May 21, 2012
Congratulations. You did it. You worked hard in school, sent out dozens of resumes, donned collared shirts and nice shoes, showed up early to interviews, and now it’s all paid off. You got the job. First things first: Jump up and down a few times, tell your family, high-five your friends and have a night out to celebrate.
Next up: Recognize that you’re in a whole new world–an alien environment full of people you don’t know. This isn’t school and it’s not a part-time job. You’re on a path through the career jungle now–and here, you’re fresh meat. Your survival and your success depend on learning the ins and outs of this new environment. One of the fastest outs is annoying the king of this jungle, your new boss.
Here are five ways to be the thorn in your boss’s side and how avoiding them will set you up for career success.
Cancel the honeymoon
Most career-level positions come with a “probationary period,” during which you can be let go for no reason whatsoever. You are only slightly past the interview stage at this point, and you need to remember that. Showing up a little late, leaving a little early and taking a long lunch in the middle lets everyone know that your promise to be committed to this work is as empty as your chair is about to be.
When you first start at a new company, no one wants to see what you look like without a shower on laundry day. They want the bright, shiny, new employee with ambition and an eager smile they saw in the job interview. Act and dress like you’re still being interviewed for the first few months because, basically, you still are.
Join the losing team
You may have thought you left drama and cliques behind in high school. Then it showed up in college. You might think now that you’re out in the real world, people will act civilly and maturely, right? Nope, sorry. All workplaces have drama, and many have constant whispers of mutiny. Be wary when making buddies around the office. Align yourself with the positive people who perform, not the disillusioned group of Eeyores bemoaning their plight and complaining about how poorly the office is run.
Act like you know it all already
You’re new. You need to understand that you may not know what you’re talking about a good percentage of the time, and you won’t for a while yet. Pretending that you’ve got this new job all figured out is almost guaranteed to get you in trouble in two ways.
If you act like a know it all, you’re 1) not going to be in a position to ask for help and 2) you’re unlikely to be offered any. Because you most definitely do not know it all yet, odds are great that if you act like you do, you’ll contribute little of importance. Those new ideas might be awesome, but you probably weren’t hired fresh out of college to lead the company in a bold new direction. Take time to understand how your company makes money and where you fit into that process.
Approach your new position with humility. Be confident, but be a confident beginner who graciously accepts help, learns from it, and improves performance over time.
Expect a constant stream of high fives and gold stars
If you’d never played baseball before, would you expect to knock it out of the park on your first swing? No, of course not. (If you said “yes,” please see the point above.) No one expects you to start cranking out award-winning work right away. Making mistakes is natural in the process of learning, and accolades come with mastery, which takes time. Don’t forget that you were hired because of your skills and talents, and that’s quite a compliment, one that might have to get you through a few weeks of learning your way around.
Burn yourself out
Be positive and enthusiastic about your work. Lean in, say “yes” to new projects. However, be careful not to take on too much–for the benefit of yourself and everyone around you. New employees have a bad habit of taking on huge tasks that they can’t handle and then getting overwhelmed and burning out in the process. This isn’t good for anyone. Know your limits–of both your aptitude and your time commitments. If you don’t know how to do something, don’t volunteer to head up the project. If you already have a full plate, don’t put more on it to look eager.
Working twelve-hour days and still struggling to keep up is a recipe for early burnout, not to mention stress-related medical issues. Talk to your boss about your workload, and don’t be afraid to ask your more seasoned coworkers for help.
Learning your way around is probably the hardest part of any job, whatever your career path. If you can avoid annoying your new boss, alienating your new coworkers and driving yourself insane, consider your newbie self moderately successful.
Karl Fendelander has been the new guy and the boss at established companies and start-ups alike. When he’s not doling out career advice for Online Colleges, Karl can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.