How to succeed in a new job

You know the jitters of starting a new job. You feel a combination of excitement, nervousness, and stress in your stomach. It’s a rush of unknown possibilities: a new boss, a new company, a new role. There are so many unknowns but also so many possibilities for success.

You might be leaving a job you liked for greener pastures. Or you might be leaving a job you hated for something that you’ll enjoy more. You could be starting your first job out of school and hoping to build an extraordinary career.

No matter what situation you fall into, there are a few keys to succeeding at a new job.

One of your first priorities after starting a new job should be to learn the way your new team communicates.

Presumably, your company’s orientation talked about some of how the company communicates, but there will be certain idiosyncrasies for your team. Do they talk face-to-face? Do they prefer to talk over email? Do they have meetings to make every decision or does the boss delegate each decision or does each team member have the autonomy to decide? Take some time to observe how your team makes decisions, talks about projects, asks for help from each other, and how much they talk about non-work topics with each other.

One way to learn how the team communicates is to read emails more closely than usual. Take a look if the emails are more informational or if they are open ended questions for discussion. Also take note of which people are working on which types of projects. Sally talks a lot about the Acme account. Maybe she’s the point person for that account? Take note of it.

Then at your next one-on-one meeting with your boss, you can ask about the breakdown of projects. You can say something like:

I’ve noticed that there are 2 major projects going on now: the Acme account and the XYZ report. How is the work split between the team?

By keying into how the team communicates and how the work is split up, you can hit the ground running faster.

Another goal is to learn who the key decision makers are.

You’ll also want to understand the decision making hierarchy in the company. It might seem like your boss is the decision maker over your decision and her boss is her decision maker and so on up to the CEO, but that’s not always the case.

Some managers are very hands on and want to be involved with every decision. Others are more hands off and let their direct reports do most of the decision making. You’ll want to learn how much autonomy your boss gives your team and which decisions need approval from above. You’ll also want to learn the same dynamic for your boss and her boss. When does a decision need to go two level up?

Likewise, you’ll want to learn who makes which decisions. Who decides who gets hired and fired? Is it your boss, or your boss’s boss? How are promotions and raises determined? It might be your boss’s boss or maybe HR needs to get involved. Who decides company strategy and who is the person you talk to regularly who meets with those decision makers?

Learning all of these answers takes time. You might only learn who decides promotions after two or three years of seeing people move in, out, and around the organization, but if you keep you’re eyes open, you’ll learn it over time.

I previously wrote about how to learn what’s important to your company. It’s also important to learn what’s important to the other decision makers in your company, most likely your boss and your boss’s boss.

Learning this information will help you prioritize your work. If you know that your department is focusing on a new strategic area, you should work on those projects before other tasks. You’ll know which projects will benefit your company the most and help your department reaches its goals.

Finally, focus on getting quick wins and building momentum with your projects.

One of the ways to get your confidence at a new job is to get quick wins. That is taking on small and simple projects to get some momentum. Even though these won’t be difficult projects, you will show yourself that you can get work done, you will show your coworkers that you can get work done, and you will show that you are a team player who is earning your paycheck.

As you go on, you will get involved with larger and more difficulty projects. Over time they might become more strategic in nature where you also get to talk to people in other departments and other companies, but for now try to get simple projects completed to prove that you are a good worker.

Do everything that is asked of you especially since this is the only time when you won’t be overloaded with work. After you’ve worked at a company for two years, you’ll easily have a full schedule everyday, but when you get started you have more time to explore different areas of work. Take on projects in different areas of your department. As you continue, you will find a niche you can specialize in and be the lead person in that area.

Also, start slow and build momentum when you propose new ideas. You’ll want to make sure you understand the full situation before giving suggestions on new projects or new ways of conducting business. You don’t want to bring up a bold suggestion in a large meeting only to have your boss’s boss shut it down quickly because it’s infeasible. Perhaps the business already tried what you wanted to propose with disastrous results a year ago. You don’t want to bring up bad memory by suggesting it again.

Bring up the suggestion to one person during a casual conversation and get her feedback before you speak to the higher ups. She’ll be able to give you a warning if it’s something that didn’t work out before, and if she thinks it’s a good idea then share the idea with your team. As you learn the company dynamics and history, you can speak up in larger groups without running your ideas by other people first. Understand the full situation before proposing new ideas.

Starting a new job is stressful enough as it is. Take some time to prioritize learning how your team works, finding out who the decision makers are, and getting some small projects done before moving on to bigger tasks. After you learn this information and get your work done, you’ll be on your way to a successful career in your new role.

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