You never get a second chance to make a first impression. That's true for our professional and personal lives — at a job interview, a new client business meeting, a luncheon at the professional association or on a first date with someone you've met online.
And it's certainly true during your first 90 days in a new position, whether at a new company or if you're promoted at your current firm.
Before starting that new job, it's useless to fret about the future…but there are some things you can do to prepare. This preparation will enable you to “brand” yourself and ensure a smooth launch into a growing career.
Before your first day of work, take a cold, hard and honest look at yourself — an in-depth inventory. What skills are your strong suits and where do you need more training? Which personal behaviors worked for you in the past and which did not? Are you perpetually late? Have you been a workaholic with no personal life? Do you procrastinate and get the job done at the last minute or do you miss deadlines? Are you always under-prepared for meetings?
And what about attitudes? Do you think you should always be the exception to the rule? How's your track record regarding honesty and integrity? Do you have a prejudice about members of the opposite sex, professionals of a different ethnic background, or have problems with authority?
Create a strategy to build the new and improved professional you. Without this soul searching, you may find yourself failing the critical 90-day probation period.
Take the case of James, an ambitious account manager for a computer service bureau. Management was so happy with his success on the job that they promptly named him the relationship manager for their largest client, a major home electronics retailer.
James entered his new assignment poised like a sprinter about to run the 100-meter dash. He believed his long-term success depended on how early in his tenure he could establish his mark. He knew the weak links in the department and he knew what changes needed to be made.
In the first week, he gathered his team of account managers, client service representatives and support personnel to announce sweeping changes. He would now be the only one to interact with the senior client contacts.
James was oblivious that the declaration hit the room like a bombshell. During his first month on the job, morale among his direct reports fell precipitously. A prized account manager went to HR to announce she wanted to quit. Another jumped at an opportunity to work for a rival company. In a very short time, the quality and quantity of work produced for the client was poor to mediocre.
HR alerted James' boss to the problem and James was called to his manager's office. James was told to adopt a more conciliatory and inclusive style with his team. James was stunned. He realized he had messed up the start of this new position. He met with each of his direct reports, apologized, and promised a more inclusive team approach. But the damage had been done and no one trusted him.
Within six weeks, he was reassigned to a new business development role. Within six months, he was unable to make his revenue projections and left the company.
There are other things you can do to ensure your success in the first 90 days:
- Get to know your co-workers
Whether there is a formal orientation program or not, design your own. Set up meetings with all the key people you'll interact with. Learn what's important to them.
- Your image matters
Your dress, your language, your drinking habits at professional affairs all paint a picture of you. Gossiping at the new company or about the old company gives an unprofessional impression.
- Ease in slowly and avoid office politics
Get to know the culture. Listen, ask questions and be open-minded. Start small and plan achievable accomplishments. Be tactful in your criticism of the status quo. It just may have been the pet strategy for someone in your work circle.
- Establish clear, specific, measurable goals
How else will you and your boss know you've been successful? Set personal goals that will help you develop your career. Do you want to learn a new skill? Do you want to re-establish your self-esteem after working for an abusive manager? Write these things down and keep track of them.
- Share the credit when it's a winner
And shoulder the responsibility if it fails.
- Keep balanced
Working late every night may make an impression, but it will become something that's expected. And it may seem like you're making less of an effort if you decide to pull back.
- Learn the unwritten rules in the new position
Does your boss like information in a memo, face-to-face at impromptu meetings, or quick e-mail messages? One new employee was nearly fired in the first few weeks on the job because the manager felt she was overly dependent and constantly asked for directions. HR was aware in this instance that this employee's former supervisor was a micromanager who wouldn't allow anyone to do anything without permission. The new employee made the mistake of bringing the old rules to the new position.
A new job is a new game with new rules — and often only one chance to get it right in the first 90 days.
Victoria James is president of Victoria James Executive Search Inc., Stamford, CT.
Connie LaMotta is president of Workplace Strategies Associates, Upper Nyack, NY.