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Starting Your New Job With Panache Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

The First Few Weeks Are Your Chance to Shine

The new guy. The latest gal. When you arrive on the scene of that upcoming job you worked months to line up, you'll cause a bit of a stir. People will want a peek at you. Colleagues may make special efforts to say hello. Rumours will swirl about why and how you're there. And your world will open up to different ways of doing things, unique ways of looking at situations and, and a whole new series of relationships.

It can be a dizzyingly upbeat experience. Especially if the employer has set up some welcoming process to guide you inward to the group's true workings. If not there are things you yourself can do to make your ''onboarding experience'' more effective, while you create a bigger positive first impression.

Before You Arrive For Day One ''Every battle is won or lost before it's ever fought,'' according to Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Thus it pays to be a little proactive after you've accepted a new offer of employment but prior to your starting day. You ultimately want to show up ready to learn and do.

Here are some preparatory steps:

1. Get your personal stuff in order.
Make sure you take time to tie up distracting ends you have swirling about your life. Need a new bank account? Go get it now so you won't have to worry about it later. Finish that project in your home you promised yourself you'd complete (has it really been two years since then?). Do the things that need to be done so that when you begin your new job, your focus can be on moving forward, not on being stuck.

2. Do some more research.
Find out what you can about the organization and its background by way of their website and web searches. The more you know in general about your employer and the industry environment they are operating in, the easier it should be for you to bring perspective to your work. As a bonus you will sound more informed when being introduced to your new co-workers. Be careful though of coming off as a know-it-all. You want to convey a willingness to learn and be deservedly welcomed into part of their world.

3. Ask if there is advance reading you can do.
For insights on the job itself and a history of the department you'll be tasked to, you can ask your new employer if there are documents that you might get access to before your first day. Such as sample projects done recently. Market assessments or memo styles. Many employers are impressed by this initiative. It shows enthusiasm and a desire to get started. Some employers will object on the grounds of not wanting to give out proprietary information before your formal starting date. If you happen to know anyone who is already in the organization, now would be a good time to chew their ear a bit and get some scoop.

4. Set goals.
What should you be amining to accomplish that first day? The first week? And what about by the end of month one? You will probably want to include some of the following objectives:
  • To make a positive first impression.
  • To learn as much as you can about how things get done in both formal and informal ways.
  • To find out who some of the key players are.
  • To get a feel for the operating styles of your boss and colleagues.
Day One: Houston, We Have Ignition
The first day of work: show up on time, dress appropriately. Shake hands and be as friendly as you can. Yet you don't have to be artificial. People expect you to be somewhat nervous initially, like if you forget their name a nano-second after being introduced.

Fortunately you're rarely expected to walk into a brand new role and begin producing results immediately. You will need to hear about what has been happening in this area or department recently. They may ask you to review some material on current assignments. And someone may want to brief you--bring you up to speed--so that you understand what's been going on before you arrived.

See if your manager will schedule you a bit of time with each of your key colleagues later in the week. You'll want to find out about some of the 'unofficial' channels that are used to get things accomplished. What are the potential barriers to moving things forward and how do people here navigate around them? This is your honeymoon period where you get to ask tons of basic questions to anyone without being looked upon askance.

Week One: Watch, Listen and Learn
A very important task is to set up a meeting with your boss within the first week or so to discuss what your priorities should be. Which projects are urgent? What are the issues that you need to know about? It's generally a good idea to remind your supervisor that you're there to support him or her, and that you want to help ''make them look good.'' Ask for their advice on how you can make this happen.

If there are support staff (e.g. administrative assistants, office managers, clerks), take a bit of time to say ''hi'' and get to know them. They often have insights that can assist you as you try to feel your way through the new landscape. And sometimes they just about run the place.

When it comes time to doing your first bit of actual work, consider doing small things very well from the beginning. I once made the mistake of joining an ad agency and then sort of locking myself in my office for two weeks doing what I thought would be seen as important ''mind work.'' Well, the clients never got to see my brilliant thoughts, and later I was told by my boss that people thought I was reclusive or secretive. Lesson learned: The better that you follow instructions, deliver accurately and on time, and prove that you're worthy of more responsibility, the more likely you are to gain your employer's confidence and trust. Therefore don't be invisible. But don't perform brain surgery before you learn the procedures, either.

Setting The Proper Tone Thereafter

Beyond that, it's a matter of being positive each day and of making an extra effort to become part of the team. The idea is to show your employer that they made the right choice in hiring you. At the same time, of course, you can start operating more like you, can set expectations regarding your hours of work, and then see for yourself if you're happy with your new situation.

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