Starting a new job makes you feel a little like the new kid at school. You’ve arrived in an unfamiliar crowd, uncomfortable in the scratchy, brand new inform, quickly trying to figure out who the teacher’s pets and class bullies are. You don’t have long to make an impression, either in a new school or a new job. Get it right, and you’re off to a flying start. Get it wrong, and you may not survive.
In the world of work, the issue is compounded by management who do not always know the best way to welcome a new team member into the fold. In smaller businesses in particular, there might not be any formal induction and training program to help you all negotiate these difficult first days and weeks. You’re probably not the only one who feels a little uncomfortable right now – so even if you think your boss could do with some lessons on how to induct a new employee, it pays to avoid mistakes on your end, too.
Make a good impression by avoiding the worst excesses of new employee mistakes. Check out these key areas to guide you through the first few weeks.
1. Underestimating the First Impression
You’re only a new employee for a short time, but the way you present yourself during the first crucial days in your new job will stay with you long after the probation period. Don’t underestimate the first impression you create when you arrive. From the physical – such as arriving with wildly unsuitable clothes – to coming across as a know-it-all in the first few meetings, you will be remembered for the way you present yourself (even if you forget who you were introduced to very quickly in the wild input of information at the start of a new role).
Naturally, you will think about the basics – turning up late on day one is a definite no-no. But it is also worth considering more subtle things. Don’t turn down offers of help, don’t forget to introduce yourself properly to everyone you meet (and try to remember names) and, most of all, don’t turn up with bright green hair and multiple piercings if you interviewed in a neat bun and pinstripe suit.
2. Unfortunate Assumptions
Once you start settling into the company, don’t be lulled into the false sense of security that comes from thinking you know it all already. You know that assuming something makes an ass out of you and me, right?
Ask, don’t tell. Play dumb to allow others to share their ideas and thought processes, and don’t ever think you will look silly for asking questions. Arriving in a new business, one of the most valuable things you bring is the ability to ask questions – the fresh eyes you bring from outside can help others to reconsider their regular ways of thinking and may be the catalyst for positive change. Use your external viewpoint to your advantage by collecting your first impressions, ideas and questions, and using them to present your thoughts to your team once you have fully sussed out the way they’re thinking about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Do this well, and you will give your career a boost instead of risking damaging your chances.
3. Leaping in Headfirst
Even if you have been brought into a position to promote change, making dramatic changes all at once is not a great idea. It might feel like your success is being measured by how quickly you can make change, but actually you run more of a risk of falling down if you try to push things through too quick. Change is difficult for everyone and it takes time to achieve. If you’re being asked to make change, then present your plans to your boss, including realistic estimates of the time that it will take, to stay in control without being forced to go too quickly.
Take time to build relationships and understand the people you are working closely with before trying to fix even the most obvious problems you see. When it comes to actually affecting change, do it through suggesting and coaching existing team members into the change so well that they believe it was their idea in the first place.
4. Misreading the Politics
Offices are political minefields, and figuring out the subtleties is essential if you want to survive the first few weeks. Work out who is actually running the show – from the PA who is actually the gatekeeper to the boss, to the longstanding “office mum” who holds the key to getting people to accept new ideas and wields enormous informal power across the team.
Many workplaces, to add complexity, are enormously inbred. There are family relations, ex-partners, secret lovers and crushes all working together in a hotbed of potential foot-in-mouth. Get this wrong, and you might find that you accidentally insult the boss’ daughter or alienate the trade union rep who holds the key to getting things done on the shop floor.
5. Saying "No" to Offers of Friendship
The final new employee mistake, and one that many people do make, is saying “no” to offers of friendship in the early days of employment. You’re probably feeling shy and anxious – not emotions that are conducive to making new friends. But if you do not accept the first few people who reach out to you, either a simple friendly greeting or an offer of coffee, then you might be perceived as cold or arrogant. Don’t bury your head in a book over lunch, and instead invite a few colleagues out to lunch and see how you get on.
Getting a new job can feel like a task in itself. It is rarely a smooth journey, and the emotional roller coaster that is implicit in landing a new role can be exhausting. It probably feels like settling in should be the easy part, but that is often not the case. There are plenty of hazards built into the experience of getting into your new job. First day nerves can make you seem stuck up, covering up a lack of knowledge by appearing overconfident can come across as arrogant, and misreading the lie of the land politically can mean that you run the risk of inadvertently upsetting people without even realizing you are doing it.
Of course, you have to be authentic as you settle into a new job. Don’t let your worries stifle your ability to perform but use your common sense as you settle in. You have been hired for a reason and you should be confident that you can deliver the task at hand, but make sure you proceed with caution and think about the areas above in particular to make sure that you do not get off on the wrong foot in your sought-after now job.
Have you made any of these mistakes as a new employee? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below!