be aware of your company or team’s position at the current time, what you want to work towards, and what you need to get you there.
Set out some personal targets for what you will consider to be success, even if this differs from your manager or organisation’s view. Resolve any conflict between personal and organisational goals, so you can be confident that your actions to achieve one form of success are not holding you back in other areas. It’s normal to set quarterly and annual goals as part of your progress review, but it can be a year before your first one of those, so speak to a manager as soon as you start and get some initial targets put in place. Related: How to Create a Personal Development Plan
No matter what you do, you will encounter problems at some point. They might be technological, economical or personnel problems. Be ready for them. As you become more experienced in your career, you’ll learn to spot problems before they arise, and this is something you can try to do early on too. If you don’t see something coming, you can still be ready to adapt to it: if you can’t stop a fire from lighting, the next best thing is to put it out fast.
Try not to make the same basic errors that other people make when targeting success in a new job. It’s a long list but a few simple errors to avoid include:
Nobody is perfect but you can learn from any early errors and improve at your job even over the course of the first few days and weeks – and that should send the right message to your employer.
Success – whether in your own career, or for your parent organisation – doesn’t usually happen overnight, and might be a case of making incremental gains rather than delivering a single step change. Learn to identify when you are making progress, however small, and to build that momentum to keep your team moving forwards, even if others around you are not convinced. It’s this kind of optimism and charisma that will eventually help you to succeed in a leadership role, but should also serve you well right from the start when you join a new company.