Getting the First Month at a New Job Right


Starting a new job can be a stressful — not to mention scary — ordeal. Here are some tips for surviving that critical first month.

There’s an old song by the Smiths, the chorus of which goes: “I was looking for a job, then I found a job…and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” I imagine that’s how a lot of us feel, when we’re starting a new job. To some extent, that’s to be expected. It’s part of the wild roller-coaster of emotions you experience as a jobseeker, where the highs are closely followed by the lows. You usually start from the bottom. Maybe you were laid off from your previous position, and have been struggling to find the right rebound job to get your career back on track. Or maybe you were unhappy with your employer and quit your old job (hopefully without burning any bridges) with the hopes of finding something better. Or maybe you’ve decided to embark upon a career change — maybe you’re an accountant who’s resolved to make the leap from a career in finance to one in operations.

Whatever your situation might have been, I’ll bet you were jumping for joy once you got the news, that you’d beat out the other candidates and an offer of employment was forthcoming. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, you probably thought to yourself, “now comes the easy part — working.” After all, you had to fight and scratch and claw your way just to get to this point — firing out resumes to employers, tweaking your social media profiles, sweating through interviews. Like everyone always says, jobhunting is almost a full-time occupation in itself — something you now know all-too well, if you didn’t before. But all that hard work has finally paid off, and you’ve found your dream job. Surely, it’s bound to be smooth-sailing from hereon out, right? I mean, nothing about your new gig could be as difficult as trying to land it?

Try asking yourself that same question again in thirty days. Because that’s roughly how long you have to prove yourself in your new role. Yeah, your new boss might have rolled out the welcome mat for you on your first day, but don’t expect the honeymoon to last. Once upon a time, companies could afford an extended probationary period, during which new hires could learn the ropes and gradually ease into their roles. But these days, in a tough and increasingly competitive economy, employers simply don’t have the luxury of a long learning curve; they need their hires to start delivering results immediately. In many industries, it’s not unheard of for people to be hired and fired within the span of a few weeks. All of us at Clarity Recruitment work every single day to put people in new accounting and finance jobs throughout Toronto. But we work just as hard with our candidates to make sure that they survive, and succeed, in their new roles. And what we’ve found is that the first month is key to your success. Here, then, are some quick tips to help you get started on the right foot.

Learn and adapt to the company culture

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: people are hired and fired for “fit” as much as anything else. You might be the most technically proficient employee, but if you can’t gel with the rest of your new team or acclimate yourself to the cultural norms, don’t expect to last long at your station. In most cases, the first thirty days won’t tell an employer a whole lot about how capable their new hire is; it often takes a few months to measure a hire’s ROI. But if a month isn’t always quite long enough to evaluate a new employee’s skills or performance, it is generally a sufficient length of time to determine whether or not they’re a good fit for the company culture. After all, if they’re not, the cracks will appear from the outset.

That’s why it’s important that you become acquainted as fast as possible with the people and politics at your workplace. Approach your new environment with the eye of an anthropologist, as if you’re studying a completely different culture (because, in many ways, you are). Look for the unwritten rules and no-no’s. Note how everyone in the office is dressed, when and how long they go on their lunch breaks for, how they comport themselves and interact with managers and other leaders, and so on. Do people leave the office at 5PM on the dot, or do most people end up working late? Do they respond to e-mails after work hours, or leave them unanswered till the next morning? And so on. Take your cues from your coworkers, and adjust your behaviour accordingly in order to blend into your new environment.

But these days, in a tough and increasingly competitive economy, employers simply don’t have the luxury of a long learning curve; they need their hires to start delivering results immediately.

Get to know your team, build your network

Your boss will probably walk you through the office on your first day and introduce you to everyone you’ll be working with; they may even have a more formal meet-and-greet to welcome you to the company. But you should put in some extra time and effort over the next thirty days to get to know your teammates better, so that you have some understanding of what roles and responsibilities they each have, as well as how you can work more effectively with them.

To this end, you should start networking as soon as possible. Identify some of the key folks you’ll be working with, as well as the principal decision-makers at your company, and begin to build relationships with them. Have coffee or lunch with them on a semi-regular basis, so that you can begin to pick their brains both about how things happen at your company, and who makes them happen. And start looking for a mentor who can take you under their wing — someone with whom you can bounce off ideas or who you can turn to for advice.

But be sure to choose your friends wisely, lest you unwittingly end up stepping onto a political minefield. And don’t be surprised if the people most in the know, the true gatekeepers of institutional knowledge and expertise at your organization, aren’t always the ones who have the fanciest titles or are the highest up in the chain-of-command. Also, while you obviously want to build trust between your colleagues and yourself, you should avoid being excessively chatty or gossipy. Always be mindful of what you share with others — never say anything disparaging about your employer or manager that could come back to haunt you.

Ask lots and lots of questions

In some ways, starting a new job is like reliving your childhood — you can get away with things that won’t be nearly as acceptable down the road. So you may as well take advantage of this ever-so brief grace period, because soon you’ll have to “grow up” like everyone else, the expectations will ratchet up commensurately, and “I’m new here” won’t cut it anymore as an explanation. To take a fairly banal example, you’ll be forgiven in the early-going for forgetting people’s names, even after you’ve been introduced to them a couple of times. It might be a bit embarrassing, but no one’s going to hold it against you or take your lapse of memory as a personal slight.

The important thing, however, is that you ask someone for an answer or clarification, whenever you don’t know something. Don’t feign familiarity or expertise for the sake of looking more in the loop than you are. You don’t know where the restroom is? Instead of walking around aimlessly for fifteen minutes, just ask someone. Can’t remember who it was from sales that you’re supposed to be following up with at the end of every week? Again, ask. Many new hires are afraid to let it “slip” to their bosses that they don’t in fact know every little thing about the job that they just started or about the company they just joined.

But the truth is that most managers aren’t looking for a know-it-all who thinks they’ve got their new digs figured out from day one; that kind of attitude can actually rub people the wrong way, as arrogant and presumptious. What most bosses are looking for, rather, are fast learners who are experienced enough to be able to pick things up quickly, but are also inquisitive enough to ask, “how are things done around here?” — as opposed to assuming that the way things got done at a previous employer are how they’re done at their current job.

Take your cues from your coworkers, and adjust your behaviour accordingly in order to blend into your new environment.

Meet with your boss

Within the first week, you should sit down with your manager to go over your role and responsibilities. Many new employees don’t bother to check in early with their supervisors, believing that the latter would be too busy to meet with them or expect them to apprehend their work from the get-go, or that the interview or offer of employment are sufficient to explain and outline the position. But the job for which you were hired could very well have changed by the time you start. Or your manager could have a slightly different understanding of the position from how it was described at the interview or in the contract offer. Or some other factor could have led to your having a different idea of what your work involves from that of your manager. An early meeting is a good way to confirm that your expectations coincide with theirs before you throw yourself headlong into any new projects or assignments.

Be sure to identify the top priorities and issues that your manager expects you to turn your attention to (and for which you may very well have been brought aboard), as well as how your performance in addressing these will be evaluated and assessed. Establish the frequency with which they expect to be updated about your work (every other week, every month, etc.), as well as the form and manner in which you should report your progress (orally, electronically, etc.). Finally, schedule a follow-up meeting at the end of your first month, so that you can be confirm that you’re on the right path.

Whether you’re a fresh-faced university graduate, starting your first real full-time gig, or a senior executive who’s recently had a change of scenery, it’s important that you nail those first thirty days at your new job. Learning the in’s and out’s of your corporate culture, building relationships with the right people, asking questions and connecting with your manager — taken together, these tips will help ensure that you start your new job off on the right foot and put you in a position to excel, so that your first successful month will lead to many more.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!