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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

How Not to Crash and Burn at a New Job

Everyone has experienced buyer’s remorse: A shirt that looked great in the fitting room just isn’t quite as flattering in your bedroom mirror. Or worse, a job that seemed like a perfect fit during the interview falls flat during your first few weeks.

Turns out, that feeling of new job remorse is pretty common: According to the Society for Human Resources Management, half of all hourly workers resign within the first four months of a new job, and half of senior hires crash within just 18 months.

Why such a high dropout rate? It often starts with a weak onboarding process. Although most companies have some sort of initial orientation program, only 7% of the overall training budget is devoted to it. According to Dr. John Sullivan, an expert in onboarding process effectiveness, “Onboarding programs rank high on the list of HR programs that get little respect or attention.”

But, it can make all the difference: When you onboard well, not only are you likely to stay longer, but you’ll be perceived as a better performer, you’ll be less stressed, and you’ll like your job (and the decision you made) a whole lot more.

The lesson? While effective onboarding is crucial, it may be up to you to carry the load and take control of your new job. Here’s how.

1. Learn the New Landscape

Don’t be surprised if you don’t learn the specifics of your new position in onboarding—it’s not typically geared toward helping you settle into your particular role or team. Instead, it’s often run by HR, for the sole purpose of getting you “oriented and compliant.” (Hello, benefits seminar!)

So, take it upon yourself to map out your new environment. You should do this on three levels: the organization (its mission, culture, and basic practices), your department (its purpose and how it fits into the big picture), and your individual position (your responsibilities, how your performance will be measured, and your role in the bigger organizational mission).

By looking beyond your initial onboarding classes, you’ll be able to create a more effective plan of attack—which will allow you to start working toward your goals sooner, rather than later.

2. Bond With (and Leverage) Your Manager

Managers aren’t usually a formal part of the onboarding process—a few will check in on you occasionally, some will keep their distance until you’re ready to train for your specific position, and others will opt for a sink-or-swim approach altogether. But to get started on the right foot, it’s important to involve them from the get-go. (After all, this is hopefully the start of a long-term relationship!)

So, if you find that your manager isn’t playing a big enough role during your first few weeks on the job, take the necessary steps to bring him or her into the loop. If you’re not already meeting regularly throughout your onboarding, schedule some time to collaborate on your training plan. Then, follow up with regular weekly or bi-weekly meetings to keep him or her up to date on your progress and make sure you’re still on track for success.

Most importantly, tell your manager what you need. Want an introduction to the head of another department? Need specific feedback as you learn new processes? Ask. That’s what managers are for!

3. Don’t Let the Chaos Manage You

When you start a new job, you enter a period of “conscious incompetency.” That is, no matter how flawlessly you could perform your last role, you now have to unlearn what you knew and relearn it in a completely new context.

And I’ll be honest: You probably won’t like that feeling of uncertainty and vulnerability. Making the transition from knowing how everything works to knowing how nothing works can be a shock to your system—and your ego.

So, take a deep breath and be prepared to be a bit overwhelmed. Then, remind yourself that this is all part of the learning process. Remember how you left your last job knowing how it all worked? Eventually, you’ll achieve that level of competence in this job, too.

That said, it does help to keep a notebook of all the new information coming at you so you don’t have to rely solely on your memory. Having everything in one place will help you power through the inevitable chaos.

4. Build Relationships With Others

In any organization, work is accomplished through your relationships with your boss, your co-workers, and other employees across various departments. You won’t get far if you don’t start making (and leveraging) relationships in your new workplace. Unfortunately, companies don’t always make this as much of a priority as it should be, especially during a new hire’s first few weeks.

So, when you first come on board, dig in and figure out who you’ll need to have strong working partnerships with. Schedule casual coffee meetings with these people as part of your own personal onboarding process, or just stop by their desks to introduce yourself.

By taking these first steps toward building strong, trusting relationships, you’ll be able to integrate yourself quickly, share plans for the work you’ll be doing, and establish yourself as a collaborative, trustworthy team member.

5. Exercise the Power You Have

When my client, Katherine, called me after accepting a new job, she was overwhelmed. Even at a VP level, there was no organized onboarding process for her to rely on. She thought she’d made a huge mistake, and she wanted to quit.

But before any rash decisions were made, we took a closer look at her situation: She was sitting in meetings all day, then returning to her desk only to find 400 unread emails. Of course she felt overwhelmed! To take control of her situation, she needed to establish clear guidelines for herself and the people she worked with.

First, not every meeting was essential, and she had every right to decide which she would and wouldn’t participate in. “People need to earn your time,” I told her. “You don’t just give it away.”

And while fewer meetings gave her more time to spend with her inbox, she also needed a slightly different email strategy. So, she set expectations for how she wanted others to communicate with her (i.e., to clearly delineate what was urgent and what could wait). By implementing new practices and exercising the power to manage her new role, she was able to reduce the stress her new job was creating.

It may be a little intimidating when you’re the office newbie, but if something is getting in the way of your successful onboarding, speak up! You have the power to change the things that aren’t working—so communicate what you need in order to be successful.

6.  Don’t Make a Decision Based on a First Impression

Clients often call me within a couple of months of starting a new job, overwhelmed and regretful. But the truth is, their reactions have more to do with being in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation than they do with making a bad decision.

So, once you’re a few months in—keep pushing forward. A career transition can (and will) be hard. Be patient: Don’t make a decision to stay or go for at least six months. Go into it knowing that your first few months may be uncomfortable, but that the uncertainty won’t last forever.

Your job success plan starts from day 1. Don’t expect your new company to slow down while you catch up. Expect things to move fast—but more importantly, expect to take charge of your own onboarding. You’ll be happier, more satisfied, and more successful in the long run.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.