Begin as you mean to carry on

The first day on the job will set the tone for success.

By Jane Sidebottom, AMK LLC, Louisville, Ky. February 2, 2016

"Begin as you mean to carry on." My father would say this Northern England phrase to me each time I started a new job. The meaning is simple-how you start your new job will set the tone for your overall success. Often, people make the mistake of trying to establish credibility too early and contribute too much too soon, which results in alienating their new team members and colleagues. Then they spend months and sometimes years trying to recover enough to build their career-or worse, they get fired.

These first few weeks are critical to your long-term success at the company. Your new colleagues are watching you closely to determine your personality, style, and trust factor just as much as you are observing them. Start off right with these tips:

  • Begin building strong relationships-they are the cornerstone of professional success. Whether your new employer has a formal onboarding process, work with your new manager and team to identify the key people in the organization with whom you will be working, and schedule time to get to know them personally. Show genuine interest by focusing on what motivates them and how they define success. Learn their communication style (electronic, face-to-face, telephone) and their work style-do they prefer lots of discussion and interaction, or do they like to prepare their thoughts and review them one-on-one? Absorb as much tribal knowledge as you can, as fast as you can. Having this background will help you contribute faster in your new role. Remember, you will have a limited window of time where your colleagues will be understanding and share information-use the time wisely.
  • Relate to your colleagues by sharing your own motivations and style-but resist the urge to over-relate. It is critical that, in the beginning, you do more listening and learning than sharing. Strategically work in experiences from your past, but avoid using terms like, "When I was with company X, we did it this way." Or, "At company Y, we did it better." You will have the opportunity to bring your experiences to the table and contribute once you have built your relationships and shown that your knowledge and expertise can help the team be more successful.
  • Build a 3-month action plan and review that plan with your manager. This will help you determine very early what his/her expectations are for you and how you will be measured against those expectations. Once the plan has been developed, review it monthly. Consider choosing a project together that allows you to contribute quickly, but also gives you the opportunity to learn from and interact with your team.
  • Be prepared to be nimble and flex into new roles. Organizations are smaller and require more nimble team members; demonstrating flexibility in your responsibilities and the ability to deliver will help you be viewed as a high performer. "The Rise of Micro Careers" author Peter Weddle points out that jobs that were more permanent in the past are now shifting into roles that instead have a fixed duration and specific objective. It will be up to you to demonstrate your ability to flex between these types of assignments and remain relevant to your employer.
  • Don’t grandstand. While you may have been hired as a change agent or to lend your expertise to fill team or project gaps, be humble in your approach and quick to recognize the help of others. Remember, no one really succeeds on their own.
  • Be gracious and take the time to thank those around you for their help. I once had a colleague who, at the end of his third month, wrote a thank-you note to each of his fellow teammates for what they had specifically done to help him integrate with the project and team. This graciousness went a long way in building trust and respect with his new team.
  • Exercise some emotional intelligence. Whether it is a misunderstanding about a deadline, a thoughtless comment directed to a colleague in an inopportune moment, or a poor reaction to something said or done to you, demonstrate your emotional intelligence by taking the lead to diffuse the situation. Seek to understand the situation, acknowledge the issue, apologize if necessary, and don’t become defensive. Then begin the process of moving past the incident.

Ultimately, it is up to you to establish that strong first impression and put in place the building blocks for strong relationships and a strong foundation for your career success. There will be some trials along the way. But, if you go into day one of your job thoughtful about how you can start a new chapter in your career right-right from the start-then you have just increased the odds of making this new move a success.

Jane Sidebottom is the owner of AMK LLC, a management and marketing consulting firm that provides market development and growth expertise to small and medium-size firms. She has more than 20 years of management and leadership experience in both consulting engineering and Fortune 100 organizations. Sidebottom is a graduate of the University of Maryland.