How To Navigate A New Job

Illustration for article titled How To Navigate A New Job

Starting a new job can be like the first day of school all over again, only scarier because you're a grownup and you have to worry about getting fired. Luckily, we have some tips for settling in.


It's hard enough to find a job these days, and once you do, you want to make a good first impression. But just like on the playground, this isn't always simple. In addition to getting all your stuff done on time, you want to fit in, earn the boss's respect, and maybe even enjoy yourself. Here's how to make that happen:

Say yes.

I talked to Hannah Seligson, journalist and author of New Girl On the Job: Advice from the Trenches, who says that in a new position,

The number one thing is to be the "no-problem" kind of person — someone asks you to do something and you say "no problem," and you figure out how to not make it a problem. Sort of demonstrate that you're someone who doesn't need a lot of hand-holding.

This isn't a revolutionary idea, but it's worth reiterating — being willing to take on new tasks will signal not just that you're useful, but that you're confident. And having the attitude that you can and will figure out how to do things will make you more confident too.

But ask questions.

Obviously, you're not going to know how to do everything at the beginning. This is normal. And while you should make an effort to figure things out on your own before asking for help — this will be just as good for your actual skills as it is for your image — you don't have to act like you're completely alone. Seligson says you can feel okay about asking for help with something once you can show "that you've taken the steps to figure it out on your own." And Thuy Sindell, co-author of Sink or Swim!: New Job. New Boss. 12 Weeks to Get It Right, says,


Ask a lot of questions, and ask good questions. Ask questions that are followups to the question you posed. That demonstrates a level of interest and curiosity, as well as your ability to follow a logic and a line of thinking. People like being able to impart their wisdom on others, so when you ask questions you're engaging the other person, and they're feeling better about themselves.


Sindell points out that there's a difference between good questions and pestering ones. Some examples of smart things to ask:

How long have you been with this company? How have you been enjoying your role? What kind of projects are you working on? Are you finding them interesting? What are some things you've learned from the projects? What are some things I should avoid in terms of pitfalls?


It's also important to ask how you'll be evaluated. Says Sindell,

Go in being able to ask good questions about how success is going to be measured for you. [...] Success may be measured based on the quality of the product, the timing of the product. It may be measured on exceeding expectations with respect to innovation on the project. Those are the things you really should be looking for.


Figure out your workplace culture.

Sussing out all the norms and customs of your new workplace is an important part of fitting it, but it can be tough to know how to do it. Seligson recommends, "doing some recon beforehand, talking to people who've worked there. Is it the kind of place where people go out for drinks after work, or is that not part of the culture? Is it the kind of culture where it's really looked down on to collaborate with other people?" She cautions that "a lot of it you kind of have to learn by doing," but says that if you have a close relationship with any of your company's former employees, they can be good sources of information.


Sindell notes that something as simple as looking at your company's website can get you started learning about its culture. She also says it's important to figure out factors like "leadership vision" ("where the company is headed" and how quickly it's getting there) and "management practices" (things like how much feedback managers usually give and whether people get to meetings on time). She also notes that you can tell a lot about a company by its physical space and amenities:

At one company that I consult to, there's an open area on every floor where there's tons of snacks. There's healthy snacks, there's junk, there's water, there's Red Bull, and there's everything in between. So clearly the message that they're sending is, "we're trying to cater to a wide range of needs. We do care about your health, but we also know that it's important to have fun and eat some junk every now and then."


Obviously not every company has an awesome snack area, but you can still tell a lot about a workplace by things like perks (or lack thereof).

Be friendly, but not overly casual.

Says Seligson, "you want to show that you can pass the airport test — the test that you could be stranded with someone in an airport for twelve hours and still like them — [...] but also not be super-chummy BFFs." She recommends "professional camaraderie that doesn't step over the line," and adds that especially if you're young, "there is something to be said for being slightly deferential to older coworkers." She also points out that if this is your first job ever, you may need to spend some time "figuring out your workplace persona. It really is a whole new persona, because you have to be yourself, you have to be on, you have to be friendly, but you can't be the way you were in college. [...] If you're really shy, maybe you have to step it up. If you're very rah-rah, and you were a cheerleader, maybe you have to tone it down." This applies to some extent to anybody switching jobs — your work self is never going to be exactly the same as it was at your old job, and you'll probably have to make a few adjustments as you go.


If you make a mistake, own up to it.

Everybody screws up a little in their early days on the job, and it's not the end of the world. However, you shouldn't try to sweep your mistakes under the rug. Alexandra Levit, author of New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career, says, "Just own up to the mistake. Tell your boss first so she doesn't find out from someone else. Assure her that you are taking responsibility, have learned from the incident, and don't plan to let it happen again." Seligson concurs:

Acknowledge the mistake. If it's possible, talk about ways that you'll prevent it from happening again. If that's not possible, just say "I'm sorry, I will do my best not to have that happen again." And then don't dwell on it — move on. The reassuring thing is that I think most bosses and employers understand that the beginning of the job [...] is on a learning curve.


If your mistake is severe — an accidental reply-all making fun of a coworker, for instance — Seligson recommends "an in-person mea culpa." And you may want to look at our tips on apologizing.


Know that you won't get everything right away.

You can find out some things about a new job before you even start, but for a lot of stuff, you kind of have to watch and learn — and that process takes time. Doing a good job doesn't necessarily mean understanding every workplace custom and expectation right off the bat. As Levit says, you may need to "take the time to quietly observe how things are done in the company and mold your behavior accordingly, rather than trying to make your mark right away." And just like in many social situations, you'll probably do better the more you can relax. It's just a job, after all. If you survived the first day of eighth grade, you've probably seen worse.


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For all Social Minefield columns, go here.

New Girl On The Job: Advice From The Trenches
Sink Or Swim!: New Job. New Boss. 12 Weeks To Get It Right.
New Job, New You: A Guide To Reinventing Yourself In A Bright New Career


Image via Oleg Golovnev/



Any receptionists in the building? I just got a job offer from a gov't contractor, and will be starting on the 7th.

Anyone have any advice on do's and don'ts for this job?