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Make It or Break It:

The First 90 Days At Work

Jane E. Henderson, Ed.D. Ó 2005

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You signed the offer letter, called all your friends to share the good news, said goodbye to colleagues at the old job, and here you are! Your first days on a new job can be a blur of attending employee orientations, signing forms, and trying to get your Lotus Notes password from the tech. Never mind the mandatory ergonomics check, ID badge photo (oops, first one didn’t take—have to go back to Security), and parking lot sticker… This whirlwind of logistics may be combined with the first meeting with your new team and new manager. Oh, and did we mention that you also have a project assignment to jump on?

How can you successfully navigate through the first weeks on a new job, leaving the impression that you are, indeed, the right person for the right job? It’s natural and normal to have some anxiety during the early days and weeks—everybody does. So, while every situation will have its unique challenges, here are some guidelines for getting your feet on the ground at a new job and calming those jitters:

  • Keep a "to do" list for all those logistical issues and check each one off when accomplished (ID badge, check!) This will do several things for you, such as prevent you from leaving out something important (Who do you want to name in your insurance policy?), give you a doublecheck on HR’s list, and, more importantly, give you a sense of feeling in control of your new environment. At the end of the first week, you will probably have covered everything required and can turn your attention to the tasks and relationships at hand.
  • Initiate scheduling a private, uninterrupted appointment with your new manager as soon as possible. The purpose of this meeting is to clarify your role and responsibilities, help you prioritize work until you can scope this yourself, and begin building an open communication with the most important person in your work world—your frontline manager. Research on why people leave a job nearly always cites "poor relationship with manager" as a primary cause of turnover. Don’t be a statistic!
  • Introduce yourself to every member of your new team and ask for a few minutes to talk to them when it’s convenient. Ask them questions about what they like about their job and what some of their challenges are. Ask them for suggestions and advice about being successful on this project and as a member of the team. LISTEN. This is about them, not you, at this stage. When asked, do share appropriate information about yourself to the level you are comfortable. Your goal in these short meetings is twofold: 1) to quickly learn all you can from the "experts" so you can hit the ground running, and 2) to again start building those critical cooperative relationships. If there is an administrative assistant or admin manager in your group, cultivate that relationship early and often! This person can make you look like superworker or create roadblocks aplenty. Find ways to show your appreciation for all the help that this person gives the members of the team. (Chocolate is usually very effective!) If some of the members of your new group are at a distance, as many virtual teams are now, pick up the phone and call each one to introduce yourself. Send a brief "thanks for talking to me" email afterwards. While this is time consuming, you will save time down the road when you need to partner with one of these folks on a tight deadline or major project and he or she is already feeling good about you! Trust me, this works.
  • Throughout this time you will also be starting your assigned tasks. Make sure you are clear on what’s expected and when its due. If your equipment or the internal technology required to be effective is an obstacle, speak up. For example, many of us share printers with a number of others. If you are on a tight deadline and they, for the moment, aren’t, negotiate to be the first one in the "queue" that day. (Remember those good relationships you were working on? Payoff!)

The first weeks at a new job will always be a bit unsettling, but learning to focus on others and to stay organized will both reduce some of the anxiety and result in the boss saying, "Well, I knew you were the right person for this job! Great to have you on the team!"

Jane E. Henderson, Ed.D., is an executive and management coach, career development specialist, senior human resources management performance consultant, and more. She teaches in a graduate studies program and works with private clients as well. She can be reached at

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