Going to a New Job -- Advice on Making It Easier?
April 13, 2005 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I'd appreciate any and all advice associated with changing work environments -- whether practical advice (about little bits of personal business to remember, or health insurance crud), or mental/emotional advice (how to adjust internally), or sociological advice (how to smooth the transition into a new employee culture). I also suck learning names -- hopefully they'll have nameplates, but anyone have tips for committing a large mass of names and faces to memory?

I am a legal assistant at a Chicago law firm, and just gave my two weeks' notice on Monday to accept a position at another law firm downtown. I have every reason to believe it'll be a good change for me -- a good bump in pay, a stronger human resources infrastructure, etc. The kind of work I'll do should be very similar, and I think I'm going to be valued there.

Generally, I've got a good feeling about the place. But I've been at my current locale for six years, though, and there is a slight 'yeeep!' feeling associated with all the change this will entail. I'm hoping folks can provide me with any advice they feel will ease the transition (in any respect).

Thanks in advance.
posted by WCityMike to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't necessarily trust the first person who befriends you - the one who wants to take you to lunch or who wants to give you the "inside scoop." They're very often the worst backstabbing kind of gossip.

Listen more than you talk. Ask lots of innocent questions ("Do people socialize outside of the office?" but respond to the answers only with an "I see" kind of nod.

My mom, after a lifetime in HR, always recommends that you start a new job on a Wednesday, if you can, so you only have to work three exhausting days the first week.

Bring your Social Security card with you in case HR wants a copy so you don't have to go home on your lunch hour.
posted by SashaPT at 7:54 AM on April 13, 2005

Also don't be afraid to ask "Sorry, what's your name again?" if you can't remember a name. Humans learn through repetition. Sometimes it's easy to remember names if you can rhyme it or make something funny out of it. (Keep that to yourself, however)
posted by C17H19NO3 at 8:02 AM on April 13, 2005

And when you say what C17H19NO3 suggested, it might help to remind them that you've learned 100 new names since you started. Making a joke about it helps, though don't say "there will be a quiz on it later," save that for the dork in accounting to say.

If you can aquire a list of people in your department with phone and office numbers it will help a lot. Remembering a name is easier when you can narrow it down to twenty or so people.

Put something fun on your desk within the first few days. A funny picture of you and your family, a Lego figure, som Silly Putty. It will be a good conversation starter and it will help you quickly seperate the fun people from the douchebags. Though if the firm is somewhat stiff this may not be a good idea.
posted by bondcliff at 8:21 AM on April 13, 2005

As far as learning names goes: What works for me is writing the name down. Not looking at it on a written list, but actually writing it out myself. I think it stimulates something in my brain that helps me remember that merely hearing or seeing the name doesn't do.

As far as the topic in general... I don't mean to be snarky, but is our society becoming so.... um.... dysfunctional (not you, Mike, our society), that we need to be instructed as to how to handle these kinds of social situations? I've changed jobs more than I would like to recall, and I know the discomfort you're talking about, but I always thought everyone went through it and you just deal with it. More and more, I see people asking advice (here and other places) for life events that, in the past, people just did without thinking too much about it. Maybe it's just a net thing, and people used to verbally talk about this stuff with their friends, and the net replaces that peer group for some, and for some reason it seems odd for me to see questions like this in print. I don't mean this as a criticism of you, Mike, just an observation that, well, I guess that society seems to be changing in this area. I suppose you are to be commended for proactively addressing your uncertainty, but it just seems kinda different to me.
posted by Doohickie at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2005

I have two tricks for names. First, I tell everybody that I'm terrible at remembering names and encourage them to ask me my name as often as they forget it, since I will understand completely. This makes the whole "what was your name again" a somewhat jokey affair, instead of feeling rude.

The second (better for learning lots of new names) is that I make mnemonic pairs between the people I meet and people I already know with the same name. So if a person's name is Karl, I will think of a Karl or Karla that I know, and associate the two in my mind. You can do it with people with new names either by using celebrities or fictional characters, or by associating them slightly differently. Pick someone they look like and make a little sentence (the guy who looks like my uncle is Karl).

And Doohickie, big life changes are plenty nerve racking enough to warrant asking for some advice and reassurance, no matter how functional a person is.
posted by carmen at 9:49 AM on April 13, 2005

Sorry I brought it up...
posted by Doohickie at 10:05 AM on April 13, 2005

If you have regular staff meetings, mentally go around the table and ask yourself, "What's his name? What's her name?" For anyone you don't know, pay attention during the meeting to see how others address them. Make guesses and see if they are confirmed. Take notes if necessary, it's a meeting after all!
posted by kindall at 10:29 AM on April 13, 2005

I got really good advice when I asked a similar question in March and so it may be helpful for you as well. I've been here a month now and definitely feel a bit more at home, although the transition does take longer than you'd think - I guess I was naive in thinking that after 5 weeks I'd be completely up to speed: I'm not. And I miss my old coworkers more than I expected, even the annoying ones. My main advice is to cut yourself a lot of slack in other areas of your life: I've been exhausted for a month and I think the stress of the transition is the cause.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:30 AM on April 13, 2005

Doohickie: All is forgiven. You can stop whispering now...

I am tracking this thread closely because, as fate would have it, I'll be starting a new job week after next. I've been a consultant for 18 of the last 20 years, so I could really use the advice--I'm not used to being simply one of a team, and the internal politics of companies has always been slightly baffling to me.
posted by curtm at 10:31 AM on April 13, 2005

Oh.... okay.
posted by Doohickie at 11:24 AM on April 13, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips, everyone. The thread seems to have stalled out, but if anyone has anything to add, please do ...

Doohickie -- don't worry, I don't take it personally. One of the special reasons I asked this is that although I'm a pretty personable guy, I absolutely suck at office politics and office sociology.

In some ways, that's good, but in other ways, it leads to distancing one's self from the rest. I don't want that to happen at this new place.

Not to mention that, to be honest, I've always been a tad bit socially inept. Not horribly so, not at all. But it's far from my forte, and so a little advice now ... well, as they say, a stitch in time saves nine.
posted by WCityMike at 1:11 PM on April 13, 2005

Remember that [generally] everyone has been there for much longer than you, so even if you think someone's your friend instantly, be a little wary of totally trusting them. I'm not saying that you have to be guarded, but all the little idiosyncracies of the place will come to light after a little while, so be careful of what you say until you've got a feel for the place.
posted by fionab at 7:26 PM on April 13, 2005

A few thoughts:

(1) If you can aquire a list of people in your department with phone and office numbers it will help a lot

Or an organizational chart. And if there isn't one (or there is a reluctance to give you the outdated one), just write one out on a piece of paper (starting with information you get from your boss).

And a floor plan of who sits where can be helpful (typically you have to create this yourself).

Another (complimentary) approach - take organized notes about people (short, bald, pretty, picture of cats on his desk, 60ish; loud ties; friendly; does a lot of photocopying; whatever). "Organized" means setting aside (say) a third of a page for each person (not worrying about the order), or putting the notes with the names on the organizational chart or the floor plan.

(2) In general, write things down - how you logon to your computer in the morning, how much to contribute to the coffee fund, whatever - whether from a technical person or your boss or a co-worker. Even the steps to make a photocopy or send a fax may well be new to you - write them down, even if you think that it makes you look dorky or forgetful. Otherwise you end up bothering other people (to tell you again) or wasting a lot of time (figuring out things).

Remember that people (like you) learn better when you do something, rather than watching someone else do that thing. Ideally, you can get someone to (a) walk you through a process, and (b) go slow enough so that you can take notes. It's okay, when someone says "Here, let me show you how to do this", to reply "Thanks - would you if I did it while you talked me through - I learn better than way."

When I teach someone, I try to have them go through the process at least twice - once as I talk them through, once completely on their own, while I say nothing at all. [The "at least" means I'm willing to do the process more than twice if the second time doesn't go well.]

(3) You may well find that your new firm doesn't do some things as efficiently as your old one (or doesn't offer something you think they should - say, a water cooler). You're probably better off saying nothing for at least a month - and maybe more - before you ask someone why they do it that way. (And saying "The firm I used to work for did it this way", without being asked where you saw the alternative being done, may be a mistake - the best approach is usually to ask in a neutral way - for example, "Has someone looked at the possibility of using an outside company for high-volume photocopy?") Waiting a month gives you an idea of who might be receptive (or even who, among your peers, won't use this as gossip that you think the new firm is doing things stupidly. On the other hand, if you are honestly encouraged to ask questions about processes, and questions are treated as valuable, then ask away.
posted by WestCoaster at 10:22 AM on April 14, 2005

Not to mention that, to be honest, I've always been a tad bit socially inept.

Deep down, we all are. Anyone who won't admit to it is a poser.

WestCoaster's suggestion no. 2 is excellent; I do the same myself. The good thing is that if you've made good notes on processes, it is really helpful for others they hire after you (and may actually make you look more organized/competent/knowledgable than others in the office to future "new guys").
posted by Doohickie at 8:51 PM on April 14, 2005

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