How New Graduates Can Make the First Few Weeks at a New Job Really Count

Jul 15, 2013 - Joe Matar

You’ve been through several rounds of grueling interviews,and you’ve made it. You got the job. Congratulations! Now it’s time to iron your mismatched suit and hope your unruly hair behaves on the first day of work.

The first few weeks of a new job are a pretty big adjustment—and it’s not just that you can no longer work in your sweatpants. Here’s how to successfully tackle this transition and make your new job worth your while:

1. Don’t be intimidated by orientation week

Whether you’re joining a large company or a small business, there will usually be an orientation to introduce you to the company culture and set your expectations.

If you’ve joined a small company, you’ll probably sit by yourself, clutching a fat binder filled with company policies that were developed by HR just a week before you joined. As you clutch that fat binder and sit in your empty cubicle, feeling just a little isolated, remember that the “Executive Office” door and the “Exit” door are fairly close to each other. And it’s up to you to decide which one to walk through next.

If you’ve joined a large company, these orientations usually involve hundreds of new hires. The orientation starts off with networking advice and the company’s value proposition, then quickly transitions into endless happy hours and absolute sh** shows. People get wasted, hook up, get pregnant and then curl up into a ball of shame and cry in a corner for days thereafter. But it’s not all fun and games.

During orientation week, in addition to networking with colleagues, take this time to also determine your career path. Orientation week informs you how to further your career (trainings, performance reviews, etc.) and what it takes for you to move up the corporate ladder. At the end of orientation, determine your professional goals and build a one- or two-year plan to reach your target position.

2. Network like your life depends on it

If your company repeatedly emphasizes the need for you to network, it’s a euphemism they’re using to actually say, “Starting today, you are on your own.” In consulting, that usually means searching for various potential opportunities, begging management to take you onto their projects and getting staffed out of your own accord.

In the non-consulting world, it means seeking out opportunities and taking your career growth into your hands. Nobody is going to mollycoddle and nurture you into the perfect rock star—your successes and your failures are all your own.

3. Make sure your boss knows you exist

After orientation week, you’ll invariably have a week or two of downtime where they will either not know what to do with you or forget you even exist. Use this downtime to outline a plan of action regarding what training, certifications, projects and yearly goals you would like to work on.

Note these down on your laptop, reach out to all of the people who interviewed you and ask them if you can help them out in any initiatives they’re involved in. Then close your laptop and go to the nearest bar for a drink. Repeat these steps until you get work.

4. Prioritize for the inevitable avalanche of work

Once you get stuff to do, you will feel slightly overwhelmed. Set up a task list, capture deadlines, create milestones to meet those deadlines and keep track of everything that you need to do.

If you’re not clear about something you need to get done, get it clarified immediately. As you work through your deliverables, set up meetings to review drafts with your manager. This ensures that by the time you finish your product, you will deliver exactly what was specified. The last thing you want to do is work really hard for weeks, only for your manager to come back and say, “This isn’t what I had in mind.”

5. Ask lots of questions, even if they seem stupid

Many entry-level hires just keep quiet, unsure of whether they should risk asking stupid questions. Prepare to ask lots of stupid questions. Make a list of stupid questions, title it “My List of Stupid Questions” and be proud of that damn list.

To this day, when I go into a new project, the first thing I say is, “Look, I’m going to ask a lot of questions, and most of them are going to be really stupid. But I want to make sure I understand everything.”

People will invariably reply, “No, no, of course—please ask all the questions you need to.”

You can then start with, “Who am I, and how did I get here?”

Just kidding. Seriously, though, don’t be shy about understanding what the project lead wants you to do; if you don’t understand it, there’s about a zero percent chance you’ll get it right.

6. Relax and have fun

This is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; they’re the best way to learn and improve yourself. And, finally, take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Relax and have fun!

Shilpi Chakrabarti is a senior consultant at Deloitte Consulting and likes to write about work, college and life in her free time. She has written a book titled Doggy Paddle, which offers advice to new graduates transitioning to the corporate world.