Congratulations – you got the job! You searched, networked, applied, interviewed, and aced your way into a great new role. As anyone in the job market will tell you, you’ve done the hardest part. Now all that you need to do to succeed is to be awesome in that shiny new job – or at least not suck so much that you get yourself fired.
The first 90 days is an important time in the job cycle. It’s where you start building your reputation, your relationships, and your influence. It might seem superficial, but whatever you build up during that first 90 days is going to stick with you for a while. If you’ve done well, you’ll collect enough goodwill from your boss and co-workers to get you through a few rough times. If you’ve started off on the wrong foot, you’ll find yourself having to work twice as hard for twice as long to try to repair the damage that’s been done.
In most jobs, there are two keys to success.
- Can you actually do the job?
- Can you make your boss happy?
If you didn’t lie on your resume or in your interviews, the presumed answer to the first question is yes. The second one is often the more important, and always the more complex, of the two. So here are a few things that you can do to help ensure your success during that crucial first 90 days.
- Be nice to EVERYONE. You’re in a new work situation, and you don’t know who’s friends with who, who are the influencers of opinion (especially your boss’ opinion), and who are the ones that you really want on your side. So err on the side of caution and treat everyone with respect. Don’t condescend, don’t belittle. Just be nice. You can never have too many friends. You have all the time in the world to pick sides. For now, pick EVERY side. Your boss will love when people come up and tell him/her how they just met you and they love you. And that love is very good for you.
- Make the rounds. As you find out the people you’ll be working with on a regular basis, make sure that you take the time and make the effort to introduce yourself. When possible, schedule (or ask your boss to schedule) quick 15-minute meetings or even lunches to actually have a conversation and find out what makes them tick. You’d be amazed how far these initial meetings can go to solidify great working relationships for years to come.
- Ask questions. During these introduction meetings, and as a general rule, ask lots of questions. Find out what and who makes things happen in your company. Get to know people’s happiness and frustration points. The insight that you gain from the answers will give you the beginnings of a great arsenal of tools for navigating any potentially slippery political or inter-personal situations down the road.
- Take care of the easy things first. Most of the time, you’re not going to be expected to move heaven and earth in your first 90 days. When you’re given tasks, they’ll often be things that you can execute on quickly. Get them out of the way. Show your boss that you’re reliable and that you only need to be asked once. Stay on top of tasks however works for you – through technology, pen and paper, or your amazing photographic memory that used to impress everyone at parties. However you do it, do it.
- Put yourself out there. Make sure that, as you’re getting the feel for what’s on your boss’ plate, you make a point to ask if you can help. Sometimes we forget that the boss has responsibilities, deliverables, and stress just like the rest of us. Treat him/her like a human being, and genuinely offer your assistance – even if it’s not something that’s in your job description. Start to solidify your place as the go-to person right off the bat.
- Don’t over-commit. In the same vain, don’t try to be a superhero. You’re new. You’re learning. If you’re asked to do something, don’t give unrealistic timelines or say that you’ll do something that you’re not really ready for. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around. Your boss won’t mind that you don’t offer up super-human deadlines. S/he will mind when s/he has to explain to the top brass why a project wasn’t finished when you said it would be.
As Head & Shoulders used to say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And although I normally wouldn’t recommend that you take advice from a dandruff shampoo, in this case it just makes good sense.
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3 thoughts on “6 Ways to Position Yourself for Success in Your First 90 Days on the Job”
Good advice, Dave. One other thing I would add is to really absorb the company culture — not just what’s written in the handbook, but how things actually work. Do people show up early? Stay late? Eat lunch at their desks or go out? How do they dress (“business casual” can mean different things to different people)? Is it OK to listen to music with your headphones on? Is hanging out by the water cooler/coffeemaker considered slacking off, or is it where all the key conversations take place? Those aren’t necessarily the kinds of things people can answer directly; you have to spend your first couple weeks paying attention to what your coworkers do, not what they say.
Greg – These are great points. Absorbing the company culture can be tricky or completely intuitive, depending on the culture itself and how well the new employee can pick up on the cues. And it often goes unspoken, but how well the new guy/girl is able to “fit in” can be one of the most important factors in a newbie’s level of success. Thanks for the comment!