The First Days

Regardless of the type of relationship you are trying to establish, the first days truly are the hardest.  This is particularly true when you start a new job.  Even if you are a veteran in your field and think you are prepared to do the work that is expected, you are thrust into a multitude of new relationships.  Not just with the people with whom you’ll be working, but with the job itself.  This all can be a bit uncomfortable and sometimes intimidating no matter how much work experience you have.
The first new relationship you’ll establish, and possibly the most important one, is with your immediate supervisor.  Most likely it will fall upon her or him to show you where everything is located – including your new workspace, and introduce you to the other staff members.  This might also be the person who tells you what you’ll be doing, and who’ll you’ll be doing it with.  You want to establish a good working rapport with this individual as early as possible by demonstrating your interest in the work that needs to be done, and getting access to the tools that you’ll need to the job well. This will be a good time to discuss their expectations, deadlines, lunch breaks, from whom you can get help, and clarify who is allowed to give you work assignments.
Frequently on the first day you’ll be visited by someone from HR who will have a bunch of new-hire paperwork for you to complete, including IRS forms, signatures for insurance and benefits, direct deposit and deduction authorizations, arrange for a parking pass, company I.D., etc.  In a smaller operation, the delivery of these papers, and the encouragement to complete them ASAP will come from your supervisor or the office manager.
As a result of all the paperwork and back-office details, don’t be surprised if for the first few days you aren’t doing any real work.  Even though an email may have gone out announcing your arrival, for now you may have little contact with the other team members because of their own workloads.  So it might take a few days before they roll out the welcome mat.
When it comes to getting to know the people you’ll be working with, don’t expect too much too quickly.  If you are replacing a well-liked individual, it may take time for them to warm up to you, no matter how knowledgeable, warm and wonderful you are.  If you are replacing someone who wasn’t liked, the others will warm up to you fast enough – give them a little time.   If you are filling a newly created position, others could be wondering, “What’s so special about this person?” and may even be a little resentful that they weren’t chosen for that role.  And if you’re a temp, some may not want to invest in building a relationship because they assume you’ll be gone soon.  Don’t worry about any of this; just be yourself, and concentrate on getting the job done!
In those first few days, be a “receptor”, taking in all you can about others’ behaviors and communication, work styles, attitudes, the environment. Observing and listening are more important right now than trying to get noticed for your knowledge and experience. If your input is requested, then make a contribution.  But avoid showing off. You want to build up trust, respect and good will, not resentment and strange looks!  You’ll have time enough to impress everyone as things evolve over time.
If you’d like to do something nice for your new comrades in arms, one way to help break the ice might be to bring in breakfast or light noshes for your immediate group.  Keep it modest and reasonably healthy, not extravagant.  Keep the sweets to a minimum.  This can go a long way in showing your desire to get to know your colleagues.  If your employer already provides such fare, as many do these days, be creative, and find another simple way to say, “I’m glad to be here and part of your group.”
The first days truly are the hardest days when you’re the new kid on the block, but they needn’t be awkward or insecure.  It’s a time for learning, observation and relationship building.  Maybe you’re not there to make friends or to win awards, but being open, receptive and friendly (in addition to being competent!) can help you establish yourself in a positive, productive and proactive manner that your supervisors and coworkers will notice, especially when you start to show them how well you can do your job.
In the last column (Time For A Raise) we talked about Jessica’s efforts to get a raise while telecommuting to her old job from her new location, and look for a new job.  I’m happy to report that Jessica did in fact land a new job on the east coast, and at a substantial increase to her former salary.  Jessica was smart enough to arrange a slightly delayed start date for her new position so she would not leave her former employer in the lurch.  She’ll be able to complete all current assignments, create some documentation for her successor, and give her soon-to-be former employer time to look for her replacement.  Jessica also reports she is trying to negotiate some ongoing freelance work to maintain her strong relationship with her old bosses.  She was also sure to convey to her old bosses that she was not unhappy with them or the company, but that her needs in her new environment necessitated change.  We thank Jessica for the update, congratulate on her new job and wish her much success!
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