Starting a new job is tough, no matter how you slice it. For me, the hardest part was figuring out how to implant myself, feel comfortable, and fit into my new culture—while (of course) still trying to impress everyone along the way.
Over the years, I tried many different tactics, and eventually came up with a few simple guidelines that helped me warm up to a new environment with ease and grace.
1. Pretend You’re Visiting a Foreign Country
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in the past has been to try to immediately immerse myself into my new culture, and begin mimicking the attitudes and behaviors around me so I could more easily fit in. This can be dangerous in many ways, not the least of which being that you just might lose a bit of yourself in the process.
So to help fight this urge, while making sure I’m still coming across as friendly, eager, and curious, I just pretend like I’m visiting someplace completely new. Remember the last time you visited someplace completely foreign? You knew when you arrived that things would be different, and you were prepared to see things you may not have seen before—whether it was unusual foods or greeting customs that were wholly unfamiliar. You were probably curious and even surprised at what you saw, but you reacted with respect and attentiveness—after all, you were a visitor in someone else’s territory.
This can be extremely helpful when getting acquainted with a new work environment. If you can withhold judgment about how you expect things to be (from the way meetings are run to the vendors you work with) and go in knowing things probably won’t operate the way you’re accustomed to, you’re already off to a great start. Believe me, the phrase “this is how we did it at my last job” gets old after exactly one time.
2. Don’t Be a Know-it-All
If you’re anything like me, your first instinct when starting a new job is to try to find as many ways to “prove” to your new boss how capable you are. And this is fine—as long as you do more showing and less telling. As a former manager myself, one of my biggest pet peeves was hiring a new employee only to find he or she already “knew” everything, and didn’t want or need my input.
The truth is, if you lack humility and respect for those that are already there, you will have a much harder time convincing them of your skills, and you won’t come across as a team player.
On the other hand, when I’ve resisted the urge to try to impress, and instead sat back and observed my environment, the results have been powerful. By really trying to understand what we were working to accomplish as a firm or a team, and by showing my interest through being attentive, asking questions, and taking a ridiculous amount of notes, I found that I was invited to more meetings, asked my opinion more often, promoted, and yes, even invited to join happy hour with the team after work.
3. Don’t Be a Chatty Cathy
I don’t know about you, but when I’m nervous, I tend to ramble—but that’s not exactly the best way to convince your new colleagues you’ll be a great new member of the team. And unfortunately, nervous rambling isn’t the only way to talk your way out of team’s confidence—being overly social and talkative isn’t a good idea either.
Several years ago, one of my managers had hired someone new. Everyone on the team interviewed her, thought she was great, and was excited to add her to the group. That is, until she started—and never seemed to stop—talking. Although I’m sure she was only trying to be friendly and get to know her new colleagues, her constant attempts to socialize were awkward, not to mention a disruption to the daily workflow. And pretty quickly, we were all convinced she was more interested in everyone’s lunch plans than actually getting the job done.
Nobody likes to be forced to cut someone off mid-conversation—especially when the boss is watching. So don’t make them do it. Do yourself (and your new colleagues) a favor, and keep the socializing to a respectful, professional level.
Starting a new job—or a new position—is both exciting and intimidating. But, keep these tips in mind as you get your bearings, and you’ll find much smoother waters ahead. Step back, take it all in, and don't forget—take your notebook everywhere.