How you handle your first few weeks on the job can set the tone for your relationship with your boss throughout your entire stay at your new company. Handle yourself well, and you can quickly start to be seen as a valued new member of the team. But misstep, and your new boss might start wondering if she should have hired you in the first place.
Here are nine ways you can go wrong in your first weeks at a new job.
1. Start out with all the answers. Your first few weeks at a job are about learning how your new company works. If you come in sure that you know everything and already raring to make changes before you get to know the environment, the people, and how and why they do things, you risk looking naive and arrogant.
2. Come in late, leave early or miss work in your first few weeks. When you first start a job, people don't know much about you, so everything you do takes on more meaning. If you come in late, leave early or take time off early on, you're more likely to raise fears that you're a slacker than if you do the same thing once you've established a track record as a strong and reliable worker. (Obviously, there are exceptions to this, such as if you have a legitimate medical need or early arranged time off as part of your offer negotiations.)
3. Ask to work from home right away. As with coming in late or leaving early, this can be OK to do once you've established a track record of good work. But if you ask for it too soon, you're more likely to look like you're focused on ways not to be at work than on the work itself.
4. Get involved in office drama. While getting drawn into office drama never looks good, it will reflect even worse on you if you jump into it while you're new. Plus, at this stage, you don't know enough to take sides, and you could be aligning yourself with the office complainers or slackers without realizing it. So be friendly to everyone, and stay neutral when it comes to any office factions.
5. Appear bored or disengaged. Managers want people around who are glad to be there and truly engaged in the work they're doing. You might not always love your job, but if you already appear bored in your first few weeks, your new boss is going to wonder if you're regretting taking the job -- and if she should be regretting hiring you.
6. Ignore the culture. Cultural fit is hugely important and can hold you back just as much as a lack of skills can. If the culture is neurotically on time for meetings and you stroll in late, or if most people stay focused on their work while you're chatting up a storm, you can quickly come across as tone-deaf.
7. Don't pay attention while you're being trained. Few people can remember everything they're told in their first weeks on the job, so if you don't appear to be engaged in your training, you're likely to send off alarm bells for your boss and new co-workers. Make sure that you're paying attention, taking notes, asking questions when something isn't quite clear and periodically checking to be sure your understanding is correct.
8. Appear overwhelmed. To be clear, feeling overwhelmed when you start a new job is normal. You're having loads of new information thrown at you, and you won't be able to retain it all. But if you appear to be knocked off balance or second-guessing your decision to take the job, you won't inspire confidence in your new boss. Instead, show that you can handle new situations with a reasonable degree of calm.
9. Compare things to "how we did it at my old job." It might feel like you have a better way of doing things, but if you jump in with comparisons before getting to know why your new workplace does things differently, you're likely to miss reasons why those ideas wouldn't work here or finding out that the ideas have been tried previously. And your new co-workers are likely to find constant remarks about "how we did it at my old job" irritating more quickly than you might think.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.
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