The first day at any new job is rough. It doesn't matter if it is your first job or you are fifteen years into your career. It is always awkward to find yourself in a new place, with new colleagues and a new office culture to navigate. No matter how well you know your stuff, it can feel scary.
A higher ed colleague recently posted a question on LinkedIn that got me thinking. He wrote...
"Two new staff members started in our office today. What's your best advice for them to be successful?"
The post elicited a great response from his network. And it caused me to think about my own experiences. Since it's the beginning of a new school year, with lots of professionals (and student employees) starting their study abroad careers, here are my tips for how to start off on the right foot:
How rock it
Ask questions - From little things like refrigerator protocol to bigger things, like institutional philosophy, don't be afraid to ask someone who works there. Your coworkers and supervisor are resources. Don't be shy.
Observe - Don't underestimate the importance of "learning through osmosis". Every office has its own subculture. There is really only one way to learn how to fit in-- observation. Are people very social in their work style? Do they keep to themselves? Do certain colleagues have more institutional knowledge? What work habits are valued in the organization? What gets rewarded (or reprimanded)?
Refrain from judgement - Not to make you nervous, but everyone will be watching you closely to get a feel for how you fit into the team. Think positive when it comes to your new role. It is normal to notice differences. But just like the culture shock stage in study abroad, keep an open mind and refrain from making negative statements about these differences.
Get to know people- Both inside your immediate office, and within the larger organization, start to make note of people from whom you might learn. Over time, try to schedule lunch or coffee to expand your network.
How to wreck it
Suggest changes too soon- Day one (or week one -- maybe even month one) is not the time to start suggesting changes. This is especially true if you are constantly referring to what you did at your previous institution. What you currently see as an inefficiency might be viewed differently once you know the lay of the land. Make note of these opportunities and bring them up when the time is right.
Hyper-focus on problems- No organization is perfect. There are always things to improve. Just because things need attention doesn't mean no one sees the problem. Funding limitations, staffing limitations, and institutional politics might complicate progress. When you point out what is wrong too soon, it can come across as a judgement on the work-product of your coworkers. Give it some time and tread carefully.
Launch projects without consultation- While everyone loves a self-starter, you were hired for a specific job. You will have certain tasks to accomplish as a part of a team. Those tasks will have an order of precedence. Don't ignore them in favor of creating your own projects. When you start a new job it can seem slow. People might be taking it easy on you and holding back on assigning important projects until you settle in. If you have an idea, great. But ask your supervisor first to ensure you really have the extra time to devote to a new initiative.
These are just a few tips from my own work experiences. You may or may not agree. It can be a precarious balance between making an early contribution and making sure you understand the organizational culture.
I like to think of the first day at a new job like being in a new country for the first time. Take it slow. Learn as much as you can. And be patient with yourself. Before long it will feel like home.
It's back to school time. College students are flooding onto campuses across the country. My inbox is once again filled with eager messages from freshly-returned sophomores and juniors who want to squeeze in a study abroad meeting with me before classes begin. International student orientation is underway. Things are bustling everywhere. I can hear the marching band practice through my office window. RAs are gearing up for move-in weekend.
Outside the student center a digital sign is programmed with a special welcome for the incoming freshman class. It reads...
"Welcome Class of 2019!"
Excuse me?!? How on earth is this the class of 2019? That's impossible. You really mean I'm 19 years older than my students. Not buying it... I'm closer in age to the parents than the students? There must be a mistake. I was the one moving a futon up an apartment staircase just a few years back. (Question: Do students still buy futons?)
One of the things about working on a college campus is that you get caught in a strange time warp. Even though you are growing older and moving on with life's milestones, your students remain the same age. You realize your perception of yourself can be very different from the reality. Working on a college campus highlights how far removed we have become from the current generation. You might be familiar with this concept from reading the Beloit College Mindset List in past years.
Let me share a few examples of what I mean:
* My advice on cell phones abroad, writing checks, or Facebook (which apparently students don't use for socializing anymore) is laughably out of date
* I make references to TV shows or musicians and get blank stares
* A student in my office has never seen a typewriter and gets excited to hear one
* A student comments on a black leather finger-less glove and denim vest by calling it "So 90's" and I have to refrain from correcting his inaccurate recollection of fashion history
* I find myself thinking, "What is wrong with kids these days?" or "When I was that age..." then die a little inside when I realize I sound old and bitter.
Recognizing that I might have traded in some of my youthful enthusiasm for a heightened awareness of risk management, I appreciate the role of our peer advising team. We employ 2-3 study abroad alumni as "peer advisors". They handle the exploratory advising and outreach presentations. Our peer advisors do a great job and help their peers see the experience as attainable. It's easy to forget how scary and overwhelming it can be at the beginning. Students like speaking with someone their own age.
While I do feel prematurely "old" at times, I have to admit there is something energizing about working with college students. During this time in their life they are experiencing unprecedented freedom. They are forging what will likely be lifelong friendships. They grow and change so much in these 4 years. I get to be a part of the institution that helps provide the foundation for all of the growth. I am inspired by their creativity (and silliness) and it has a magical way of helping me to feel young too.