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How to Not Screw Up Your New Job


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It’s one of the best feelings in the world, heading in for your first day at a new job. Everything feels fresh and new, you feel like you’re starting with a clean slate and that you’re really going to ace this one. You’re just so positive about everything, especially if it’s the kind of job you’ve been hoping for and working toward for a long time. You know, the kind you see on commercials for online employment sites where the dude in the tie is doing the arms-raised-high and both-feet-hitting-his-lower-back-type jump, fueled by that new job joy.

But, starting a new job can be especially difficult for some. Perhaps you just can’t seem to fit in, no matter where your career takes you (this happens a lot more often than people think, I assure you). Here are some things to avoid doing (many of which I’ve personally witnessed) that will go a long way in getting your ass on the outside curb quicker than you thought possible.

  • Constantly Compare Your New Job to Your Last Job – This can be extremely hard to avoid doing, I know. After all, our experiences make us who we are and it’s difficult to not think about how things were done at the last place when you’re learning a whole new set of policies and procedures. The key is to do it sparingly. If your boss says something like “well, the way we enter these purchase orders is to make them into paper airplanes and fly them across the room to Jeff in accounting”, then by all means, let him know that you scanned and emailed them at your last place. But if the boss just got a new purchase order processing system in place and seems downright thrilled with it, your best move is not pointing out that “the last system I used let you print using Control-P, but I guess this is better than Jeff and the paper airplanes…”
  • Act Like Your Dookie Don’t Stink – I don’t care how much of a badass you were at your last job, you’re the low man on the totem pole now. If you spend a great deal of time criticizing the new digs (or worse, the new coworkers), people are going to notice and you’ll quickly garner a reputation for being an arrogant prick. Now, if you are in reality an arrogant prick, now would be a good time to sharpen that skill I like to call “shutting up”. If constructive criticism is appropriate (and it almost never is during your first few weeks at a new job, by the way), then offer it in a very non-threatening, humble manner. And don’t be surprised if you get a little push-back from Betty in HR whose been doing it this way since you were learning to spell.
  • Getting Friendly Too Quickly – When you sit down and start getting your first few emails at the new job, you might happen upon an office-wide joke thread that’s been running for the last fifteen minutes. Perhaps it’s everybody poking fun at Bill’s new haircut. Now would not be the time to point out that Bill looks like a used car salesman with an extra helping of combover. Being welcomed into the fold takes time, and don’t think for a second that everybody will appreciate a bunch of “biting wit” from the new guy.
  • Talking too Much – A little more subtle (and probably not quite as universally applicable), but this one has teeth. People who talk to much, especially to people they don’t really know, are annoying. And the last thing you want to be at a new job is “that annoying new guy who can’t shut up”. That’s the kind of thing that can really stick with you, even if you manage to eradicate the tendency itself. Oh, and even though annoying people always seem to get raises and promotions, that’s because they only annoy their coworkers and not their superiors. So, if you must run your mouth, make sure it’s to somebody that the boss doesn’t appear to like very much.
  • Not Asking Questions – “Alright Betty Lou, here’s a stack of invoices that you can use to learn the invoice processing software. Try to get through these and let me know if you get stuck.” I’ve seen so many Betty Lou’s sit at their desks, staring at the top of invoice number one, without a clue in the world how to proceed. If you find yourself in this position, the dumbest thing you can do is to sit there like a stump until the boss comes around to check on you an hour later and finds that you’ve done jack squat since he left. People aren’t going to think you’re dumb just because you ask questions when you’re starting out. They expect it, so ask away if things are unclear.
  • Not Listening When Somebody Does Answer Your Questions – We’ve all heard the familiar classroom quips “there’s no such thing as a dumb question” and “the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask”. Well, I’d like to add a third option to the list: “The only other dumb question is the one that has already been answered and you weren’t paying attention.” Seriously, when you ask somebody a question (especially something as specialized as the internal processes of a company), listen to the freaking answer. Better yet, write it down. Information is going to being coming at you like a fast-moving freight train and while your brain may be taking everything down, you’ll have a hell of a time remembering it when you need it (at first). Take copious notes during training, and organize them afterward by rereading them and, if necessary, copying them onto clean sheets of paper. This will help you retain the information better, as well as create a little manual to which you can refer back later on.

New jobs can be extremely cool, especially if you flight right the first few weeks and establish yourself as a reliable member of the team. Making that your first priority will go a long way in making sure you keep the sweet new gig.

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