You’ve landed the job offer and are about to arrive at work for your first day. One thing is certain; you’re absolutely excited about this new opportunity and the beginning of your career! But, you’re not sure whether you have the schooling in the skills you need to navigate the terrain of your new world: the workplace of the 21st century. You’re also feeling that the decisions you must make in your climb to the top are not going to always be obvious. Well, so far you are correct on both points.
While universities and schools provide the formal and technical knowledge, few equip their grads with the skills necessary to make their way through the corporate and business jungles without losing their identity. It takes a planned strategy to move ahead in today’s competitive workplace and enjoy the rewards of a satisfying career.
This article provides tips for ensuring that you satisfactorily meet your employer’s expectations within the initial evaluation period and some pointers for building a reputation within your new organization. We will also cover some hints on how to set the stage for future successes, whether you decide to remain with your current company or move on to higher heights. Our main concern is to make sure you hit the ground running — in the right direction. And, we’re off!
Clarifying Expectations of Your New Role and Understanding the Importance of Balancing Work and Play
You’ll want to produce positive results right away by taking charge of your new job. The best way to accomplish this is to make sure that you do a great job! But before you are able to do that, you need to get settled. In addition to coordinating logistics (desk, phone, computer, e-mail, voice mail, etc.), be prepared to clarify the expectations your manager has for you for your job. It’s not enough that you follow directions. You also must keep your focus on what gets done, satisfy your manager — whatever his or her style happens to be, and decide the best way to do your work. Keep in mind the important balance between work and play. [See sidebar "New Rules for 21st Century Business" by life coach, Cheryl Richardson]. Richardson advises that taking better care of yourself makes good business sense. She offers that if you practice the new rules, you will find that you not only get more done at work, you also create more time for your life.
New Rules for 21st Century Business
1. I take lunch everyday and do something unrelated to work. For example, I get out of the office and take a walk, listen to a relaxation tape, write in a journal, or visit with a friend.
2. I work reasonable hours. On most days, I arrive at ____ and leave by_____.
3. I schedule “breathing room” every day so I can step back, re-evaluate my priorities and be sure that I am working on what really matters.
4. I do whatever it takes to create a healthy work environment. I keep my office free of clutter and if necessary, I use a clean air filter, full spectrum lighting, and I keep a reserve of bottled water nearby.
5. I have an “Absolute Yes” list for work (a 3″ x 5″ index card with my top five priorities listed in order of importance) and I refer to it often.
6. I train myself to consistently look for ways to delegate work in order to empower others.
7. I hire only competent, talented people to support my efforts.
8. I ask family and friends to honor my work time by eliminating non-essential personal calls and interruptions.
9. I coordinate my work schedule to remove distractions and interruptions. For example, I design blocks of uninterrupted, focused time and I only check voicemail and e-mail twice a day (keep breathing on this one).
10. I stop taking on more than I can handle. When asked to take on a project, I check to be sure that I can complete the assignment without suffering or sacrificing my self-care.
(Copyright Cheryl Richardson, Life Makeovers, Broadway Books 2000). Reprinted with permission.)
The first person to assist you with navigating the terrain of your new workplace will be your manager. Ask for a copy of your department’s organization chart to see exactly where your role fits within the department. The “org” chart will show you the team lineup. At the top of the organization chart stands your manager. Below are the team players. Similar to sports, in the workplace your manager serves as coach and leader. Understanding your position on the team and learning as much about the team as you can is very important. Hopefully, you’ll find out that you’ve joined a “winning” team and that you have an important position in the lineup.
Understanding the Key Players in Your New World: Building Solid Relationships with Your New Manager and Others
Your manager’s role is to decide what gets done, when and by whom. Managers also are responsible for helping the team keep their projects on track and seeing that everyone works together. Managers are charged with keeping the team motivated, productive and on target. Try to size up your manager right away. Why? Because you will want to give as much support as you can through high performance and being a team player. And, in turn, hopefully you will get more backing in return. This backing may translate into plum assignments, good ratings or just positive work interaction. Managers generally favor team players and employees who are challenged and highly motivated.
You should develop a list of important questions to ask during your first week in your new position. Questions may relate to your job description, performance evaluations: how you will be evaluated, when and by whom; your manager’s work style and preferences for communication: written and verbal; work expectations are ones to consider. Tailor your list to your specific position and department. As for your work team, after you’ve been in your position for a while, you’ll be able to get a feel for the team dynamics, and learn who the key players are. Each team member will have an individual work style. This style will often pinpoint each team member’s specific strengths and weaknesses and what they bring to the playing field.
Your Work Performance: Developing Your Work Plan
Ask your manager what key priorities you should be working on. After learning what your manager wants (and doesn’t want) from you, you’re prepared to move to developing your personal work plan. Your work plan will consist of what you will be doing in the coming year: what you will work on, where you will focus your energy and attention as well as how you will spend your time. To help you develop a plan, ask yourself this question: What can I do that would most directly assist in helping my department be successful? Try to answer the question by writing three to four key objectives for your current position. For example, if you need to enhance your writing skills, you may want to include an objective like this, “I plan to take on greater responsibilities through assisting in writing the department’s newsletter.” To assess your progress on your work plan, meet periodically with your manager to discuss the plan and your progress. Update it as you go along.
Your Professional Development: Creating Your Personal Development Plan to Go With Your Work Plan
While your manager shares in your career development, it’s up to you to ensure that you personally develop as an employee. Think of your development plan as a way to list your strengths, development needs and ways to identify how to increase your skills. In this process, your manager’s role is to make sure that you are able to reach your maximum potential in your current work assignment and to offer your challenging “stretch” assignments, wherever possible. Come up with a list of on-the-job activities that can help you develop and strengthen your skills. These activities can include books, tapes, seminars and courses. Create a list that you feel fits your current job.
The Performance Appraisal Process and Using its Feedback Effectively
Another part of your manager’s role is to provide you with regular feedback. Most organizations generally have their own performance appraisal process. Some include feedback from others who work with you: customers, your team, other managers and employees in the company. Once you have your work objectives listed and start to work toward them, keep a record of your accomplishments. Whether or not your company has a formal system (and most companies do), your manager will be completing some type of performance appraisal for you.
You will be asked to review the appraisal and write in your comments. Your manager has the final say, however, in your overall performance rating. If you are concerned at any point about not achieving the objectives in your work plan, discuss them with your manager. The goal is to learn from what went wrong and to continuously improve.
Building on Your Strengths and Accomplishments and Leveraging Them for the Future
Your major focus is success in your current position or to the next level to which you aspire –either internally or elsewhere. Wherever you feel you’re headed, you must focus on building your strengths and accomplishments over time. As an employee you will want to be successful in your job and to look forward to doing an even bigger or better job if and when you are given the chance. Also remember to keep an eye out on ways to make or create your own opportunities. Do this by asking for additional assignments or projects that enhance your skills.
There’s absolutely nothing like working for a successful organization, for a good coach and doing work that you enjoy. To make these things happen as you transition from college to the world of work, you need to know what to do, keep track of how well you’re doing and get good advice about how to improve. That’s what good career development is all about. You deserve a good answer when you ponder, “How am I doing?” and the answer to this begins with you. If you’re doing a good job, you’ll stand out from the team and have an excellent chance of being tapped for promotions and added responsibilities.
In this article, we’ve talked about the importance of taking charge of your new job, building a work plan, and being focused on success. We’ve also covered how important your new manager is in this process and that you keep things balanced and in perspective. It’s important that you achieve concrete results fast, become a top team player, project confidence and earn respect in your chosen field. You’ve gotten your foot in the door and with these tips, hopefully you’ll excel in your new position. Here’s to your career success!
Chris Bardwell is the CEO of The Career Connection, a human resources and career development consulting firm in Chicago.