Published on August 21st, 2012 by Alan Sklover
“There may be luck in getting a job,
but there’s no luck in keeping it.”
– J. Ogden Armour
ACTUAL “CASE HISTORY“: [Note: Other than the recipient’s name being changed, this is an actual letter I wrote and sent to someone quite near and dear to me]:
Dear Sarah: I am so, so glad to hear that, after a long, hard “campaign,” you’ve landed a job you are so happy about. Very few people I know deserve this great news as much as you do. You have my heartiest Congrats and wishes for only more happiness and success.
I am very confident that you will do quite well on your new job. It seems to be a great “fit” for you. That said, over the years in my experience in business I have seen a few of my friends, clients and colleagues make an early faux pas, or stumble, without realizing it – until it was too late. As I sometimes counsel my clients, “On the highway of life there are more accidents on the on-ramps and the off-ramps than there are on straightaways.”
May I offer you the very same list of “do’s and don’t’s” I offer my clients who have just begun new jobs? Though I have every confidence in your coming success on your new job, many of my clients have told me that this list helped them avoid problems early on in a new job. And, so, I offer it to you, along with my sincerest wishes for your every success!
LESSON TO LEARN: New jobs are like driving your car through unknown territory: you don’t yet know the “lay of the land,” there may be unforeseen dangers, hidden alliances, secret languages, and seemingly tranquil minefields. Until you are very comfortable with the “lay of the land” – assume for a 90-day period – exercise utmost care.
To keep your career from the equivalent of driving over a cliff, falling into a hole, or crashing into a tree, here are our 21 Tips for the Newly Hired Employee.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: For your first 90 days on the job, consider these 21 tips to be guidelines for your appearances, expressions, decisions and conduct:
A. Early Impressions are Lasting Impressions
1. Arrive early; take a short lunch; stay late. Early on you will earn a reputation as either a hard worker or a “slacker.” The former is oh-so-preferable to the latter. And your reputation in this regard will stick with you a long, long time. Arrive at 7:00 am for the first few weeks and chances are you will meet the CEO in the elevator. And, by the way, that is how he or she got to be the CEO.
2. Dress on the conservative side, rather inconspicuously. Now is not the time to wear either low cut dresses or tight-fitted jeans, loafers without socks, or garrulous ties. Even if you work in the fashion industry, the office is not a fashion show, especially within your first 90 days.
3. Don’t come across as “I need, I need, I need.” Once, a new employee of mine told me on the first day of work that he “needed” to leave early every Thursday to teach a class in the evening, something he never mentioned during any interview. The next day he “announced” that the air conditioning made the room too cold. The next day, he shared that his desk was too small, and the lights on the ceiling were too bright. At the end of the week he “had to” leave early to attend his favorite music class. Though his work was good, I was feeling like a babysitter, and resentful. He didn’t last long; and nor will you if you act that way.
4. Don’t right off the bat suggest that changes need to be made. Early on, you don’t know why certain practices or systems are in place. For that reason, alone, you really can’t make intelligent suggestions about changing or replacing them. What seems absurd now may later seem sensible, when you understand the “why” behind it. And there’s nothing more aggravating than a new employee saying, “But at my last job we didn’t do it that way.”
5. Avoid “complainer-colleagues” as if they have the plague. There’s no doubt about it: you will meet people on your new job who simply complain, complain, complain. They are to be avoided, avoided, avoided. First, negativity is contagious. Second, you may become identified as like him or her. Third, negative people usually like to drag others down into the “hole” they are in. Fourth, you should cultivate the personality of appreciation, not complaining. When it comes to “complainers,” there is just no upside to affiliating with them. Just stay away.
6. In anxious, uncertain and risky moments, you can excuse yourself by noting a physical malady. Every now and then, a meeting, event or circumstances may arise in which you just feel anxious, uncertain how to respond, or at grave risk. Always bear in mind that you have a free “Get Out of the Situation” card, and that is called a “physical malady.” These are examples: “I am so sorry, I feel nauseous, and must go to the ladies’ room,” or “I just realized I failed to take my medication this morning, and must go home for my pills,” or “I am starting to feel a bit faint. I had better go home and lie down.” It is a totally acceptable reason to get out of a sticky situation. Promptly afterwards, send an email apologizing for the inconvenience, so that you have a record of why you left the situation.
B. Broader Data Leads to Better Decisions
7. Listen ten times more than you speak. Sure, you have to say “Hello,” and answer questions, but for the first few months or so, listen, listen and listen some more. You have a tremendous amount to learn, and not too much to offer, at least right away. Listening is the best way to learn about everything there is to an organization. It is an art form to be practiced to perfection.
8. Take a few minutes to gather and review the “official rules.” Nearly every employer has a set of “official rules” for employees. They are found in Employee Handbooks, Codes of Conduct, Compliance Manuals, Policy Books and the like. Ask Human Resources for a copy of each, and read them at least twice. Once you start working you will be held responsible for obeying the “official rules.” You might as well find out what they are.
9. Observe others carefully to learn the “unwritten rules.” It is a habit of mine to loosen the knot on my tie a bit, especially in the summer. As a young lawyer, early on in my second job, I noticed that other lawyers did the same. In the middle of my first firm-wide meeting in the large conference room, the senior partner leading the meeting came over to me, and without saying a word, grabbed my tie, and pushed it tight up against my neck, putting a deep scratch on my throat with his thumb’s fingernail. I could not believe what had just happened. Frankly, I was shell-shocked. The next day one of my colleagues came over to me and said, “Loose ties are fine. But never in a firm meeting with him.” Someone had apparently forgotten to put that little “rule” in the Employee Handbook.
10. Watch, too, for norms of behavior. Watch others for the norms of behavior on your job. If it is the norm to refer to the CEO as “Jeff,” then do so, or at least say, “Mr. Jones, may I call you Jeff as others seem to do?” If it is the norm to keep your suit jacket on at all times, even while in your own office or workspace, keep yours on, too. Likewise, if no one eats lunch at his or her desk, avoid doing so, too. Little by little you will learn what is acceptable and what is not. In the meantime, watch others.
11. Bear in mind that you don’t yet know other people’s relationships – familial, social, financial, intimate or otherwise. Do not mention to Mark that you think Richard is a liar. Richard may be Mark’s brother, father, best friend or even lover. The oddest people make up the oddest couples. Don’t presume the 65-year-old female Human Resources Director is not dating the 26-year-old stock room clerk; these days, you just never know.
C. Extra Care as to Your Conduct
12. Excessive cell phone or Blackberry use, especially during meetings, is a very big “no no.” It’s fine to take a cell phone call every now and then. The same goes for texting. But if you do so in public, and do so often, and especially if you do so during meetings, I promise you that you will rub at least some people, and some people “at the top,” the absolutely wrong way.
13. Do NOT engage in risky behaviors with colleagues. During the early months of a new job, any person who dates a colleague, goes drinking with a colleague, borrows money from a colleague, or plays poker with a colleague, is simply asking to be fired. If it involves a colleague of the opposite sex, it is even more self-defeating. The same goes for such behaviors with clients or customers. And “casual” contact – such as touching someone on the head, hugs, slaps on the back or backrubs – though innocent are commonly viewed to be “crossing boundaries,” and cause for immediate firing.
14. Be extra careful with your choice of words, especially curse words and references to body parts and functions. No matter how others around you may be speaking, avoid the “bad words” that can get you in trouble. I don’t think I need to list them for you. Just pretend you are always speaking with your grandmother, assuming your grandmother was not a professional boxer.
15. Avoid “touchy” discussion topics. Stay away from conversations that have a way of becoming heated, including those involving discussion of religion, abortion, sex, gun control, drugs, politics, taxes, same-sex marriage, and the like. Likewise, your views about colleagues, supervisors and management don’t need to be shared. Always have ready to say, in case you need it, “I’m not certain of how I feel about that, or him, or her.” It is a clear act of self-defeating behavior to discuss potentially “hot topics” of any kind. Stick to discussions of work and the weather.
16. Don’t challenge authority of any kind. Unless it is a matter of physical safety, or moral outrage, there is no reason that any kind of authority needs to be challenged during your first 90 days. Oh, sure, events and circumstances will happen that might seem to necessitate a confrontation. In truth, very, very few truly require a challenge to authority. The person who oversees the parking lot may, in fact, be a drinking buddy of the CEO. The Information Technology Director may be the wife of the Chairman.
17. Though difficult, try to ignore any offensive remarks, hostile speech or humiliating behaviors by others. People are people, and so all of us have flaws. Bear that in mind, at least early on. If someone says something that you find offensive; she might turn out to be the nicest person in the world, but made an unfortunate slip of the tongue. If someone raises his voice, it may turn out that – without your knowing it – his baby daughter is undergoing a difficult course of chemotherapy which has put him on extreme edge. Sometimes, new employees will be tested by others to find out “the thickness of their skin.” Some people just love to argue, or humiliate, and should not be permitted to taunt you into a fight. To your very, very best, try to ignore these things early on, until you know who, what, where, when and how to best raise an objection, if an objection is appropriate or necessary. Just smile, or perhaps take a deep breath. Take a walk if you must.
18. If your job, by its nature, requires that you be a “change agent,” make sure your mandate and authority are solid, clear and well-known. Just as an example, if you were hired to ensure that employees comply with new recycling or sustainability requirements, that entails them changing their daily work habits, make sure that your mandate is in place and secure. By that I mean that (i) the highest authority possible agrees that these changes are necessary to make, (ii) the changes you are making are the exact changes the highest authority thinks should be made, and (iii) in every memo you mention points (i) and (ii). In effect “I am not arbitrarily making these changes; in fact (i) these exact changes, (ii) made in this way, (iii) are mandated right from the CEO.” Otherwise change agents have a way of being “sacrificed” if the change becomes controversial.
19. Don’t discuss lofty career ambitions with colleagues. It is a wonderful thing to be ambitious. But don’t forget for a moment that, to at least several of your colleagues, and even your boss, your being ambitious may represent a keen threat. Keep your career plans “under your hat,” at least for a few months. Concentrate exclusively on doing a great job in this job, and in avoiding potential pitfalls, including those that loose talk about ambitions may bring about.
20. Unless a reason exists to do otherwise, treat every person as a potential future best friend. Be polite. Be gracious. Be friendly. Don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to people, and don’t be shy about admitting you have forgotten someone’s name. Who you now think is a likely friend is probably not who will end up being your friend. Be open to all. Be courteous to all. Be friendly to all. But be careful with all, as well.
21. SMILE. Smiling at friends, potential friends and even enemies has the greatest Return On Investment of any activity known to humankind. It sends a strong signal in any language, and is sure to set the stage for positive interaction. Whether you’re nervous, down or even grumpy, try smiling to all, in all situations, whenever you can.
Strict adherence with all of these 21 Tips for the Newly Hired Employee may not be necessary. But then, again, violation of just one of them could cost you your job and represent considerable career damage. Forewarned is forearmed. The rest is up to you. Good luck in your new job!
SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and avoid risks at every point in your career. Bearing these 21 Hints in mind when starting a new job can help you do just that. Now the rest is up to you.
Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.
*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.
Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.
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© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Prohibited.