I know: I returned to work after 10 years away and put a lot of pressure on myself to adjust as quickly as possible. While my re-entry was through a fairly unique 10-week returnship program (a.k.a., an internship program for mid-career professionals who’ve taken a break), I was subject to the same uncertainty anyone would feel upon going back to the workforce after time away.
Fortunately, in addition to my background in front-line business roles, I’d had experience in leadership and professional development, so I realized that assessing the landscape and “fitting in” would be critical to my success.
With that in mind, here are my four best tips for adjusting:
1. Pay Attention to Company Culture
The role of culture can’t be overstated: Cultural norms can span the range of high-level company values to very specific action steps. They usually come in the form of unwritten rules.
- Are senior leaders approachable, or is there a more formal channel that you need to be aware of?
- Do colleagues eat lunch at their desks, or use that time to meet and network?
- Do people leave at a reasonable hour or is facetime important?
- Are they “always on” (through emails and logging in), even when they’re out of the office?
Culture’s the outcome of encouraged and accepted behaviors. And sometimes, there are aspects of culture that aren’t discovered until you make a mistake. For example, early on in a new role, I mentioned “business development” when referencing a topic. The senior leader in the room stopped the meeting to inform me that our firm never engages in selling, therefore the proper term was “client development.”
It didn’t count against me: Mistakes happen! But one way I was able to fit in and move beyond my faux pas was to make a note of it and use the preferred terminology moving forward.
2. Be Open to New Experiences
Regardless of your most recent role, changing companies means you’re entering a new situation. And this new group will inevitably do things differently.
Rather than fight to do things the way you’re used to, embrace the opportunity to adopt new approaches. For example, if your new team seems more focused on output than on strategy and analysis, learn more about the associated business impact before trying to change direction.
Or, if your boss is heavily focused on a thorough analysis of ROI before moving forward with a new program, make your best attempt to understand the drivers of that need.
Try it the new way at least once. That way you’ll give yourself a chance to determine which battles are worth fighting (and which aren’t).
3. Take the Time to Build Your Network
Your co-workers will be key to your success at your new company. Achieving results will require knowing whom to reach out to—at every level.
Figure out who has the insights, time, or interest to help you and introduce yourself. You’ll find that most people are happy to share their expertise if you ask. And take the time to see if you have skills, insights or contacts that would be of help to your new colleagues. It never hurts to build good will. The stronger your internal network, the easier time you’ll have when you need help.
Bonus: You can also build your overall network, by updating your online profile with your new role. It’s a natural reason for people to reach out and reconnect, which is always worthwhile.
4. Learn All You Can
The benefits of exposing yourself to multiple perspectives and new experiences are vast. If you remain open-minded and park your ego at the door, you’re bound to benefit from an amazing amount of learning.
Seriously, by just carrying around a notebook your first few days, jotting down questions, and seeking out answers, you’ll pick up so much more knowledge than you had before. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re supposed to know this—the fact is that you don’t and the more quickly you learn, the more at ease you’ll feel.
Above all, it’s important to remember that you’re entering a group of established professionals and they’ll respect you for taking the time to understand how everything works.
While you may feel an urge to share your past (and possibly lofty) experiences with your new team to establish yourself, resist the temptation to brag. Rather, use time with your colleagues to understand what they do and what they see as priorities. There will be plenty of time to add your perspective once you’ve gotten a more complete picture and have the data you need.
Before long, you’ll stop feeling like “the new person” and start feeling like someone who’s been there forever—in the best way possible.