3 Traps to Avoid When You Start a New Job

Being new is hard.  No matter how much experience you may bring to a new role, the simple fact is that we all start at the same place on Day One: zero.  Your reputation does not port with you; neither does your network.  Nor does your most basic sense of whom to ask for what, how long things take, and where the real levers of power reside. 

3 Traps to Avoid When You Start a New Job[2]

All of these must be re-built from scratch.  Worse, you are consuming more than you are contributing on Day One, and your foremost goal should be to reverse this ratio before Day 90.  Avoiding the following three traps will dramatically increase your chances:

Replicating Your Old Job

If you’ve ever caught yourself saying, “At my old job, we did it like this …” you are guilty of replicating your old job in your new job.  This is a normal inclination, as we naturally gravitate to what is familiar, and your old job is much more familiar to you.  But this kind of comparative thinking only serves to impede the transition you are trying to make.  And it’s a common mistake: acting as if you were still in your old job at your old company, rather than consciously thinking through the changes that will allow you to navigate a new culture effectively.  Almost certainly, the new culture is different, your boss is different, the team of people you work with is different, and what people value differs substantially from your old job as well.  Focus on these differences and the behaviors necessary to accommodate them, and force yourself to let go of your old job.  And if you must reference your old job, use this language instead: “In my experience, there is a better way to go about this.”

Making “Friends” Too Quickly

The people you work with are not your friends.  Real friends are people in whom you confide private thoughts, weakness, and embarrassing truths about yourself.  They’re people you spend free time with, take vacations with.  This is not what we do with coworkers, and with good reason.  Friendship compromises objectivity and removes an important ingredient to success at work: professional distance.  Professional distance should not be confused with being aloof or disingenuous.  And in no way does it prevent your forming deep, trusting, and highly productive relationships with coworkers and peers.  But deep, trusting work relationships are not the same as deep, trusting friendships.  In the rush to establish yourself and develop confidence in your new role, you may fall into the trap of trusting people too quickly.  You may form judgments about who your allies are, who your enemies are, and upon whom you can rely within just a few weeks.  You may quickly affiliate yourself with a certain group.  Most of the time, this is premature.  You simply haven’t been there long enough to form these judgments.  Try to delay jumping to conclusions about the people around you.  Build trust, but don’t be too quick to give it away.  Six months after your start date, you may be surprised to learn that the people you thought were your enemies are in fact the ones you’ve come to appreciate and need, and likewise, the people you were sure would become allies have, in fact, become anything but.

Engaging in Premature Problem-Solving

In an effort to make a visible impact, you may fall into the trap of problem-solving too quickly, without fully understanding the nature of the problem, how it got that way, and why it wasn’t solved before your arrival.  Questions like, “Why don’t we just do it like this?” and suggestions like, “Just do it like this—it’s how we did it at my old job” only serve to alienate you from your new coworkers.  It also reduces your credibility in their eyes, as they may perceive you as tone-deaf.  Recognize that if problems were solved that easily, they already would be.   Remember that projecting humility will get you farther than projecting over-confidence.  Ask for others’ perspectives on the problem, take notes, repeat what you’ve heard to ensure understanding, and thank them for sharing their insights.  Reflect on what you’ve heard before offering suggestions of your own.  When you do offer a solution, use language like, “I don’t know if this will work here, but what if we tried …?”

Above all, focus more on the mission and less on yourself.  Understand the highest priorities and ambitions of your new company, and study the norms and tactics used to realize those ambitions.  Contribute to those priorities in a way that makes sense for your role and the culture in which your role exists.  Resist the urge for immediate gratification, frequent praise, and quick promotions.  Instead, take confidence in the idea that helping realize your company’s mission is the surest path to realizing your own. 

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