Starting a New Job: Tips for Success


Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to start a new job. Perhaps it is your dream job, and you cannot wait to start. You take your oath of office, sign your tax forms with enthusiasm. Or perhaps, as some commentators noted in my last blog, this isn’t the ideal job. Maybe it was something you took to make ends meet, or to not have a gap on your resume, or you took it while waiting for the hiring freeze to lift.

Regardless, now you are on a new path and there are a few things to note:

Your future v. no longer an option

A card my friend got a while ago features the beautiful illustrations of Mary Engelbreit. I’m including a link here for your sake as I think it beautifully illustrates that once we make a choice on our path in life, you should embrace it fully. Regardless of why you chose the job you did, do not second guess your choice and do your best to not dwell on the paths not taken. You never know how one experience will lead to the next, and so on. So confidently go forward and be assured that if you fully embrace where you are, and who you are right now, in this moment, you will never be disappointed.

The 90 day listening rule

I learned this lesson the hard way at my first job. I came in with tons of ideas and very strong opinions. I made no shame about voicing those opinions. I thought that I was being helpful – but I had the opposite result. I was seen as an instigator, someone who didn’t fully believe in the company’s product, and as a result I had a little bit of a reputation. Mind you, I never really said anything wrong -rather I just said things people didn’t want to hear and I didn’t understand the politics of my environment.  Since that first job, I’ve always given myself a 90 day rule. During the first 90 days of a job, do much more listening than speaking, and take the time to fully learn about an organization and its spoken, and also unspoken rules. Meet with as many people in your organization as you  can – go out for lunch and coffee – and learn. Once the 90 days is up, then you can start to see if there are things you can change or do differently.

Do your new job duties really well

This should seem pretty self explanatory, but I cannot tell you how many eager-beavers I’ve met in my career who are so desperate to impress that they lose sight of their job duties in order to take on other tasks designed to make them stand out. During the 90 day period above, instead focus on doing basic job duties incredibly well. Now, many people erroneously think this means looking like you are doing your job by being first one in and the last to leave. I don’t think that is always realistic, or necessary.

Instead, focus on being a person of your word. Accomplish the tasks you are given well and ahead of time, if possible. While it is important that you don’t think you are ‘too important’ for menial tasks, you also want to be aware of how much you take on that is outside of your positions. I’ve seen a lot of new employees take on waaay too much at the beginning of a job, and get really burnt out. While you need to be a good team player, anytime anyone asks you to do something extra, be sure you understand how it fits in with your job, and if in doubt ask your supervisor if you should do it. However, don’t let extra assignments get in the way of you doing your core job responsibilities well – at the end of the day it is those core responsibilities that you will be measured against. Once you hit the 90 day mark, you can make more informed decisions about what other things you can do with your time.

Clarify (and re-clarify) expectations

Key to point three above is to understand what your new duties are – and more importantly how your boss will measure your success. If you don’t exactly know what your job duties entail (for example, you are in a new position), take some time to ask. Even if your organization doesn’t have a set performance management situation in place, be sure to sit down with your boss and understand, in their mind, what it means to be successful in your position. See if you can get anything down in writing about your expected contributions, and also identify any specific targets or metrics you are expected to be accountable for. If your boss won’t do this with you, seek out another trusted person at the organization, come up with a list yourself, and have that person make suggestions on how you can accomplish your goals in a reasonable time frame.

Identify the next job you want to have

As in my last post, once the 90 days are up, and you have a good sense of where you are in an organization, start to think about the future: 1 year out, 3 years out, etc. Where do you want to be? If you want to be in the same position – that is a-ok, but have some ideas for things you would like to do differently. Share those ideas with a mentor, or your boss if they are an open person. You can tie them into expectations above, but these are more of your personal wishes and goals.

And last: Whatever your job is, do it to the best of your ability

So many people may take jobs to make ends meet and think that they are ‘beneath’ them. I know of an acquaintance who took a job in retail while waiting for a job in his career field to come along. This person was recommended by yours truly. Unfortunately said person was often late to the job, lazy, didn’t really take it seriously and one day just up and left the job without even getting a two week notice. And guess who got the brunt of the organization’s frustration? Me. It really left a sour taste in the retailers mouth, as well as mine. While the job wasn’t difficult, it is always a good idea to show up to whatever job you have and do it to the best of your ability. That will always pay off. As a paperweight on my desk says, “Autograph your work with excellence.” If you do this, you will never go wrong.

As many people know, first impressions in a job go a long way. I would love to hear others thoughts on what has helped them to be successful in a new job.

Beth Schill is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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richard regan

My experience with the 90 day rule ensures conformity. As a result, I was unable to find my individual voice in the organization. I did not get on the road to playing to my strengths since I was sucking up to my superiors. Because I got caught up into the culture and climate of “this is the way we do things around here” I was never in a position to challenge the status quo and be the change agent I needed to be.

Beth Schill

Hi Richard – that is an interesting thought about the 90 day rule ensuring conformity. I think that yes, if people just keep their heads down and go along, it can lead to that. I think when I think about the 90 day rule, I think of it as a way to learn about the organization, but more importantly, to observe. You can see what the politics are, who has power or not, how things get done or are stonewalled. Then once you have been there for 90 days you can start to look at how to change things. There is something to be said about being politically savvy in any organization you desire to change, and I think by listening first, then acting, you can have greater impact. But you raise a very good point for all folks to keep in mind!


When you start a new job, good to find out if you were hired to stay a cucumber or become a pickle. Sometimes you are hired to be a pickle and you need to soak in the brine (culture) so you can succeed. Sometimes you are hired as a cucumber to stay a cucumber. Then, to succeed, you still need to learn the culture without absorbing any of its negativity (the acidic nature of brine). Clear expectations and timing are key to success. Good luck!

Beth Schill

I love this idea of a pickle v. a cucumber. I think some jobs that didn’t work out for me were ones where they say they wanted a cucumber, but really they wanted a pickle. 🙂 I’ll have to keep this in mind – thank you!