RockIt Careers

Successful Beginnings

Brian Young
RockIt Career Consultation Services

Starting a new job isn’t easy. You go through training, learn new systems and processes, meet everyone on the team, introduce yourself to all the stakeholders you’ll be working with, and so on. All the while, you’re trying to make a good impression and make an impact so that you’ll be viewed as indispensable.

It can feel a little daunting at first. Fortunately, we’ve come up with a good system to ensure you can manage the early days of your new job successfully.

Focus on Learning the Job First

To have a good start on your job, you have to show you’re really good at what you were hired to do. Nobody expects you to be an expert in your first week, but you should have the key tasks of the job down pat within 1-2 months. If you aren’t to the level of competency at this point, you’re probably not going to get past your probationary period. That’s your first goal: become competent. Your second goal is to become better than average.

Once you’re “better than average” (and ask your supervisor or manager what that would look like to measure yourself to see if you’re there) people will start to listen to you. Figure out ways to be more productive, effective, and get better results. Each step in this direction gets you closer to your target. If you accomplish this, you’ll have more credibility in the eyes of your peers and management.


One mistake a lot of people make is that they jump into their new job without looking first. Remember those old cartoons where a character would make a beautiful dive, without looking first, into an empty swimming pool? It never worked out for them. They’d end up looking like an accordion, stars would circle around their head, and they’d lose all their teeth, one at a time. The same thing can happen to you at your new job. Thinking you’re going to make a big splash in the first few weeks on the job, without making any observations, is a recipe for losing your teeth.

Instead, take it all in. Watch for how people in the company interact. Look for the person on your team who is the unnamed leader (other than the manager/supervisor) – that is, who do people look to for advice, help, and opinions. This will prove useful for when you come up with an idea. If you have them behind you, the idea will have some legs. Also get a feel for everyone’s personality and understand what makes them tick, what motivates them, and how they are best persuaded into action. All of this information will be invaluable later on.

Ask Questions

In order to figure out why things are the way they are and what some of the biggest challenges people on your team are having, you have to ask a lot of questions. So, if you run into a formal or unwritten rule, process, system, etc. that you find puzzling or unproductive, ask about it. Is there a story behind it? Coming from the HR world, I can attest that many rules are created out of a bad apple story from days past, where someone took advantage of a situation and ruined it for everyone else. Others come out of industry-specific regulations of which you might be unaware.

Likewise, sometimes your initial observations might not be enough to see what parts of the job could be improved. You may simply not have enough training and need to work on something to get better and more productive. But, if you have a strong hunch that everyone around you is having similar issues, ask them to make sure that’s the case. Ultimately, the only way to determine if it’s something worth thinking about further and proposing another idea is to get everyone’s perspective. Otherwise you’ll have blind spots.

However, don’t just ask them about the problem, ask them if they have any ideas to address the problem. They may not have a complete idea and you might not either, but the more incomplete ideas you have gathered together, the closer you all will get to a fully thought out solution.

Don’t Say, “We Didn’t Do It That Way in My Last Job.”

It’s ironic, hiring managers often make a decision to hire you because of your depth of experience; however, one of their biggest pet peeves is someone who uses this line repeatedly whenever confronted with a new method. First of all, it indicates you haven’t taken the time to observe, ask questions, and learn why things are they way they are. Secondly, you are showing that you don’t understand that no two situations are exactly alike.

Sure, use your experience from previous jobs to make you and your team better here and now, but don’t have an attitude that what you used to do is always the right way. How do you think Tim Tebow’s minor league baseball coach would react if he said, “That’s not the way we used to do it when I quarterbacked for the Denver Broncos?” I have a feeling he would get laughed at and told something along the line of, “Well duh, Tim!”

Rather than saying this, you can listen, understand, and then say something like, “I realize this may not be applicable here, and I’m sure you’ve been doing it this way for a good reason, but I’ve seen it done this other way. It seemed to work there. What do you think?” Don’t go into the conversation negatively, show you’re on their side and want what’s best for the team and the company, and get them to think and participate. Otherwise, just saying that you didn’t do it that way in your last job will often shut the other person down from listening further. They’ll be thinking, “here we go again.” And that’s not good for anyone.

Build Relationships

Don’t get so wrapped up in the job that you forget about the people you’re working with on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean you have to be a brown noser. It just means that you want to get to know your teammates and boss better to find out what all you have in common. Learn about their hobbies, interests, pets, family, travel, and so on. These are the building blocks to work friendships and alliances. You never know, you might just come to rely on these people to help you later on. They won’t cooperate if they don’t feel like they know you that well.

In a similar vein, if you promise to do something for someone else, you better make every effort to follow through on it. Most of the time, promises that are made but not kept, are a result of forgetting. It’s rarely an act of malice. So, write down your promise or put it in your calendar. Do whatever it takes to make sure you don’t forget about it. Promises are all about trust. A team relies on having trust in one another. When you don’t keep a promise, you not only hurt the other person, you also hurt yourself and how the whole team works together. If you don’t think you can make a commitment, don’t make it. If there’s unforeseen circumstances that prevent you from delivering, do whatever you can to make it right. Otherwise, you’re burning a bridge needlessly.

Get Engaged

Whether it’s fair or not, you’re being judged by management not only by your job performance, but also by how engaged you are in the company outside of the job description. Therefore, once you feel comfortable in your abilities to do the job, start looking for other opportunities to do a little extra. Take on a new project, volunteer for an activity that the company is sponsoring, give assistance to those who need it without being asked. Obviously, don’t get so engaged that it’s a detriment to what you’re being paid for. Rather, be realistic in the amount of time and energy you can commit and think about this ahead of time before raising your hand to volunteer. Once you know this, you’ll be better prepared when opportunities do arise.

Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list. However, if you manage to execute on these items, you’re on the right track. So, gain credibility by focusing on your job until you’re performing better than the average person in the role. Then, keep looking for ways to excel. Observe everything about the job and your team to get a better feel for how best to act at work. Ask your peers a lot of questions to understand why things are the way they are and what the challenges really are that your team needs to address. Then, find solutions. Recognize that there are good ways and bad ways of bring up these solutions. Finally, get engaged in your work and the company to show how committed you are.

Now, go forth in your new job with success!