New Job Hacks: Navigating Your First Days On The Job

The following is a rough transcript of my DevOpsDays Rockies 2018 Ignite talk entitled “The New Hire: Navigating Your First Days.”

Slides are available here, and the video from the event is here.

Most of us are going to change jobs every four to five years during our careers.  The problem with that is when you show up on your first day of a job, a difficult reality check happens.  Suddenly you have all these new people, new systems, and a new culture to figure out.

I started at SendGrid in August 2018, and before that I was at Go Daddy and Latisys.  So I’ve been through a couple big job changes.  I just want to share with you a few tips from my experience that I think help make these transitions go more smoothly.

My first days usually feel like this guy.  Feeling really discouraged and just trying to hold it together to make it through the day.  You might have a couple days of onboarding training, but after that you’re pretty much left on your own to figure things out in this new environment.

This is especially difficult if you’re more introverted like I am.  Getting to know new people takes a lot of energy, and leaves you feeling drained at the end of the day.  It’s a little easier for extroverts, but for anyone, being in a new unfamiliar environment can be very stressful.

You were hired for your wisdom and your experience, not just the knowledge that’s in your head.  Realize that there are  a lot of details you just aren’t going to know about a place you’ve never worked at before.  This will leave you feeling lost, and down in your confidence.

It’s easy for this to happen when you’re new, because you feel like you don’t know anything.  It can even lead to impostor syndrome, which is when your confidence drops and doesn’t line up with your competence.

Awareness of this is key.  Be able to recognize this in yourself so you don’t get stuck in a rut.  Just know that being new and not having that tribal knowledge yet doesn’t mean you’re incompetent.  It just means you need some time to get up to speed.  Everybody’s been there.

So let me give you some encouragement on this point.  At SendGrid, they explain that your first 90 days are for getting oriented and for learning.  Your team and manager understand this, so they don’t expect you to be immediately awesome.  I think this is really true at most places, even if they don’t come right out and explicitly say it.

Ok.  So here are my tips for making your first days on the job go well.

First:  Ask lots of questions.  It’s going to feel weird and dumb, but it’s really not.  Asking questions is the best way to learn.  Everybody knows you need to get up to speed, but they don’t always know the best way to get that knowledge to you.  If somebody doesn’t know the answer to your question, they’re going to help find somebody who does, and then you’re both learning.

You’re going to feel like Bill Lumbergh, constantly interrupting everybody with your questions.  But you can preface them with checking to see if it’s a good time to talk.  Or, send out a calendar invite so you have some dedicated time for a deeper discussion.

Make sure you’re asking good questions.  Clarifying questions are your friend.  They help make sure you’re on the same page.  Adjoining questions, or follow-up questions, help you see the bigger picture and make sure you’re not missing anything.

And, you’re a fresh set of eyes.  This is what makes you really valuable as a new person.  You bring a different perspective that isn’t biased by the status quo.  You’ll be able to spot red flags that no one else can.  This is where your experience and wisdom will really come into play.

As you’re learning, make a point to give some constructive feedback when you see ideas for how to make things better.  Maybe you’ve worked on a similar project before, and you can help make it more successful here.

But, be careful not to be too judgmental.  Realize that what’s in place now was built by the people that came before you, and there are emotions tied to that.  Don’t say things like, “oh, this totally stinks, we should get rid of it and start over.”

Even if you do find some tire fires (and you probably will), if you weren’t around when that horrible thing was created, you don’t get to be judgement and mean about it!  I’ve been on the receiving end of this, and it feels very threatening.  It shuts down discussion and causes rifts in the team.  So just be respectful and focus on that constructive feedback.

Next, work with your manager to set some short term goals for your first few months.  These should be very specific and very realistic.  Your manager can help facilitate by pointing you to stories and projects that will get you to your goals.

And finally, every company has its own unique culture, and it’s going to be awkward for you for a while.  But seek to be an observer, and follow the old adage of “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”  But at the same time be yourself and be authentic.  Don’t change who you are just to try to fit in.

If you’ve just started a new job, or will soon, let me encourage you that it really does get better.  Your first weeks and months pass by fast, and soon you get your confidence back and will be making valuable contributions to the team.  So be intentional about these few tips I’ve given you, and that new job really will turn out to be fantastic.