June 29, 2017

Starting Off Right: Tips for navigating new workplaces

Posted by AGU Career Center

Starting a new job is exciting – so many new things to learn!  But how do you make sure to do the right things, and set yourself up for future success?

The most important thing is to make a great first impression.  Remember what you observed during your on-site interview about the dress code, and err on the conservative/dressy side.  Make sure you arrive on-time, or even a little early, especially the first few weeks.  Similarly, don’t rush to be the first one out at the end of the day. 

Set up your voice mail and email signature file, to project a professional image.  Bring in a few mementos or pictures to display on your desk, but make them consistent in quantity and style with others in the office, while still expressing your personality.

When you’re at work, be focused on work.  Turn off your personal cell phone, and don’t surf the Internet or conduct personal business during work hours. You need to cement your reputation as a professional, and learn what is and is not acceptable in that culture. 

Take advantage of any on-boarding opportunities offered by the company.  Formal sessions on safety procedures and company policies, or an assigned mentor, can be great resources. Really read the materials presented, and ask for clarification if you’re unclear on anything.  Especially at the beginning, you can ask lots of questions, and learn why things are done they way they are.   

Start by bringing a lunch with you, but be prepared to leave it behind if someone asks you to go to lunch with them. Ask colleagues if there are any good lunch places nearby, and suggest you go together.  Again, watch the culture – do most people take a quick 30 minutes at their desk with a brown bag, or a leisurely hour and a half eating out?  Does everyone go at the same time, or are they staggered?  If there’s a company cafeteria, eating there, and sitting down with different people, can be a great way to meet people in other parts of the company, and learn about more than just your department. 

Smile and at least say “Hello” to everyone.  You want to get to know everyone you work with – not only their name and job, but also something about them.  Follow their lead on the proper balance of professional and personal conversation – is it just a perfunctory “How are you?” before getting down to business, or does everyone spend 15 minutes talking about what they did last night before starting their work day? 

Over time, you will learn the culture of your new workplace. What is the preferred method of communication – email, text, phone?  What about outside traditional business hours?  You will learn who is reliable, and who has what kinds of information.  Building personal relationships with your co-workers will make it easier for you to ask hard questions, and gain access to company resources you might not have discovered otherwise.   

Check in with your supervisor regularly, especially in the first few months.  Exceed expectations with all your assignments, and only then ask for more responsibilities.  Over time, you can become more proactive in identifying possible contributions, and learning when you need to ask, and what you can do without formal permission.  It’s never too early to start thinking about where you are going to want to go next, and looking for opportunities to move your career in that direction. 

But even while you’re building all these new relationships, don’t neglect the old ones.  Thank the people who helped you get your job, and let them know how it’s going. Keep in touch with professors and former colleagues on a regular basis, updating them on your life, and learning about theirs.  When traveling home or to conferences, set up times to get together with former colleagues to catch up.      

Staring a new job is a great time bring your professional image to the next level.  By making a great first impression, and integrating yourself into the company both professionally and personally, you can set yourself up well for success when the next opportunity comes along. 

Lisa M. Balbes, PhD, has been a freelance technical writer and editor at Balbes Consultants LLC for over 25 years.  She is the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers (Oxford University Press).