Successful Job Transitions, III: Starting a New Job

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 16, 2012

In part one of the Successful Job Transitions series, we discussed the job search and managing the stress that goes with it.

In part two, I Quit! Now What? we covered your graceful exit.

In the last of our series we focus on starting that new job on the right foot and making the transition smoothly and completely.

Wind down, psych up

Not many can afford the luxury of taking time off, but if you can manage at least a week to decompress between the old and the new job, do it.

Not only will the rest help you get physically and mentally prepared, you can also use the time to get "psyched up" about your new prospects.

Find your way ahead of time

Take a trial run to work so you know the route and can create a Plan-B before you actually need one. Knowing you are prepared for unforeseen snags will help you maintain a "psyched up" state for your first day.

It will also help you on day 147 when your bus is swallowed up by a sink hole.

Dress to impress...

...as in, use an iron!

You should know ahead of starting what the dress code is. Over- or under dressing for the job will draw attention to yourself in a negative way.

Keep it conservative, modest and generally understated. Sure, you'll likely be in the spotlight but your first day is no time for a flamboyant entrance stage right.

Remember, second impressions count too

The toughie is managing the "second impression,"not the first. What you casually say or do will either reinforce a positive first impression or, as sometimes happens, undo it.

Play it safe, by rolling up your sleeves for work not making off-the-cuff remarks or trying to impress. Being work-ready should be impressive enough, don't you think?

Take time to know who your friends are

Don't confuse others' enthusiastic welcome with a genuine concern for you or your wellbeing. That is not to suggest the people who rush to embrace you aren't sincere, it's just that you'll have no way of knowing.

You are at your most vulnerable when you start a new job. That doesn't mean you have to be paranoid, but being guarded is the best strategy until you know what's what.

Ah-ha! versus Huh? -- Make a note of it!

Finding your way around, remembering what order to do things in, people's names, and who to go for this and that can be overwhelming at first.

If your new employer offers an on-boarding program, getting everything straight may be easier than if they expect you to learn by immersion. 

Either way, keep good notes. Your memory will be the first to suffer if you get overwhelmed.  Your performance will follow.

Get an org chart

It doesn't matter if you are resurfacing I-95 or engineering nanotechnology, knowing who is who in your organization -- who has influence and authority -- is key.  

Ask for an org chart so you can see who is who and the relationships between them. If that is not possible, or there is no such reference, create your own. Start with the telephone directory and start connecting dots.

Ouch! That hurts

Every job is governed by rules and regulations. The trickiest of these are those that are implied by "rules-of-thumb." Sometimes being most effective means testing a rule's limits which is easier for an old-hand than a newbie.

Remember, the difference between "rules-of-bent-thumb" and "rules-of-broken-thumb"can be more than the time they take to recover from.

Oh, and avoid people who suck their thumbs -- that's never a good sign.

Set expectations for now and later...

It is natural to want to do your best from the get-go, and so you should. However, it would be wise to remember that if, for example, you volunteer an extra hour or two in your first week it will be expected thereafter.

You don't want pulling back an initial effort to something more reasonable to be interpreted as a waning of enthusiasm, now do you?

...and for everyone you work with!

Clearly, the working relationships we have with co-workers are different than those with higher-ups, just as we have different interactions with clients and suppliers and security guards.

Unfortunately, common courtesy and common sense are sometimes compromised in these relationships. It is up to you to set things straight the first time something "uncommon" happens.

Not only on your first day at work, but especially so.

Yes, you're important

Mother used to say, "It's nice to be important but more important to be nice." Now, while there may be exceptions made for corrections officers and drill sergeants it is always a good idea to smile a lot, dish out (sincere) compliments, and generally do the things that will draw people toward you.

However, if you find yourself doing these things because you have a need to be liked or, worse, loved, get a dog.

No monkeys, please

It should be clear from the get-go who gives you work. Knowing you may not know better, you may encounter people who want to get a monkey off their back and ask that you do this and that with the seeming authority of a boss.

Don't fall into the trap of picking up extraneous work that properly belongs to another -- avoid monkeys at all costs!

Get permission to ask questions

Avoid the awkwardness of asking one too many questions by saying up front that you understand a lot of questions can be trying. If you sense that is becoming the case, simply ask: "I sense that another question will annoy you, right?"

Most people will say, "No" which is your cue to go ahead -- ask another question! If they say, "Yes" innocently ask who you might talk to get your other questions answered.

It's still OK to be antisocial

Don't be inviting everyone you meet to connect with you on social networking sites. Besides the potential pitfalls of wasting time and unnecessary personal exposure, now is the time for building real life, bricks and mortar relationships that are defined by work and not unconnected interests.

If you want to fit in, work is the place for that, not the Internet.

Set a goal path

Map out what the first 90 days on the job should look like. What do you want to be able to do six weeks into the job? Where do you want to be three months in?

Once you have those types of questions answered prepare a list of things you'll need, and who can help you, so that you can meet those goals and more.

Enjoy your job, but keep your resume up to date

While it might seem counterintuitive to start a new job by updating your resume, why leave it until your next job search transition? After all, you were looking for a job when you found this one, remember?

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