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Build Your Career Get Ahead

New Job? How to Survive 6 First-Week Challenges

New Job? How to Survive 6 First-Week Challenges
Credit: Thinglass/Shutterstock

Before you start a new job, you'll likely know your schedule, basic reporting structure and universal workplace etiquette — you'll probably even have a good idea of what you'll be doing. But the specifics of your daily routine, like who you'll be working with and the policies and procedures you'll follow, are waiting to be discovered during your first few days.

While the beginning of this new chapter in your career is exciting, it can also be very overwhelming at the same time. You're bound to experience at least a few challenges and adjustments, whether it's your first job or your 10th. Here's how to navigate them gracefully and make a great impression during that critical first week on the job.

Information overload. One of the most difficult aspects of starting a new job is having to quickly catch up to the rest of your team, especially if you're replacing someone. While most managers are understanding and expect there to be a learning curve, the business can't pause for too long. Therefore, new hires often find themselves bombarded with tons of information and details almost immediately.

"The biggest challenge I faced during my first week ... [was] information overload," said Stacy Shade, who started as a senior account manager at AR|PR last month. "What works best for me when I need to synthesize a lot of new information is to take a few minutes at the end of the day to review notes and jot down questions. I've found that it's almost impossible to ask too many questions in the beginning."

Grunt work (or no work at all). While some new employees do face an overload of work, others face the opposite problem: not enough of it. If your manager and/or fellow team members have a particularly packed schedule the week you start, it's likely that you'll end up doing some menial tasks that don't have a lot to do with your overall job.

In a SparkHire blog post, author Kristin Anderson noted that there's a lot to be learned from "grunt work," because it helps you learn about a lot of the inner workings of a business you'd likely never encounter otherwise. But if you feel like you don't have enough to do, don't be afraid to take initiative and ask for work. Sitting around doing nothing reflects poorly on you, she said.

"Politely ask your boss if you can have something to work on, or if he or she has a spare minute to teach you something," Anderson wrote. "If everyone is truly too busy, then use your downtime to do something productive on your own. Keep current in your field by reading some related journal articles, review your training materials or practice some new software."

Finding a balance between confidence and arrogance. When you're excited about your new job, it's natural to want to start contributing ideas right away. Participating from the very start shows that you're interested in collaborating with your colleagues and helping the company. But there's a fine line between confidence in your ideas and arrogance: Employees who have been at the company a while tend to not like the newbie who thinks he or she already knows everything, despite having just started.

"The goal of every new employee is to jump headfirst into his or her new role and begin adding value, which is great," said Cheryl Kerrigan, vice president of employee success at employee recognition platform Achievers. "However, without having the base knowledge of company procedures, norms and team dynamics, the attempted added value could be misconstrued. Find your balance ... [and] process all new information before recommending alternatives to existing procedures."

Caitlin Iseler, a senior consultant at PI Midlantic, a behavioral assessment consulting firm, said employees with very dominant personalities should try to keep that dominance in check during their first week, especially if they have a managerial position.

"The best leaders don't come in like bulldozers," Iseler said. "Good leaders come in respectfully, observing the current work environment and how the company has succeeded before they were hired. Current protocols in a company usually exist for a reason. Take three months to absorb your surroundings before making changes."

Meeting new colleagues. It's likely that many of your co-workers will be friendly and introduce themselves to you in your first couple of days, but if you want to form lasting bonds with your office mates, you'll have to continue the conversation. It can be difficult to remember the slew of names and faces you learn, let alone any personal details about your new colleagues. Shade recommended adding people to your phone contacts right after you meet them (even if you don't have their number) and adding notes about them such as, "loves rock climbing" or "lives downtown."

"Making notes on the new contacts I meet jogs my memory and better enables me to ask them follow-up questions or reference something from our initial conversation the next time that I see them," Shade told Business News Daily.

Learning your team's dynamics. You're not going to have the exact same relationships with your new boss and team members as you did at your last job. It's your responsibility as a new employee to learn your immediate colleagues' preferred communication and work styles, so you can find a place for yourself within their existing dynamic. 

Kerrigan noted that understanding your team's personalities and motivations can be a challenge, but it's important to build good relationships from your first meeting with them and make a good impression. Shade agreed, saying that committing time to figuring out your team's expectations will help with goal setting and communication moving forward.

Fitting into the company culture. Most new employees get a general sense of their company's culture during the interview process, but hearing about it and actually being a part of it are two different things. Once you're there, you need to embrace the culture to really become a part of it.

"Be an actively engaged new employee," Kerrigan said. "Volunteer to host a happy hour, join a committee, participate in philanthropic opportunities and get involved. Actions speak louder than words, and your colleagues will appreciate your enthusiasm to be a part of the company culture."

Kerrigan noted that employers should also do their part to help new hires feel welcome, included and engaged from the beginning of their tenure. Managers should be prepared to train and initiate their new employees, and give plenty of feedback to encourage them as they learn the ropes.

"It's vital that new hires know exactly what is expected of them in the first week," Kerrigan said.  "Be sure to create weekly and monthly checklists ... and schedule frequent check-ins to maintain momentum. By preparing the new employee to take ownership and act as a participant in their onboarding, it creates a sense of accomplishment when the learning and tasks are completed."

Nicole Fallon

Nicole Fallon received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.

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