I started a new job recently, and was reminded just how challenging it can be to be “the new kid”. There are new faces to meet, new languages to learn (all that company jargon!), and buildings to navigate. It can sometimes feel like junior high all over again – looking for someone to eat lunch with! But it’s okay to be uncomfortable, I reminded myself — that’s part of the journey.

Transitions take time, and starting a new job is a unique part of a career that deserves thought and attention. Read on for some helpful tips for calming those butterflies and keeping the nerves at bay.

Observe

The first few days of a job can be both relaxing and frustrating. You don’t know enough yet to fully contribute. You could either be in the midst of training and dealing with “information overload”, or sitting alone at your desk, staring at a computer screen with no direction whatsoever.

Each company is very different when it comes to their orientation process. This is a time for you to watch. Observe the rhythm of those around you and pay attention to their behavior.

Are people running around quickly? Or is it a more relaxed pace? When people talk to you, is it with a conversational, casual tone or is it more formal? How do people dress? Do they gather around the coffee pot to talk about what they did last night, or do they keep their earphones in at their desk? Are people late to staff meetings or on time?

You know who has “title” power, but look around you to see who holds the “real” day-to-day power. You can gain a lot simply by observing.

Listen

You may be coming to this job with a wealth of experience and be raring to go. Maybe you’ve been hired for a specific project, and you are excited because you just finished doing something similar at your last place and you can’t wait to contribute all your fabulous ideas.

Before you start charging ahead, try listening for a while. Your ideas are valid, yes. There’s no doubt you were hired for the skills and experiences you have, and your contribution is very much needed. But what’s also needed for you to be successful is CONTEXT.

To truly understand your position in the organization, pay attention to what people around you are saying so you can get a better handle on the context of your task. You may not yet be aware of the politics or the players (certain people may have different amounts of ‘skin in the game’ so to speak), and for you to be successful, you will need to be aware of those things too. A favorite manager of mine had a phrase, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Write it Down

You will miss things when you first begin a new position. Acronyms will whizz by you, names will be forgotten, and you will probably attend meetings with information so foreign you might as well be working on the Moon. Try to write as much of it down as you can. I always carry a small notebook and pen with me wherever I go because you never know whom you’ll meet in the hallway or when an impromptu conversation will go deeper.

You will be surprised when you look back on these notes a few weeks later. What seemed absolutely mind-numbingly confusing at first will slowly begin to make sense and the big picture will soon become clear.

Smile

And finally…. don’t forget to smile! Being the new kid is a lot of work. You are drinking from a fire hose of information and working to make sense of a lot of new input. It’s easy to sit hunkered down at a desk – brow furrowed, scratching your head. But you are there to solve a problem, help a team, and bring your strengths. Be confident in what you bring to the table and remember that in just a short time it will be someone else’s turn to be the new guy. And you’ll no doubt be there to help.

Updated: 04/04/2017
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Erika is a career development professional with over 15 years of experience in both corporate and higher education settings. Her current role is Assistant Director of Career Education at a private university in Chicago, Illinois. She also works with individuals on strengths discovery, interviewing skills and networking. She can be reached at careerplayground (at) gmail.com

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