I want to be the "great addition to the team" they think they're getting.
March 27, 2008 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Generally speaking, what can I do in the first day/week/month of a new job to make sure I get off on the right foot? Specifically speaking, how can I present myself as a smart interesting capable professional, and not a shy nervous slacker?

I’ll be starting a new job in a few weeks. (I’d prefer not to give the details of what I’ll be doing – suffice it to say it’s a full time job in an office.) I’m excited, certainly, but I’m also a little nervous. I know how exciting shiny new jobs can sometimes turn into dull boring crappy jobs, and I want to avoid that if it’s possible. I know I can’t control whether the coffee sucks or my new boss is mean, but if there’s anything I can do that will help make a good impression – without coming across as a brownnoser - I’d like to hear it.

There are a couple things that I will probably have to overcome from the start. For starters, I’m shy and tend not to chat with coworkers particularly often. At some of my past jobs, I’ve thought, “well, I’ll make friends here eventually” and it never really happened. (My performance review at the job I’m leaving had two separate reviewers explicitly mention that I needed to socialize more.) I don’t want or need to go out drinking with work buddies every night, but on the other hand I want to appear approachable and likeable.

Additionally, given the choice, I tend to slack. Over the years I’ve gotten better about getting everything done, but I’m still as likely to be checking my personal email or drawing cartoons on my notepad as actually doing my work. I know it’s a good idea to ask for additional work if I don’t have anything on my plate, but when I have downtime the very last thing I want to do is reorganize all my file folders. This habit tends to get worse if I am bored/dissatisfied with work. It’s easier for me to control the slacking habit from the beginning than to try and reverse it when it’s in full swing, but regardless, procrastination usually wins in the end, so I’d like to head it off at the pass.

Finally – and this is probably my biggest hurdle – I am pretty scared that I’m going to blow this somehow. I’m worried I’m going to get there and be outed as a dum-dum, or that I’ll be too far behind the learning curve to be useful. My future bosses obviously think I’m smart and capable enough, but I’m having a hard time believing it myself.

I suppose that I need to convince myself I’m a fantastic addition to the company as much as or more than I need to convince my new coworkers. I’d greatly appreciate input on how to do both. I want this experience to be awesome and I want to be awesome at what I do.
posted by Metroid Baby to Work & Money (16 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Well, they hired you. So the default assumption is that you will be a worthwhile addition to the company. So don't stress about that just yet. The only advice I can give is the obvious: 1) show up on time (or a little early), 2) dress well (but not too well), 3) be well groomed, 4) be alert and eager to work (coffee in hand, if you like), and 5) ask for something to work on.

Since you're shy, make it a point to spend some time meeting your new colleagues. Ask them where they went to school, how long they've been working for the company, etc. Just break the ice. You might want to bring some reference material from whatever field you're in so read/review during your downtime. You'll likely have some training that you'll be expected to attend. And you'll have to get familiar with the various information systems in use at the new gig.

If you don't have some sort of personal productivity management strategy in place (you know, GTD or that kind of thing), this might be a great time to start with one, as you have a clean slate and can capture every project and task.
posted by wheat at 12:15 PM on March 27, 2008

1. bring donuts or muffins for everyone sometime during your first week
2. once you've finished your work, first ask your supervisor if there are any more duties you could take on. If not, ask if you can help any of your coworkers who may be overburdened. This makes you look like a go-getter and also takes care of the socializing thing. Whenever possible, help your coworkers out. It will make you seem more friendly, and help you to get to know people.
3. if the opportunity arises, go out to lunch with groups from the office. There's less pressure for conversation the more of you there are, but you get points for being social just for going along.
4. don't slack at all for at least the first few months. Limit internet playing/doodling to break times and lunches. Get a feel for what's ok - some offices are ok with people occasionally surfing or chatting online, some aren't. This will also help you develop a good, solid work routine. Take breaks in the breakroom, if that's where people congregate, and don't bury your nose in a book.
5. don't worry that they'll think you're a dum-dum. Just focus and learn and do your best.
posted by Koko at 12:20 PM on March 27, 2008

Do not check your personal email the whole first week. Just don't do it. You'll probably have lots of down-time for a couple of weeks, but don't give yourself this option. Take wheat's suggestion and bring some kind of work-related reading material or find some around the office - ask to see the old reports, newsletters, etc. Also, if you see that one of your co-workers seems especially busy, offer to help out with some small task that doesn't need a lot of background knowledge.
posted by jrichards at 12:24 PM on March 27, 2008

Seek out the grunt work that has to be done, but no one likes to do, and volunteer to do it. Plow through it, paying attention to detail. Start building your reputation as the guy or gal who gets things done without complaining, and you'll 1) learn about the processes your new office functions by and 2) gain confidence in your ability to follow those processes. Good luck!
posted by hedgehog at 12:28 PM on March 27, 2008

My greatest success in the workplace has always been when I (a) asked what sided/experimental project the management would like to see done, but doesn't have the time to asign, and (b) thinking of what sided project that I would like to see done, do them, and then propose them to my boss. If they seem interested, you bring them your work in one or two days (before they've forgotten about it) and really blow thir sock off.

I did this when I worked at the "Outdoor Excursions" at my university. I we did all types of wilderness trips, but I thought a fly fishing trip would be fun. I called Sacramento and asked them all of the legal requirements needed to authorize such a trip and then I research key fly fishing spots in the area. After doing all of this, I asked my bosses what they thought of something like that. They sounded vaguely interested, so I brought them all of my work that same week. they were very excited, and took it under advisement. Other employees heard what I'd done and started looking at me more as a leader that a follwer, even though I held no power and never gave orders, but they definitely became more chummy. The project never went through (liability reasons and lack of interest among students) but my bosses started coming to me with theirideas, and that summer I was offered the job of equipment manager and trip leader, even though I had not been working there the longest.

Be creative and find something YOU like. That way you won't feel so "slackery" when it comes to being ambitious.
posted by lukeklein at 12:31 PM on March 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

Your fear that you're going to blow it and that you'll be outed as a dum-dum is what's known as Imposter Syndrome. A lot of people feel it; I sure do. I can't offer help on how to combat this feeling, but just knowing about makes me feel better.
posted by zsazsa at 1:06 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oops. I'm the dum-dum that can't spell impostor correctly.
posted by zsazsa at 1:07 PM on March 27, 2008

Yeah, what zsazsa said. You're not a dum-dum; you're "coming up to speed".
posted by Doohickie at 2:12 PM on March 27, 2008

try not to browse non-work related sites on the internet for a while
posted by bitteroldman at 2:23 PM on March 27, 2008

Remember that it's OK to tell people you're a bit shy.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:35 PM on March 27, 2008

Don't bluff, pretending that you understand systems-policies-ideas-instructions that you really do not. Just don't do it, or you'll be digging a hole for later.

This might sound simple, but I've seen it happen so often... new hires bluff or nod or agree to everything, too afraid to admit they don't understand... then after awhile the later, additional knowledge piled on top overwhelms them, since they never even got the foundations. It always leads to a frustrated worker and a disappointed manager.

Even though it is harder to do, people will me more impressed if you ask questions, LOTS of questions, even ones that you may fear are "duh"-type ones, to MAKE VERY SURE you understand how things work in the new place. It shows you're careful, not stupid.
posted by rokusan at 2:46 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

i will offer this: keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. don't try too hard to get to know people, just be polite and as helpful as possible with the least amount of ass-kissing. do this for at least 1-3 months. once you get the lay of the land, then you will naturally feel more at ease to speak up on issues, you will naturally bond with certain people, etc. but for your first three months, you don't know who is aligned with or against who, you don't know any of the politics behind any of the people there. so just keep quiet.

welcome to the world of the 9-5. and congrats on the new job.
posted by nomad73 at 2:48 PM on March 27, 2008

This ties in with rouskan's point, but be sure to ask a lot of "how" and "why" questions instead of just muddling through things. If you think you know how to do something you're being asked to do, make sure you run how you plan to do it by the person who knows what you should be doing. It keeps you from muddling through things when there is a faster or more preferred way of getting something done.
posted by craven_morhead at 5:14 PM on March 27, 2008

First, congrat on the new job.

I'm answering this because I have also had jobs where I did not socialize and I am also a very shy person. Plus, I also recently started a new job and went through the same thing.

For the shyness/getting to know other people, I would suggest the following:
--Inviting other new people to go out to lunch with you. (Seriously, it is not as intimidating asking other new people who have not yet formed friends).
--Pay attention to who the 'expert' or who is the best person who does task X is at your job. At my new job, if I have a style question on something that I write, I go ask the editor. If I am assinged to work on project X and told that Jo Shmo makes the best project X products in the universe, I look at the samples made by Jo and ask Jo, one-on-one, for more insight. Anyway, you learn the job from the best people, and interacting one-on-one is just not as...uncomfortable.

Similar to you, I get bored very easily. I would start your job by paying attention to the other projects and asking yourself questions: What are the other projects? Are there any skills that you want to learn? What do you really want to do in 6 months or 1 year from now? Don't worry about your job title, think about what you want to do and learn. If you see a project that involves that skill set, go ask your supervisor -- can you work on it? Or propose a new project with that skill set.

If you are given the project, try to complete it as well as possible.. Again, find any team 'experts'. Look at samples of completed projects that people liked. Listen very carefully to the feedback. The great thing is that if you complete tasks like that (ones that you identified), you may have samples or get a reputation for completing task Y well. You may be able to move yourself into a job position that you are interested in at a later point.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 8:07 PM on March 27, 2008

This is the opposite of the "ask a lot of questions" advice. Certainly, ask any questions you need to ask. But go in with the assumption that the office has a lot of fairly obvious and logical systems in place, including organized files and defined roles.

I was recently quite impressed when someone new made a powerpoint presentation her second week of work. It even fit with how we always talk. Her secret? She'd gone to Work Server\Powerpoint Presentations\ found something recent and copied it! (making the necessary changes.) Brilliant! In another piece of office lore, her first day, she wrote a letter on our letterhead! Wow! Turns out it was right there in Work Server\Staff Resources\Letterhead and Logos. Also, she figured out how to print things out without asking anyone, though it turned out, she'd asked ...the computer guy! Genius!

In contrast to her smarts, I was keeping copies of every invoice I signed, never dreaming that another copy was kept 15 feet from my office. The accountants keep copies of invoices?? Who could have guessed? (Not me!)

Nothing she did was rocket science, but she managed to impress us by using a tiny bit of common sense and the assumption that "there's probably a system here, let's see if I can find it." It made me view her as a professional colleague as opposed to a trainee. Funny, this carried over even when she had plenty of n00b questions on things for which I was the right person to ask.

Anyway, long answer. Good luck. Count yourself pretty much on track if you know what's going on after three months and are making some sort of contribution after six.
posted by salvia at 9:13 PM on March 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

One more suggestion. For your procrastination, it will really help if you work with your supervisor to set up a great system for establishing weekly goals and checking in about your weekly progress. "Boss, I know there's a lot of things to do here, and I want to make sure I'm working on the most important things and spending my time efficiently." Then find a way to have a dialogue about what those things are and how long they are likely to actually take.

Getting a system that works, and is not incredibly annoying, and doesn't have 80% error will take some experimentation, but don't give up. A list of tasks? A schedule? An overall time allocation where you say how much time you want to spend on each project and what you should be getting done, and then keep track of how close your estimates fit (6 hours project A, 3 hours project B, etc)?

Then, check in about whether you did these things. If you didn't, was it because tasks took longer than expected, or what? Try to use this system to learn. Make it like a game to have your performance match the plan as closely as possible. You'll probably always procrastinate, but eventually, if the plan says, "Tuesday morning: read report," you'll only procrastinate on that until the end of Tuesday morning, and overall, you'll make more progress.

This all probably sounds super lame. But what's really lame is feeling guilty for not working enough, or feeling stressed for accepting too much work, or getting a panic attack about being fired because you've procrastinated something huge until the last minute, or spending a lot longer on things than someone wanted you to just because you never said, "hey, how much time do you think I should give to this task?" It'll take a bit of time up front to get this going, but it's your boss's job to help you manage your time, so use their help to develop better work habits.

The real power of this tool will become obvious when you have to show your boss why you really can't do the massive thing they just suggested, or how doing the annoying thing they want you to do means this other really essential work won't get done.

Okay, sorry for writing a second novel.
posted by salvia at 9:39 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

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