Key Early Days for New Hires

By Susan Kreimer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 24, 2008; K01

You've sifted through employment ads, interviewed for jobs and finally accepted a position. Then comes the real test -- your first 30 to 90 days at work.

How you approach that time can make all the difference between success and failure.

Career experts recommend forging relationships, listening carefully and observing closely. That way, you can quickly prove your worth and demonstrate how your skills fit the organization's needs.

"Now that you've worked really hard to get yourself to this point, it is time to deliver," said Nino Kader, president of International Reputation Management, a D.C. public relations firm that sometimes works with job hunters to polish their online presence.

New workers should familiarize themselves with acronyms, the company's hierarchy, its annual report and its corporate goals. Occasionally reading over the official job description helps keep objectives in mind. "Look for small, quick wins that you can accomplish," Kader said.

It can't hurt to occasionally arrive early and stay late. But while laboring diligently, try to solicit feedback "so that you're on the right track in the style of that new organization," said Bernadette Kenny, chief career officer at Adecco Group North America, a Long Island staffing firm.

That means reviewing your progress with your direct supervisor on a weekly basis, she said. Most employers don't automatically offer such a frequent and informal performance appraisal, so it's up to a new worker to request it.

"In most circumstances, your boss will agree to meet with you weekly and give you feedback," Kenny said. If the boss isn't so inclined, co-workers are the next best resource. They can fill a new employee in on the history of a project and give an idea of whether internal communication leans toward e-mail messages or face-to-face interactions.

Don't be afraid to ask if you're not sure how to execute a specific task or don't understand the eventual goal. But avoid arguing, seeking constant feedback or drawing a lot of attention. "Don't be dominant in meetings," Kenny said. "It's inappropriate." At this early stage, listening to others' opinions is much more constructive than voicing your own.

Meanwhile, take advantage of whatever training and self-assessment guidelines the employer offers. "For a new staff member, the company orientation documentation provides a little bit of structure to very quickly get assimilated into the corporate culture," said Sonia Schmitt, senior manager at Lockheed Martin's Washington operations office. "Checklists, background information and videos help set the benchmark and the job rhythm."

When Schmitt joined Lockheed from the World Bank in 2004, the company assigned a mentor who helped clarify comments from executives and peers. In places where mentors aren't assigned, new hires may want to seek out their own guides. "Usually, there's somebody more senior, more experienced, and willing to help you and coach you to success," she said.

If someone has been especially resourceful in teaching you the ropes, be sure to acknowledge that, Atlanta career coach Lori Davila said. But remember to be nice to everyone.

"Introduce yourself to people you don't know in the hallways, near your work space, in meetings, in the break room, and always with a smile," she said. "Try to meet at least three new people every single day. Tell them you recently started, along with your title and department, and ask them what they do."

Learning others' names and roles is among the ways to show genuine interest in your colleagues no matter their titles. "Don't try to impress everyone too soon. Be impressed by everyone you meet," Davila said. It's also essential to pay close attention to how colleagues address each other and the company's clients, and to follow their examples.

During the first 30 to 90 days, a manager is looking to affirm the choice of hire before investing more time and energy to train that person, said Sean McColl, who is in the hiring seat as vice president of PromoCorp, an Alexandria firm that sells promotional products.

For a new employee, he said, "the most important thing is to reinforce to the hiring manager and to the other people they work for that they were the right candidate to hire, it was a smart decision, and that it's going to pay dividends down the road."