Starting a New Job

Following are some key pointers to ease you through the transition period and get you off to a flying start.

Be prepared
Before you start the job, review all the research you did on the company prior to the Interview in addition to any readings that may have been suggested during the Interview. It's a good idea to call the company and ask for any readings that can help you make an early contribution. If you know your team try asking them for materials on the latest deals/ transactions to get you up to speed and ready to partcipate. If you know your job description and your initial responsibilities, start planning ahead. Its always a good idea to take some time to review your past performance, confront your key areas of weakness in the past and determine how to improve your performance in the future and how not to repeat your mistakes. Set targets for yourself to address past weaknesses and hone specific skills. Finally, visualize yourself succeeding at this next job by accomplishing the goals you set out for yourself, developing new skills and not repeating past mistakes.

Know what you're in for
In order to deliver, you must first identify exactly what it is that is expected of you. Too many jobs are taken where the title is fuzzy and the job description vague. Your first task is to make sure you have an adequate job description if one was not provided during the Interview stage. Identify your key responsibilities, daily requirements, areas of direct accountability, clarify your reporting line and the support structure you will work with, and finally, get to know your team. Find out the hours expected, your role in different projects and what you can do to make your boss's life easier. You can learn a lot from asking about what your predecessor (if there was one) did right and wrong. Also take this time to understand the performance evaluation system that will be used to judge you so you can plan to deliver on exactly those criteria. Ask a lot of questions at this stage. Being perceived as nosy and obnoxious at this stage is far better than being perceived as slow, unenthusiastic and clueless later on. Your first weeks are the time to ask every question that comes to mind without fear. You can always calm down and retreat into your own personal territory once you are comfortable all your questions have been answered.

Plan, plan, plan
It is critical to plan for success. Your first few weeks on the job are the best time to start constructing your roadmap to success. This roadmap should include milestones with deadlines. Milestones may be specific projects, personal skills, courses and other areas of self-development. Plan on a macro level and on a micro level. Keep a list of all the little goals you set for yourself on a daily basis and check them as you accomplish them. Also have on your list the longer-term projects and personal development milestones and make sure these are broken down into micro tasks and accomplished at the right time.

Detailed planning keeps you in touch with and working towards the big picture while you concentrate on achieving your immediate goals and deadlines. Your plans should also include priorities. Assign a priority to each task which takes into account its importance, the deadline and your accountability for the task. Determine beforehand the amount of time you should be allocating to each task. Include in your plan a couple of projects/ tasks/ improvements that will really make a difference to the company, however small.

Respect the culture
In today's workplace diversity abounds - in workstyle, dresscode, background and modes of self-expression. No-one is asked to adhere to a specific mould. Still, you will flatter those around you and show respect by understanding the culture and respecting it. That means respecting the dress codes of others around you, their mode of conduct and the general 'culture'. It has traditionally been recommended that you do not dress more expensively than your boss, that you keep hours at least as long as your boss unless the latter keeps absolutely ridiculous hours and that you try to emulate the stars. You will flatter the latter and who better to learn from after all!

Listen and watch
Your first few weeks are about learning. You will do so by asking a lot of questions and also by listening and watching those around you. Remember that you are the new kid on the block and drop the attitude if you have one. Constantly alluding to the way you did things in your last job, or your old team, or your old boss will alienate you from your new peers and highlight your differences. Avoid doing so. Instead, try to blend in, be as helpful as you can, ask what you can do to make everyone else's life easier while you learn, and keep a long-term perspective to tide you through the initial shock. Modesty is an excellent virtue for new (and old) employees so stay humble and let your work speak for you.

Try to make an immediate contribution
Try to get your hands 'dirty' from day one. Ask how you can get involved and be helpful and take on whatever projects or portions of projects you can from the outset, to show your boss that you are willing and enthusiastic and determined. Your boss hired you as a long-term investment but he/she will be very pleased to see you making a contribution so soon.

Underpromise, overdeliver
There is nothing worse than promising the world and then failing to deliver. Aim instead to promise to 'do your best' and then shine. Humility - not the sickening false kind - followed by a star performance are the way to plan to go about building a reputation for yourself. Remember, you are always learning and there are many obstacles in any project so don't boast about it until you are ready to deliver. In other words, always aim to include the 'bonus' factor in the work you do. Aim to deliver more, faster and better than expected for that surprise element of value-added that will make your boss or customer's day.

Do not stray from professional values
A pleasant demeanour, common courtesy, good manners and a generally helpful attitude are those intangibles that make the difference between an employee people want to have around and one they avoid. Of course some people (your author is one) are too nice around the office and get walked all over. If you are one of those, we highly recommend you take a course in leadership and assertiveness in between jobs to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Most companies operate on a meritocratic basis where your professional skills are paramount. Still, given two people with similar skillsets, say two fresh college graduates, the difference between the stars and those that get bypassed for promotions is often a political one and one that reflects their interpersonal skills as much as their professional skills. Emotional smarts and that ability to gauge your peers and clients and boss and learn how to work with them and be a pleasant, helpful, unobtrusive addition to the team, play a crucial role in differentiating the plodders from the stars. We do not recommend trying to outshine everyone and making a big show of it. Nor do we recommend being different by being secretive and underhanded. A much better policy is to aim to be accepted by the team and to integ rate in a manner that makes you a pleasant and indispensable component in the overall equation. Your work will speak for itself.

Other rules of thumb to adhere to include never badmouthing peers or boss, past or present; being truthful and always being accountable for work that falls under your responsibility. Also, learning to admit mistakes and apologize for them if necessary is critical to the success of your internal and external client relationships. Contrary to what many believe, it does not reflect badly on you; to the contrary it highlights your professionalism, builds a level of trust and also helps you to move on. Above all, be tactful, respect your colleagues and aim for diplomacy without sacrificing your integrity.

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