How To Be the Welcomed Newbie

Last Updated Aug 20, 2007 7:14 PM EDT

You don't know much of anyone, you don't know your way around, and you don't know how the business works -- that's the typical situation at the start of a new position. Even if your new role is within the same company, moving from one department to another can feel like being in a new organization.

In fact, new jobs rank up their with the most stressful life events, like the death of a friend. (Seems a little crazy, eh?) Aside from the stress of being in a new community, there's the over-arching pressure to perform. How can you be sure your first few months go well? There's an interesting article in BusinessWeek by Liz Ryan that offers 10 suggestions on how to avoid the hallmark newbie mistakes. Here are the five most substantive suggestions:

  • Go into consultant mode: Think about those guys from McKinsey and Booz Allen. They walk into a company and see 20 things that are being done in a suboptimal way, but they don't open their mouths every time they spot an improvement opportunity. That time is not now. For your first month on the job, unless you are asked a direct question such as "How would you improve this process?", keep your opinions to yourself.
  • Get the history: For your six months on the job, you should be asking questions like crazy: How was such and such plan arrived at, what was tried before, and how is the current approach working? Learning the history and logic behind workplace decisions will keep you from jumping to conclusions and inadvertently slurring your colleagues (or beloved former managers) who set things up differently from how you would have.
  • Make sure there's a problem before suggesting a fix: before you jump in with a perfect solution, make sure that other people perceive a problem. Otherwise, you'll be known as the guy (a unisex term) who wants to replace the blue curtains with red ones and change the colors on the marketing brochure just to have his or her stamp on them. Be humble enough to determine where the company--or the team--sees a need for improvement, and focus on those areas first.
  • Find a mentor: Your new organization may be one where newcomers are readily accepted, or one where they're expected to pay their dues two or three times over before becoming a full member on the team. Finding a veteran employee to mentor you through the newbie process will help you hear what elements of your approach are working and which ones are turning off your teammates.
  • Ask for feedback: As you jump into your new assignment, ask for feedback: "How do you think I did in that presentation?" or "Do you feel I've got the grasp on our business that you'd expect at three [six, nine] months in?" Ask what you can do better and what you should do more. Your first six months on the job are critical. You'll never get a chance to do them over.
There's certainly no magic formula, but these tips are sound guidelines. And truthfully, these principles apply beyond the newcomers' domain. It's seldom a bad idea, at any point in your career, to keep a mentor around, get the history of a problem, or ask for feedback.