The first few weeks at a new job are all about getting up to speed. You’re trying to remember all your coworkers’ names and get comfortable with the tools you’ll be using. It’s a mad dash to get familiar with everything about your new employer so you can start making a real impact.
Starting a new job, especially your first after graduation, can feel scary. But I want you to imagine this as a magical time. You’ll be connecting with a slew of impressive professionals, who could become your close friends or mentors. You’ll be privy to the in’s and out’s of an organization and see how your industry actually operates. It’s going to be a little scary, sure, but it’s also going to be exciting.
Some companies have a very thorough orientation process, but many do not. In most cases, you’ll have to train yourself on different tools and take the initiative to connect with your coworkers. The advice below will be for new hires who are having to wing it on their own.
Here are the first five things you should do when you start a new job:
- Have 1:1 meetings with your coworkers
- Ask an insane amount of questions
- Take frequent notes and study up
- Get familiar with organizational processes and tools
- Highlight the skills you have that are of immediate use
Making the most of your first few weeks will set you up for future success at your organization. So, don’t hesitate to dive straight in.
Have 1:1 meetings with your coworkers
Your team members are the people you are going to be spending five days a week with. You will depend on them a lot, especially in the early days, because they are the vessels of knowledge you will constantly need to access. So, it is important to get to connect with them early.
How many people you meet depends on the size of your department and company. If your company has five people, you should definitely meet with all of them. If your company has a hundred… well, it’d be nice to get to know everyone at some point but doing it in your first few weeks is not feasible.
If you’re having trouble narrowing down who to meet, here’s the hierarchy of importance:
- Your manager(s) – the people you directly report to
- Your team members – the people you will work with daily
- Any other coworkers you will regularly interact with (even from other departments)
Don’t worry about meeting with major executives or CEOs, unless they initiate a meeting with you. Focus instead on the people you will connect with every day that will help you accomplish your tasks.
When setting up meetings, give your team members a heads up about why you’re looking to connect and what you’ll discuss. Work within their schedule so the meeting won’t feel like an inconvenience to them. If you’re unable to figure out how to connect with someone, get your manager’s help.
Meetings can be 15–30 minutes long and should occur in private. People speak much more comfortably when they’re not being eavesdropped on. Meet in a private room at your workplace or off-site in a comfortable (and not too noisy) spot.
Questions you can ask:
- What is your role at the company and what are you primarily responsible for?
- How long have you been with the company?
- What is important for me to know about the company’s culture?
- How will you need me to support you?
- What are our team’s main priorities or projects right now?
Also, try to get to know your team members personally. The 1:1 meeting doesn’t have to just be about work. Once you make a personal connection with someone, it will be easier to interact with them. It seems obvious, but let’s state it anyway: if people like you personally, they’ll be more likely to help you.
When you’re meeting with your coworkers, be mindful of different personalities. Some people are shy when meeting someone new and won’t open up easily. If they’re uncomfortable with a certain subject, then move on. Let the conversation flow naturally but make good use of their time while you have it.
Ask an insane amount of questions
Let’s normalize asking many, many questions. At least until you feel confident to move on and work on a task independently. Too often, people hold back from asking questions because they don’t want to inconvenience people or appear clueless.
Throw away your ego as soon as you start your new job. You are clueless. Every organization operates differently and from the get-go, you are clueless about how they do things until you’re actually their employee.
Now that you’ve accepted you’re clueless, you need to understand that in the beginning, your only job is to ask questions. In fact, a new employee who doesn’t ask questions may as well wave a red flag. You might lead your coworkers to suspect you’re disinterested or arrogant.
By asking questions early on, you’re doing yourself and everyone else a favour. Your first few weeks at a job are akin to bringing a new puppy home. People will patiently train you and manage the confusion that comes with being in a new place. Of course, that cuteness starts to wear off as time goes by and especially if the puppy keeps peeing on the carpet. Nobody wants to work beside somebody who makes the same mistake over and over again because they never asked how to do it properly.
Frankly, it’s awkward to be three months into a job and ask a fundamental question you should have asked earlier. So, as soon as you have a question, just ask! And when you get an answer, make sure to write it down so you won’t forget and ask again.
Take frequent notes and study up
The first few weeks at a new job move so fast it’ll make you dizzy. It will be really difficult to keep up without some help. So, I recommend taking notes constantly.
Let’s look at meetings as an example. At first, you might not be speaking up a lot and that’s okay. Start with listening and absorbing. But while you’re sitting there, take notes!
Here are examples of what you should be taking note of:
- Which projects are currently on the go
- What your coworkers are working on and/or responsible for
- Any names or terms, especially abbreviations, you’re unfamiliar with
- Who is the decision-maker on certain things (such as budget approvals)
At my current job, I took my own notes at meetings for the first eight months. That’s a little intense but there was just so much going on and I didn’t want to miss anything. These meeting notes gave me a record of conversations I might have otherwise forgotten the details of, and written in my own words. Meeting minutes written by somebody else can be confusing until you understand the language your workplace uses. Ah yes, there is so much lingo only decipherable by people who work in communications and marketing.
Don’t let these notes sit idle; reflect on them. If you heard the team lamenting about a pain point in a meeting, try to come up with a solution. If you heard the name of a client you know nothing about, read up on them. When you’re entering a new workplace, it is highly unlikely you’ll be given a binder filled with study material. You’ll need to identify what is valuable to your team and bring forward ideas they haven’t considered yet.
Notes will help you stay organized. When your manager asks you which coworkers you’ve connected with, pull out your notes and tell them the names of the coworkers, their positions and what you learned from them. And when you need to ask someone a question, your notes will help you identify the right person to ask.
When you start completing tasks, keep taking notes. Later on, you’ll be able to look back and reflect on what you did if asked. You’ll also have a record of everything you accomplished in your early weeks. Not only will it feel good to look at, but you can show it to your manager when you connect with them later about how you’ve been settling in.
You don’t have to keep this note-taking system going forever, but it’s good to do in the beginning when everything is unfamiliar and you’re still understanding how best to organize yourself.
Get familiar with organizational processes and tools
When starting a new job, you might feel impatient to start doing real work and not just fluff thrown your way because you’re a newbie. However, before you can start taking on that work, you need need to know how the company operates.
For example, if you’re asked to put up a press release on the website, you need to figure out the process for executing that task. Identify the person who is responsible for updating the website and how you’re able to send requests to them. Different organizations have different processes for requests. Some are informal; just send an email. Others are formal; a ticket needs to be logged in a project management system.
Until you figure out these processes, you won’t be able to be an effective part of your team. It is also simply respectful to learn them instead of asking the rest of your team to accommodate you. This is the part where you really need to slow down and learn the right way to do your work which is just as important as the quality of your output.
Every organization has tools they rely on and the quicker you figure out how to navigate them, the better. And I’ll be honest, it’s unlikely anybody is going to sit down and provide detailed training. So, my suggestion is to just poke around and watch YouTube tutorials or read some articles.
If you’re unsure of what tools you’ll be using, ask your manager to list them out and provide login access even if you won’t use them right away. Let them know you’d like to familiarize yourself with those tools before you’re asked to use them.
Here are examples of tools you might be working with:
- Project management software such as Jira or Asana
- Social media management tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software such as Salesforce
- Internal communication messaging systems such as Slack or Skype
- Email marketing tools such as Hubspot or MailChimp
- Media relations software such as Cision or Meltwater
Highlight the skills you have that are of immediate use
You may be starting a brand new job, but everyone else around you is deep in the thick of their work. They might be in the middle of a massive project or juggling many tasks at once. Try to figure out what the immediate needs are and step in to assist if you can.
The first couple of weeks can be a little awkward when you’re trying to figure out just how you fit into the larger team. Listen carefully to the conversations around you and the priorities that are brought up in meetings. Don’t hesitate to ask your team members and managers where they need help and pipe up when they’re looking for support.
Don’t let lack of confidence get you down. You’re still in the learning stage but you learn even faster by doing, and you’ll bond with your coworkers at the same time. Make it clear what your skills are and how you can help while you settle into the role you were hired for.
Also, don’t feel trapped by the constraints of your role. The truth is, most workplaces are not precious about everyone sticking to their assigned responsibilities. If something needs to get done, it doesn’t matter who does it.
The quicker you make yourself useful to your team and start making an impact, the quicker you will feel at home at your new job.