“Let me just show you around…” “…your desk is by the window…” “…and you’ll need to turn that in every Friday…” “…here’s the coffee maker, it’s a little fidgety, so just…” “…Joel’s been with us since the beginning, just ask him anything…” “…extra pens in the closet…” “…meeting every Tuesday, except this week it’s Wednesday…” “…don’t touch that light switch…” “…ask me if you have any questions!”
Ah, the good old trial by fire. The first few weeks at any job are filled with names, faces and procedures to remember, and it can all rush by in a whirlwind. Your main job right now is to learn the ropes and get up to speed as quickly as possible.
You made promises in your interview that you now need to deliver, and you want to make a good new impression – all while wading through the pile of work that’s built up during the time your role has been vacant. You know you’re the right person for the job, but when you’re still trying to figure out where to find a stapler, it can seem a bit overwhelming.
Help prepare yourself for a successful first few days with these tips:
1. Take stock of what you need to learn
Even if your new position is similar to what you’ve done in the past, there’s going to be a learning curve. Pay attention to the problems you come across throughout your day, and keep a list of skills to learn, terms to look up, guidelines to study, and software programs to master. Once you know what the gap is between your current skills and what your new job requires, take steps to get your skills up to snuff.
Besides focusing on your skills, you’ll also need to learn as much as you can about your new organization. Jot down any questions you may have, and ask your manager for materials about the organization’s services, programs, and business strategies.
2. Figure out the culture
Learning how your new organization operates is a major key to success – all the skills in the world won’t matter if you can’t make them mesh with the office’s culture.
Figure out how your boss wants to hear information. Should you stop by her office unannounced? Shoot her an email? Pick up the phone? Does she like to be kept apprised of your progress every few hours, or would she prefer to get a single status update at the end of the day? Pay attention to how your coworkers take their lunches, how they dress, and how they socialize. Once you’ve sorted out the unwritten rules of the office culture you’ll know how flexible you can be.
3. Figure out who you’re serving
It doesn’t matter if you’re in customer service, IT, marketing, or the warehouse – your job is part of a bigger organization that’s designed to serve the need of its customers. You may never talk to them in person, but you need to know how your efforts contribute to the organization’s mission. Talk to your boss about the bigger picture, and try to understand what your role is in it. That will help you hone in on the most important aspects of your position from the beginning.
4. Make connections
Your coworkers can be one of the most fantastic resources you have available, providing insight into current processes, tried-and-failed ideas, and office culture. Make a point to meet a new coworker for lunch or coffee every week, and be sure to look outside your department in order to expand your circle beyond the people you see all day long.
This is also a good time to start searching for a mentor in the company. Start making connections with your manager, and those higher up in the organization, even if you’re not quite ready to ask them to formally mentor you.
5. Keep track of your notes
The easiest way to feel overwhelmed is to expect your brain to store everything for you. In Getting Things Done by David Allen, he likens your brain’s short-term memory to RAM on a personal computer – if you try to store everything there, your brain will be working overtime to keep track of it all.
Grab a dedicated notebook to jot down notes about your job requirements, things you want to learn or look up, your daily to-do’s, questions to ask, and notes about the people you’re meeting. Or, go high-tech and set up a note-taking app like Evernote or OneNote. You can take notes in the app, and also set up a notebook for clipping any research or digital files pertaining to your role. You can even clip important emails to a work notebook, and set reminders to follow up. Just remember to tag everything well so you can find it later.
How have you gotten up to speed quickly in a new role? What do you think are the most important things to focus on in a new position? Let us know in the comments.