How long does it take to adjust to a new job?
March 7, 2005 4:14 PM   Subscribe

How long does it take to adjust to a new job? I just (4 days ago) started a new job and I feel like I'm in outer space, or the 13th level of hell, or something, but this has to improve, right? Any anecdotal or otherwise comments are helpful; right now, I think I'm drowning. I'm sort of the only person there, doing marketing among other undefined things and I really need to know if feeling like a complete idiot is going to stop. I haven't changed jobs in a while, and I was thoroughly courted and headhunted, oddly enough, for this one, and it's significantly more money.

The job I have started is extremely amorphous. There isn't any job description; there isn't anything set in stone, it's all up in the air. All I know is that part of it is marketing, which was part of my last job, which was also kind of amorphous (art museum; communications, 4.5 years) but had more of a structure in place. The business comprises a vegetarian restaurant, a brewpub (lot of live music), and a microbrewery (with tasting room). There's a lot of talk about the "Big Picture" and not a lot about specifics. As far as I can figure out (my ability to speak & translate hippie is what may have gotten me the job and save me yet) I think I'm supposed to be my boss when he isn't there. I'm pretty organized, capable and calm under fire - eventually I will get some form of a handle on this, I hope - but how long is it likely to take? Anyone ever moved from a kind of defined job to a non defined job? How long did it take?
posted by mygothlaundry to Work & Money (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Speak to the boss, ask him some questions. You shouldn't have to float along translating hippie-speak. Be upfront and ask him to set you on the right path.
posted by fire&wings at 4:21 PM on March 7, 2005

One of the things I was always told not to do, is not to take a job with a position that was "created" and didn't exist before.

Some of who you interact with may be frustrated over the fact that you've stolen some of their responsibilities. Others there may have seen the existing owners/management have hairbrained schemes that never follow through (amorphous goals. Big pictures)

Formally, or informally, I'd write a job description. Especially when it comes to what you discussed when being hired. Many small business owners survive/suceed despite themselves.

So, I'd create some form where there was none. Something that later you can say "Look what I did." It's silly, but it's a little bit of CYA.

In larger companies this stuff is very defined. Your boss may have no ideas of how to structure someone with your skills.
posted by filmgeek at 4:29 PM on March 7, 2005

in an entrepreneurial environment like this, you may feel that the lack of job description is as much a blessing as a curse.

whether or not you write a job description or start a project (the former i would not if its for anyone else the latter makes sense), what these suggestions do is start to give you some focus and something to measure yourself by.

oh, and you'll feel like you're drowing for 3 months.
posted by elsar at 4:50 PM on March 7, 2005

It'll get better - it's probably culture shock, nothing more.

In the past I've found it helpful to schedule a late-Friday or early-Monday meeting with my manager to establish what what milestones I should have reached by the end of the week. After a few weeks you'll have a few projects in train and a pretty good idea of your workload, where you fit in and what's expected of you.

If people are talking to you a lot about the Big Picture but there aren't a lot of specifics, and if they're paying you a lot more money, then it's entirely possible that there is no plan, and that it's your job to make one. Your plan is to have good people who know what they're doing and where they're going and who know you've got their back when seas get stormy.

This means that your job is simple:

- understand what everybody does;
- help them to set broad objectives (most of the time, they'll do this themselves);
- listen to their concerns (especially about assholes), and use your power and authority to remove obstacles that get in their way; and
- if you didn't already in step three, keelhaul the assholes.

I'd suggest spending a couple of weeks talking to people, finding out what they do, and getting an understanding of two things - what they think the plan is, and what they'd like the plan to be.

In a short while you'll have a map of where everybody is, where they think they're all going, and where they'd like to go. Sketch out common ground and desirable destinations.

Discuss the map with your boss. Adjust routes and destinations accordingly, but keep your crew's contentment at the front of your mind. Ask / think about what needs to be done to get everybody where they'd like to be. Let everybody know what you've decided, why you've decided it and where everybody fits in. Make sure everybody gets it, and is reasonably happy about it. Be ready to find some who don't want to sail where you're headed, and be ready to let them go.

Retire to your cabin. Wander the decks regularly. Ask questions, listen carefully. Repel occasional boarders. Keep an eye out for mutineers. Acknowledge and reward effort. Enjoy the beer.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:59 PM on March 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I have a job very much like that -- it was hell for the first few months, and now it is pretty much my dream job. The trick for me was to unlearn a lot of what working in large companies had taught me -- like checking with the boss before I do stuff, making sure that what I was doing had been approved, needing constant feedback to make sure I wasn't screwing up somehow. I began, slowly, to see a need for something that needed doing and just going ahead and making it happen.

It is very nice to work with as little supervision as I do -- I am trusted to do what needs doing, I feel like my abilities are valued, and I can kick back and answer questions on askmefi if I don't have anything to do.
posted by jennyjenny at 5:00 PM on March 7, 2005

My first real job was very similar - basically running a construction company when the boss was out, no set duties. I got a week with the previous employee who taught me the basics (how to use MYOB, primarily, and work the screwed-up phone system) but I was essentially thrown in the deep end. My first month or so was just answering the phone and dealing with things that came up as they happened, anything from typing a letter to pricing a job - which I did very, very badly at first - to picking up the boss's lunch. It was about six months before I felt completely comfortable with all the tasks I found myself doing and ready and able to set my own routine and prioritise my own work.

It really did become the perfect job because I could set up my own systems and pretty much do things my own way with no interference. I even taught the boss a thing or two in the end about running an efficient company - things I'd taught myself along the way.

When I left, I still had no clear job description and my boss was very cruisy, so he just let me make my own one up and write my own reference. :)
posted by tracicle at 5:05 PM on March 7, 2005

Four days is nothing. If you felt comfortable now, you'd be bored as hell in less than a month. I think it takes about three months to really feel comfortable. You need to see what needs doing, and to figure out what the climate is like. If you can, try to plan projects that you would like. Then check in and see if you're on the right track.

I'd keep my eyes open for a couple of weeks. I really like my job, but I was a little too helpful at first. A year later I'm pretty sick of being to go to guy-- not because I resent extra work, but because I enable other people to be inflexible and lazy. By asking for more to do, I'm pretty much stuck with a few grunt jobs.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:46 PM on March 7, 2005

Four days is _way_ too early to really know anything about a job, good or bad, so I wouldn't get too worried yet. On the other hand, you definitely need to generate your own traction.

I'd be a little wary of doing something as meta as writing a job description--you do need some definition, but I think you're much better off by defining yourself by doing stuff, and not by describing doing stuff.

With that in mind, shorter-term, I'd ask your boss to help you create a short list of objectives...things he needs you to get done within the next week or two. Keep that pipeline stocked up for the first couple of months. If your boss went so far as to recruit and hire you, he almost certainly has a backlog of stuff he'd like you to do. If he's not telling you, though, he may not be good at actually _communicating_ it, but you'll need to get it out of him. Otherwise, you'll keep feeling adrift, and he'll start feeling disappointed (even if it's basically his fault).

Longer-term, once you get your bearings better, definitely take advantage of the freedom to define yourself. Look for the things you think you should be doing, but aren't being asked to do. Add them to your task list, confirm them with your boss, and use them to take the place over. (In a good way, of course.)
posted by LairBob at 6:14 PM on March 7, 2005

In my experience, 90 days to reach my comfort level. Up to that point, I'm struggling to remember all the little things (where does this go, who is that) and that sucks up a lot of energy. After 3 months, though, I've got the small stuff wired in, so I can give my full attendtion to the real work.
posted by SPrintF at 6:16 PM on March 7, 2005

I agree with the 3-month consensus, although it could be as few as two. From your description, I'd say that if jobs that need doing by you are not obvious or defined, spend the spare time on socialization aspects, like meeting people in different departments and learning more about the structure of the company. In the process, you'll learn more about what you do and don't want your job to entail, and can begin tailoring your duties to fit your skills and interests. Also, it's often the case that a job is only as good as the people it connects you to. Any ideological or political nightmare scenario possibilities that might come up can only be flushed out by spending time with and learning about your new workmates, so you might as well get to it. Your current feelings are par for the course for day four, I'd imagine.
posted by obloquy at 7:00 PM on March 7, 2005

I can tell you that for IT jobs, 3-6 months is typical. Both less and more would potentially point to problems.
posted by krisjohn at 7:05 PM on March 7, 2005

You will avoid making costly mistakes and impossible piles of small tasks if you take a step back to learn the big picture stuff of the business. Until you have that knowledge base, you will be just taking shots in the dark. There is a lot of competition in your market, but it looks like your place is well differentiated from the pack by including the vegetarian restaurant and popular live shows with the brew pub. Since the place seems to be established and running well, use caution in changing inhouse systems and try to float first ideas to the group before changing policies, especially if you have little/no experience working in a bar or music venue. Since you don't seem to be responsible for operations, concentrate on marketing. The person in charge of booking music should best be able to fill you in on what has been/ is being done, budgets, priorities, etc. Meet the people who are regulars and note any differences in patrons of the bar vs restaurant vs music venue. Force yourself to talk to all the employees and sound them out about the place, the history, past marketing blunders, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The people who work there are your best free marketing asset. They likely know the scene/ appreciate the aesthetic of the place, are a built in network into that community, and they have a vested interest in keeping the house full. Check out the competition and see how much pie there is to split, who's taking the nice slices and why. Are you winning at food, but losing at beer? Do you have any tap handles at other local bars to get the name out and expand revenue? It seems like a cool place to work, with interesting cow-orkers and good music, so don't worry, you will be great and have a ton of fun. Now no more playing graphic artist locked in your office, get out there and market your joint!
posted by roboto at 7:09 PM on March 7, 2005

In contrast to filmgeeks comments I have only ever taken jobs that didn't exist before I filled them and it's been a blast. Not always easy but lots of room to define the position and take it where I want to go.

"Translating" (to hippies or engineers or sales people or chefs, whatever) is a tremendously valuable skill and puts you in a pivotal role in any organization--you should feel great about this, momentary vertigo notwithstanding.

Having sought coaching and coached others who similarly felt underwater you need to know that that is part of the process and four days into it it's to be expected. It sounds like you're in a position of leadership--regardless of what your formal title might be--and so I'd recommend The First 90 Days as a good resource to get your bearings.

I'd also say that the best thing you can do on a new gig is get a little "out of body"--temporarily suspend your desire to evaluate people and processes and just try and listen and absorb the environment. You'll be in a much better position to figure out who's who, how things get done (or don't) and form clearer ideas about what you want your role to look like.

It sounds like you're overwhelmed but also made a deliberate move to embrass this new opportunity. Being freaked out is part of the process so be assured you're being completely normal.
posted by donovan at 7:48 PM on March 7, 2005

What donovan said about "The First 90 Days". Good read.
posted by Goofyy at 3:49 AM on March 8, 2005

Having owned restaurant/bar/music venue combos in the past, and being a marcomm strategist now, I think the recommendations here are excellent. Bear in mind that the biz you're in can be notoriously personality-driven so hanging back for a while and sussing the dynamics is great advice.

The only thing I'd add is, take notes, on paper. Unobtrusively and for your own edification. It's always good to know and be able to cite specific examples, chronology, org chart details, communication matrix when you start evaluating SWOT, and begin to implement your programs.

Good luck!
posted by thinkpiece at 6:32 AM on March 8, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. All of these are such great answers that I'm not going to mark any of them as best - I'd have to mark them all and then Matt & Jess would get annoyed with me. I really appreciate the help here and I'm bookmarking this page so I can keep on going back to it! It's very reassuring to hear that I'm moving along normally - and I will take a lot of these suggestions.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:49 AM on March 8, 2005

I agree that it sounds like its your job to come up with a plan to get them to the 'big picture' but its probably way to early to even come up with that.

Right now its your job to educate yourself. try to figure out the top and the bottom of the business, theres probably nothing worse than clueless marketing people. Just give yourself an opportunity to connect with random people in the business and it will get better, everyone would be uncomfortable in a situation like yours.

I was thrown to the wolves before, had an undefined job with a desk in a hallway where people i had never seen before had to step by me to get places, it started out so horribly but ended up being a situation that i draw strength from when i feel down.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:03 AM on March 8, 2005

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