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.