Everyone knows first impressions are important, but it’s less obvious that the “first impression” for a new job can take 60, 90, or even 180 days to make.
Why? In large companies, it can take that long just to meet all of the important business partners and customers with whom you will be working. Every initial exchange, meeting, or discussion contributes to the first impression people have of you. In smaller companies, where meeting everyone takes less time, new hires tend to feel more watched and evaluated. The term “under the microscope” becomes their mantra.
During the first 90 days of your new position, you’re establishing credibility so that you can actually do your job. Here’s how smart people use that time:
1. They View Starting a New Job as an Exercise in Personal Branding
Make no mistake, you will be judged based on how you show up at work. Your work is your brand—as is your general demeanor, reliability in showing up for meetings or completing projects on time, and the way you dress.
Even more important, but more subtle, is how appropriately you open up to your new co-workers. Do you undershare, omitting valuable feedback because you’re uncomfortable saying anything that isn’t complimentary? Do you overshare as a way to try and build connections? All of these things combine to make up how you’re perceived by your new colleagues.
Smart people work to be known as a person who is interesting and easy to talk to, but who can also buckle down and get to work.
2. They Chill Out
News flash: You got the job! Studies have proven that anxiety is contagious. Starting a new job is exciting for you, but it’s just another day at the office for everyone else. Be calm and strive to match the energy and pace of the office environment, even if it’s different than yours. Once you are known, you can go at your own pace, but until then, don’t be the hyper-anxious person everyone intuitively wants to avoid.
Smart people take a deep breath when they’re feeling overwhelmed and make a composed, can-do impression at their new job.
3. They Use the 70/30 Rule
Are you familiar with the 70/30 rule? It suggests that 70% of the time you ask questions and inquire about how things work. Then, the other 30% of the time, share background on yourself so people get to know you and how you think. If you monopolize the conversation by talking about yourself too much, people may mistake it for arrogance, or alternatively for trying too hard.
Smart people learn to ask incisive (but not invasive) questions about the organization. That way your interviews and discussions with people will have value for them as well as for you.
4. They Do Their Homework
By the time they show up on day one, people who want to hit the ground running have already done the preliminary research to understand the bigger context of what their new organization does, why, and how prior events informed the current practices. In between being hired and starting a new job, they find someone at the organization—often a hiring manager or a peer who reports to the same person—to exchange a few emails with to get up to speed.
By doing their homework ahead of time, smart people are able to engage their co-workers in conversations that are deeper and more valuable than just “catching up.”
5. They Pay Attention to Company Culture
What are the assumptions and beliefs that drive people’s behaviors and actions? Collectively, these define the culture of the organization. You can neither buck nor support it until you get it. For those who are immersed in it, culture becomes innate, and because of this, some of the people who epitomize it (the fish in the proverbial water) can’t tell you about it.
Smart people learn about the environment not by what people say they are going to do, or what they say they value, but by watching what people actually do. How are customers treated? How does the company engage the hearts and minds of the employees? Are policies implemented and enforced consistently, and if not—why not?
Starting a new job is a high-stakes transition. You will never be more ignorant about how to fit in than when you start; but on the other hand, you will be making lasting first impressions from the very beginning. Do what smart people do and find the balance. Be yourself, but be “on.” Relax, but listen and ask great questions. Finally, understand the big picture and tap into the culture.
Written by Jim Morris for The Muse