I’ve started a few new jobs in my life. When I was younger, starting a new job at a defense contractor or two didn’t feel like a big deal. Overwhelming at times? Sure. But figuring out how to live in the real world was also overwhelming, so new jobs were just par for the course. But in my 30s, I tried my hand at educating my kids and freelance writing. Then I pivoted to full time teaching. And when I turned 40, I started over again with a new job as editor at ClearanceJobs. I loved my job and my coworkers, but I was often frustrated that some things were still challenging. Everyone says you have to be at a job for at least a year before you start to feel settled in – no matter how awesome you are. Turns out that was just about right.
7 Tips for the New Employee
I lost count of all the times where I was frustrated with myself for not knowing something that I knew that I knew. Or not choosing a method to solve a problem like I had at other points in my life. So many ideals, expectations, and motives, and so many places to put them all at once. Honestly, I cannot even imagine the stress level on political appointees. But that’s another discussion for another day. So, here are a few tips as you start this new chapter.
1. Forget about the first year and cut yourself a LOT of slack the first month.
There’s a good chance that for the first two to four weeks, you will struggle to feel like you’re contributing at all. Maybe everyone in the room knows all the acronyms and you don’t. Even if you’ve worked in the DoD for a while, there’s always an acronym or two that you have yet to run across. And of course, every company also has their pet terms. Coming to a meeting can be an exercise to just track everything being said, let alone contribute anything meaningful. You might come back to the next meeting with a plan, but find that the issue is old news. It won’t always be this way.
2. Have your elevator introduction ready all the time.
You never know when you’ll be asked to speak or introduce yourself. Don’t be like me: deer in the headlight over Teams with almost nothing running through your brain while you open up your mouth to say something legible. Know that it’s a fine line between self deprecating and coming across like you have no idea what is going on or what you’re supposed to be doing. If you’re headed to a meeting, be sure you settle on your pitch before you get asked for an introduction. It’s a quick intro on your work history, maybe one anecdote about yourself, and then what you’ve been hired to do. Any questions or uncertainty about your role should be covered 1-1 with your boss – not the entire team. It’s not group therapy for you.
3. Ask a lot of questions.
This is harder for me. I knew my window of time was short for asking the seemingly dumb question in the room, but I also like to listen for a long time before asking questions. And in a Teams or Zoom environment, we all know how challenging it is on the audio to ask questions popcorn style like you would in a face-to-face environment. The remote environment can lead to less questions, but write them down. Follow up with emails to coworkers if you need to because you have a window of time to ask many questions without someone raising an eyebrow at you. Don’t waste that window, and do your best to really seek to understand the full picture.
4. Listen to what is being said.
Some of your listening comes when you’re asking questions, but the rest of the time is spent with your ear tuned in at every meeting. This is exhausting work, to be honest. When you don’t know all the details or the history, it’s challenging to track all the different conversations throughout the day. But keep listening. People want to be heard, and no one appreciates the new employee who comes in making changes without first listening to team members.
5. Share your ideas – even if they may have already been tried before.
The value of being new on the team is that you have a new perspective. You are needed – even if you are new. So, find a channel to share ideas. But even though you’re still trying to figure out your job, your client, and your team, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask why something is or isn’t being done. Or ask if they’ve tried an alternate method. The world needs problem solvers and employees who are willing to share ideas. Maybe they already tried your idea, but you don’t know until you mention it.
6. Build relationships.
If you’re onsite, that may mean bringing some donuts one day. Or, maybe it means being quick to grab coffee with a coworker. If someone gives you an open invitation to meet, take them up on it. Part of the learning process is paying attention to the personalities on your team. In order to get your work done, it means working with people, and the best way to do that is to really get to know them. Maybe someone seems a little short with you, but a quick conversation with them may show you that they have personal stressors going on outside of work. You’re not the reason for their irritation. But you won’t know that if you don’t invest in people.
7. Be genuine.
Sooner or later, your true colors will come out. So, you might as well come out of the gate firing as you are. It’s a waste of everyone’s time for you to be fake, so roll up your sleeves, be yourself, and get to work.
When Does the Newness Wear off?
The beauty of getting a new job is that it ushers in a new season and different opportunities. You just don’t know what options are out there yet. And if you’re a service member about to make the transition outside the military, it may seem even more daunting. But know that at some point in your first year on the new job, life will start to settle down. That doesn’t mean you won’t lay awake at night wondering if you made the right decision or thinking about what you could have done differently. Most workplaces aren’t typically toxic. So give yourself time to figure out your role on the team and your place in the company.