"Don't come in high on your first day!" yes I think I knew that already.
December 16, 2015 10:44 AM   Subscribe

What do you wish you had known or done before starting a new job?

Pretty straightforward! I'm starting a new job at the beginning of the year and just want to collect wisdom from real actual people such as yourselves. Not necessarily just things you wish you had done at work, but also things you wish you had done with your personal life, etc, before entering a new workplace.

(There are a ton of clickbaity articles out there with gems ranging from "volunteer for the dirty work! come in early and stay late every day!" to "set firm boundaries early!" and "don't entangle yourself in the social life of the office too soon!" to "don't turn down social invitations from coworkers!" and they're all super dumb.)

I'm not concerned about anything this time around and I do just fine with new people, but the last time I had a new job I know I overlooked a ton of thinly veiled red flags just to make my life easier and I feel like there's room to improve, yeah?

Thanks for any insight you can offer!
posted by phunniemee to Work & Money (37 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Bring a lot of donuts. It worked like magic when a new guy came to work for a festival where I was working a few summers ago. Everyone loved him forever.

Also, keep cryptic crib notes about names and faces till you get everybody figured out.
posted by zadcat at 10:54 AM on December 16, 2015

Best answer: Whatever you do, distance yourself from anyone speaking negatively about the company to you when you're new. They're going to be a draining and negative influence on the culture. There's always one.

If there are many unhappy people , there's different advice. But if there's one negative toxic person, be polite and friendly but don't become close.
posted by taff at 10:55 AM on December 16, 2015 [26 favorites]

Best answer: i would actually suggest as a woman you don't bring food the office as a way to break the ice. it sets up the expectation that you'll plan baby showers, do paperwork that isn't your job, help your boss with their calendar, and stay behind when everyone goes to lunch to answer the phones. guys get a different reaction when they bring food in these circumstances.
posted by nadawi at 11:01 AM on December 16, 2015 [112 favorites]

Best answer: Hmmm...starting new job wisdom. After having a LOT of jobs (and just about as many careers), I can proffer the following:

* People who don't hold doors or elevators in your workplace are d**ks.


Basic, second-grade-level courtesy is rather absent in companies, and it's only gotten worse in the last 5-10 years.

* Get a clearly defined sense of what you're doing for the company. If you have it, great! , if not, make an appointment with your manager and set your defined roles for the organization. Nothing like floundering without knowing you're floundering.

* OH! Get the history of folks who have been in your position. I have a friend who was hired at a well-known place, who learned, only a couple of months in, that everyone who was in the position before her had either quit or was let go - the average stay was three months, tops. Hint: the manager was/is CRAY-ZAY.

Congratulations and best of luck in your new role!
posted by singmespanishtechno at 11:03 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't be disheartened when it takes a few months to feel like you have any idea what you're doing!
posted by ellieBOA at 11:07 AM on December 16, 2015 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Do not wear your best clothes. Establish early your work normal, make sure work normal says you expect to work at work. Dress so no matter what you have to physically do, you are comfortably modest. Use a lot of neutral to agreeable monosyllables first month. Let everyone else come out so you can see what is there. Locate the pitfalls. Take notes when your bosses talk. Learn the real chain of command, then learn how it really works. Take notes when others overstep their bounds, so you have a record of pseudo protocols you don't have to follow.
posted by Oyéah at 11:10 AM on December 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: This was probably on those ridiculous lists but: ask questions early. No matter how silly they may seem, every office has its own vocabulary and culture and when you're brand new, you can get away with not knowing what's going on. Probably not on those lists: watch how your manager interacts with people in meetings. Do they seem detached? Do they give credit to others? How do other employees act towards your manager or other higher ups? See who introduces themselves to you on your first day-- do people stop and chat and seem generally excited about their work and meeting you? Or do they do the perfunctory greeting then resume work without much thought to you?

And congratulations! A new job is a new start, which can be so very nice.
posted by thefang at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Whatever you do, distance yourself from anyone speaking negatively about the company to you when you're new.

Additionally to that, don't complain about anything for your first couple of weeks. Not the company, not your commute, not your home life, nothing. If other people complain about stuff, just nod noncommittally and change the subject. That first couple of weeks will make you who you are for the rest of your time there for a lot of people, and "Complainy Phunniemee" is not who you want to be.
posted by Etrigan at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2015 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: "Complainy Phunniemee" is not who you want to be.

Aside to any of my irl mefite friends reading this: hahahhahahahahahahaha

posted by phunniemee at 11:21 AM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Ask people to do small favors for you. As a newcomer, people will already be inclined to do so and after doing you favors, they will be more inclined to like you and help you again. Do not underestimate the importance of being liked in a workplace.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:23 AM on December 16, 2015 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Establish early your work normal, Along these lines, take your lunch break your first few weeks. Don't do a meet-up three-martini lunch, but establish clearly that you are a person who takes her lunch break. Invite co-workers along if you feel like it, or don't, but leave your desk for lunch (and not to the break room, if you can avoid it) at the beginning, even if later you don't.

That's one of those things that establishes a baseline work-life balance which you don't want to lose in the initial stages of learning a new job and getting used to a new work culture.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:25 AM on December 16, 2015 [21 favorites]

Best answer: Don't make assumptions about your new job's culture. Learn it. Learn what is expected of you.

I wouldn't bring food in until you have a sense of whether it would be appropriate or welcomed.

Different jobs have different ideas about lunch breaks. You may be very well expected to eat at your desk. Establishing boundaries is fine, but if there are built-in expectations it's best to learn them very early before drawing lines in the sand, so to speak.

In my office, new co-workers who asked people for small, meaningless favors they could conceivably do themselves would probably not be received well. Showing up on time, working hard, being supportive, skilled and eager to learn would be better ways to be liked.

Reading list: I'm a fan of Dinosaur Brains by Albert J. Bernstein. Quick summary here.
posted by zarq at 11:44 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Two quick things:

Take your time before forming close relationships. In every office there are a couple of bad apples and they will try to recruit you, because no-one else is on their side. Sometimes they will be the complain-y flavor, but they might also just be incompetent or lazy or have a weird agenda. It's easy for a new person to find themselves stepping in shit because they made the wrong friend. More broadly, be noncommittal on everything until you get your feet under you.

Also: establish an early pattern with your boss of seeking feedback. After the first week, do a quick check-in. Something like "here's what I've been doing and thinking. Is this about right, or are there things I'm missing or should be doing differently?" Make it casual and friendly. It is way better for you if your boss feels comfortable giving you feedback, and in large part that depends on you establishing that you want it. (Whatever your boss says, listen and thank them. Don't deny or defend or argue.) Do it again about two weeks later, and about a month after that. By then it will be an established habit for both of you, which is great. (This is also self-protective, because it is harder for your boss to be critical of your work if they've been given several opportunities for feedback, and haven't given any.)

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 11:47 AM on December 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

Best answer: I wish I'd asked about creating standard operating procedures, or guidance documents, for issues that had no SOPs or guidance when I arrived. After two years of constantly reinventing the wheel, I asked my boss if I could write some and, surprise, she was thrilled.

Also, from day one you shouldn't hesitate to integrate yourself into the language of your workplace. Use "we", not "you", as in "What year did we start working on this project"? I did this myself, but I still cringe a bit when new hires keep themselves distant this way. I think it says a lot, in contrast, when a new hire immediately associates with "us".

Congrats on the new digs!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:49 AM on December 16, 2015 [23 favorites]

Best answer: OMG +1 on saying "we." That goes such a long way, and it's the kind of thing everybody notices.

On the favours thing, I agree that asking for favours could risk you coming across as entitled or lazy. I was about to suggest you try asking people for advice instead, but then I thought about the gender angle, gah. So I dunno.

People do like giving advice, and they like people who value their input enough to ask for it. So it might be good to do it. (Like, "I am thinking about X and planning to do Y. You know the terrain really well: is there stuff here I'm missing" kind of thing.) But you would risk people assuming you are incompetent/junior/unsure/not-a-leader, etc., because you are female. So I dunno. I might do it with people who are clearly senior to you, if you can do it in a collegial confident fashion. It's not without risk though :/
posted by Susan PG at 12:03 PM on December 16, 2015

Best answer: In an office setting you should ask for an office layout. Then you should take that layout and add the names of the people in each spot, as you learn them. Post this in your cube, or wherever, and refer to it as you figure out who everyone is.

When the next new employee comes in you should pass along a copy of your layout as a welcome gift, and an expression of solidarity as the newbies.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:15 PM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It's a good idea to ask one or two people what they wish THEY had been told when they first started. You can get useful intel there.

We just hired a new person and I'm really pleased that after she talks to most people she immediately says, "Great, what was your name again?" It reinforces to all of us that she's new and helps us reframe our thinking.

A small but weird thing is to notice their coffee culture, stuff like everyone brings in Dunkin not Starbucks, everyone brings in travel mugs or thermoses, Keurig use, people do several coffee runs a day. Tune into that. Ditto water bottles.
posted by kinetic at 12:15 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

posted by oxisos at 12:22 PM on December 16, 2015

Best answer: People at my current job know more about my personal life than I'd rather because I am a recovering over-sharer. At my next job, I plan to share a little less and keep my home life more at home.
posted by JoannaC at 12:46 PM on December 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sure you know this, but you will be exhausted your first few weeks.

Do Future You a favor and freeze some meals and catch up on laundry/cleaning.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:59 PM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I started a new job in October. Here's what I wish I would have done before starting and a few things I did do:

- Add a few new pieces to your professional work wardrobe and/or made sure what you have is in good shape. I thought I was fine, but it became clear to me that my workhorse pieces had faded or pilled, or that I really should have taken those shoes to the cobbler to get new soles.

- Start new habits that you have been putting off. I really wanted to save money by bringing my lunch to work almost every day, and I wanted to always be on time for work. Still working on this. I did start putting out my clothes the night before and it has saved loads of time.

- On the previous point as above, I started eating breakfast. I'm no longer hangry by 10am and can focus better on my work.

- If you can take time off between jobs, do it.

- I wish I had taken more time to rest after work and on the weekends in my first few weeks because now I'm very busy and stressed. If you can afford it, indulge in creature comforts. For me, this is a very long, hot bubble bath, manicures, and ordering in from my favorite food place.

- My biggest indulgence was finally buying myself laundry service. I can't tell you how amazing it is. Actually, I can, but feel free to PM me if you really want to know.

At work:

- Make 'SMART' goals for your probation period and for your first year, even if your department doesn't require them.

- Protect your reputation as competent and reliable. I do this by doing what I say I'm going to do and sending out my work product when I say I'm going to send out. Not as easy as it sounds.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you are not an admin assistant person, make friends with the admin people immediately, because they can make your life either very easy or very difficult.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:18 PM on December 16, 2015 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with Susan PG on this: Take your time before forming close relationships. In every office there are a couple of bad apples and they will try to recruit you, because no-one else is on their side.

I have put this into practice by not going lunch with the first person who asks me. I have found that person is often a bad-apple or complainer. Groups are fine, but if it's just one person, I tend to say no at least until I get a sense of the place.
posted by Lescha at 1:24 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know if this is just a personal thing, but I always wish I'd stood up for myself from the very beginning, and that I'd trusted my instincts more about practices, people, rules. It's so easy to start agreeing to things, selling yourself short, or questioning yourself when you're in a new job and everything's new to you. I guess pay attention to your gut and be your own advocate, and don't do the "Yeah, of course I'll stay a million extra hours because of x y and z" like it feels (for me anyway) so easy to do in the beginning.
posted by moons in june at 1:38 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Take good notes, and more importantly, as soon as you can begin to transcribe your notes into well organized process documents. This will prevent you from asking the same questions over and over again because you don't understand the notes you took a week or a month ago. As you begin to actually use your process documents to work through a procedure, you can put a question mark any time a step seems to be missing or is unclear, and will have good questions for the person training you as you go forward.

I have trained a lot of people over the past couple of years and I can't tell you how many times someone has called me over to show me a problem and they pull out this dog-eared legal pad covered with a clusterfuck of random disjointed notes they took when I trained them way back when, which make absolutely no sense to them now. If you can transcribe your notes in some kind of linear fashion you will be much more likely to find them usable when you need them.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:18 PM on December 16, 2015

Best answer: So I don't know if this is common knowledge, but don't listen to employees that tell you you can take shortcuts or bend the rules and the boss doesn't care. I made the mistake of listening to them and then getting in trouble for things the boss let other people get away with. Not to mention, my work ability was questioned because I wasn't trained properly and instead only knew the "shortcuts." Never really recovered from that.
posted by Autumn at 4:39 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OMG +1 on saying "we." That goes such a long way, and it's the kind of thing everybody notices.

Anybody else reading this, this is some of the best advice in the thread! I said "we" and "our" almost exclusively when I was interviewing with them and I got the call that they wanted to hire me within an hour of leaving the office. It's such a great, subtle way to make them see you as a natural addition to the company.
posted by phunniemee at 4:43 PM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I have a small ritual I started at a previous job. At the end of the day, I'll spend 15-20 minutes wrapping up: jotting down what I worked on; looking at the calendar and updating my project/task list; roughing out 3-5 priorities to tackle the next day; and tidying up my desk a bit. On Fridays, I do the same but with an eye toward the week ahead. I'll also wipe down my desk/keyboard/mouse/phone, water the plant if needed, and file away any straggler docs or materials.

I sometimes struggle with worry or stress leaking over from my job into my home life, so keeping this appointment with myself helps me put the work away, so to speak, until the next day. There are days that get so nutty I don't get to it, and sometimes there's a project or problem that gnaws at me even if I do, but on the whole it helps calm some of that background anxiety that would otherwise follow me home.

And seconding Serene Empress Dork, re: taking notes and helping you help yourself by cleaning them up and making them useful as you go along. Your future self will thank you :)
posted by vespertine at 5:21 PM on December 16, 2015 [15 favorites]

Best answer: As a corollary to saying "we" - Do not say - "at my previous job I did it X way"

On the first day wear clothes that are not only appropriate for the work, but clothes you feel comfortable in, and that breathe.
posted by insomniax at 5:51 PM on December 16, 2015

Best answer: Everyone hates the new person who immediately thinks they own the place and knows the best way to do everything which isn't the way they're doing it. So, like the two minute rule in a conversation, watch first. Even if something is clearly stupid, you don't know that is a sore spot that will pretty much throw a hand grenade and make you some hard-core enemies.

At the same time, too timid can be annoying too. They hired you because you're the right person overall, not because you know everything already. Don't be afraid to ask a stupid question - you're not going to get fired. People would really rather tell you than have you guess wrong. Just hold off on criticizing the answer.

Nth to be wary of the immediately over-friendly. Before you get too close, see if they have any other friends.
posted by ctmf at 9:06 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: People care more about you being easy to get along with than whether or not you are good at your job. No kidding! Focus on being agreeable. Also, know that it will take 6 months or so for you to really figure your job out.
posted by xammerboy at 12:23 AM on December 17, 2015

Best answer: I am late but here is my list:
Be socially agreeable to everyone. Every workplace has cliques but I try to avoid them, at least during the first few months. Don't take sides in petty disputes and don't burn bridges. Some of my best friends are people from work who I originally didn't get on with.

Plan to go out to lunch. If a group is going for lunch, go with them. The phrase "Hey, is there anywhere around here to get lunch?" is a good ice breaker.

After work is your time, feel free to decline invitations for drinks/dinner unless you really click with a group.
Each workplace has their own ways of doing things, sometimes these won't make sense. Be adaptable.

Be extra nice to people who handle:
  1. your money,
  2. your paper work, and
  3. your food
Lastly, you got this job because you have the ability to do it and were liked better than the other applicants. Don't forget that if your first few weeks are rocky.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:01 AM on December 17, 2015

Best answer: Re: boundaries, it's more than just lunch. Everyone says go in early and leave late, but I think it's more subtle than that - you don't want to establish the expectation that you will always be the first in and the last to leave.

On your first day, get there a little (maybe 5-15 minutes) before the assigned start time. At the end of the day, after a reasonable number of people have left - but not everyone - pop your head into your boss' office and say something like "we good? OK to go now?" Do roughly this for the first few days or so, then stop asking your boss when it's time to go and just leave when it seems appropriate. Don't hang around burning the midnight oil for no good reason, and don't start playing the "I can only leave after my boss leaves" game.

Also, do not respond to emails outside of work hours unless you have a VERY good reason to do so for the first few months.

Basically, you want to be seen as someone who a) works hard, but b) has boundaries. After you've established that reputation you can start fudging things a bit - coming in late/leaving early on a day when you're tired or don't have much going on, answering emails after hours if you're working on an important project. But first, you need to establish the baseline expectations.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:22 AM on December 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: breakin' the law makes an important point, one that took me about 4 jobs to learn -- setting work-life boundaries. Two jobs ago, I made the mistake of trying to make a good impression off the bat by being available all the time -- nights, weekends, etc. -- to show how committed I was. That morphed into me being "the guy who likes to work all the time," when in fact it was the opposite of what I am, and it made me miserable.

With my past two (including current) jobs, I've made clear that I am a team player who will work late if necessary and am available after hours if there is an urgent matter, but I give people my phone number (even though I have a work-issued mobile device). I tell them I have a busy after-work life but they should not hesitate to call should they need me for something urgent. I've found very few people ever take me up on this -- there's some weird boundary issue about calling that people don't have with e-mailing -- but it still gives the impression that I'm not completely off the grid at 5:30 every night and seems to strike a happy medium. This approach quite clearly depends on your profession.

Also, if possible offer take work off your colleagues' shoulders when they are overloaded and you have extra capacity. You'll make quick friends and the gesture will be reciprocated eventually by 90% of normal people at a time when you really need it. The other 10% are assholes, and you can't do much about them.
posted by GorgeousPorridge at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2015

Best answer: Rather than ask for favors, wait till they are offered and let the helpful people help you- it does help foster a good relationship. Quietly study the culture and learn the pitfalls, and beware staying late or putting up w/ crap you won't want to do long term.
If you do bring food, mini- sized are best as many will go for a tiny snack but not a full sized portion. And if you're a woman, maybe don't!
posted by TenaciousB at 1:37 PM on December 17, 2015

Best answer: I just learned this yesterday. I started teaching at a new school 2 months ago and one thing I had noticed was that the team of teachers I work with are incredibly positive and not complainers at all. This is awesome.

But yesterday, I had a potentially crazy-making email exchange with our school psychologist where she misinterpreted an initial email and then went on a nutty cc-ing spree where she tried to throw me under a very large bus to the admins.

So I showed the email to a nice teacher I work with and asked for advice, and it was like the gates of hell broke open. All my positive and awesome co-workers had long stories of run ins with this crazy person and the atmosphere in the room shifted as everyone was venting.

I had never heard everyone vent before, so it was jarring. Had I known everyone was holding onto that much anger, I might not have said anything; I'm still not sure if it was a good thing or not.

In any case, be careful about venting. It can be bonding but can also unleash a lot of ugliness.
posted by kinetic at 2:48 AM on December 18, 2015

Response by poster: Thought I'd update this to say that things are going well and everyone loves me. Yay.
posted by phunniemee at 6:43 AM on February 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

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