Your First 90 Days at a New Job

by Jarie Bolander on June 21, 2010

Getting a new job is an exciting time. There is something special about jumping through all those interview hoops and landing an offer. This excitement can quickly turn to fear, panic and anxiety once you realize that you will have to learn a whole new set of rules, interact with new people and immerse yourself into a new culture. Setting yourself up for success depends a lot on how your first 90 days goes. These critical weeks set the foundation for your tenure and need to begin before you even set foot into your new office.

Before You Begin

Your job pre-game activities matter whether you are a top executive or getting your first job. The research, studying, thinking and planning you do before your first day will make the transition much easier. A couple of items that any good pre-game should have include:

  • In-depth company research: Learn as much as you can about your new company before you walk in the door. This includes who they compete against.

  • Rough plan for your first 90 days: A rough outline of a work plan or learning plan will help focus you. There will be a lot to do and learn so having some sort of plan will make that a little less scary.

  • Ask for as much material as you can: Reading up on internal company policies, procedures and specification will make your first week a lot easier. Knowing just a little bit will impress people on how quickly you are coming up to speed.

  • Give yourself at least a week between jobs: Downtime is important so don’t just jump into a new job right after leaving your last. Spend some time doing the tasks you always meant to do or maybe just go on a mini-vacation.

  • Do a little work: Along with your work plan, spend a couple of hours or a day doing something that will benefit your new company. This way, you have already accomplished something before you even started.

These are just a few of the activities that will make your first 90 days go smoother. The intent of your pre-game is to get past the awkwardness of the unknown by immersing yourself in the small aspects of your new job. This allows you to work through some of those emotions before your first day.

Your First Week

Your first day will be one that you will remember for a long time. Your first week will probably be a blur. The first couple of days at your new job will have lots of ups and downs. If you did your pre-game, then most of your emotions will be the excitement of wanting to get things done and impress your new boss (or shareholders). To that end, it’s tempting to dive right in and start to contribute. Resist this urge your first week. It’s important that you first get accumulated to your new environment before starting to change things. The reason for this is simple — you really don’t understand who or how things get done at your new job. Jumping right in without that understanding may create a lot of enemies that will be hell bent to stop your from being successful. Of course, taking on assignments is important but don’t be so gung-ho to change the world your first week.

Getting Up to Speed

One of the many challenges you will face in your first 90 days is getting up to speed on all the tribal knowledge that’s locked inside your new co-workers heads. This knowledge is critical to your success because it’s how work gets done. To get you up to speed faster, consider the following:

  • Schedule a one-on-one with your boss: One-on-ones are a critical component of a successful on-boarding process. Your boss needs to know your concerns, plans and issues regularly. Hallway conversations are not enough. A repeating, structured meeting where you control the agenda is required.

  • Get to know all of your co-workers: The quicker you bond with your co-workers, the more comfortable you will feel. These personal connections do not have to be deep but should be more than just a passing wave or nod.

  • Immerse yourself in all the documentation: Read as much as you can about what is going on within the company. Ask questions when you can but respect peoples time.

  • Attend meetings: I am not normally a fan of meetings but for your first 90 days, attending more meetings than you should will teach you the dynamics of the company and who says and does what.

  • Take lots of notes: Write down as much as you can during meetings and hallway conversations. If you new gig has any kind of blogging or wiki technology, then start an on-line page or blog. Anything to get you to write down what you have learned will help you remember it.

Getting up to speed is probably the single biggest frustration you will face since in order to get stuff done, you have to understand how your new company works. This can be taxing your first couple of weeks. Rest assured that those feelings will subside once you understand the dynamics of your new gig.

Assimilating Into the Culture

Culture play a vital role within a company. This culture starts from the CEO and percolates all the way down to the janitor. Understanding this culture will take time since most cultural norms are not written in the employee handbook. Culture is a tricky thing to understand and adapt to. It’s best to emerge yourself in the culture by following these simple steps:

  • Find a trusted mentor: This can sometimes be hard but lookout for colleagues who seem to just get things done and know the ins and outs. These are great on-boarding mentors because they can help you understand certain methods and procedures.

  • Understand why things are done: All companies have their quirks. It’s important to understand the why and not just bash a policy or procedure until you really understand it.

  • Try to fit in: Fitting in means embracing the companies culture and getting to know as many people as you can. Learn their names, where they live and what you have in common. This is the single biggest way to assimilate into the culture.

  • Don’t challenge right away: Showing up to your new gig and immediately bashing long established norms will backfire. Those norms are there for a reason and you must first respect them and then try to figure out how to change it. This is true even if everyone hates the policy or procedure. Go slow and build your reputation up first before challenging company norms.

  • Know what’s important: Your first 90 days will be filled with lots of tasks to do. Make sure you fully understand the priorities of those tasks and what your boss expects. Confirm these priorities often so that you are always working on the right thing.

Grasping your new companies culture will take time. Don’t feel that you have to be a “company guy” right from day one. Embrace the culture and strive to understand how it evolved. You will find places where everyone agrees change is needed but don’t try and change things right away — that will just make people resentful of you.

Performing at Your Best

Your first 90 days sets the foundation for your tenure. Do your best to get something meaningful accomplished as soon as you can. Be prepared for the overwhelming sense of anxiety that any new job has. Strive to balance doing with learning so that you are doing the right tasks, the right way. By doing this, you will make your first 90 days about learning, growth and achievement instead of about stress, anxiety and frustration.

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