The First 90 Days: How to Succeed in Your New Job

Follow these tips to make a strong first impression and find success in your new role

by Jane Bianchi • LearnVest.com
Photograph: sergign/Shutterstock.com

As the saying goes, change is the only constant in life—and in your career too. (Well, we added the last part.)

But the truth is that you may experience all sorts of workplace change when you get a promotion, land a new gig at a different company, and even when your own organization downsizes or merges with another one.

“I view all of those as transitions,” says Michael D. Watkins, co-founder of leadership development company Genesis Advisers and author of “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.”

And when you’re in transition, your role is likely to shift too—whether it means tackling new job responsibilities, working in a different environment or reporting to a new boss. Sometimes it can even be all of the above!

Regardless of your particular situation, it’s a crucial time. In fact, Watkins argues that impressing your manager and colleagues within the first 90 days is not only essential to your success in your current role but also for your overall career.

No pressure, right?

Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it sounds—if you know how to make the right impression by following these tips from Watkins.

LearnVest: Why are the first 90 days on the job so important?

Michael D. Watkins: Lots of my research shows that what you do early on during a job transition is what matters most. Your colleagues and your boss form opinions about you based on limited information, and those opinions are sticky—it’s hard to change their minds. So shape their impressions of you to the best of your ability.

Why 90 days, specifically? It’s a quarter, which is a recognized time frame in the business world. Companies often track how they’re doing based on how much progress they make each quarter—and you should too.

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What’s a key way to make a good impression from the get-go?

I see people focus too much on the technical job skills and not enough on the company’s politics. Build key relationships early. Ask your boss, “Who is it critical that I get to know?” And then invite those people to coffee or lunch and pick their brains. Don’t just focus “vertically” on managers above you—also create “horizontal” alliances with colleagues. You want to have support at all levels.

You’ve mentioned that people can quickly fall into vicious cycles if they’re not careful. What does that mean—and how does it happen?

Once the die is cast in one direction or the other, it tends to be self-perpetuating—and it can turn into a negative feedback loop if you’re not careful. For example, if you make early mistakes, people will look at you as ineffective going forward because they’ll be looking at you through a darkened lens. If you’re late your first week, you may be seen as lazy or irresponsible—and that reputation can be tough to shake. And if you make a bad call and the company loses money, your judgment may be called into question when it comes to future decisions.

RELATED: 5 Career Mistakes You Didn’t Know You Were Making

Given that there’s usually a learning curve during a transition, how can you be extra careful to prevent mistakes?

Take time to observe the office culture, and try your best to blend in. And always listen before you speak. Sometimes people feel a need to prove themselves early on, so they form an opinion before they really know what they’re talking about.

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