You spent months searching. You wrote so many cover letters that you had to create a new filing system on your desktop. And you printed so many CVs it makes you weep a little on the inside thinking of all that paper. It all paid off in the end, you landed your dream job - well done! Or like most of us, you landed the job that you desperately hope is in the direction of your dream job.
Once you’ve posted your celebratory Facebook status, gone out for that fancy dinner and updated your LinkedIn profile, for many, the next step is often a mix of nervousness, excitement and maybe even a little confusion. For the 99.9999% of us that don’t finish high school or graduate from University and immediately fall into our dream jobs, building your career is top of mind, and one of the first questions is ‘How do I make an impact in my new job?’
No matter what your new job is, whether it is a part time gig after school, a graduate program with a full-on orientation or a newly created role that no-one’s ever done before, there are loads of things you can do to kick off with a bang, start making an impact and get noticed by the right people, for the right things. Here is my guide to getting the best start in your new job.
1. Make sure you arrive on day one feeling refreshed and energised
For some, new jobs are super exciting. Everything is shiny and new, you get to meet a bunch of new people, there might even be a cake with your name on it. Everything seems super easy, because realistically, no-one’s giving you any real work yet. This might lead some to decide they can work right up until the night before the new job, or consider the first few days ‘chill out time.’ However, the first few days are when you’re making first impressions (which we all know count), all while being told a tonne of stuff all at once that you’re expected to remember. If you arrive burnt out, you won’t be on your A-game, you won’t remember key information, and worst of all, you won’t make a good first impression with people you are soon to be working very closely with.
2. Ask loads of questions
When you are new in a job, you have a grace period where everyone will go out of your way to help you, and that’s the perfect time to ask tonnes and tonnes of questions. Everything from where the stationary cupboard is, to social events to what your boss loves and hates. And of course all of the specific things you need to do in order to do your job well.
The other key side of it is more strategic. Being the new person is a golden opportunity - everyone expects you to ask lots of questions, so you can use that naivety to identify areas that aren’t so efficient and question why things are done the way they are. Take note of them so that once you’re settled in and know the ropes you can find creative ways to solve internal problems.
Perhaps you noticed it was really hard to find written handover documents from your predecessor - a perfect opportunity to propose a solution to your boss, even if it is something as simple as the new folder you created on the shared drive.
3. Listen carefully, and take all the notes
Whilst some companies have a really concrete onboarding process with events and team bonding activities right through to 1000 page manuals, others will barely have anything written down. Instead, someone will dump what should be a day’s worth of information on you in 30 minutes, and you will be expected to remember it.
You’ll always be told ‘Don’t worry, no question is a dumb question’. But in reality, there are dumb questions - they are the one’s where you’ve just been told something but you weren’t listening. The fastest way to tank any good impression you made is by seeming like you are careless, uninterested and not listening - easily achieved if someone has to keep repeating something over and over to you.
4. Notice the little things
The other thing that will happen in your first days of the job is some of the most important bits of information will be the little off the cuff comments that your colleague drops without realising how important they are - what your new client’s kids names are, that project that’s going to start next month, and most importantly, what to do when the coffee runs out.
The little snippets you pick up can reveal very useful insights into the company - hints at how the office politics work, what previous people in your role did really well and who the key people in the company are (it isn’t often the job title that’s the clue).
The easy way to stay on top of both of these situations is to stay sharp and focussed, even when you’re just chatting in the kitchen on your tea break. And for anything formal, write it all down. There’s no harm in writing extra stuff just in case, and you’ll be thankful when your client calls a week later and you can look back over your notes and see what her daughter is called.
5. Don’t be afraid to do the rounds introducing yourself
If you’re lucky, your new manager will take you round the company and introduce yourself to everyone. Unfortunately most of us aren’t so lucky - some workplaces are fast paced, have a bunch of people off site or even have multiple floors and locations. Take the initiative and go around introducing yourself, starting with your team, everyone you bump into, and working through other nearby areas. Be sure to ask what everyone does, and even better - try to set up meetings with anyone you think might interact with your role. That way, you can get a really good understanding of who everyone is, what they do, and what the opportunities are to work together and help eachother out.
Often, different departments in a business will end up being quite focussed and independant, if you can bridge the gap, even by finding out little snippets of helpful information (like what projects people are working on) you can make a big impact by letting them know two people are actually doing pretty contradictory tasks and proposing a simple solution.
You’ll also start to find out the things that aren’t written down, and won’t ever be. Every organisation is chock full of implicit knowledge that it takes a long time to work out - things like the fact your boss won’t mind if you arrive 5 minutes late, but interrupt her with a question before she’s finished her morning coffee and she’ll be really pissed. Or mistakes other people commonly make when they are new, and how they impact teams other than your own.
Protip: If you struggle to remember people’s names, print off the page on the website with everyone’s names and photos and keep it on your desk for the first week or two.
6. Set expectations and agree on them with your boss
Depending on your role and your level of experience, it might be pretty challenging to approach your boss and propose what you think your goals should be whilst working there. Even if you are experienced, approach it like a newbie anyway - you only have a limited window of time for that. Ask your boss what she thinks success looks like in the first week, month and quarter, to get an idea of her expectations and work out some goals together. From there, you’ll end up with a mix of goals - some might be your ideas from all of the talking to colleagues and assessing the new workplace you’ve been doing, and others will be suggestions from your boss that you might not have thought of - specific training courses she’d like you to do and things that align with her own measures of success.
If there isn’t a process for this, ask for one! You can send the meeting request and ask what you’re boss’ goals are, being ready to propose your own and show how they align with hers - and she’ll be all the more impressed for it.
Write your goals down, stick them on the wall and every so often when you’re doing various tasks, stop and ask yourself if what you’re doing is heading towards those goals. If not, make sure it is still something you need to prioritise.
7. Eliminate any bad habits you used to have
Generally, after the first month you will never again have as much time as you currently do. Make the most of it by getting organised and setting good habits. Get into a good routine of creating to do lists (or spreadsheets, however you like to stay on top of your workload and priorities), focus on things you used to struggle with, and come up with new strategies to get rid of them. Do you struggle to get to work on time? Now is a good time, while stress isn’t a factor, to revamp your morning routine, and get into the habit of leaving for work earlier.
Do you tend to say yes to everything and end up never getting anything done on time? Kick off the new job by trying a different method of prioritising - i.e. not starting task 2 until task 1 is completed, and setting everyone’s expectations from the get go that you need more time to complete tasks.
Make sure you set aside some time to really focus on what your challenges, struggles and bad habits were. Identify them and put strategies in place to fix them. Before you start getting stressed and busy is the perfect time to work on those habits, and all of your new colleagues will consider it your working style from day 1, which is the perfect way to make sure you stick to them.
8. Get the life logistics sorted
Before the job, you obviously need to work out how you’re going to get there - do a dry run on the weekend beforehand to make sure you know how long it will take to get to work, and if there are any quirks (like late buses) that might result in you getting there late.
It is also a good idea to find out where the nearest pharmacy, supermarket and lunch spots are so you’re all sorted out. Don’t stress too much about lunch though - a perfect opportunity to bond with someone you haven’t had a chance to meet with is to ask them if they want to go get lunch together and show you where the good places are. On day one, bring your own lunch just in case, but don’t be afraid to leave it in the fridge in case you get the opportunity to go eat with your boss, someone senior or your new desk buddy - say yes to those moments to bond with seniors and make new friends!
9. Don’t get hung up on the past
Whilst it can be useful to say “I used to do this in my old job and it worked really well” it is important to be open minded about what you can learn in your new job. You’re working with a new team, with different experiences, and importantly they know the specific challenges of your new role in your new company. And chances are, you left your old job for a reason. Be open minded and let everyone walk you through all the basics, even if you think you know them already. Chances are you know 9 out of 10 steps, but that extra little tidbit of information could make a huge difference, and you’ll be glad you listened.
If you’ve looked at things critically, tried them out and think there are some things you’re old company used to do better, by all means propose them to the team or your boss, they’ll be glad you’re thinking creatively and finding solutions. So long as it isn’t coming from a place of being unwilling to change it won’t go unnoticed!
10. Find the right way to communicate your successes
One of the biggest fears when starting a new job is that you’ll do all this hard work and make great positive changes for the company, and no-one will ever know it, leaving you languishing at the bottom of the career ladder, seeing your dream job slip away while everyone steals your ideas. Coupled with that, is the equally large fear that if you keep banging on about how great you are, you’ll be seen as bragging.
Fear not, as there is always a balance to be found. And it is an important balance, too. Most organisations will have the more formal function of a weekly, fortnightly or monthly meeting with your boss to talk about your performance, experiences and challenges. Be prepared for those. It might just be in the diary as a catch up over coffee, but if that’s your only opportunity to let your boss know how you’ve been doing, it is a really crucial meeting. Keep note of everything you’ve been doing well, projects you’ve ticked off and problems you have solved. Let your boss know what you’ve been enjoying and what you want to focus on.
You’ll also want to have a few of your challenges up your sleeve - this is the perfect opportunity to get some good advice from someone who’s been there before on how to remove any roadblocks to you, or your team’s success. Not only will you find some solutions to those problems, but your boss will also appreciate your honesty, see that you’re committed, passionate and trying hard, and you won’t come across as self-interested or tooting your own horn.
Many organisations will also have more informal methods for showing you are successful - or perhaps you can even start them. You might get the ball rolling by emailing the team when one of your colleagues has done something really well, and others will start following suit and return the favour. Or perhaps you already have a culture where your team, or even the company, share new ideas and suggestions regularly by email. Get involved by researching new ideas, staying on top of industry news, and when you share an idea, make sure to add how your team can implement it and put your hand up to lead the initiative.
Every company will have different methods - from a culture where you can just go over to the right person’s desk and propose a new idea, to more formal processes and meetings that are the right vehicle. if you’re not sure what the right way to go about it is, your boss will love nothing more than to have you ask “If I’ve got a new idea, what’s the best way to propose it?”
When looking to make an impact in a new role, the common theme is to stay positive and enthusiastic, listen, be perceptive and take the time to figure out all the ways your company works - as most of them will be unwritten. Get to know as many people as possible, ask them all kinds of questions and work hard to get the lay of the land. From there, you’ll be able to identify all the ways you can add extra value, make an impact, and ensure you’re getting the right recognition for it.
However, the number one most important thing is to do it from a solid foundation - your extra ideas and initiatives will be meaningless if you aren’t focussing on your core role and achieving the goals you set with your boss. Every job will be different, but with the right attitude, a bit of initiative and the right focus, you can find the right ways to get started with a bang and start working your way toward that dream job.