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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

Rookie Mistakes: 5 Extremes to Avoid

Congratulations, you landed the job! If you’re like most, you're probably a little nervous about making a great impression during your first few weeks. As you’re navigating a completely new workplace, co-workers, and responsibilities, new-job anxiety is common, but unfortunately, it can also cause people to engage in some irrational behaviors.

Want to avoid being “that person?” Here’s how to strike a balance between common on-the-job extremes and get off on the right foot at your new gig.

Over-asker vs. Never-asker

When starting a new job, some people are tempted to ask every question that pops into their heads rather than searching for information on their own. Others think questions are bothersome or a sign of weakness, so they never ask and end up making mistakes. While over-questioning can make you look needy, helpless, or unable to work independently, you can't know everything within your first week, and your co-workers know that you'll need some guidance.

Where’s the balance? If you've made a solid effort to search for the information yourself, you shouldn't feel bad about asking for help. It's better to ask and be right than to be silent and wrong. Try “batching” questions: first ask, "I have a few questions about the social media campaign, do you have a couple minutes to talk?” and then proceed with your series of questions at a time that’s convenient for your boss.

Know-it-all vs. Learning Curve

Many new employees may think they've been hired to shake things up, and they come in on Day 1 thinking they've got it all figured out. These know-it-all types offer suggestions to everyone on a "better" way to accomplish tasks, then end up looking foolish because their ideas are based on incomplete information. Others have the opposite problem: they hide behind the learning curve. They refuse to offer suggestions or take responsibility because they "haven't been here long enough." Their lack of confidence and initiative inhibits their productivity and prevents them from making valuable contributions to the team.

In a new position, spend the first few weeks learning about the organization. But once you have a strong understanding of how it runs, consider suggesting some of your ideas for improvement. Try giving feedback with a humble but convincing tone, and frame your ideas as suggestions rather than criticism. For example, "I noticed that we have a lot of different formats for sending documents. I've used a standardized file labeling system in the past, and found it helped everyone stay organized and informed. Would you like me to show you how it might benefit our team?"

Ultra CC'er vs. Information Hoarder

In an effort to show they are contributing, some new employees want to share every detail of every project with every member of the team. On the flip side, some people don't share anything, ever, or are selective in the information that they do share.

If you’re tempted to over-communicate, recognize that sometimes it's not necessary to bring people in until later in the project, and high-level managers often prefer an executive summary. It’s best to ask your colleagues and superiors what level and form of communication they prefer. Do they want a five-minute verbal update each morning, a weekly summary email, or a 10-page Word document at the end of the project? Is it helpful for you to copy them on email exchanges with your clients, or are you just clogging their inboxes?

On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of thinking that hoarding information will ensure your job security. It won’t. This approach will hurt the organization, as the team ends up working with incomplete or outdated information, and it will hurt you, as you’ll likely be perceived as unhelpful and hard to work with. Fostering trust and teamwork is much more beneficial in the long run, and that requires communication.

Over-Promiser vs. Naysayer

When I first start a position, I want to seem eager, productive, and involved, and I sometimes end up making promises I can't keep. (Need a new website? Of course I can make that by the end of the week! Need a report by the end of the day? No problem at all!) Naysayers, on the other hand, always find the faults with a project or their own skills. When presented with a new project, they give reasons why the project can’t be completed in the allotted time or budget or to the desired level of quality.

The problem is, when you say "yes" to every project, you end up spreading yourself too thin, resulting in preventable mistakes, poor quality, and missed deadlines. If this is you, be sure to carefully evaluate your workload and skills before agreeing to a new project. And if you have tasks for multiple superiors, talk to your boss about re-prioritizing projects if needed.

On the other hand, if you’re more of a naysayer, you’re probably worried about personal failure and you might fear letting the team down—but you can come across as not wanting to be a team player. So if you do have concerns about a project, frame them in a way that looks for a solution, not an out, to the problem.

We've all met that person who shares his or her life story within five minutes of meeting you. We've also met that person who’s all business, all the time. Both extremes make new colleagues uncomfortable, as they may feel pressured to share more than they'd like to reciprocate your openness, or they may dislike the uncomfortable silence they receive when trying to get to know you.

It's wise to consider the traditional "no politics, religion, or bodily functions" rule when meeting your new colleagues, and stick to safer subjects, like your passion for running or your favorite movies. If you tend to clam up in social settings, try having a few topics and answers ready to discuss. Silence can be viewed as hostility, and being a serious at all times can make you seem hard to relate to.

Being in a new work environment is nerve-wracking—but you don't have to fall into the trap of these extreme behaviors. By balancing your questions, suggestions, and information-sharing, you'll present a knowledgeable, helpful, and social professional image.

Photo courtesy of Ambro.